An old saying claims “What you don’t know can’t hurt you,” which is manifestly false, as anyone who’s stepped in a hole they didn’t know was there can attest.

Gilgamesh mourns the death of his friend Enkidu, by Dino Cavallari.

What you don’t know can also slow you down and generally wreck your plans.

Case in point: I arrived in Boston on Thursday hoping to take in a few sessions of the American Schools for Oriental Research (ASOR) meeting on Thursday evening and Friday morning before participating in the Review and Expositor board meeting on Friday afternoon, and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) meetings after that.

These annual meetings, along with the concomitant American Academy of of Religion (AAR), attract thousands of scholars from around the world and are generally held in a cluster of large hotels near a conference center in a major city.

I booked a room in the Sheraton, next to the Hynes Convention Center. So far, so good.

My first adventure was ever getting there. I’ve only been to Boston once before, and that was nine years ago, so I’m not overly familiar with Logan airport. After a faultless flight, I looked for a “Back Bay” shuttle I’d read about that should take me to the hotel for $7.50. Good deal — except I never found it: two different airport employees misdirected me and I wound up on a Silver Line bus (also locally known as the “airport shuttle”). I asked the driver before getting on if he stopped at the convention center, and he said “Yes.”

How was I to know that Boston has two major convention centers? A nice African American lady helped me figure out that I had to ride the bus (through rush hour traffic) to South Station, where it intersected with the subway. A helpful young man with orange hair pointed to the right platform and told me to take the Red Line to Park Street, then transfer to the Green Line heading outbound to the Hynes Convention Center stop.

That was quite an adventure during the evening rush, but it worked: I only had to walk around the corner from the subway station (in a cold rain) to see the hotel a few blocks away. After leaving my suitcase in the room, I headed out to the ASOR meeting, thinking it would be a relatively short walk, only to learn that it was located in a hotel in a different part of the city several miles away. What’s with that?

Exercising what I thought was technological savvy, I used my app to summon a Lyft, but didn’t realize that the cheaper “Lyft Line” option meant the driver could stop to pick up other passengers on the way. By the time I arrived, all of the day’s meetings were over and even the registration desk was closed, so I’d spent $16 on a Lyft ride for no good purpose — and would have to do the same to get back.

Gilgamesh receives counsel from the barmaid Siduri, by Dino Cavallari.

I did manage to find a reception sponsored by the Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology and got something to drink, hoping to run into someone I knew. No luck. A small art exhibit featuring paintings by Dino Cavallari, inspired by Herbert Mason’s translation of the Gilgamesh epic, had been set up next door, and at least I got to see that. The story of Gilgamesh involves a journey beset by obstacles, so I felt some affinity for him.

I figured I might as well eat as long as I was there, but after a dish of steamed mussels in curry sauce (delicious), I was ready to hail another Lyft and head back to the Sheraton — knowing that it would be impractical to return for any ASOR sessions the next morning.

That’s why I ended up sitting in the hotel reading Bill Dever’s new magnum opus (Beyond the Texts: An Archaeological Portrait of ancient Israel and Judah) instead of hearing papers on “Landscapes of Settlement in the Ancient Near East” or “New Studies on Tel Azekah,” but one way or another, I’m learning …

 

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