Concluding: Moral and intellectual failings of a discipline? Rip it up and start again? No future? Get pissed, destroy?
I've covered some of the issues raised in Jesus in an Age of Terror but not all. On this blog I've obviously kept some of the arguments general and avoided individual examples and more specific political analysis: read (/buy) the book if you want the dirt and full arguments. Now I just want to wrap things up...
A major aim of the book is to see how NT scholarship is influenced by and often supportive of contemporary Anglo-American power. Another major aim is to explain why certain movements in NT studies emerged when and where they did. So, for example, one of the reasons why anthropology and discussions of the ‘Mediterranean’ and the Middle East occur by the 1980s is almost certain due to the neo-Orientalism in Anglo-American thought since the 1970s that continues to go hand-in-hand with Anglo-American interests in the Middle East, Arabs, and Muslims since the 1970s. I should add that I am not saying anthropology is no longer useful in NT studies – though certain generalising about Arabs and Mediterraneans needs a serious rethink.
What can be done about some of the problematic scholarship? Well, if scholars are really interested in finding out about Jesus in relation to Judaism, and in fear of sounding a bit preachy, then saying Jesus is ‘really Jewish’, ‘a good Jew’, ‘thoroughly Jewish’ or whatever before telling us that he went beyond, intensified, overrode, rejected various Jewish symbols constructed by scholars, then why not prove it with reference to a wider range of Jewish evidence? If Jesus really overrode family ties in an unparalleled way then why not show that there was no parallel instead of just telling us and ignoring available evidence?
Again, as I say, if, as we have been told (and nothing more than that), that Mediterranean people really neglect their own needs, if they really have stifled normal individual psychological development, if they really repress feelings of hurt, if they really abuse children, spouses and the elderly, if they really abuse others physically, emotionally, and spiritually, if they really have blocked mental, emotional and spiritual growth, then such serious allegations not only do we need some evidence but serious, widespread evidence to back it up. If, as we have been told (and nothing more than that), Arabs are supposedly quick to join extremist groups and are not good at coping with defeat in elections then quoting some basically racist scholarship is not really good enough. If a scholar wants to say this is so, why not try and prove it? If Arabs – and let’s not forget how geographically spread Arabs were and are - really do throw their arms around ‘uncontrollably’ then wouldn’t it make sense to prove this instead of just telling us? All these are generally basic points but important nonetheless.
Clearly, there also needs to be some serious questioning of scholarly results and less uncritical acceptance of what scholarly heroes say and write. If arguments are not backed up, why bother taking them seriously? And if there is no attempt to prove these loaded points then people might also want to ask: why should we believe you? Is a quest for academic truth really on the agenda, or something else? Would it not be fair to suggest that unqualified and dangerous generalisations about the ‘other’ are close to being an abuse of academic privilege?
These kinds of generalisations are well worth challenging in the classroom and in academia. Yet, the big problem with this book is that if I am right in my use of the propaganda model and the manufacture of consent then won’t such ideas be dismissed uncritically? Well, depressingly, that’s got to be a clear possibility. I am perfectly aware that certain people will not simply accept that such criticisms of their work are valid. However, my hope – I think this is also a strong possibility - is that some of the crazy stereotypes are avoided in future and that some scholars will be a bit more politically aware of how they construct different groups.
Another problem: is there a natural supportive audience in academic biblical studies for this kind of work? As I said, I could see a situation where academics will not engage properly with such arguments. But I’m actually quite optimistic. There is certainly an audience outside traditional biblical studies at least because there is enough opposition to the abuses of Anglo-American power in this world. I wouldn’t see addressing that kind of a general audience as a bad thing at all to be honest.
To return to an old game on this blog: a place in my heart for anyone who gets the tongue-in-cheek musical allusions in the title… Justin Meggitt isn’t allowed to play!