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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jesus in an Age of Terror

Jesus in an Age of Terror: Scholarly Projects for a New American Century (Equinox, 2008) is due out by mid-November in time for SBL. Time permitting, I'm going to give a kind of preview over the next couple of weeks. Time permitting...

The book, as the blurb says, looks at arguments made by Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, Edward Said etc. on international politics and the role of the media, intellectuals and academics and applies a modified form to the study of Christian origins and New Testament scholarship in the past 40 or so years. Such scholars are particularly helpful because they allow a very precise historical contextualisation of scholarship and ideology.

Major points of this book are designed to explain why two major developments in NT studies happened when and where they did and the underlying ideology keeping them bouyant. This will include looking at the emergence of ‘the Arab’ and some very dubious comments about what the ‘Arab world’ is meant to be like (now and then) and what Arabs are meant to be like (now and then). This has become increasingly common in the past 30 years and it seems that huge chunks of NT scholarship are unaware of Said’s very, very famous demolition of Orientialist scholarship which is even more worrying given the events of the past decade where Orientalism has come back blasting. So why does this happen? Well I try to answer that and related questions. Building on Bill Arnal’s work, the other major point involves the (at times quite misleading) emphasis on ‘Jewishness’ in historical Jesus and NT scholarship since the 1970s where love for Jews and Judaism is common but underneath is a widespread view that Jews and Judaism come a poor second. Behind both these major points there are lengthy chapters on Anglo-American historical, political, cultural etc discourse on the construction of ‘the Arab’, ‘the Middle East’, and Islam and the shifting views on Jews, Judaism and Israel in the past 40 or so years. This is to show how higher education and NT scholarship are deeply embedded in contemporary cultural trends and how these cultural trends can help explain shifting trends in NT studies.

What about biblioblogging? Well just a moment. The first section looks at the ideological location of NT scholarship. The first chapter is a brief overview of the history of NT scholarship and how historical and political contexts have influenced the ways in which questions are framed and so on and how dominant interest groups will influence the ways we debate. The second chapter is on bibliobloggers. I chose the bloggers because they are a contemporary example of academics who are less guarded than in traditional publications. Here there is, I think, powerful evidence that dominant political emphases in the media are reflected in the bloggers. More on that to come… Alas, the manuscript was completed before the advent of NT Wrong so I couldn't discuss the great bishop.

There are various reasons for this book. The clash of civilisation and war on terror discourse is so prominent it would hardly be a great surprise to find its impact in NT studies. It was also becoming increasingly common for NT scholars to make some unfortunate comments on Islam and Arabs (the connection is frequently made), echoing the kinds of comments made about Jews and Judaism a generation of so ago in NT scholarship.

I should add that I am perfectly aware that this book was influenced by political and historical context. Most obviously this would include escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine, Sept 11, invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and bombings in Bali, Madrid, and London. So this book is, obviously, as much a work of its time as the works it critiques. On a personal level, I’ve been interested in politics at least as long as I have been reading about biblical studies so perhaps something like this book was inevitable.

Maurice Casey aptly refers to one aspect of New Testament scholarship (research on the hypothetical gospel source, ‘Q’) as being in ‘a regrettably bureaucratised state’. What I’m pretty sure Maurice at least partly means by this is the dominance of consensus and how arguments frequently descend into reference to academic authority rather than, well, argument, and over reliance on consensus. This ‘bureaucratisation’ became very apparent to me at an SBL meeting where I attended a few sect-like sessions where arguments were confirmed right or wrong by the interests of the groups or by reference to scholarly heroes and friends and so on. Part of me wanted to find out why, though to be honest the book ended up not focusing so heavily on the ins and outs of different issues in NT studies. Instead, it’s all politics…

30 Comments:

Blogger Jim said...

this should be fun!

October 23, 2008

 
Blogger Chris Zeichmann said...

Honestly, I didn't think I could get much more excited about this book. Then I read this. Awesomeness.

October 23, 2008

 
Anonymous Emanuel Pfoh said...

James,

I'm looking forward to reading more on this (by the way, I enjoyed your Why Christianity Happened very much).
And congratulations: you're probably the only English-speaker I know who actually puts the correct stress in Spanish words! (Guantánamo)

October 23, 2008

 
Blogger Michael F. Bird said...

James,
Sounds like it's going to be a riveting read. I like Maurice's statements. Though I think doing the history of NT scholarship in one chapter was a bit courageous!

October 24, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

somebody's in for a surprise. It's a shame NT Wrong wasn't born.

October 24, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Evil bankers were born though. And so was N T Wrong but he has a large yellow belly.

James you are in the wrong job.

October 24, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

And of course Maurice too recognises this phenomenon in other aspects of NT scholarship.

October 24, 2008

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Thanks all.

Incidentally Emanuel, I noticed that we have similar methodological interests at heart when I heard your EABS paper: the urbanisation/'city states' stuff you discussed, if I remember correctly, sounds like precisely the sort of approaches needed for historical explaination of the kinds of questions we've both asked.

Geoff: you'd be surprised how many people tell me that I'm in the wrong job...

Mike: I should probably qualify the point about the chapter on the history of scholarship: it is a look at the way broad internationally significant political trends have influenced scholarship rather than an overview of scholarship as such which, as you imply, would require much much more (bookS I imagine). I'm hoping that ch 1 is the sort of chapter we can all agree on so I can make the case for the rest of the book (when agreements are bound to break down!)

October 24, 2008

 
Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Really looking forward to the book! Interestingly, the word verification code for this post was hopeyousaidnicethingsaboutwrightordoom

October 24, 2008

 
Blogger Jim said...

tilling.... you just aint right. or wright.

October 24, 2008

 
Anonymous Emanuel Pfoh said...

Yes, James. I think we share methodological interests indeed. Fortunately for me, there's still a lot to do within OT studies and Palestine's history. I will be dealing with this for the next 4-5 decades or so :-)

October 24, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Sounds like someone has a secure job - but as boring as hell.

October 24, 2008

 
Anonymous Emanuel Pfoh said...

Well, Geoff, hell can be a very pleasant state of mind.

EP, heavy metaller

October 24, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

We may choose to live in hell and James is far too active to be bored - and emanuel is right.

October 24, 2008

 
Blogger andrewbourne said...

Hi James this sounds fantastic how much do you contextualise on Empire, and do you look at the Pauline views on Empire. As to which do you examine any of the work by Hardt and Negri on Empire.

October 25, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Steph, one can be active and wrong. When I read his Why Christianity Happened, I think James has not really broken free from the establishment that chokes. The evidence is in his literalism and lack of questioning of the sources, the common failing of most academics who wish to prove a point using their memories. He could learn the art of Australian yoga - listening to the guts. But you don't get a Ph.D for that.

When I read the DSS, or The Gospel of Judas say, I am thinking that the text may well be biased. But when I read the NT or much of the writings attributed to Josephus, I am thinking that someone is trying to pull the wool over my eyes, deliberately distorting, or changing, or adding to, the record and the history. And that's my view of what the pauline (with a 'p') Empire was like, Andrew. Or at least that's what the Flavian historians were like - liers of doubtful parentage. Eisenman told me so, in effect. One even has to suspect that the same folk were involved in editing both the writings attributed to Josephus and the NT, classically, for example, the two accounts of the death of Agrippa I.

But of course Jimmy of the wild west can always come riding to the rescue with some Noddy stuff explaining the truth to those in the pews, or should I say pew.

October 25, 2008

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Hi James this sounds fantastic how much do you contextualise on Empire, and do you look at the Pauline views on Empire. As to which do you examine any of the work by Hardt and Negri on Empire.

Hello Andrew. The idea of Empire is always present in the book but more implicitly: it's more on the discourse of foreign policies and clash of civilisations and the ways in which political challenges to power marginalised. As it happens - and I suspect some people may be surprised by this - the book doesn't discuss the whole Paul and Empire thing. Well, almost doesn't discuss. In the furst chapter I argue that this may well be influenced by modern concerns but it is dissent that is effectively neutralised (not that participants necessarily want to be seen as dissenting) and has minimal impact. This can be contrasted with certain scholar attacks on power which are deemed as genuine threats...but more on that to come. In this book I'm more interested in scholarly work that has been attacked hard politically but, most of all, trends that cut across the usual divides in scholarship and reflect Anglo-American concerns in the Middle East in particular. I'll blog on this soon.

October 25, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

For example (pages 127-130 of WCH), is it OK to accept literally in a jewish context these words attributed to Jesus: "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him unclean?"? (Mk.7:20) In his anxiety to create polemic against Pharisees, clearly, the editor made one almighty blunder. Because in a Jewish context, unclean spirits could indeed enter and take possession of a man, by entering his heart. And the uncleanness at issue was uncleanness before God. Washing hand's did not achieve this. In another blunder, the editor's 'evil' (7:23) only came out of men's hearts. In a Jewish context the 'evil' had to get in there in the first place in the form of impure spirits. And it was impure spirits that had the capability of coming out again and going into someone else.

Not bad for a practitioner of Australian yoga, hey Jim.

October 25, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But the passage is all about, er, unclean food not, er, unclean spirits!
Geoff, shouldn't you write your own blog to discuss these things?

October 25, 2008

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Oh Chris, Wright feature only here and there but I think I even said a nice thing. I think. And it might have been qualified. But one nice thing is a start, right?

October 25, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

Nice things can be said about Wright on politics, just not biblical studies.

Nice things can always be said about Jim.

And Geoff, perhaps you should go away and read "The Date of Mark".

October 25, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Well anonymous, if the original issue of Mark 7 was about unclean food, why is it so obvious that eveything to do with Pharisees is obvious later interpolation. Pharisees were established post 70There is no evidence for their existence pre 70 apart from the obvious interpolations in the writings attributed to Josephus.

October 26, 2008

 
Blogger andrewbourne said...

Thanks for that James. I thought that might be the case that your discussion may be more concerned with the implicit politics of Biblical interpretation. By the way I live in Castleford, UK. If you are available at all for discussion I can get to Sheffield, or as I would imagine that my friend Hugh Pyper is keeping you too busy

October 26, 2008

 
Blogger Josh McManaway said...

I'm really looking forward to this. Your irritation over arguments being "won" by appealing to a supposed majority of scholars who hold that position is shared. If there's one thing I like (and there's certainly more) about your attitude towards NT studies, it's that arguments have to stand on their own.

October 27, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

And with regard to Mark 7, we know of one community that did wash in cold water when they came from their labours. (War 2:7) I suggest it was also the prophet's community, and that he was teaching them that such washing did not cleanse their spirits. Thus in the words of Josephus' Flavian editor, the prophet was 'prevailing with his countrymen to revolt'. In reality, he was persuading his own community to think differently about what made them pure before God. It was the spirit that would rise that had to be cleansed.

October 27, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

nompyempThe banks got themselves in a mess. The majority of folk began to think there might be a recession. They reduced their spending. Less business was done. Employers began to make employees redundant. House repossessions increased. The stock market went down further. Then it is true for all to see, there really was a recession. One might ask how one can go from boom to bust in the space of a few weeks. Is it all about concensus? Are folk behaving like lemmings, all talking themselves into recession?

Is there a parallel here with the behaviour of scholars in biblical studies, watching and citing each other? The few that break away, like Golb on the origin of the documents found at Qumran, end up in isolation. "Read this, read that" says Steph. But when does the reading stop, and the real independent thought begin? It comes back to guts.

October 28, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Steph. How does a scholar determine when text is fabricated interpolation? You know the DSS and Philo are silent on Pharisees, but the wrings attributed to Josephus are not.

But how about this little bit of editor's pandering to Pharisees in those writings?

"... Pharisees, who were one of the sects of the Jews, as WE have informed you already. These have so great a power over the multitude, that when they say any thing against the king, or against the high priest, they are presently believed." (Ant.13:10.5)

John Hyrcanus I was even made out to be a disciple of the Pharisees. The formula "as We have have informed you already" tells you the editors ('we' - never mind about Josephus) are being creative - they were lying.

The same formula is used immediately before where one is informed that Queen Cleopatra appointed two Jews Chelsias and Ananias (sons of the renegade priest/prophet Onias who built the temple in Heliopolis) as generals of her army would you believe. She supposedly completely entrusted these men with her army. And we even have an editor's quote from Strabo to confirm the relationship between these two and the Queen.

"...Chelcias and Ananias, the sons of that Onias who built the temple in the prefecture of Heliopolis, like to that at Jerusalem, as WE have elsewhere related. Cleopatra entrusted these men with her army, and did nothing without their advice, as Strabo of Cappadocia attests, when he saith thus, 'Now the greater part, both those that came to Cyprus with us, and those that were sent afterward thither, revolted to Ptolemy immediately; only those that were called Onias's party, being Jews, continued faithful, because their countrymen Chelcias and Ananias were in chief favour with the queen.' These are the words of Strabo." (Ant.13.10.4)

The same lying formula "as WE have elsewhere related" is used.

So what is being covered up here? I suggest that Cleopatra appointed one person as general of her army, and it was him who she completely trusted. He was none other than her son Ptolemy Alexander, later to be known as Alexander Jannaeus.

Minimalists can have a ball with the writings attributed to Josephus.

October 29, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

The quote from Strabo may well have been true and Cleopatra did indeed listen to the advice of her two Jewish seers, sons of the Onias who built the temple of Heliopololis in Egypt - a temple that was probabaly just a sanctuary with no external altar for burnt offerrings and thus no animal sacrifices. But never in a million years was Cleopatra going to appoint two Jewish prophets Chelsias and Ananias as her generals.

For a Jewish place of worship to have been established in Egypt there must have been a considerable Jewish support in the country, for example in Alexandria. And many of those Jews were probably not there by choice but had been driven out from Judea because of their religious views which I suggest were sympathetic to prophets and averse to the priests and the law as applied by priests. No doubt the religious philosphy of the prophets Chelsias and Ananias influenced the royal family of Cleopatra. The situation was not that disimilar from a later one in Rome in the court of Claudius which no doubt felt the influence of Agrippa I, Agrippa II, and I suggest Josephus, all of whom I believe favoured (or came to favour in the case of Agrippa I) the prophets.

Secondly, nor would Cleopatra have appointed a son as a general when he was already of fighting age and automatically have had command as a general. So what did Cleopatra 'appoint' her son to? You have to look at the so-called siege of 'Samaria' immediately before that 'appointment' for the answer. It wasn't an expedition against and seige of 'Samaria' by 'Hyrcanus I'. (Ant.13.275 or 13.10.2)

October 30, 2008

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Thanks Josh, much appreciated.

Geoff, I've sort of said it before and will say it again: you post more than most prolific bloggers!

October 31, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew, you wouldn't believe the things Hugh Pyper makes me do!

Yes, just give me an email if you come by Sheffield

James

October 31, 2008

 

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