To read the previous round-ups of this year’s American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature (AARSBL), click here. Also excited to announce that we have the recording of Simeon Zahl’s lecture from the event, “Prayer and Affliction: Martin Luther on the Spiritual Roots of Theological Insight” available to stream/download here.

The final day of AARSBL feels like going to church on a snowy day. The publishers are still there and papers are still being given in the morning, but the excited “buzz” is gone as probably 50-75% of attendees have already left. Universities don’t usually give time off to attend, and there are classes to teach. Basically, the conference becomes kind of a ghost town.

My bus didn’t leave until the afternoon, so I had to make the best of what I could. My former PhD supervisor, Francis Watson, was giving a paper at the Corpus Hellenisticum Novi Testamenti on Paul’s discussion of women’s hair. He repeatedly billed it as a must-see session, and it ended up being a personal highlight for the whole conference.

Francis Watson’s paper, “Why Did Paul Care About Women’s Hair?” was equally interesting and provocative. In 1 Cor. 11, Paul thinks it shameful for a woman to have her hair cut short, exposing the nakedness of her head. Men have short hair, and this indecent reversal of gender is “unnatural”. Watson then compared Paul’s argument here with his parallel arguments concerning circumcision and sexual relations. The paper concluded by inquiring into Paul’s apparently long hair and law-abiding Nazarite vow in Acts 18. The whole paper was vintage Watson, incisive, well argued, and full of unique observations.

But the special event of the session occurred simultaneously while the papers were being given. To illustrate the discussion of women’s hair style, Professor Helen Bond of Edinburgh University had the hairstylist and forensic archeologist, Janet Stephens, style her own hair according to the fashion of the Roman empire. In addition to being incredibly informative, it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at an AARSBL. Some fun facts for you: women’s hair was always long and then was styled using curling irons, water and/or oil/wax by an attendant in your home. The richer you were, the more attendants you had, the quicker the process. Men always had short hair that was rarely parted to a side. The emperor Hadrian probably had a comb-over (from the back of the head to the front). Most interestingly, the unbounding of a woman’s hair (as in Luke 7 and the sinful woman) does not indicate she works as a prostitute.

This all may or may not sound fun to you, but everyone there was absolutely captivated by the whole ordeal.

So that’s a wrap on the AARSBL conference! I hope you enjoyed these vignettes from my time there. It’s always a highlight of the year and this conference was no exception. Stay tuned for the interviews I was privileged to conduct while there.