I had the opportunity to attend the annual Society of Biblical Literature conference in San Antonio, Texas. The conference provided great opportunities to engage in the emerging trends and conversations within the field of biblical studies. What caught my surprise was the new themes and topics of the conferences across various studies. In particular, scholars are taking a closer look at the theme of migration and the way in which the Bible can also shape and guide our understanding of human mobility, movement of refugees, and experiences of exile. Scholars are looking at this theme as it pertains to the Old Testament, intertestamental literature, Greco-Roman literature, and the New Testament.
In fact, I had the opportunity to present a paper entitled “Paul the Immigrant” that takes a closer look at Paul’s identity as a mediterranean migrant. This initially was an idea that came to me from my primary research on race and ethnicity in the Greco-Roman world. I kept stumbling upon the way in which Roman elites described immigrants and their presence in urban areas. I started to explore the mobility and travel of people and then eureka! The apostle Paul was an immigrant! But he was an immigrant in a Mediterranean sense, not in terms of the way in which we think about immigrants today. We often think about immigrants in relation to territory and national boundaries. The ancient Romans thought about immigrants in terms of movement away from one’s homeland. Since there were many movements of people in the Roman world, those who would fall under this “migrant” status primarily included slaves, students, the military, teachers, and other males who traveled for economic reasons. Migration, in other worlds, was primarily a male activity given the dangers and challenges of traveling in the ancient world. Paul himself traveled to various cities and regions, preaching the gospel, and emphasizing his identity as a member of a heavenly city.
Overall, it was wonderful to see how others are discussing migration in light of the biblical text. This conference stimulated new ways that we can think about the impact that current issues of war, economics, and climate change have in uprooting people from their homeland. I also had the chance to stop by a booth and see one of my own published books on display.