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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Quiz

Who said the following:
If Christ was on earth today undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers...If Christ was on earth today undoubtedly he would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over...If Christ was on earth today undoubtedly he would fight against the tyrannical policies of prevailing global economic and political systems, as he did in his lifetime...

Was it:
a. NT Wright?
b. Richard Horsley?
c. John Dominic Crossan?
d. Leonardo Boff?
e. Fernando Segovia?
f. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Once again, the date of Mark's Gospel

Mark Goodacre has again summarised his position on the dating of Mark and how the issue of a prediction by the historical Jesus is largely beside the point. It's more about what you do with a prediction, if you like, and Mark Goodacre thinks post 70 best explains Mk's use of a prediction. Again, I would re-stress the counter argument. Yes, it is perfectly plausible that a) Jesus could have made a prediction of the fall of the Temple and b) Mk could have framed it to make his own point about successful prophecy (I also don't like the debate when it get dragged down into whether or not someone could or could not make a genuine prediction). But I wouldn't throw out the importance of an early pre-Markan prophecy so quickly. Let's say that Jesus and the earliest Christians did predict and expect the fall of the Temple. If so then it remains possible that Mk could have framed the prophecy in light of another event (e.g. Caligula crisis) when it might have seemed likely that Jesus' prophecy would be fulfilled. It might have been written in the aftermath when people appeared to have expected a repeat action. It might have been written in the late 60s when it might have looked as if it were coming true. Throw into the mix, various biblical traditions about what had happened to the first Temple when an imperial power advanced and then maybe add the book of Daniel which was regarded by many as still prophetic and had things to say about the future of the Temple. (And maybe add that Luke did precisely what Mark did not, and made major changes to Mk 13 to make it clear that there was a reference to the fall of Jerusalem). Throughout all of this, it is possible to imagine the importance of an early prophecy guiding later interpretion and influencing narrative placement, all in the name of proving Jesus right. Of course, on the basis on Mark 13 alone, it might all be about something that has already happened in 70. But, then again, it might not. There are different historical contexts which could have given rise to the narrative placement of the prophecy (see Crossley, Date of Mark, ch. 2). This is why I was and am very reluctant to use Mark 13 as a source for dating Mark's gospel.

This sort of reasoning could, if we are that way inclinded, be applied to other aspects of Mark's narrative. Mark notes how the temple functions 'alongside a narrative climax that stresses its connection with Jesus' death'. While that is a bit too vague for my tastes, the connection between Jesus' death in Mark's narrative and the Temple, if there is such a strong connection (I'm not so sure), could still be explained by different historical contexts and by the question of what to do with earlier traditions. Again, like using Mark 13, this is why I remain reluctant to use such narrative themes in dating the gospel (see Date of Mark, ch. 3).

Pope on heterosexuality and gender (?)

There has been some reporting that the Pope has allegedly pushed for a defence of heterosexuality, equated gender theories with threat to rainforests, and called for an 'ecology of man'. The trouble with the reporting is I can't find the speech itself and so I don't know how accurate the reports are. On the one hand, given the stuff I have read by the Pope (including that truly terrible book on the historical Jesus!) and the views on homosexuality in many churches it wouldn't surprise me if some crazy things were said; on the other hand the Archbishop of Canterbury has been misrepresented enough times (as have numerous other people, religious leaders or otherwise) that I'm not inclined to believe what has been reported about the Pope at face value, especially on such sensationalist topics. Furthermore, there is not much direct quotation so I'm a little suspicious. And would even the Pope think that heterosexuality needs defending?!?

Broadsheets feel confident enough to begin their stories with the following:
Pope Benedict was accused of stoking homophobia today after a speech in which he declared that saving humanity from homosexuality was just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction. ([London] Times)

The pope has sparked controversy by saying defending heterosexuality is as important as saving the world's rainforests from destruction. (Guardian)

It certainly seems accurate to say that the speech has provoked a response (newspapers provide such responses) but of course that's different from the Pope actually saying the things attributed to him. It does, though, seem as if the Pope has been critical of certain forms of 'gender theory'. This is reported in the Guardian:
Father Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said today that the pope had not wished specifically to attack homosexuality or sex change operations in his speech. "He was speaking more generally about gender theories which overlook the fundamental difference in creation between men and women and focus instead on the role of cultural conditioning," he said.

As this is a direct quotation it looks like something we can go on. I wonder who is in the firing line here...?

Does anyone know if the Pope's speech is available online?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Once again on the historical Jesus: who is deciding Jewish identity?

Mike has briefly discussed a new work edited by Hays and Gaventa on Jesus and identities. I can't deal with that book here but I can deal with the use in Mike's final redaction of his blog entry. Mike liked this quote about the Jesus Seminar: "This portrait was of a strikingly non-Jewish Jesus, a laconic wandering sage who loved witty aphorisms but had no interest in Israel's heritage or destiny, and no interest in leading a new religious movement" (p. 2). Mike added, 'Amen!'

I've said before (and in Jesus in an Age of Terror, chs 4-5; see also esp. Arnal, Symbolic Jesus), that this imposes a view of Jewish identity on Jews. If we follow this logic to its conclusion it means that if someone born Jewish in the ancient world decided to not bother with 'Israel's heritage or destiny' then they somehow ceased to be Jewish (whether they liked it or not presumably). It also implies that someone who was 'a laconic wandering sage who loved witty aphorisms' somehow could not be a Jewish person even if born Jewish! I think this is a not-very-helpful view of identity, goes against much of what has been written in contemporary academic discussion of identity and is reflective of some very old fashioned (and even essentialist?) views of identity. The question might be raised: who is deciding who can be Jewish here?

And do the Jesus Seminar really deny Jesus was Jewish, something which would be spectacularly controversial? No. Crossan's book even calls Jesus a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant.

Mike also points to the 'convergences between the various contributors: (1) Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew'. But is this anything remotely surprising? Who would deny this? Is there anyone since the Nazi scholars who denies Jesus was Jewish (a point well discussed by Arnal)? Is saying Jesus was a Jew now as obvious as saying 'we all agree that Jesus had a head'? Probably, so why the emphasis...?

I think there are social, political, ideological etc reasons for this strange emphasis on the obvious (Jesus was Jewish) in the past 30 or so years...see Arnal, Symbolic Jesus; Crossley, Jesus in an Age of Terror. I also think that in historical Jesus scholarship the construction of Jewish identity is frequently patronising and usually designed to make Jesus 'better' than what is, ultimately, little more than a scholarly construction. But that's another story...

Mike also adds, 'The Identity of Jesus Project at CTI, in contrast to the Jesus Seminar, came to believe that: "Jesus is best understood not by separting him from canon and creed but by investigating the ways in which the church's canon and creed provide the distinctive clarification of his identity. The church's ancient ecumenical creeds are not artificial impositions of Scripture but interpretative summaries of the biblical narratives. Therefore, they offer us an overarching sense of the meaning of the whole Bible, and of Jesus' place within that story" (p. 5).'
I ask this to Mike: given the contrast with the Jesus Seminar, is that a Jewish Jesus then...?

Champions of England, Champions of Europe, Champions of the World

That is, Manchester United who today beat the mighty Liga Deportiva 1-0 to become world champions. Rooney, Van Der Sar, Anderson, Tevez and Carrick were excellent. Rooney well deserved his man of the match and tournament award. Not sure a giant Toyota key was the best prize for Rooney's achievement...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

International SBL and Music

John Lyons has already mentioned this but I'll repeat it anyway:

Call for papers for the Bible and Music section, International SBL, Rome, Summer 2009

Meeting Begins: 30/6/2009
Meeting Ends: 4/7/2009

Call For Papers Opens: 15/9/2008
Call For Papers Closes: 31/1/2009

Requirements to Submit a Paper Proposal

Bible and Music

This program unit will include a session of papers devoted to the Bible and Popular Music and an open session for which papers concerned with any aspect of music in relation to Biblical Studies are invited.

Program Unit Chairs

William John Lyons
James Crossley

Friday, December 19, 2008

RAE 2008

The national Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) results have come out. Biblical Studies at Sheffield did very well (though Mike Bird didn’t offer *us* any good wishes!). All full time members of staff gave full submissions and all the submitted work came out no lower than international level which in our field, I think, means that, along with Aberdeen, we were the only major university dept in theology, religious studies and related areas to do so. This is obviously excellent news for Sheffield, especially as all members of staff were entered for the RAE. The Dept of Biblical Studies at Sheffield is a specialist dept and we had to go head-to-head with numerically bigger depts of religion and theology (in distinction from biblical studies). I know there are many ways of presenting the results but it seems that we rank very high nationally. This is obviously expected at a major university like Sheffield, a department with all the history Sheffield has, and some seriously impressive staff members, but to do this against religion and theology depts is very good indeed. But in terms of biblical studies alone this also implies that Sheffield is, as it has consistently been for years now, right up there.

More from Sir Fergie on Real Madrid

By popular demand (at least one person) football makes its welcome return...

Not content with reminding Real Madrid of their fascist past, the great Man United manager Alex Ferguson has come out with another dig at Real in reaction to their lastest round of rumour mongering:
"You don't think we'd get into a contract with that mob, do you? Jesus Christ. I wouldn't sell them a virus."

Friday, December 12, 2008

New/Updated EABS Sessions

There are more research seminars sessions for European Association of Biblical Studies (the next conference will be in Lincoln, 2009) that of direct interest to the things discussed on this blog:

Social History of Modern Biblical Scholarship
Chairs
Ward Blanton, James Crossley and Halvor Moxnes
Programme
The purpose of this programme is to foster cross-disciplinary and collaborative research into the social history of modern biblical scholarship. A growing number of scholars have pursued such research of late, with the salutary effect of producing self-reflexive histories of the cultural, ideological and political entanglements of biblical studies as an academic discipline.

This research programme intends to (a) provoke more professionally trained biblical scholars to examine the social and historical construction of the field in which they practise; and (b) give concentrated visibility to emerging work that defines this trajectory among the sub-divisions of contemporary biblical research. The programme was launched in 2007, with lectures by scholars who have devoted significant energies to this type of intellectual history. All colleagues who are currently carrying out research on this topic or interested in participating in the programme, are cordially invited to contact the chairs.


Sociology and the Bible
Chair
David Chalcraft (David.Chalcraft@homecall.co.uk)
Description
In the light of increasing interest in the use of the social sciences in Biblical Studies this research programme concentrates on the use of sociological theory and method in particular, but expands the role of sociology in Biblical studies to cover a number of distinct, yet related areas of interest. The extension of the role of sociology in Biblical studies is predicated on the notion that since sociology emerges from and seeks to address the rise of modernity, its nature and its possible futures, any use of sociology to understand the ancient social worlds of the Hebrew Bible, Qumran, and the New Testament, involves appreciating the nature of the social realities in which we live and conducting a constant dialogue in which past and present are both needed to be interwoven but also kept separate. The past and present need to be kept separate so as to appreciate both the continuities and the ruptures between modern social forms and social life and social life in the past.

The Research Programme includes:
1. Sociology and Historical Reconstruction: The use of sociology for the analysis of biblical and related (especially Qumranic) texts for the reconstruction of ancient social worlds and processes of social change. Theoretical, methodological and substantive contributions are relevant. 2. Sociologists and the Bible: (a) the work of specific sociologists (e.g. Spencer, Durkheim, Weber and more recent sociologists such as Talcott Parsons, Barrington Moore and Harvey Sacks) and how they themselves sought to make sense of ancient Israel and emergent Christianity, and (b) analysing the texts of these sociologists for the manner in which they directly and indirectly make use of Biblical ideas, themes, tropes and metaphors in their sociological writing. The aim is to contextualise and understand the merits and limitations of their approaches to Biblical history, and to assess their contributions in the light of developments in Biblical studies (based on improved data as well as methodological advances) and in the light of contemporary social theory. A central question involves the extent to which sociologists disenchanted their moral worlds and how this process can be mapped through analysis of their use of the Bible. 3. The Sociology of The Bible in Historical and Contemporary Culture and Society: promoting (a) theoretical and empirical work, grounded in sociological method, concepts and theorisations, on the actual use by specific individuals and groups, especially in contemporary society, of the Bible in their everyday lives, for example in recovering previous ethnographic and survey work by sociologists, theologians and other agencies on individual and social use of the Bible; and (b) advancing methodological debate through field work application of sociological research methodologies and modes of theorising and gaining sociological understanding of the use and abuse of the Bible in various social settings such as kindergartens, schools, churches, Sabbath schools, sports, local and national political arenas.
This Research Programme will thus offer a space in which empirical work and its methodological issues can be discussed and presented and seek to raise the profile of such work and encourage further research.

Programme for 2009
In the first instance the research programme will accept papers addressing any of the above themes. It is hoped to create a session in which aspects of the three themes articulated above can come together, under the theme of 'The Bible and the Sociology of Disaster'. Papers are invited that make use of sociological and social science research on the nature of disasters and trauma and their impact on individual and group life to reconsider biblical narratives of natural and political disasters (the defeat in war, the destruction of Israel and Judah, and the exile) and to consider the way in which contemporary sociology of disaster and trauma (e.g. on 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, or the Holocaust) might benefit from or is comparable to, biblical responses.

Paper proposals are invited, to be sent to David Chalcraft (David.Chalcraft@homecall.co.uk)


Anthropology and the Bible
Chair
Emanuel Pfoh (epfoh@yahoo.com.ar)
Description
The aim of this unit is to foster ethnographic readings of biblical stories and anthropological perspectives on the archaeology and history of ancient Palestine. Relevant topics for discussion are:

Political and historical anthropology of ancient Palestine (city-states, urbanization, state-formation processes, ethnogenesis)
Mediterranean anthropology in biblical narratives (patronage, hospitality,feud, honour and shame, food)
Sociology and anthropology of religion and ancient Palestinian cultic and ritual data (aniconism, iconography, burial, cultic places, etc.)

Proposals for papers should be sent by the end of January 2009 to Emanuel Pfoh (epfoh@yahoo.com.ar)