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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bible and Justice Conference

Matthew Coomber is running a conference here at Sheffield on the Bible and Justice and at a bargain price I think it is fair to say. The web page is here.

Here are some of the key details:

The 2008 Conference on the Bible and Justice

29 May - 1 June, 2008

The 2008 Conference on Bible and Justice will bring together scholars from around the world to explore how the ancient texts of the Bible can play an active role in addressing twenty-first century social concerns. The purpose of the conference is to foster discussion about the relevance of the Bible to modern social issues, and promote bridges between the academic field of biblical studies and the various endeavours for a just world.

The Conference Will Focus On Three Main Areas:

* Human Rights
* Economic Justice
* Environmental Justice

Our Keynote Speakers Are:

* Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University
* Timothy Gorringe, University of Exeter
* John Rogerson, University of Sheffield (Emeritus)

A variety of other speakers, including James Crossley, Philip Davies, David Horrell, Louise Lawrence, Mary Mills, Hugh Pyper, Christopher Rowland, Gerald West, and Keith Whitelam, will address how the Bible is able to relate to a wide variety of social issues.

There is also a call for papers/abstracts now open:

Call For Abstracts

Abstracts of no more than 250 words will be accepted until January 24th, 2008. Each paper will receive a forty-minute time slot (30min for presentation and 10min for questions and answers). Abstracts should be attached as a Word document, and the body of the email should indicate which area the paper would best fit into: human rights, economic justice, or environmental justice.

A few selected papers will be included in a conference book. If you do not wish to have your work published in this volume, please let us know in the body of your email.

All abstracts should be sent to: bibleandjustice@sheffield.ac.uk

Conference Registration & Accommodation

Registration for the 2008 Confrence on Bible and Justice will open on 5th November.
Conference Fees

* Before Friday 7th March, 2008: £50 (£27 student rate)
* After Friday 7th March, 2008: £65 (£42 student rate)

Monday, October 29, 2007

End of the Sopranos

...has just aired in the UK. I don't want to give it away but I thought it was the best ending of a TV show I have ever seen. The whole series has been playing around with endings and what the ending might be. And I'm not surprised people have made parallels with the ending of certain biblical books (compare)...I want to say more but... Comments section only I suppose for ending discussions.

More on Abu el-Haj

Jim West reports more on the misrepresentation of Abu el-Haj in an article on the CBS website. I have written on this topic (I'll mention more on this at a later date) in a little detail but just to say that the problems of misrepresenting Abu el-Haj go even deeper. At times some of her critics are either lying or have not read the given passages remotely fairly. The comments about her endorsing Palestinian violence are plain inaccurate as are many of the comments on what she supposedly said on the destruction of Jerusalem. More than any other scholar I have come across, she has to prove that she is not endorsing violence or the like (notable because she has never said anything praising violence). As I say, more on this to come in future months.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Moses and Monotheism

Part of the function of the/a blog is self-promotion. Naturally, then, I’ll point to a new publication to which I contributed, T. Römer (ed.), La construction de la figure de Moïse (Paris: Gabalda, 2007). My contribution was ‘Moses and Pagan Monotheism’, pp. 319-339. Aside from self-promotion, there is almost an intellectual reason for mentioning this article, namely the discussion on Mark Goodacre’s blog concerning the definition of monotheism. Often I find definitional issues largely a waste of time (mostly the argument could go ahead if x, y or z was called x, y or z) but ‘monotheism’ is an exception. One reason is that monotheism is an exception is because there is often a scholarly distinction made between Judeo-Christian ‘monotheism(s)’, on the one hand, and pagan polytheism on the other. This is a mistake, I think, because if we use one definition of monotheism for early Judaism (with the necessary qualifications made for Christianity) then it applies to much of pagan thought at the time of Christian origins.

Here is one possible definition I work with in the above article and I paraphrase here: the idea of one God who ruled the universe and is distinct from all other beings in the cosmic hierarchy. This definition recognises that there were figures that can be generally described as ‘divine’, ‘supernatural’, exalted human beings, or some-one or -thing holding a significant role in the cosmic hierarchy. These figures might include angels and archangels or named figures such as Melchizedek, Metatron, Moses, Michael, messiah, and Enoch. Although Wisdom and the Word of God are kind of divine emanations they also have roles that sometimes appear distinct from God. Others too could be thought to have an extremely ‘high’ role in the divine cosmology or even take on some of God’s characteristics, coming close perhaps to full divinity but not quite. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Hebrew Bible texts referring to God as elohim (Ps. 82.1) and el (Ps. 7.8-9) can be re-interpreted at Qumran to refer to Melichizedek (11Q13 2.10-11) and elsewhere similar divine language can refer to angels (4Q405). Yet it is the divine/linguistic category which is re-interpreted without entertaining the idea that God’s overall role is compromised as the scrolls obviously show. Monotheism therefore functions a restraining factor. Likewise Philo has no problem with the idea of Moses, God’s partner in the ownership of creation, being named ‘god and king of the whole nation’ (Life of Moses 1.155-158). THEOS/Elohim is not technically God’s name, and that is important to remember (and maybe that old idea of Matthew avoiding kingdom of God and using kingdom of heaven is not really much of an issue after all).

In ‘orthodox’ Christian thought of course Jesus and the spirit are incorporated into the role of God and, with its own particular definitions, may also be defined as ‘monotheism’. Like known early Jewish thought, Christians were able to retain the idea of supernatural or elevated figures which did not necessarily compromise their particular view of monotheism. In many ways the generalised Jewish and Christian views of monotheism remain and should be generally familiar. For example, there are many people who believe in angels, saints and/or an elevated role of the Virgin Mary without compromising the idea that God is the ultimate ruler.
So monotheism could be defined as follows: ‘God is above all; there may be some kind of emanations of this God in some form; and there are beings which can be labelled divine but who do not compromise the overarching God’. If we take this view of ancient monotheism as having an overarching ruler while allowing the concept of other divine beings (of which theos/elohim can be used) then we must include much of pagan thought. Of course we could define this kind of pagan thought as something else (henotheism, polytheism etc.) but as it is structurally very similar to Jewish and Christian thought then if we do use alternative definitions we should really be using such definitions of Judaism and Christianity. Now we can call it x, y, or z.

A few examples. Celsus, for instance, claimed with reference to Jewish views of God, ‘that it makes no difference whether you call the highest being Zeus, or Zen, or Adonai, or Sabaoth, or Ammoun like the Egyptians, or Pappaeus like the Scythians’ (Origen, Contra Celsus 5.41). In fact the Platonic tradition can be called monotheistic as defined above, as church fathers knew. I particularly like the unknown philosopher cited by Macarius Magnes and look at the similarities:
At any rate, if you say that angels stand before God who are not subject to feeling and death, and immortal in their nature, whom we ourselves speak of as gods, because they are close to the Godhead, why do we dispute about a name? … The difference therefore is not great, whether a man calls them gods or angels, since their divine nature bears witness to them… (Monogenes 4.21)
Many more examples could be cited but I just refer people to P. Athanassiadi and M. Frede (eds.), Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity (Oxford, 1999) which discusses this issue in detail and which I use in the above mentioned essay and in Why Christianity Happened.

The rest of my essay also gives more examples but the focus gets a bit different. It looks at the role of ‘monotheism’ in pagan discussions of Moses. Moses’ monotheistic credentials are consistently tested by pagan writers when analyzing Moses’ views on the divine. The article shows this with reference to Julian the Apostate, Numenius, Ps. Longinus, Celsus, the Greek Magical Papyri, and Strabo. Sometimes Moses is a good monotheist, sometimes he is deemed bad. There is also some confusion over the particular god of Judaism being God of the world (this is one ‘failure’ of Jewish monotheism) etc. etc and other things. Throughout ‘monotheism’ was a regular assumption of the pagan viewers of Judaism.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Glasgow seminar

If anyone happens to be walking by the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Glasgow at 4.15pm on Monday 22 October, I'll be there giving a paper on Orientalism and the (negative) impact of international politics (e.g. war on terror) on contemporary NT scholarship.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

SBL and the Eyewitnesses

The deadline for the Bauckham panel for SBL (see below) was yesterday. Obviously I have done it or I wouldn't bother bringing up the subject. I will say more on it in due course, though it may well address these concerns I suspect, and I may make the paper available. As a little taster, I've gone for the title, 'What if...Richard Bauckham is Right about Eyewitnesses?'. Bet that's got you drooling.

New Perspective

In light of Dunn's paper at Sheffield, one issue has long bothered me about the whole NP debate: are Jewish texts being read with Christianised categories and far too systematically? I mean this on both 'sides' of the debate. Both covenantal nomism and the whole works righteousness thing (as Sanders showed) are really from Christian theology are they not? And are early Jewish texts really that systematic in discussing works, grace etc? Should we be expecting consistency? Dunn mentioned Deut. which is an interesting case for cov nom but can we still say that anything like a consistent working out of works/grace was that widespread? I'm not yet convinced. This would raise the question of 'why Paul'? The obvious answer to this would be that the significant number of gentiles associated with the movement forces Paul's hand. He HAS to discuss such issues and draw on those not-necessarily-systematic traditions of grace and works in Judaism and subsequent Christian theology HAS to systematise such issues. Like whatever.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Forthcoming Sheffield Seminars

While Jim West may wonder where I've been (I won't deny or confirm his suggestions), I'll just pass by to mention the forthcoming main seminars at Sheffield for semester 1:

Professor James D.G. Dunn (University of Durham) 'Twenty-First Century Paul: A New Perspective on the New Perspective' (Monday, 15 October, 2007)

Professor Loveday Alexander (University of Sheffield), 'The Myth of Salvation: Reading Luke's Acts in an Enchanted World' (Monday, 29 October)

Professor Timothy Lim (University of Edinburgh), 'How Good Was Ruth’s Hebrew?' (Monday, 10 December)