Time for a Change in SNTS?

One of the results of the latest Society for New Testament Studies meeting in Marburg was the decision to bring the New Testament Greek seminar to a close after two terms of its meeting. The seminar had applied for renewal, as it is the only seminar dedicated to study of the Greek language. I was disappointed, especially as a member of the society since 1994 and having concern for the work of the society.

At the final business session of the annual meeting, the announcement was made regarding which seminars would be going forward, and this announcement did not include the New Testament Greek seminar.

Several of us who are interested in the study of Greek—and who find it very odd that the society that is supposed to be promoting study of the New Testament should not have such a seminar—pursued this with several of the “officers” of the society.

One “officer” gave the very lame explanation that the society could only support a fixed number of seminars, eighteen, and so they had to choose and chose others. The ostensive reason given for the limit on seminars was that if we go to some of the places where the conference is held, due to small attendance, there are not enough people for more seminars. When I suggested that SNTS not go to places that few people want to visit (a good reason not to go there), the risible response was that we are an international society. We may be an international society but that doesn’t mean we need to go to every city on the planet, including those that few people want to go to for a conference. This clearly was an inadequate explanation grasped at in desperation when caught having made a poor decision.

This led to further discussion with another “officer,” who ended up describing his own frustration with how some of the committees of the society work. Perhaps because I am not part of the inner circle, I have very little knowledge of how SNTS functions. I suspect that my lack of knowledge is widespread among the membership.

One of the committees for which there appears to be appropriate frustration is the nominating committee for the president. At the president’s speech, he was introduced as having published 9 books and edited 30 volumes, plus other publications. The president gave a fine speech and is a fine individual, so my complaint is not with him. However, I did raise the question with the “officer” of why someone (hypothetically speaking, of course) who had published 28 volumes and edited over 90 other books (as well as publishing many more other items, in fact far more than the current president, if the figures shared are accurate) has not been selected as president. The “officer” agreed that that was a good question and said that the president is selected by a special committee that mostly consists of the present and former presidents and similar people. He did not say this in a way that commended or supported it. In other words, if this is true, then this is a small cabal within SNTS that chooses its own. No wonder certain people are selected as president and others are not.

I know that SNTS is concerned with shrinking participation and an aging membership. Perhaps it is time for SNTS to revisit its entire organizational structure and how it does its business. There appears to be far more cloak and dagger and “black box” decision-making than is appropriate and healthy for an organization that purports to be about freedom of inquiry and scholarship. SNTS appears to have its own “deep state,” or at least a deep state mentality. It certainly seems to be time to consider purging the current committee members and changing the organizational structure in the interests of equity and forthrightness.

— Stanley E. Porter

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