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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Leading postmodernist and other strange uses of language

'...G. K. Beale attempts vigorously and even-handedly to examine the writings of one leading postmodernist, Peter Enns...' (from the blurb for Beale's new book)

As a few people have noticed the labelling of Enns (it's not clear who is responsible for the blurb) as a 'leading postmodernist' is very bizarre. As NT Wrong put it,
For those who don’t get the joke, Enns is very conservative himself — but hasn’t got quite as big an inerrancy-carrot stuck up his ‘authorized version’ as those ultra-conservative fundie fringers...But what gets me is the “postmodern” label. Hasn’t this just become an empty label fundamentalists apply when they realize they have no idea what’s going on? Does anyone believe that Peter Enns is the new Derrida?

I've come across the completely weird, inaccuarate (at least in terms of how the label is conventionally used in academia) and polemical use of the label 'postmodernist' quite a lot in biblical studies. In a slightly different way, it was used to criticise the 'minimalists' despite the usually named 'minimalists' doing fairly conventional and not typically postmodernist history (on which there is a lot of literature and people like Figes and Schama are seen as examples in practice, though even there there is dispute over labels). In terms of the debates over minimalism and maximalism, wouldn't half of the C19 NT scholars be 'postmodernist' by this definition????

Anyway, I couldn't resist another, but related, use by NT Wright where the misleading polemic remains. Here is Wright on contemporary politics:
'...Post-modernity is assumed to be on the 'left' side of the equation, although it re-inscribes empire rather than undermining it, allowing the bullies and the bosses to create facts on the ground to their own advantage. (All those years of Derrida and we still get George W Bush!)...' - quoted in P. Vallely, ‘Tom Wright: It’s not a question of left and right, says the combative priest who opposes the war in Iraq and gay bishops’, Independent (29 December 2003)

On deconstruction:
‘...in the real world…the tyrants and bullies (including intellectual and cultural tyrants and bullies) try to rule by force, only to discover that in order do so they have to quash all rumours of resurrection, rumours that would imply that their greatest weapons, death and deconstruction, are not after all omnipotent...' in N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (London: SPCK, 2003), p. 737

I'm not going to defend postmodernism or deconstruction and a case could be made for their various manifestations being much a part of contemporary capitalist problems and intellectual passivity and so on. However, these soundbites (hardly untypical of Wright) are really misleading and would no doubt function in sending out the right signals for a conservative audience and, to be fair, probably for (some) honourable reasons too. But...All those years of Derrida and we get Bush??? Now I know the reasons which led to Bush are many and complex and so on but if we want to use a soundbite why not say all those years of southern conservative Christian fundies and we get Bush? It would be a more accurate generalisation for a start.

And how about those tyrants and bullies, including the intellectual ones, quashing rumours of resurrection with their weapons of death and deconstruction? Are the tyrants of this world really that bothered about, erm, resurrection? It would be interesting to know the views of bullies like Thatcher and Bush and Reagan and Blair who, as Wright agrees, have done some terrible things. Good Christians one and all and do they believe in resurrection? Wright's language is poetic etc but it's content does not work as an argument (one very good reason why content should really come first) and it seems he's making it up. But then should we be surprised when there is this from the beginning of his book on Jesus...?
‘If what I write could help in any way towards the establishment of justice and peace there [Israel and Palestine], or indeed anywhere else, I would be deeply grateful.’ NT Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. xv

Presumably we need to be flying out copies of Jesus and the Victory of God to Gaza, West Bank, Israel and all war torn parts of our planet...and FAST!


Blogger Jim said...

these are strange times in which we live. things are no longer called by their proper name, but rather by the name most likely to engender support of ideology. for the fundamentalists (a label certainly deserved by those who have it hurled at them), everyone who thinks differently is a 'postmodernist' as though that word were equivalent to 'satanist'.

that's because fundamentalists are at their best when demonizing others rather than honest debate.

But of course that's to be expected. they don't have an argument to support their position. hence they must retreat to tried and true methods to stir their sycophants to action against their foes.

the one fact that makes it impossible for the same to be said of non-fundamentalists is this: they are at least willing to think.

November 27, 2008

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Well if he could write plain English he might be able to help the rest of the world. And I couldn't give a toss about labels.

One thing is for sure. The Church of England is rich eough to keep thousands of Wrights going until the resurrected Lord comes again. How does that grab y'all? Enough to give Wrong nightmares.

November 27, 2008

Anonymous steph said...

I might have thought that he thinks if he writes alot of rubbish that has no logic, people will think he's a great intellectual maverick (which they do) but then he's not clever enough. He just makes it up as he goes along believing he's a great intellectual maverick - and the Messiah. I'm sure the Middle East do too. Perhaps he should make a pilgrimage there and see what happens when he starts preaching to them.

November 27, 2008

Anonymous Tom Verenna said...

...they could certainly use the paper as bandage waddings and as random toiletries.

November 28, 2008

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Is he any worse than someone who dates New Testament documents according to the youngest information in them? Especially so when that youngest information looks like later interpolation. Take The Epistle to 'Romans' for example. I mean you just might think that all those names in 'Romans' 16 guarantee the 'Paul' was definately not in Rome, and almost certainly on his way to Jerusalem with the collection for the saints, having been too busy on his mission to Gentiles to visit Rome. The whole chapter couldn't have been completely fabricated could it now, just to con us all along like. So is the editor also up to conning us in 'Romans' 15? Goodacre quotes 'Romans' 15:19 as evidence that 'Romans' must have been written after 'Galations' and 1 and 2 'Cor'., collections for the saints having been taken. Thus we have the editor writing the bold words for his Paul: "So from Jerusalem all the way round to Illyricium, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ", again leading us to believe that 'Paul' hadn't quite made it back to Rome, and was on his travels. In 'Romans' 15 and 16 we are looking at youngest information interpolated into an earlier document which probably ended with the Amen of 'Romans' 15:33. The earlier document of 'Romans' was not written to Romans at all, but to prophets in Jerusalem. And the original author was actully writing in exile from Rome. He would no doubt have written: "from Rome I have fully proclaimed the Spirit of God." It was in this letter that the author was highly critical of the immoral behaviour of the priests, later turned by the editor into the immoral behaviour of Gentiles.

So may be Wright is not so differently bad after all.

November 28, 2008

Blogger Steven Carr said...

'Wright's language is poetic etc but it's content does not work as an argument (one very good reason why content should really come first) and it seems he's making it up. '

Are we allowed to say that leading New Testament scholars make things up?

As it happens, even Acts of the Apostles does not portray the Romans as bothered by Christian claims of a resurrection, or even aware of them.

Nor do any Jews try to get Christians in trouble by telling Romans that Christians worship a convicted criminal who escaped death.

Take the letter by Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings. This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment.'

Not even the author of Acts could rewrite history to the extent of claiming that the dispute was about anything other than to do with Law-observance, and the function of the Temple.

November 29, 2008

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Stephen from the North East wrote:"Not even the author of Acts could rewrite history to the extent of claiming that the dispute was about anything other than to do with Law-observance, and the function of the Temple."

Don't you believe it! How naive can you get? And who is this so-called 'author' of Acts? I take it you mean editor. After all we are talking about dating of documents here, and there was surely a progression from an original Acts (certainly not of the 'apostles'), and the editor was more than likely one of the best liars the Flavians could bring to the party. So Felix was a figment of the editor's imagination. No Stephen, it wasn't originally to do with Law, or the temple, and the location was Rome, not Jerusalem. How does Goodacre date Acts?

December 01, 2008

Anonymous john said...

what about acts 17:6-7?

6But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, 7and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus."

December 04, 2008

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Acts 17:1-9 is fabricated interpolation to make one think that Paul and Silas had travelled to Thessalonica on the mission to Gentiles. In fact 'we' (not Paul and Silas) were in Lydia's house (16:40) and that was in Rome, as was the synagogue which she attended, not Philippi. She was a Jewess.

Most of the real events in Acts occured in Rome. But the travels of Paul to Gentile areas are all fabrication.

December 05, 2008

Blogger Esteban Vázquez said...

This post has me very close to burning (or otherwise dishonorably disposing of) my copy of Jesus and the Victory of God--but I can't bring myself to do it, because well, it's still a book.

Maybe I'll just stick it in a box and bring it to the basement.

December 23, 2008


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