As I'm putting together the SBL program agenda for the New Testament Mysticism Project or NTMP, I'm also thinking about the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Section which birthed the NTMP.
I imagine that some of my blog readers will be surprised to learn that my main interest in early Christian studies is recovering its pre-Nicene forms of mysticism and religious experience. What I really want to understand as a scholar are the mystical and esoteric traditions within (and even foundational to) early Christianity. So I have gotten many laughs out of the blogsphere's characterization of me as "atheistic," "anti-Christian," "anti-faith," "secular," and "anti-religious" because of my uncompromising historicism.
What is very exciting regarding the study of early mysticism is the new agenda that the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Section has set for the next ten years. The group has just finished a decade of collaborative work that was published in November 2006 jointly by E.J. Brill and the Society of Biblical Literature. The book, Paradise Now, is an introduction to the major aspects of the mystical tradition within early Judaism and Christianity. It is a book that defines a field of study largely neglected by scholars until now - pre-Nicene forms of mystical traditions and praxis in early Judaism and Christianity.
Now the EJCM's agenda is renewing in terms of possible provenances of early mysticism. The agenda will operate in rough chronological order, beginning with forms of mysticism in the Ancient Near East. The group wishes to create a forum to discuss how, why, and in what forms mysticism emerges at various times, locations, and communities prior to 500 CE. The papers presented in the SBL sessions will be collected for inclusion in a new series of volumes called, After Paradise Now: Essays Exploring the Provenances of Mysticism in Early Judaism and Christianity.
The EJCM group is inviting papers for the San Diego SBL from scholars with expertise in the Ancient Near East, examining forms of mysticism that emerge in this particular provenance. If you are interested in proposing a paper, the link is here to submit it.
In 2008, the group will be studying forms of mysticism in the Hebrew Bible, and in the Enochic literature. If you are interested in proposing a paper in either of these 2008 sessions, please contact the Chair of the group directly, Professor Kevin Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.