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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

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!

15 Comments:

Anonymous steph said...

Rip it up and Start Again is the title of a book celebrating post punk featuring bands like Talking Heads

November 12, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

I don't know about the rest - maybe they're all lyrics from the Sex Pistols of something. Get pissed, destroy sounds familiar.

November 12, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Yes, like the dating of documents. I can't for the life of me see why NT documents, given their obvious developments, cannot be regarded as having a range of origination dates, and not just be dated according the youngest data they contain. Thus Mark sat down and wrote his gospel on the date of the youngest data in it, and Paul wrote his epistles in the 40's. Wow! How misleading can scholars get? I find Goodacre's views on dating totally unrealistic and misleading.

In any case I hope you keep looking for other opportunities James.

November 12, 2008

 
Blogger N T Wrong said...

No future? God save the discipline (the facist regime).

November 12, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Definately fascist in his case.

November 13, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steph, yes, it is indeed a book title (good book too) but the book also got it from somewhere and a musical somewhere.

You're on the right lines and it looks like Wrong knows something...

James

November 13, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

nt is quoting the Sex Pistols God Save the Queen - no future, facist regime ... didn't the whole lot come from the Sex Pistols then?

November 13, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

The allusion is obvious, regardless of any pop group.

Is Wrong's spelling of fascist on the right lines?

Wrong is not Wright, but is he Earl Doherty or Charles Gadda or Russell Gmirkin or Dierk van den Berg or Ian Hutchesson or Stewart DeHuff or George Brooks or Yuri Kuchinsky or David Christainsen or Jefferey Hodges or Martin Edwards or Stephen Rives (Superman) or Neville Lindsey or even Stephen Goranson? - funny discipline!

November 14, 2008

 
Blogger Jim said...

none of the above.

November 14, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

True. But the actor is the same for all.

November 14, 2008

 
Blogger Anathema said...

Come on - this is an allusion to the song by Orange Juice and the Sex Pistols. Or maybe its 9 Ezra or something.

November 14, 2008

 
Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

James I am thankful not to be working in this discipline of mad folk all watching out for the next knife in the back. Give me a working environment in engineering or science or mathematics any day, but bankers can go to hell. At the moment I am writing a user manual for some automatic test equipment to test jet engine electronic controls. Now this is somewhat mundane compared to studying The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State, but at least the folk I work for are not going to stab me in the back, and it helps to pay the bills. And a glass of brandy from the monks of the Kykkos monastery in Cyprus is wonderful stuff.

November 14, 2008

 
Anonymous steph said...

fascist.

It's all an illusion to the Sex Pistols in the book of revelation

November 14, 2008

 
Blogger James Crossley said...

Anathema is right. Would have to be with a name like that.

...and enjoy your brandy Geoff...

November 15, 2008

 
Blogger Leon said...

I am all for proving things, but biblical scholarship is notorious for doing anything but. No one has ever given a rational argument that Judas betrayed Jesus. No one has given a rational argument that Jewish leaders helped Rome execute Jesus. No one has ever given a rational argument that Jesus departed from Pharisaic/rabbinic Judaism.

The evidence is not there for any of these things. What scholars continue to do is assume their conclusions and then manipulate the evidence to "prove" their preconceived conclusions. This is the only field where you can actually prove something important about Jesus, based on a solid evidentiary argument, and be completely ignored. It would be unthinkable in any other field. This field shuns evidentiary arguments and, in so doing, has effectively killed all histortical imagination about Jesus. It certainly won't change in our lifetime.

Leon Zitzer

November 15, 2008

 

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