Lisbon is a great city. Very, very friendly. It was pointed out that I rate conferences by the food (it’s true) and this was as good as any. And as my paper discussed aspects of the rave scene, a big shout out to the great staff at Hotel Britana! But we were there to learn from the European Association of Biblical Studies and you don’t really want to hear the social side of things, do you?
John Lyons’ session on the biblical world and its reception was as good an academic session as I can remember. From children’s lit to San Francisco, from Dawn of the Dead to gloomy old Manchester, we saw lots of examples of how biblical texts were being creatively used, gaps filled, biblical questions answered. Quite to my surprise one of two people with some good knowledge of Manchester music and its social historical context were present. It was particularly fun to be in a context not only where this sort of stuff could be discussed but to be away from the often polemical contexts I at least have found myself in the past few years. I also liked the fact that theoretically I knew I could persuade people on the basis of argument alone because there weren’t as many deeply held views at stake (I mean, I know I wouldn’t be able to persuade lots of people in historical critical arguments no matter how strong the arguments are because commitment levels are so intense). The Q&A sections were a good standard and some of the questions raised on this blog were also raised (independently) at the session. The question of historical, social, political etc contexts of reception was raised a couple of times. Another question raised was one of audience and in particular who picks up on the allusions. That could be a tricky issue but one obvious worth exploring. Some will be easier than others. Let’s take the UK. Some areas have a more obvious Christian context than others. Some people (I know) just will not pick up on allusions whereas others it will part of their upbringing and contexts whether they believe or not. Notice how this kind of audience, like the various other questions, is not too removed from standard historical critical questions. As with historical criticism and NT it also shows the warnings of mirror reading texts in establishing audience.
I did detect a little bit of an inferiority complex or paranoia among some colleagues, namely that they won’t get taken seriously enough. I appreciate why they may think like this because would someone trained in reception alone be hired for a post at junior level at least…? But on the other hand, and more in more intellectual than practical terms, who cares? IF historical critics don’t like it, then let them carry on doing what they do. Reception history doesn’t need their endorsement intellectually just as historical critics don’t need the endorsement of reception critics, unless of course reception history tries to answer a classic exegetical question. In terms of the use of the Bible without trying to get to ‘the original meaning’ then we are virtually talking about two different worlds, right?
In terms of importance, I’ll give another example of no less a figure than John Lyons himself. John will probably write on his paper in due course but here we started getting into the reception of the reception. Given that Johnny Cash is the topic of John’s paper we might be able to answer some of the slightly snobbish questions that are sometimes raised against reception history, esp. the non-‘orthodox’ theology type, i.e. is it really relevant and who cares about all these views of crazy people (I remember this something like this said in a questions session by one very famous professor at a theology conference)? Firstly, I’ll just mention this: is it really fair to dismiss the history of anyone because it isn’t orthodox or mainstream? I’d hope that we are now in an era when all sorts of histories ‘from below’ were acceptable… Secondly, and in direct answer, Johnny Cash is an excellent example for a different reason, namely he is a figure of cultural significance, esp. since his death. John’s paper and papers on this have shown that he turns up in all sorts of different cultural contexts. If academic worth is measured on things like cultural significance and influence (not that it necessarily should), couldn’t a case for studying someone like Cash be particularly strong, even more so than much of historical criticism…?