BCTR(S) 2018: London

Call for Papers and announcement of details for this years Bible, Critical Theory, and Reception conference. I can attest to the great fun and intellectual importance of these conferences, so do consider coming along!

Bible, Critical Theory, and Reception: The official seminar of the Royal Association of Biblical Studies

The eighth annual BCTR Seminar will be dedicated to some of the latest developments in biblical studies. Building on the success of the Bible and Critical Theory seminar and journal in the southern hemisphere, this approximate northern hemisphere equivalent will welcome papers in the general areas of critical theory, cultural studies and reception history.

Reception history is broadly understood to include the use, influence and receptions of biblical texts in all aspects of what might conventionally be called ‘culture’ (e.g. film, pop music, literature, politics etc.).

This two-day seminar will be held in London 23-24th July, 2018 at a venue to be announced shortly. CWkrThe seminar will run from noon on day 1 to mid-afternoon on day 2 and will be free of charge; accommodation will have to be found privately.

Anyone interested in presenting a paper (typically in a 30 minute slot), or would like any other further information…

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English Political Christmasses 2017

James Crossley providing ace commentary as usual.

Harnessing Chaos

Theresa May: The Ghost of Cameron Past

TMXmasTheresa May’s construction of Christmas is a little different this year. The usual praise is certainly present (e.g., emergency services, armed forces, aid workers etc.) and potential controversies alluded to, in this case a mention of the Grenfell Tower disaster just after she was strongly criticised for not appointing a diverse panel for the inquiry into the fire. And there is also the typical mention of Christmas as a time to construct a British Christian heritage (‘Let us take pride in our Christian heritage and the confidence it gives us to ensure that in Britain you can practice your faith free from question or fear’) and the usual vague values associated with Christmas in English political discourse (‘As we celebrate the birth of Christ, let us celebrate all those selfless acts…that epitomise the values we share: Christian values of love, service…

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When Everyone Knows Everything about Your Discipline: New Testament Edition

An anecdote:
A few Saturdays ago I was hanging out in a pub waiting for some friends to show up. Here I was, minding my own business and doing my scholarly duties. Yes, I was taking a few quiet moments to work on an article that I need to clean up, doing some reading and writing.

That day I also happened to be sitting by an older couple who engaged me in conversation (which, while nice, was a bit annoying as I was trying to do work). It turned out that the man, a retired physicist, was also trained in Koine, ancient Hebrew, and had written a book on the Bible. That he had self published.

Great for him, but what I found to be quite annoying was that he went on and on about what he thought about the Bible before moving on to Paul the apostle, who I happen to work on. And who also happens to be a polarising figure. He made some gaffes, but perhaps the most bothersome to me was the tired, old line that often goes something like: ‘Well, if Paul had been one of my students and turned in those writings as papers I would have failed him! He is always all over the place! Well, except for Romans!’
Sigh…
I get it. I really do. Paul can sometimes be hard to follow. We are, after all, reading letters delivered to communities; we also only see one side of a larger conversation. Information is limited. Which makes the cute comment about ‘failing’ him all the more annoying. Paul is not writing tightly argued, theological treatises. Paul isn’t producing systematic works treating all of our controlled theological categories. Paul isn’t writing to a professor.
It’s great that people have an interest in the Bible. I suppose it gives my work some legitimacy (although I stick to the margins of the discipline). But, this encounter reminded me that biblical illiteracy is something that goes a bit deeper than not knowing the stories, characters, or motifs that appear in a few dozen books that were written over centuries.

The man knows the languages, but his illiteracy goes a bit deeper, stunted by, perhaps, the hubris that one can easily understand the nuances of another’s discipline. Its a cute form of Dawkinsian screeds against religion.

This has been my useless rant for the day.

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.

dalemartin

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

 

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.

leviathan.jpg

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.

Image result for teresa morgan roman faith and christian faith

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.