Dale Martin on Ancient, Biblical, and Modern Families

Dale Martin is fairly well-known in New Testament studies. He is, perhaps, best known for his work on social history and it’s impact on understanding the NT (See, for instance, his highly influential book The Corinthian Body), as well as important scholarship on sexuality and the ancient world.

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Dale B. Martin

Earlier this year he stopped by the University of Kent and presented a lecture (Ancient, Biblical, and Modern Families) open to the public, introduced by UKC’s own Ward Blanton (whose doctoral project was supervised by Dale). The link below leads to a video of Dale’s lecture, so feel free to take a gander.

Please forgive the video’s non-HD quality.

Ancient, Biblical and Modern Families lecture

 

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The Masquerade

I’ve been increasingly annoyed with theological readings masquerading as objective, non-ideological products of biblical studies.

This is most evident in work on the Historical Jesus or St. Paul. Because a scholar has already committed to a very specific representation of Jesus or Paul, they cannot even fathom the possibility that there can be counter-evidence or different approaches to a specific text. Contrary to what many believe, reading Jesus as an agent of resistance is not as absurd as thinking Jesus was merely a figment of Roman Imperial propaganda. But, attempts to think of Jesus as modeling a specific ethic of political apathy, for instance, is always bound up within a fundamentalist reading of history, one that cannot be qualified, and if qualified the additions or excisions are always already agreeable to one’s own theological agenda.

Sad Jesus

Sad Jesus is Sad.

It’s just a rather usual example of confirmation bias. Qualifying data is thrown out if it at all threatens what the scholars believes. So, in the instance mentioned above, any scholarship that could fall within Empire Studies (as well as any postcolonial readings) would be regarded as, in some way, illegitimate, or simply ignored. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated it may be, it has already been determined to be illegitimate in the eyes of the creator of theologised readings of Jesus or Paul.

What I found most liberating early in my work was recognising my own bias, my tendency to fall into the Great Man myth with Jesus and Paul, to theologise their persons such that I wasn’t able to approach the text except through my very specific lens, one that molded Paul into a sort of figuration that followed my own political/ethical/theological proclivities. It wasn’t that I was naive to the problem, but I did my best to fight against counter-evidence by staking my claim instead on evidence that supported the Paul that mirrored my own reflection.

This isn’t to say that I think aren’t bound to ideology, that I think we can somehow loosen the shackles and escape into a purely objective reading of the text. In fact, it is often those who think so, or who edge toward thinking so, that, blind to ideological sway, theologise when they say they are merely doing ‘biblical studies.’

Instead, what I suggest is that we all are, already, stuck in this mode, and that it is only through acknowledging it that we can even begin to stop producing naive stories.

Expertise and Denial: Philosophical Edition

Soon after I wrote my last post (too long ago, unfortunately) I attended a wonderful workshop on political theology. The University of Kent’s School of Law, in conjunction with Birkbeck and some other university’s, started a wider project focused on juridification and political theology.

Gil Anidjar

Gil Anidjar

The workshop was wonderful, and including participation from many researchers from Kent, Canterbury Christ Church University, Birkbeck, and other places. Political philosophers, critical legal theorists, theologians, and biblical scholars met and dialogued over fascinating papers. I remember clearly, still, Gil Anidjar walking us through Hobbes, images of war, and the fascinating frontispiece found on early versions of Leviathan.

But, as great as this event was, I recall most vividly a rather concentrated dialogue that many in the room engaged in. What concerned me about this intense discussion was it was filled with misconceptions about, foremost, St. Paul! And, the misconceptions were stated in a confidently intransigent manner.

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Thomas Hobbes’s masterpiece Leviathan’s frontispiece.

In a room full of theologians, philosophers, legal theorists, and biblical scholars no one engaged the simplification, which dealt with Paul’s attitude to the law, explicitly. And, this is a big problem.

The philosophical reception of Paul has been encouraging for me, as a New Testament scholar. There have been challenges and an increasing number of figurations that take into account the wisdom found in diverse disciplines because of this movement of the academic wind. But, likewise, it has allowed for some rather naive views to flourish, often unchecked.

My mild reaction, here, against the obvious lack of expertise found in this discussion, also, isn’t merely about being dead-set against creative philosophical Pauline figurations. What I found dangerous was the intransigent, simplistic view of Paul being antinomian (with no qualification) that a researcher excitedly claimed. There was no interest in how a nuanced view of law may change Paul’s significance to discussions on juridification or political theology.

Here’s to hoping, as well, that I’m a bit more bold about speaking out.

It’s a bit difficult, after all, to summon the courage to do so in a room full of well-known scholars.

Teresa Morgan’s Roman Faith and Christian Faith

If you are interested in the diverse ways pistes and fides are used in early Roman and Christian sources, particularly, then take a look at my most recent book review which has been published through the journal Religion.

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It’s a great resource, if a bit pricey.

Also, I had a bit of hell trying to get this thing written. Last December I took a trip back home to the US and had this book packed away in my check-in luggage. The bag was immediately lost and I was in a bit of a panic for the 5 weeks I was away. Especially because I did not want to shell out 150 bucks for a new copy. Thankfully, Heathrow airport was able to find it after I got back in. The tag had fallen off almost immediately, and so it was sitting around, safe and sound.

Book review.

Bible and Critical Theory latest edition: free and online

I want to point to this latest edition of Bible and Critical Theory and the easiest way is to reblog James’s post.

Furthermore, keep your eyes peeled, as I will be blogging through some of the more interesting articles in this most recent issue.

Harnessing Chaos

The latest BCT is out and it is free, open access, and online (PDFs here.).

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“Manufacturing Dissent: Reflections on a Year of the Corbyn Movement and the Return of the Radical Bible” is more a review of the past year since Corbyn became Labour leader. It already feels a little behind the times given the Trump victory and that the Bob Crow Brigade (who intervened in the Labour election) Twitter account has been suspended (for reasons unknown to me), though there is still Red London. But it covers some of the media treatment of Corbyn (esp. Guardian) and a fairly crude reading of the debates over feminism and gender in light of the Corbyn movement, including certain representations of Rojava…

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Here is the Table of Contents. The articles have a certain relevance…

Vol 12, No 2 (2016)
Radicalism, Violence, and Religious Texts

Table of Contents
Editorial: Radicalism, Violence…

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Jesus Mythicism: Ehrman and Price

I hate being salt in the wound, but one of the more funny things to do, as someone with a background in biblical studies, is watching the flailing and blind waffling of Jesus mythicists.

Mythicism is what happens when untrained, undereducated (in the particular subject being discussed), ideologically naive people gather into walled off groups and discuss the fanciful while pretending they are circumventing the ideology of the academy at large (assuming NT studies is corrupted by Christian practitioners).

Because of the bizarre nature of such debates, I decided I had to stay up until midnight (London Time) on October 20th to watch a nearly three hour event, a debate between Bart Ehrman and Robert Price. At times I was intrigued, but mostly I knew perturbation. That feeling probably peaked when Price had the gall to suggest that Paul didn’t write Galatians. What?!

I, obviously, had a side. I’m a Pauline scholar with a background working on, particularly, Paul and his reception and possible uses in political philosophy and critical theory. Because of this, I do often find myself in a strange spot where I rely on biblical studies and defend it, while still occupying a marginal space on the boundaries of the discipline.

But, I am also aware of the limitations in method for the work on the historical Jesus. These have been pointed out by plenty, including Ehrman, Crossley, R. Myles, D. Kirkman,  and scores of reasonably skeptical scholars (who note problems with, for instance, criteria like “embarrassment” or dissimilarity)

Because of this, I actually was looking forward to some interesting pushback, either through Price’s grappling with Ehrman, or through the audience Q & A. Instead, I found myself messaging a friend, lamenting that I had stayed up so late (he felt mutual). I also paid £6. I could have gotten 3 beers from Tesco and had enough change leftover for candy. Probably would have resulted in a more fun night.

Every point brought up by Price was easily countered by Ehrman (though he did make some mistakes, and acted a bit authoritative on points that aren’t quite concrete, like the ethnicity of Mark). The audience questions, likewise, were just silly. The type that could easily have been cleared up by reading a few surveys instead of getting one’s feet wet in the subject by  picking up mythicist literature.

Here, then, we can come to the crux of the issue. This is purely ideological, through and through. It isn’t really about scholarship, or finding Truth, or some other romanticized notion. It’s about forming scholarship that finds its guiding touchpoints through the broader cultural form of certain types of atheism.

There was, however, an enjoyable breakdown of the evening with scholars on an online podcast, consisting of James McGrath and James G. Crossley. This was the highlight of the night as they were given chance to discuss the some of the details of the debate. Several minutes in a mythicist joined the ranks, so at times it felt like a second mini-event. This was, perhaps, the saving grace of the evening. 

Jesus and Homelessness, with Robert Myles

Recorded earlier this summer, but only recently edited, was a nice discussion on Jesus and homelessness with Matthean scholar, Robert J. Myles (Auckland).

In this video he answers questions and discusses some of the topics related with his ground breaking study on homelessness, Jesus, and the gospel of Matthew using political philosophers like Slavoj Zizek and others.

Robert J. Myles and the Homeless Jesus

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If interested in this book, here is a handy link.