This year, the Old Testament Society of South Africa (OTSSA) celebrates its sixtieth year of existence and in the next months we will highlight this event in different ways. The OTSSA was and still is more than just an organization that meets once a year but is a major intellectual force, which has made a huge contribution to the scholarly understanding of the Hebrew Bible but also contributed to the growth/ formation of a South African theology.
The OTSSA came about in 1957 when a group of Old Testament scholars from all over the country gathered in Stellenbosch to reflect on the formation of an organization for Old Testament and Semitic scholars. They wanted to create a space for scientific reflection and an academic journal to publish their views on the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East.
Albertus van Zyl took the initiative because, after attending an Old Testament congress in Europe, he wanted something similar for South Africa. He approached Adrianus van Selms and Barend Gemser and this led to the establishment of the OTSSA in December 1957. Since that December day in 1957, the OTSSA met annually and the papers were and still are published in the official journal of the OTSSA, Old Testament Essays, which has grown into an international journal. The following summary is available on the official OTSSA website:
The OTSSA was founded in 1957 by professors and senior lecturers who were involved in the dosage of the subject Old Testament and / or Semitic Languages at South African universities. It was decided to annually hold a conference and to publish the papers presented under the auspices of the OTSSA. For the first thirty years, the papers published as conference proceedings and the title OTSSA / OTSSA, the date, and had the theme of the congress on the title page (eg OTSSA / OTSSA 27  Studies in the Succession Narrative). These publications have quickly found their way to overseas colleagues and libraries. The management themselves also tasked to invite leading foreign Old Testament scholars to come deliver papers. This contributed to the establishment of good a relationship with overseas colleagues. Since 1988, the papers published in the journal Old Testament Essays (New Series). This review was originally started by colleagues at the University of South Africa, was taken over by the OTSSA in 1988 and has become the showcase of research conducted at South African universities.
The work community was relatively small at the beginning (no more than twenty members), but the membership over the years has grown to a three-digit number. The OTSSA is currently nearly two hundred members strong. This keeps growth in membership among others related to colleagues from the rest of Africa who now join the working community and attend the conferences.
Looking back on the road, which the OTSSA has travelled the past sixty years one is filled with awe and wonder. Over the years, many people worked extremely hard to make the annual congresses happen, to read lectures, to publish the journal (Old Testament Essays), to write articles and books, to maintain very high scientific standards, to recruit new members, and to make Old Testament science both locally and internationally relevant. Apart from the NTSSA, there is probably no other South African theological society with such an infrastructure, scientific standard and recorded history as the OTSSA.
For more information see http://www.otwsa-otssa.org.za/