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Friday, November 28, 2008

Response to Mark Goodacre's SBL dating paper

I have been meaning to respond to Mark Goodacre's stuff on dating from his SBL paper. There are some general issues I have about the idea of a session on dating, esp. if it will say anything new and, if not, is there a need for such a session...? I don’t mean that polemically, I was and am curious because I sadly wasn’t able to attend that session though I dearly wanted to. Perhaps someone present can help...? Anyway, I initially meant to respond to the whole of this SBL paper but because of nasty old time I’ll get egotistical and respond to the places where I was mentioned. I’m of course grateful to Mark G [I’ll use this name so not to confuse with the gospel writer – I suppose ‘Goodacre’ seems too formal for a blog] for interacting with me, giving arguments the time and for being typically non-polemical and engaging. It also seems like we agree on Jesus as law observant (this seems to be the most agreeable part of the book for most) and if I remember there was an old blog debate where Mark G had some reservations on the conventional reading of Mk 7.19, as do I (see ch. 7 of Date of Mark). But let’s get away from the nice bits…

Mark G claims that I argue that the ‘originating circumstances of the tradition correlate directly with perspective of the evangelist’ and this is ‘problematic’. However, this would depend on what is meant by ‘directly’. In general terms I think a) that the historical Jesus was law observant and b) Mark thought that too. If that is direct then yes. But, as for precise correlation between individual traditions, it would depend and often I’m agnostic and so no. I don’t make too many precise claims about historicity in the book for this reason (and others). As an aside from the law issues, on some occasions in that book, I am quite happy to talk of invention and difference between Jesus (e.g. on kingdom and eschatology in Mk 13 – see ch. 3; see also the conclusion of the book for a chaotic model of tradition). Mark G talks of the difficulty in tallying up assumptions between tradition and gospel and I quite agree, hence I spent a chapter (ch 4) on the tendencies in Mk, Matt and Luke and their portrayal of Jesus and the law before moving on to specific passages which were treated as both individual passages and part of the tendencies (chs. 6 and 7).

Mark G also talks of Markan redaction in Mk 7 that points way from argument, especially the phrase ‘all the Jews’ which sets up a difference and does not point to an intra-Jewish dispute. I think this actually misses my point. My point was that the legal debate is intra-Jewish in the sense that debates over hand-washing were the kinds of halakic debates known in early Judaism. As for issues of identity and Mk this is much more difficult, as identity usually is. Mk may well have identified his group in distinction from the rest of Judaism or over against Judaism but this does not mean he could have portrayed Jesus as a legal debater. Elsewhere in Mk there are supportive Jews, inc. those not seen as being over against Judaism, and there are hostile Jews. So, then, the picture is more complex.

But as it happens, that’s another issue in terms of my arguments for dating. The legal issue is the point of my argument, not the identity issue. Mark G says that I concede ground here when I say Mk was exaggerating (though I’m not exactly sure what he means by this – any help Mark G or others?). Mark G refers to my reference to Aristeas 305f. and exaggeration and says that the persona of an outsider changes things. In this case, not really. The exaggeration about ‘all the Jews’ washing hands in the water is an exaggeration so why could Mk not make an exaggeration about all Jews washing hands etc? Besides, as I pointed out, Mark makes various other exaggerations that are clearly exaggerations and not meant to be taken wholly literally so I don’t see the problem making another. Mark G says that his counter argument undermines my case for Mark being accurate and precise but it does not. My case on Mk 7 being accurate etc involved the referencing to cups and beds etc (Mk 7.4) and the very precise details of hand-washing and the transmission of impurity from hands-to-food-to-eater. This wasn’t discussed by Mark G and it *precisely these details* that are so crucial. In terms of my argument, does Mark G not have to show that *these details* are inaccurate and *not* the generalisation?

As for Talbert’s comments, which Mark G cites, on the law observant issue possibly being a memory of him, yes, it could be and I think it was. But this a) this quotation used by Mark G doesn’t change anything and b) it needs qualifying.

A) It doesn’t change anything because Matt and Lk still have to make it clear that Jesus was Law observant as I explicitly argue. So I’m not sure how this functions as a counter argument for Mark G. This also stands for Mark G’s reference to Gower and that these things could have been referred to in the 60s. Sort of but I think with qualification. Matt and Luke make qualifications not in Mark so why did they make qualifications? The obvious reason is that law observance had changed and this started to happen in the 40s so the Gower quotation in Mark G’s paper does not work as a counter argument to me, if Mark G is using it as a counter argument rather than simply adding an opinion (presumably a counter argument though…?). A counter argument (or supportive quotation) would need to show why Mark did not feel the need to qualify in *direct contrast* to Matt and Luke. That is really the heart of my argument and I don’t think it is addressed by Mark G.

B) As for qualification, on the whole, as far as we know, but John’s Jesus, as I argued, does look a little different (see e.g. John 5).

As for early gentile observance and non-observance, I would add that issues of perception were important and how this fed into the Pauline view. I’ve argued that at length in Why Christianity Happened (esp. ch 5) and won’t repeat here.

On the whole then, while being obviously grateful to Mark G for engaging with my arguments, I don’t think he has engaged with the heart of my arguments in Date of Mark, such as the details of the legal debates and the qualifications made by Matt and Luke and why these qualifications were made. So there you go.

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!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

SBL overview

A slightly more SBL detailed report:

Except for the social side. That was as it always is. I’ll mention the civilised bits: local beer was very good as was Chinatown. In fact the food generally was excellent though it was expensive. And the Sheraton bar must have made a fortune.

The lack of AAR was a problem for me on many levels but one was simple: I tend to go to a fair few AAR papers. Maybe the SBL papers I attended reflected this: a Redescribing Christian Origins session, papers on the primaries/election, corpses and Ezekiel, disability studies and Mark 5, and so on. On the deconstruction/construction issue I mentioned in connection with the Bowdoin paper, this came up in the Redescribing session. I chatted to a few people about this and I reemphasise again: does it matter if we deconstruct without reconstruction? I see no problem because it is simply using scholarship as primary source material and leads on to some of the most original discussions in recent years on the social and political histories of biblical studies.

Ok, I was also presenting at the Reading, Theory and the Bible group with the theme Reading, Space and Imagined Geographies (my paper was on the scholarly and political use of the contemporary Middle East when supposedly describing the ancient Mediterranean). While there were quite a few scholars who would be in sessions in which I have previously presented, this was a generally new audience for me, or at least it seemed that way. The audience seemed interested and engaged and was non-hostile to ideas, some of which would provoke a hostile reaction elsewhere among certain biblical scholars (as has happened in other sessions when issues relating to the Middle East are raised). There wasn’t much time for questions so all the serious feedback came after the session and around the conference. This was really helpful actually and it was also positive for the more politically themed papers (and no doubt the other papers too – but that’s not my immediate concern). There was a good sized audience for the whole session too.

Indeed, in subsequent discussions there was a fair bit of shared hostility towards such abuses of social sciences in NT scholarship from a number of scholars, whether present or not…which got me thinking... Presumably those who use bizarre stereotypes of Arabs (or Jews – another paper, another time…or indeed a book) aren’t going to sit back and accept they are wrong as some of us might like to happen. So, is the way things will change in the discipline (in this case, I mean the demise of outrageous but ideologically convenient stereotypes) – and I think I mean this seriously – simply be the old idea that a present generation of scholarly elite will eventually die off, their ideas with them…?


Pre-SBL: Bowdoin was a great place. Very civilised and sharp minds there. I was looked after particularly well (thanks to Jorunn Buckley in particular). The paper was on the general area of NT studies for a wide ranging audience at different levels: from interested lay people to established profs. The title was nice and broad and there was plenty of time (60mins) for me to go on. I tried to cover three major areas for the general reason of covering areas that could interest a range of people but for different specific reasons for each (as we’ll now see). 1. Traditional historical criticism. This was the most difficult because, as people are increasingly noting, what significantly more can be covered and said…? After suggesting a few reasons why people might even be interested in repeating endlessly, I did try to give a few basic examples where NT studies could develop and these involved culture and language (inc. on the v basic level some negative examples of where NT scholars write extensively on NT ‘background texts’ without bothering to learn the language of the given document) and then some of the inevitable tensions between acquiring languages and developments in knowledge. And then a bit on broader social history which seeks to provide explanations for Xn origins and uses methods from those working in history, with a little deconstructing of the rhetoric of ‘doing good history’ in NT studies.

Then I moved on to areas that are of more interest to me in recent times. So 2. Social history of NT scholarship and criticising the critics. This has the distinct advantage of being an area that has lots to do on the past of scholarship and plenty of continual material pumped out. I went over a few examples, such as the increasing awareness of Nazi NT scholarship, though also mentioning that people still uncritically use Nazi scholarship even in the recent debates over ‘Jew’/‘Judean’! I also went over more recent examples of some of the unpleasant generalisations about *contemporary* Arabs turn up in recent debates on the ‘Mediterranean’ and social sciences and how this fits neatly into Anglo-American Orientalist discourse since the 1970s. Like the audience, I still can’t quite believe that such old fashioned stereotypes are found in scholarship from the past decade or so and that such scholarship gets used so uncritically by NT scholarship today (more on that soon). It is worth emphasising that deconstructing does not require reconstructing (more on this on SBL papers) because it is using historical analysis to locate scholarship just as historical analysis locates NT texts and traditions. Why not use scholarship as primary sources?

3. Reception history. This covered more the Bible and popular culture rather than (say) C2 reception or traditional theological reception (e.g. Calvin, Luther, Liberation etc). The latter seem to be well represented and don’t need me to make their case. I raised questions I’ve raised here before and looked at the ways in which social contexts affect interpretation and the ways in which biblical texts might be embedded in contemporary culture. I also gently critiqued some of the more cataloguing of biblical allusions in music, film, politics or whatever and made the banal but still necessary point that social and historical contextualisation is a way of doing reception history just as it is with C1 readings, just as it is with scholarship. Naturally, examples were given from recent music.

A feature of this past week for me has been audience. At Bowdoin, it was the first time in a while for me that the audience was more generally humanities and religious studies. The feedback from people in other areas of religious studies was particularly interesting because some saw the same problems in the study of different scriptures and those religions usually far removed from the study of the NT. So maybe biblical studies isn’t as unique in its problems… After more great food fun, there was a reception with students which I think was a great idea. They were very good to talk to and were quite happy to ask suitably awkward questions. The difference between the US and the UK higher education system really struck me. To state the obvious (for some), in the UK, the higher education system is geared towards speciality from the beginning of a degree. So, for instance, a degree in biblical studies, English lit, sociology or whatever. In the US, there are a range of areas covered so naturally a broader base. I sometimes wonder if this could be reflected in the general differences between US and UK NT scholarship but more speculation, more time needed… Anyway, this meant some more wide-ranging discussion with students into different non-NT areas which I really enjoyed and helped me make different connections and think things through differently. Which system is better, is beyond me (yes detail is great, but yes wider learning is too…I dunno).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

SBL 2008

Just some quick thoughts before moving on... My paper on scholarly reconstructions of the 'Mediterranean' and its overlap with the Middle East, Arab world and so on I *think* had a nice sympathetic audience, or at least it seemed to me. For a time I was a bit concerned that the paper was going to get a reaction from some of the people critiqued in it but they didn't turn up so no fight. Still, in the longer run in particular, the feedback has been worth it and I'm glad there are more more people out there supportive of criticisms leveled against some of the very problematic cultural/social anthropology and its political contextualisation than I pessimistically thought...

There are loads of things to mention which I won't. The Sheffield reception was extremely well attended, including bloggers e.g. Josh McManaway and James McGrath (who gave me a copy of his resurrection book - nice man - which I'll review in due course). And entertaining as ever. Socially, SBL's been up to it usual fun standards and as usual I'll leave that reconstruction to imaginations.

It is really noticeable without AAR. It seems, well, a bit more hushed and serious. AAR was definitely missed.

More when I'm back home and more awake.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I arrived yesterday for this year's fun. I arrived early because I'm giving a paper (today) at Bowdoin (New England agrees with me) that I was meant to plug much earlier. The talk is "What New Testament Studies Could Be Doing but Isn't" at 4 p.m. Thursday, November 20, 2008, in Searles Science Building, Room 315, Bowdoin. The lecture is open to the public and admission is free. The link is here and I apologise for the daft pose but it was a semi-jokey holiday snap from Budapest 2006 and the only photo I've got that is the right size for certina promotional things so sory, ok? Also, got to say, I do like the topic given to me and I'm especially looking forward to this one...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Memes and Football/Championship Manager

I’ve been tagged or memed or whatever by both James McGrath AND John Lyons. I’m only going to very partially answer the issues by answering one question: I have a history with the ultra-addictive PC game Championship (now: Football) Manager. So instead I’m actually answering something someone else (unnamed) asked me: namely what about this spectacularly good Guardian article/discussion on the top players on CM/FM? (And, yes, it looks pretty clear that all participants have a lot in common: gender, age, misanthropy etc)

Those of you who don’t know about this game should know that it gives/gave you a relationship warning if played too much and it has been cited in over 30 cases of divorce. It cost students higher marks in degrees, cost the only slightly lazy their jobs, and left a generation permanently tired through playing into the early hours. There seems to be a consensus developing that the glory years of the game were around the turn of the millennium which could be true (I think a agree – esp. around 2002 when I was involved in the greatest of all 2 player battles in Serie A (00/01 game), though the early 90s breakthrough of winning the then European Cup was special). The Guardian lists 6 of the best players and rightly doesn’t go for the obvious famous ones but those not famous ones who made it into superstars but you’d never sign if it were real (*the* charm of the game). Though in fairness, the game as a whole was pretty accurate and predicted plenty of players who would turn out to be genuine real life superstars of the game way before the world knew.

Some of the classics have to be the following:
From a glorious run with Rushden and Diamonds (a bit like someone in the comments section on the Guardian site) spearheaded by the two greats Ged Kimmins (rubbish stats but great goalscorer and criminally underrated) and Onesimo (on a free). Others over the years who have graced my great Man United and Roma teams: Cherno Samba (S C), Mads Jorgensen (AM LRC?), Walter Samuel (D C), Michael Dunwell (S C), Paul Warhurst (D/DM/M/AM F C?), David Hill (AM LRC) Neil Lewis (DMF/L), Mark Tobin (D/DM C), Taribo West (D LC) (largely because he was on a free), Kennedy Bakircioglu (AM/?), some Jorgensen (D/DM C), Roberto Baronio (DM), Freddie Guarin and his long shots, numerous Swedish bargains, and…Julian Joachim (sentimental reasons: not quite the greatest but his goals won my first ever European Cup when he came off the bench – good management if you ask me). Wasn’t so keen as one occasional reader of this blog on Mark Kerr and Byron ******* Bubb.

Biblical studies + blogging + football management game = ?


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!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

SBL: Reading, Theory and the Bible on Reading, Space and Imagined Geographies

Carrying on with the recent theme of Orientalism and constructions of geography, how about this for a session:

Reading, Theory and the Bible
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Beacon A - SH

Theme: Reading, Space and Imagined Geographies

Jennifer L. Koosed, Albright College, Presiding

Keith W. Whitelam, University of Sheffield
The Land and the Book: Biblical Studies and Imaginative Geographies of Palestine (30 min)

John M. Vonder Bruegge, Northwestern College-Orange City
Luke's “Imaginative Geography”: Revisiting Edward Said's Orientalism and Its Implications for Luke"s Galilee (30 min)

James Crossley, University of Sheffield
When Is the Ancient Mediterranean Not the Ancient Mediterranean? When It's the Contemporary Middle East! (Re-)constructing “the Middle East” in New Testament Studies (30 min)

Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre, Drew University
Heavenly Flying, Cloud-Riding, and other Cosmic Journeys: When Early Christians Take the Bird's Eye View (30 min)

Jorunn Økland, University of Oslo
“Would It Be the Same if I Saw You in Heaven?”: Technologies of Space Travel in 2 Corinthians 12 (30 min)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Jewish but not that Jewish: Jesus in an Age of Terror Part 3

Part Three is geared toward looking at the reasons for, and the politics of, the emphasis on ‘Jewishness’ in contemporary historical Jesus and NT scholarship. Since the 1970s, and in sharp distinction with what generally came before, a seemingly strongly positive attitude towards Judaism has occurred with scholars repeatedly telling us Judaism is not a bad religion, that the Jesus and the early Christians were ‘very Jewish’ and so on. Vermes’ Jesus the Jew (1973) paved the way for this new trend. Vermes’ recalls how shocking this now scholarly cliché was but that it also gained relatively easy acceptance in NT studies. The other major publication was, of course, Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism (1977). Since Sanders, sensitivity towards Judaism has become increasingly noticeable in NT studies (and this was even clear in some of Sanders’ most hostile opponents) and since Vermes and Sanders plenty of books tell us about something about Jesus as Jew or Jesus and Judaism.

All sounds nice…but why did it take until the 1970s for such a dramatic change to come about? Why not immediately after the Holocaust? Well, for a start, as Sanders showed, anti-Jewish and antisemitic views were deeply embedded in NT scholarship right up until the 1970s. So the question might be rephrased, why did things change then?

Bill Arnal gives several plausible reasons for the emergence of the debate over Jesus’ ‘Jewishness’ since the 1970s. These include a reaction to socio-economic instability and fractured cultural identities. One reaction was the desire for fixed identities and behind much of the debates over ‘Jewishness’ is the idea of fixed identities and a culturally stable Judaism. Arnal gives other reasons (read his book if you want the whole lot) including a shift in the geographical centre of scholarship away from Germany and a desire for Christian scholars to show that Christianity is not anti-Semitic. I assume these reasons as correct but add a crucial reason which helps explain this major trend: the major cultural, political and intellectual shifts relating to Israel after the 1967 ‘Six Day War’, especially in the US, when Israel established itself as a powerful force in the Middle East. The relevant areas I look at are higher education, popular culture, Christian Zionism, shifts in Holocaust discourse, and Anglo-American politics. Prior to 1967 there was much indifference to Israel; after 1967, the changes are spectacular. I’m not going to summarise all the arguments there but I’ll add that I do have a section on the treatment of Nadia Abu el-Haj and her work on archaeology in Israel. In the case of Abu el-Haj it is clear that the campaign against her told untruths. Anyone can make a mistake and I know I get annoyed at being misrepresented but the treatment of Abu el-Haj is on a completely different level at times. Some of the reporting claims she denied that Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70CE but that it was Jews instead. Yet she says, absolutely explicitly, that Romans destroyed Jerusalem. She is also accused at gloating over murder of Jews, which she never does. She is criticised for a number of other things, none of which are true. She is generally accused of being antisemitic. I also look at reactions to other related books such (e.g., Whitelam, The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History).

In terms of NT studies this general context helps explain the rise of interest in Jewishness. The land is not a massive focus but does occur (cf. WD Davies’ famous book on the land) – it is usually another Jewish symbol to be transcended or ‘spiritualised’ (see below). The most recent example where it does occur is the debate over ‘Jew’, ‘Judean’ etc. I’ve analysed this debate in a bit more detail in a forthcoming article but some points are discussed. Despite the prominent and wholly justified sensitivities over anti-Semitism, different sides of the debate, despite accusations to the contrary, go out of their way to make sure that they are the best voice against antisemitism. The interesting thing is that given the interest in the terms in relation to the land (and this is a big point of debate) and given the overt concern for contemporary moral implications, there is simply never a concern for Palestinians. This voice is excluded and this says something, I think, about the ideological location of contemporary scholarship.

An important aside on this debate: the linguistic basis still used is KG Kuhn’s TDNT article. This is a seriously problematic resource. Kuhn wrote Nazi propaganda, including, around the same time as his TDNT article, some material on, er, ‘the Jewish problem’ and hatred of Jews and other issues that are not unrelated to his TDNT article. Now, it may be that he still got the Greek linguistics right despite being an anti-Semite but that article needs a serious looking over. Moreover, Maurice Casey wrote a NovT article in 1999 on the antisemitic bias in the early TDNT articles and of Kuhn’s he showed how his Nazi sympathies interfered too much with his linguistic and historical work. Casey also makes some comments on how this has had a negative impact on some of the contemporary debates that go for ‘Judean’. I am still agnostic on the whole issue of translation (I’m not sure there’s too much at stake in terms of definition to be honest – both terms are defined in roughly the same manner) but would it not be right to take Kuhn’s influence into serious consideration before further work is undertaken?

Anyway, back to it. In light of changes outlined above, there is a strong case for the emphasis on ‘Jewishness’ being very much a part of the post-1967 shifts. But this needs a big qualification. For all the pro-Jewish rhetoric, Jesus is constantly, with not that many exceptions, constructed over against Judaism as constructed by scholarship. Jesus *has* to be different. Even Meier’s Jesus is a *marginal* Jew. Even the great EP Sanders gives allows times where Jesus went against the Law. The worst offender is Wright who relentlessly tells us how Jewish Jesus was and how wonderful Judaism was before making sure Jesus is better in various areas. Now, all this may even be historically true but it is done by a) telling us all about Judaism and b) ignoring Jewish evidence that wouldn’t put Jesus over against even scholarly constructions of Judaism. Why ignore Jewish evidence if Judaism is now so wonderful? I look at several examples of this trend and slightly sarcastically call it a ‘Jewish…but not that Jewish’ Jesus. I’d add that Vermes’ Jesus is actually a serious threat because, by scholarly constructions of Judaism, he is ‘too Jewish’ and much of scholarship merely pays lip service to Vermes’ challenge. I should add that I am not arguing here that Jesus *must* be law observant and completely within Judaism as constructed by scholarship but rather why the narrative bulldozers through and why Jewish evidence is ignored.

This ‘Jewish…but not that Jewish’ narrative (including the ignoring of Jewish evidence) is found in other areas, such as the increasingly popular Jesus-as-alternative-priest (a view which lacks serious evidence anyway). I also look at this general 'Jewish...but not that Jewish' narrative in Christian origins. Of course, figures such as Paul and John could play around with Jewish identity in quite dramatic ways but the narrative becomes the default mode in the absence of evidence. This can be seen in debates over the origins of Christology and the view of very early Christology in the very strongest sense. Of course Christians *did* view the full deification of Jesus over against Judaism, as did plenty of Jews, but when it is not there, something else is going on…

I then turn back to the cultural context where, despite the new love for Israel, there is constantly a note of superiority over against Israel, from politics to Christian Zionism (not that they can always be separated!). I also briefly look at Orientalist traditions and some of the recent work on the construction of Judaism in the history of NT scholarship. Once again, NT scholarship is very much a part of its cultural context and I am not convinced too much has changed since the overtly anti-Jewish views of pre-1970s scholarship: Judaism still comes out, at best, second. The difference from earlier scholarship is largely rhetorical.

Monday, November 03, 2008

More Jesus in an Age of Terror: a hideously emboldened Orientalism

Chapter 3 of Jesus in an Age of Terror sets the context for chapter 4 (and, to lesser extent, chs 5-6). It begins by recalling the reasons for (re-)emergence of social sciences in NT scholarship, giving the various (largely lovely) reasons that are given (60s protest movements, the impact of 1968, the increasing influence of sociology in the universities, decolonialisation, development of explicitly non-Marxist social-scientific/anthropological approaches, translations of Weber into English, and so on). There is a much bigger reason for the increasing interest in cultural anthropology: the increasingly heavy emphasis on ‘the Arab’, ‘the Persian’, ‘the Muslim’ etc in Anglo-American culture in the 1970s, a point developed by Said (esp. in Covering Islam and Orientalism). Said’s work has been qualified and developed to show how wide ranging these stereotypes were and are across Anglo-America (popular culture, party politics, higher education etc.). By the end of the 1970s, the study of Christian origins starts to develop cultural anthropological approaches to the ‘Mediterranean’ which regularly morph into generalisations about the ‘Middle East’ and ‘the Arab world’, both contemporary and ancient.

The views of ‘the Arab’ etc continued in the 1990s esp with the collapse of the Soviet empire and has been intensified and ‘hideously emboldened’ (to use Derek Gregory’s phrase) in the ‘war on terror’. Intellectually, Huntington would develop his clash of civilisations thesis after Bernard Lewis would give his weird but influential roots of Muslim rage work. All the while, cultural anthropology and social sciences have continued to grow and grow in NT studies and continued emphasising civilisation clashes and stark differences. Even the more ‘traditional’ NT studies by (say) Meier and Wright have now started to use the work of NT scholars using cultural and social anthropology (in the case of Wright to say how Jesus ‘subverted’ the context).

The rest of this chapter looks at the dominance of this clash thesis across Anglo-American culture, politics, higher education, religion, the new atheists (Sam Harris is one of the worst offenders) and so on, including some of the brutal results seen in Iraq. It looks at some of the (frankly ridiculous) explanations of centuries of ‘Islamic/Arab decline’, ‘Arab stagnation’, ‘Arab/Muslim humiliation’, Arab/Muslim shame’ etc and how all these approaches simply ignore the massive range of cultural differences and historical change, relying instead on bizarre generalisations, including sometimes the very honour-shame approaches common in NT studies at the moment. I look at the complex nature of violence in the name of Islam, including the whole political and radicalised Islam filled with the decline of secular nationalism, the impact of US led foreign policy in the Middle East, increasing slums in major cities, influence of revolutionary Marxism on certain politicised Islamic movements, the peculiarities of Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia, and so on. This is designed to show how ideologically convenient and intellectually limited discourse the generalising, dominant clash arguments, and centuries long decline are and how they too frequently ignore vital details, local histories and, very simply, the *modern* nature of a revolutionary Islam. This discussion sets the background for the cultural and ideological location of (some) contemporary NT scholarship which generalises dramatically about the Middle East.

The next chapter looks at the serious problems in NT studies. I give some considerations to the ways in which NT studies and pop culture overlap (documentaries and blogs) before moving on to the NT scholars where there have been lots of use of the *contemporary* ‘Arab world’, ‘Mediterranean’, and ‘Middle East’ to look at the *ancient* world. There are two functions of this. One is the fairly banal explanation of why the shift to social and cultural anthropology since the 1970s and some uses are relatively innocent. The other function is to attack some of the staggeringly insensitive and ridiculous generalisations about ‘the Middle East’ and ‘the Arab world’ (‘the Mediterranean’ frequently morphs into these categories) in NT social scientific scholarship and put them in ideological location. Some of the things said about Arabs recently in NT scholarship function as if Said never happened. Some of them are just so obviously influenced by contemporary concerns (Arabs not democratic, Arabs are drawn to extremist movements, Arabs obsessed with family and sex, Arabs suppress behaviour that comes out in crazy arm gestures, Arab ‘humiliation’, Mediterraneans are psychologically undeveloped and abuse family members etc). Naturally, there is much concern to contrast this with ‘the west’ or, most frequently, America. Coincidence?

There are some clear rhetorical overlaps with Huntington’s clash of civilisation thesis in this NT literature. Worse still some of the anthropological literature *still used* in NT studies has been heavily denounced. Most notably, Raphael Patai, who wrote the ominous sounding The Arab Mind in the 1970s, is still used. Said denounced it as racist in Orientalism. He may be right of wrong but to not deal with Said is…not helpful shall we say. This book has some of the most absurd generalisations about the Arab world, often based sexual generalisations (handling of baby boy’s genitals, the issue of figure hugging western trousers, and masturbations rates (I’m not joking – and ‘the Arabs’ are supposed to be obsessed with sex!). This book was also used, it seems, in the thinking behind Abu Ghraib (see Seymour Hersh’s investigations). Language used by some NT scholars on the Arab world also has overlaps with the contemporary liberal and hawkish rhetoric (e.g. Thomas Friedman) on the Middle East. In fear of understatement, this is very worrying. To make matters worse, a lot of the anthropology being used has its roots in social psychology and anthropology sponsored by the US govt and military, something, interestingly, which has returned in a major way recently – indeed a colonel wrote the preface to the latest edition of Patai’s Arab Mind saying how wonderful it was in military training! Incidentally, some military figures have at least seen through Patai and think his influence has been a disaster. A lot of this anthropology has traditionally had an ideologically convenient demarcated world…with the US at the centre.

Another peculiar development is that some of those using the heavily generalising anthropology and social psychology and emphasising civilisation differences have been using providing of the most aggressive non-argument arguments of recent times, dismissing different uses of social sciences (typically those more sensitive to cultural complexities) using the political rhetoric of clashing civilisations to dismiss their opponents. There is little concern to discuss the details of cultural context, naturally. I parallel some of these non-arguments in NT studies with some political non-arguments designed for slurring opponents. I’ll let you read all that but for now I’ll just say that the argumentation of such scholars is at the same level as ‘are you with us or against us?’

I must add a note of qualification here: some of the scholars analysed will certainly have different *personal* views to the aggressive US-led foreign policy and some of the unpleasant generalisations about Arabs and Muslims (some, I know, are very hostile to some of the developments in Anglo-American culture). But they still write things that are totally in sync with the dominant cultural discourses on the Arab world and Muslims. It is important to stress, then, that individual views are not always helpful whereas looking at scholarly trends can be. This brings us back to the propaganda model in higher education and how intellectual views tend to conform strongly, sometimes irrespective of how nice individuals may be.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The end of The Quest; or what's Wrong with a bit of faith alone?

From Roland Boer:
I hereby announce the official beginning of the first search for the 'historical Wrong'. Who is NT Wrong? In light of an increasing number of conversations, speculation over drinks (I know of at least one in Oslo), and teasing comments, this search is well overdue.

Well, I'm going to go all Bultmann on the quest (Bultmann to Boer's Strauss). Such a quest can be damaging for faith because if we knew who Wrong really was it would be damaging for all the good work done. We don't *need* to know who Wrong is historically speaking. All we need is the text we have: is that not good enough? Why do we *need* to know?

Actually, I'd like Wrong's identity to remain a mystery by SBL because it could be entertaining for Wrong going around and blogging etc with the speculation rife. Assuming the bishop is attenting (are you Wrong?).

Getting almost serious, there is something pretty impressive about someone managing to get such a spectacular reaction from bloggers over the liberal-conservative stuff and to be the topic of so many conversations in a variety of countries, nay continents (I'm pretty sure I was involved in the Oslo one mentioned by Roland, not to mention several others). Great are the mysteries of faith.

To add further, if I had to speculate, I'd say Wrong is an ordinary human being. Remarkable, certainly, but not capable of supernatural things. And just for the record, it isn't me (besides Wrong blogs too regularly and knows infinitely more about the Hebrew Bbile than me). I've been asked numerous times and it is the greatest compliment I've received but, alas, no. Don't get me wrong, I *wish* I'd have thought of the idea...

But ultimately we should praise the Wrong of faith, not the Wrong of history. Wouldn't we want Wrong living forever in our hearts and on our blogs than a mere historical figure doomed to the historical dustbin?