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Society of Biblical Literature records

Identifier: Record Group No. 100

Scope and Content Note

The records of the SBL consist of the very early organic papers of the society, 1880-1920, kept in one book by the early secretaries and collated and bound apparently by Henry J. Cadbury, secretary 1916-1933. With this exception few of the original records of the Society have survived; the papers almost totally have been created since 1960. From about 1920 to the 1950s few records are found in the Archives, probably due to the fact that the secretary of the organization was elected by the membership, and officers and offices often changed; the office had no permanent location for the preservation of papers until the organizational structure of the Society was changed after World War II. The records in the archives cover in varying depth the period 1950 to 1964; after 1965 the holdings are, for the most part, complete.

The organic papers consist of the By laws, 1880; Minutes of meetings, 1880-1920; the Constitution and Bylaws as amended, 1880-1971; lists of officers; Procedures and forms; and a history of SBL written by Ernest W. Saunders. The main body of administrative records is the papers of the Executive Secretary/Executive Director, consisting of minutes, council minutes, executive committee reports, correspondence, and membership lists. The treasurers' records include reports, budgets, ledgers, vouchers, income tax records, and audit reports. Important functions of the Society are the annual meetings of its members and its publication program. The annual meeting is held once a year in conjunction with the American Academy of Religion. Extensive records of this activity, from planning to accounting and reviews, are included in the Annual Meeting Series. The publication program includes several journals and a large number of books and monographic series. Extensive records for this arm of the Society may be found in the Research and Publications Committee Series. The history of the SBL up to its centennial in 1980 has been actively collected in the materials assembled by Earnest W. Saunders and his book Searching the Scriptures.


  • 1880-2022

Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Restrictions on Access

Restriction on particular folders are noted in the container list.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.

Historical Note

In 1880 a small group of biblical scholars met at the Union Theological Seminary in New York to discuss the formation of a professional association for biblical studies. Seventeen biblical scholars were the nucleus of the new organization; they were all located in the Northeastern United States. In their organization papers they stated their purpose:

"The object of the Society is to stimulate critical investigation of the classical biblical literatures, together with other related literature, by the exchange of scholarly research both in published form and public forum. The Society endeavors to support those disciplines and sub disciplines pertinent to the illuminations of the literature and religions of the Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean regions such as the study of ancient languages, textual criticism, history and archaeology."

The first woman member joined in 1894; by 1900 there were five. By 1905 the Society had forty-four members and was still centered and most active in the Northeast but had members spread across the United States and the continent. The annual meeting was held during the Christmas holiday every year at the Union Theological Seminary. Another meeting was held once a year to present papers and to discuss them.

The pattern of the Society changed very little in the first sixty years of existence; the group, named in full the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis, remained this way until 1964. The purposes of the society, discussion in published form and public forum, were being forwarded. A quiet semi-centennial was held at Union Theological Seminary in 1930; there were then 448 members. Occasional joint meetings were held with other learned societies. By 1964, at the time of the name change to Society of Biblical Literature, membership had reached 2,185 members.

A new direction, involving more activity in the scholastic and academic world began in 1968. Decisions were made to adopt the present form and function of SBL. A constitution was written in 1969. The regional groups and meetings, seminars, and task forces were assigned a regular place in the structure. Placement of scholars became a function. In 1970 the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion had their first joint meeting; in 1971 they formed a joint council of fifty to serve as an advisory council and forum. During the mid 1970s there was a great expansion in publishing activities; a center was established in California as the Claremont Center for Research and Archives; the publishing function was moved to Missoula, Montana, and the Scholars' Press was established in 1975.

Today, the Society of Biblical Literature is the largest international association of scholars who teach and research the variety of fields that make up biblical studies. SBL is an interdisciplinary, humanistic, academic society that includes scholars of history, literature, archaeology, anthropology, theology, and more.


140 cubic feet (379 boxes) (836.6 MB born digital materials (919 files))


Records created by the Society, which includes administrative files, committee work, publications, and materials related to the annual, international, and regional meetings of the Society.

Arrangement Note

Organized into six series: (1) History and General Papers, (2) Administration, (3) Committees, (4) Research and Publications, (5) Meetings, (6) Related Organizations, and (7) Born Digital Materials.

Finding Aid Note

This collection is partially processed and the finding aid, including box and folder locations, will be updated as the collection is further processed.

Custodial History

Administrative files for the Society were under the custodial care of the executive secretary, until 1980 when an archive was established at Regis College (Denver, CO), and then transferred in 2000 to Drew University (Madison, NJ). In 2018, the collection was transferred to Pitts Theology Library.


Gift of Society of Biblical Literature, 2018.

Separated Material

Preservation copies of books published by SBL or SBL Press are cataloged separately and are available through the library's catalog.

Related Materials in This Repository

Scholars Press records (RG 060) and the American Academy of Religion records (RG 057).


Processed by Brandon Wason, 2018-2022; previous finding aids composed by Andrew Scrimgeour, Enid T. Thompson, and Kari L. Welsh.

Society of Biblical Literature records, 1880-2018
Pitts Theology Library, Emory University
Date encoded: May 25, 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Pitts Special Collections and Archives Repository

1531 Dickey Drive
Atlanta GA 30322 USA