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…