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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Do you believe in the devil?


Here's an interesting poll result from Jim West's Biblical Studies discussion group:

POLL QUESTION: Do you believe there is Biblical evidence for a literal "Devil"
and that such a being exists?

CHOICES AND RESULTS
- Yes, there is Biblical evidence and there is a "Devil", 25 votes, 52.08%
- Yes, there is Biblical evidence, but there is no "Devil", 11 votes, 22.92%
- No, there is no Biblical evidence for such a being, 11 votes, 22.92%
- I'm not sure, 1 votes, 2.08%

A couple of points which make this small sample poll particularly interesting. From the names I see on the group, and Jim can correct me if I'm wrong, it is a largely academic membership (am I right?). Biblical Studies now continues, if Jim doesn't mind me saying, after a small conservative group split off (am I right?).

UPDATE:

I reckon some bloggers should give their thoughts on whether they believe in the devil or not and in what form and non-bloggers in comment sections. Seems worth broadening Jim's experiment.

Jim has a poll on his blog and the results: they remain interesting reading and not too far removed from the Biblical Studies poll.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Lebanon and Rhetoric

I was sent a petition concerning the death of Lebanese civilians today and the link is on the side bar. Here is the blurb from the site:

Please go to http://julywar.epetition.net and sign the Save the Lebanese Civilians Petition and forward this invitation to your friends.

Lebanese civilians have been under the constant attack of the state of Israel for several days. The State of Israel, in disregard to international law and the Geneva Convention, is launching a maritime and air siege targeting the entire population of the country. Innocent civilians are being collectively punished in Lebanon by the state of Israel in deliberate acts of terrorism as described in Article 33 of the Geneva Convention.


http://julywar.epetition.net


I should also add the following comments from Amnesty International:

Amnesty International is calling on the UN Security Council to urgently adopt measures to protect civilians caught up in the deepening Israel-Lebanon conflict.

Amnesty International condemns the continued attacks on civilians by both Israel and Hizbullah. Such attacks are a blatant breach of international humanitarian law and amount to war crimes.


And this:

Israeli forces have carried out large-scale destruction of civilian infrastructure throughout Lebanon, deliberately targeting and destroying dozens of bridges, roads, powers stations, the international airport and ports, grain silos and other facilities. Tens of thousands of civilians have been forced to flee their homes, notably in South Lebanon and in the suburbs of the capital, Beirut.

Hizbullah has also shown disregard for civilian lives by deliberately firing hundreds of katyusha and other rockets into towns and villages in Northern Israel, killing several Israeli civilians and injuring many more, and causing substantial damage to homes and other civilian properties.


These comments seem to reflect the opinions of many people I know. For what it is worth I put these comments up because in the blogging and general media world there is the logically ridiculous (but idelogically convenient) argument repeatedly put forward that concern for Lebanese civilians is confused with support for Hizbullah (or even Syria and/or Iran) and no concern for Israeli civilians.

No doubt some of you have seen comments on other blogs and biblioblogs, some of them just downright disgraceful and completely lacking in humanity, and usually supported by opinion and completely lacking concrete examples. This is not to mention numerous factual inaccuracies and the all-too-familiar Orwellian twisting of language to rid any aggressors of blame. There is plenty of material which refutes some of the lies (e.g. Robert Fisk's recent articles in the Independent).

But some of the mistakes go beyond the present crisis. In the comments section of one of Joe Cathey's discussions of this issue, Joe's response says:

If you are angry because the U.S. sides with Israel then that is just too bad. There isn’t another regime in the Middle East that is our ally. What do you expect? Do you want us to cozy up to Syria, Iran, or Saudi Arabia? Each of these countries would just as soon fly jets into our buildings rather than help us in the Middle East. Is it any wonder why we are friendly to the Israelis?

Saudi? Has the US never engaged in a bit of cozying up with them!!?!! The connections between Saudi and the US are hardly some big secret. I've probably said this a million times on this site now but the US has backed countless unpleasant regimes and hasn't been too fussed if they are states from the Middle East. On past action I would not be surprised what state the US (and UK) would be prepared to back.

Monday, July 17, 2006

BNTC 2006 Abstracts

There are several abstracts available for the BNTC seminars. We now have Jesus Seminar (NOT to be confused with the American Jesus Seminar - though it would be entertaining if Bird had joined behind our backs) titles and abstracts. Note the potential for an early Crossley/Bird clash. If you are coming to BNTC you will of course want to come to the Jesus Seminar. The abstracts for the BNTC short papers are also available.

Dr James Crossley (University of Sheffield)
'Writing about the Historical Jesus: Historical Explanation and "the Big Why Questions" or Antiquarian Empiricism?'
Eric Hobsbawm once referred to 'neo-conservative' history of the 'antiquarian empiricists'. This type of history took the form of the detailed political narrative which had little if any concern for deeper causal issues in history and focussed mainly on issues such as personality. Hobsbawm, like many historians, stressed the importance of explaining historical change with reference to a range of factors: the big why questions. Debates around the nature of historical change have long rumbled on but there is little doubt that broader historical trends have played and continue to play a massive role for historians when explaining why things turned out as they did.
Notable exceptions aside, it seems that these ideas have barely penetrated 'mainstream' historical approaches to Christian origins which have tended to look at event level history, history of ideas and theology. The quest for the historical Jesus, for example, has been dominated by finding out who Jesus was, what he meant by this or that saying, and how he was different from or similar to his contemporaries. However, the developments in social-scientific approaches to Christian origins and a growing and often uneasy awareness of the importance of secularism in the humanities make it now possible for a re-focusing of the questions of why the Jesus movement emerged when and where it did and whether the individual historical figure of Jesus had any causal importance in the emergence of what was to become Christianity. This paper will outline some benefits of shifting historical Jesus questions from antiquarian exegesis to the bigger picture of why the Jesus movement and subsequent Christian movement emerged. More specifically this paper will suggest that while the impact of the historical Jesus should not be wholly ignored, his apparent impact was only possible due to broader historical trends. In fact it is most likely that specific social and economic change in early first century Galilee best account for the emergence of the Jesus movement which in turn tie in with long term social, economic and communicative trends throughout the Roman Empire thereby allowing for the emergence of another monotheistic movement after his death.

Dr Michael Bird (Highland Theological College)
'Who comes from the East and West?: The Historical Jesus and Q 13:28-29'
Since Joachim Jeremias' Jesu Verheissung für die Völker (1956) it has often been assumed that in Matt 8.11-12 Jesus looked forward to the inclusion of gentiles into the kingdom at the eschaton. However, several recent studies, most notably by Dale C. Allison, have called this view into question and have instead advocated that the logion refers to the regathering of the Diaspora. The purpose of this study is to evaluate Allison's arguments and to propose that a gentile reference is implicit in the logion based on: (1) the broader context of the inter-textual echoes of passages concerning the regathering of Jewish exiles; and (2) a wider ethnic membership for those who participate in the patriarchal banquet based on the reference to 'Abraham'. Furthermore, the logion is interpreted in the historical Jesus' ministry through the lens of a partially realized eschatology. As such the saying represents Jesus' contention that Israel's restoration was already becoming a reality and that gentiles were already entering the kingdom as an embryonic foretaste of their inclusion at the eschaton.

Dr Steve Moyise (University of Chichester)
'Jesus and Scripture'

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Doctor Who and Reception History

Alas, Doctor Who has finished (great last two minutes by the way) but isn't it just waiting for a reception historian to deal with all that biblical and religious imagery (hell, Genesis Ark, devil, prophecy, messiah etc.) used throughout?

Jesus Dynasty, the supernatural and history

In response to reviews of the Jesus Dynasty, James Tabor writes:

More than one evangelical Christian reviewer or reader of my book The Jesus Dynasty has objected to the exclusion of the so-called “miraculous” as a part of an investigation of the “historical” Jesus. As Christianity Today’s Darrell Bock put it: “James Tabor’s historical assumptions that reject God’s activity on Earth force him into odd arguments to explain the birth of Christianity.” Bock is referring particularly to my observation that historians assume that all humans have two biological parents and that dead bodies don’t rise to life. Ironically, to most historians the “odd arguments” are characteristic of those who take the assertions that Jesus had no human father or that he walked out of his tomb and ascended into heaven as literal scientific statements of fact. Whether I personally reject “God’s activity on Earth” is another matter entirely that I don’t address directly in my book.

This has been an issue which has turned up on this blog more than once and sometimes lead to some entertaining hate (e)mail. It is an old and well worn issue but it hasn't gone away. As ever don't get me wrong, I have no problem with people who want to argue that the miraculous explains Christian origins no matter how misguided I think that is but who is really odd? I find it difficult to imagine that a historian in a history department would explain the emergence of a new religion or movement in terms of supernatural and the divine in history. It may not be odd in theology and biblical studies but in 'secular' discipline it would be, right?

The historian EH Carr was not always on the side of the angels in many ways (to put it mildly) but his stress that resorting to God is the joker in the pack of cards that a historian is not allowed to use seems to me to be completely mainstream among historians in history departments.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Thoughts on Eagleton Conference

The Eagleton was an interesting look at what a prominent group of people (esp.literary/cultural critics do). It highlighted the obvious to me, namely that biblical studies and theology are a little odd in comparison with other universities disciplines. This is not necessarily bad thing though I think we do miss out on a lot. The conference was largely literary and cultural criticism and interestingly there was consistenly a historical element to the criticism. Now I'm not just talking about things like this piece of literature was written in so and so a time and this sheds light on this, that and the other. But rather in a whole host of different ways. Most obviously how a texts interacts with modes of production etc. but also some interesting use that parallels, I think, some strands of reception history, namely those which do not seek 'true' readings of a text but how various historical events are received and adapted etc. An example of this was the titleless paper by Seamus Deane. It was a good decision to leave it titleless as it spanned all sorts of areas. One of many areas was the sinking of the Lusitania the event which supposedly brought the US into WWI and how this was received (or not) in different texts.

Biblical studies often drifts into 'literature' or 'history' (not mutually exclusive I know) whereas this just wasn't entertained as is pretty typical of materialistic reading. There are many reasons for this tied up with the history of the discipline but it will be interesting to see if materialistic readings of non-liberation theological type will take off in biblical studies (R. Boer's Marxist Reading of the Bible or something like that is an obvious recent example and I know Jorunn Økland, also present, is doing some work along these lines). It is a very distinctive tradition outside biblical studies but its almost inevitable critique of texts and ideology will make its reception in biblical studies (and NT in particular) interesting viewing.

Although the 'literary' and 'cultural' elements were dominant (it was an Eagleton conference after all), there was some of the more typically 'historical' in one little debate that got sparked off involving deprevation and causal factors involved in historical change. It was the kind of debate I'd like to see happen more in studies of Xn origins.

There was of course the typically more 'historical' Alex Callinicos who made some comparisions with the left-Catholic theologian H. McCabe and the concept of revolution in Marxism and revolution in relation to overcoming death. In strands of Marxist tradition he noted that the finitude demands this worldly transformation. He also added more of his general critique of postmodernism.

Ah, there was loads at the conference and it is too much too think I'm going to summarise everything. In general what is particularly useful about going to such conferences is a reminder of a different way of thinking to biblical studies and that's no bad thing.

I hate to say this but I missed the last session which would have been particularly relevant you might think but I, erm, went to watch the football. Pre-Rooney's sending off that was a very, very boring game.