Words Building Worlds: Newsom Completes Term as President of SBL
Carol Newsom, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament at Candler School of Theology, delivered the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) Presidential Address at the organization’s annual meeting in San Francisco in November. The address served as the capstone of Newsom’s year as president of the SBL, the world’s largest organization of biblical scholars.
Newsom was elected to this leadership position in 2009 in recognition of her service to SBL and her outstanding scholarship in the field of biblical studies, which includes seven books and scores of articles, book chapters, translations, encyclopedia articles, and reviews.
Newsom is widely recognized in scholarly circles as a keen interpreter of sacred texts, a pursuit she finds particularly meaningful. In conducting her groundbreaking work translating the Dead Sea Scrolls, Newsom was one of the first people to handle centuries-old documents. “I felt as if I should take off my shoes — I was standing on holy ground,” Newsom said of the experience. “Through my work, I was able to give voice back to these ancient people who had written these exquisitely beautiful religious poems. To make those part of our culture and community was deeply moving.”
In addition to providing access to previously lost texts, Newsom thrives on the exploration of how simple words are used to create entire worlds. In her research on the book of Job, she considered the power of words to negotiate problematic situations. “We all use words to bring into being possibility for relationships, communities and experiences that won’t exist unless we use imagination and care,” she said.
One event during her tenure as president of SBL gave Newsom the opportunity to explore the world created by the weaving of words, history, and popular culture. She was invited to read scripture at a service in London’s Temple Church, built in the 12th century by the Knights Templar. It was an event with touches of the contemporary (the church was featured in the movie The DaVinci Code) and the historic (the service was in honor of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible).
Brushes with Hollywood and royalty aside, Newsom claims that her recent Presidential Address was the highlight of her experience as SBL president. She presented a lecture entitled “Models of Moral Self: Hebrew Bible in Second Temple Judaism,” in which she presented her most recent research about the grammar of good and evil.
The Candler community will have an opportunity to hear Newsom speak about her love of sacred language at spring convocation on January 19, where she will present “See Spot Run: Reading as Spiritual Practice.”