James Crossley's blog Contact: jgcrossley10 - AT - yahoo - DOT - co - DOT - uk

Sunday, March 29, 2009

'I am not a man...I am Cantona'; or football/soccer films to watch

Two flms relating to football are forthcoming and look a little better than some of the previous ones (as Peter Bradshaw put it, 'an under-reported development in cinema is how football is now being excitingly filmed'). Firstly, the Damned United about Brian Clough's time in charge at Leeds (44 days) in 1974 and his ongoing rivalry with Don Revie. As a bonus it stars the excellent Michael Sheen. The dark and controversial novel by David Peace is made much lighter according to the reviews though there seems to be some agreement that the film still stands on its own merits. If you want a glimpse of 70s local tv (Yorkshire) sports interviewing, try this fantastic debate between Clough and Revie (the man Clough succeeded, hugely influential at Leeds and then England manager) the very same night, Scott Murray reports, after Clough was sacked. It is a fantastic historical piece. (Some people have said it wait for several minutes for this work, load in (or whatever the right terminology is) but it seems to work ok for me.)

The other big football related film event concerns my great hero, Eric Cantona. Cantona was, as you all know, the greatest player of the 1990s and massively influential in turning Man United (presently Champions of England, Champions of Europe, Champions of the World) into a major force. And the film is directed by Ken Loach! This is not so much a football film but more about a postman in Manchester who is a bit down and gets life guidance from visions of King Eric. The fantastic line of this title is in the trailer here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Jesus in an Age of Terror (N. America)

It seems as if Jesus in an Age of Terror might be more easily available to those in N. America via Oxbow/David Brown, the US distributor for Equinox.

Chris Zeichmann on Jesus in an Age of Terror

Chris Zeichmann has given a very detailed summary and review of Jesus in an Age of Terror. I am particularly grateful to Chris, not least because he was very complimentary. He has also engaged in a way that makes this reader, at least, think. He raises very good questions which will hopefully help in the clarification of my position. He also raises an extremely interesting issue that never occurred to me when writing the book and got me thinking even more about some different ideas (we’ll come back to that towards the end). I also think some of my points are more to do with clarification and so we might not be in much disagreement in what he raises…but we might – let’s see what Chris thinks. And good to see a mention of a book that needs further discussion or at least reading by those in the mainstream of historical studies of Christian origins, Shawn Kelley’s Racializing Jesus.

I won't focus on the nice points and instead look at those minor critical points Chris raises and I’ll do my best to answer…

Chris says that ‘Neyrey’s intent could be much more benign: if we cannot understand people in our own time, how can we understand those some 2000 years ago? If this were the intended reading, the use of the “Middle East” is simply a heuristic and convenient analogy’. Yes, I would sort of go along with this and intentions are another question I think (some are certainly honourable and I know some of the people I critique have personal politics which go directly against their stereotyping of ‘the Arab’ and some strong critics of Anglo-American foreign policy who unwittingly buy into some of the arguments they would ordinarily oppose). Part of the book is designed to explain why intellectual movements emerged when they did. I think cultural anthropology in NT studies emerged partly in the context of wide ranging stereotyping of ‘the Arab’, ‘Muslim’, ‘the Persian’, ‘the Middle East’ and so on. This doesn’t necessarily mean, I’d add, that all users of cultural anthropology in NT studies make outrageous comments. I don’t really make a judgment on Neyrey on this issue, at least not here, other than to explain that it is part of a trend that depicts the US in distinction from the Middle East etc. It could, theoretically, still be a useful reading, as Chris suggests, as well as being a reading explicable in terms on recent history. Of course, other scholars do come up with some outrageous statements about Arabs but in this case I wouldn’t make much of a moral judgement.

Chris adds that ‘It is unclear to me why Crossley targeted the Context Group in particular, especially given his social-scientific proclivities in Why Christianity Happened.’ There are certainly similarities and there are several CG members with whom I’m in broad agreement and I did target ‘some’ (I made sure I kept using that qualification) CG members. However, to generalise, if I may, my approach in Why Christianity Happened was more concerned with explaining change while the CG approaches I discuss are more descriptive and less concerned with change. I give no value judgment on that now – both have their place etc – but that is one difference I’d suggest. The reason why certain members of CG are targeted is because they are the most obvious fit with the ideological developments I mention and certain figures make the some of the most outrageous comments I’ve read in recent NT scholarship. Moreover, they are very much part of the ‘mainstream’ and influential figures in NT studies. When Meier and Wright reference certain CG work for understanding the social world of Jesus, then we know such work is taken very seriously and is very much a part of mainstream NT studies. That seems worth discussing as a significant movement in the history of scholarship and in some cases much more problematic and important than if it were some crazy right wing fringe movement doing what crazy right wing fringe movements do without much attention from anyone else.

On Orientalism Chris says:
Orientalism (or the type of Orientalism that interests Crossley) is never clearly defined and this presents some of the book’s biggest problems. First, the prescriptive element of how one should describe another culture is never clear. That is, the dual problem of fetishizing the weirdness of the “Other” and reduction of their differences to a bland “sameness” finds no clear resolution herein. Second, casting such a wide net for Orientalism will likely be off-putting to some, resulting in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t scenario on a different level. One can ascribe to the “other” positive valuation on “our” terms, but this remains ethnocentric. Granting them positive values on their own terms, however, assumes a transcendent posturing by the scholar that comes off as rather ridiculous. Again, he does not suggest a middle ground or third way.

Yes, the lack of a sustained alternative is true but also deliberate on my part. I’m increasingly finding it difficult to answer that issue and provide an alternative. But it is also worth recalling that the book really treats NT scholarship as the primary source material rather than the NT itself and a main intention is to explain why certain trends in scholarship emerged when they did. At some points, then, the moral issue is another issue so not all are damned. Chris suggests that ‘it seems appropriate to delimit acceptable and unacceptable forms of ethnocentrism, given its inevitability.’ In one sense I do something like this. I do not criticise everyone for being part of a tradition of using anthropology since the 1970s. Some works I like and some of my earlier work is broadly social scientific and I think I’m right predictably enough but I think all this can be explained (as can my own work, including my work on Jesus and Judaism, I’d add) in terms of the ideological developments. I also talk of some approaches being ‘much more carefully qualified’ (p. 114) and ‘Some of the generalizations are milder and more aware than others in their dealings with Arabs and the Middle East, some are not necessarily inaccurate as generalizations’ (p. 115).

There are some moves where I’m not sure how we judge in moral terms. One of the most significant developments is the way in which ‘Mediterranean’ or ‘Mediterranean world’ becomes ‘Arab’ or ‘Arab world’ in several descriptions of ‘the Mediterranean’. By itself it might be a problem for geographical accuracy (!) and it might be explained in terms of obsessions with ‘the Arab world’ and it might even play into the hands of power but the moral issue is more ambiguous.

There are, however, worse sentiments expressed and ones where the issues just discussed can enhance such sentiments. I am very critical of the use of the not-so-tasteful stereotypes which I obviously do not like (claims that contemporary Arabs/Arab mind obsessed with sex, contemporary Arabs/Arab mind not suited to democracy, contemporary Arabs/Arab mind prone to violent political movements, Arab as suicide bomber or kidnapper etc. etc.). I’d stop short in explaining too closely good and bad ethnocentrism because I’m not sure a helpful definition can actually be given, at least not in any strong sense. I do think I can persuade at least some people that Arabs being obsessed sex, being drawn to violent movements, being defined as suicide bombers and so on is not right.

When Chris says ‘One can ascribe to the “other” positive valuation on “our” terms, but this remains ethnocentric’, I can only agree. That’s also partly why I wasn’t interested in reconstructing (I also wanted to treat scholarly sources as primary sources so reconstruction would have been out of place). The only solution I really suggested was to stop or, at the very least, question the very unfortunate stereotyping of the ‘Middle East’ and ‘the Arab’. I prefer the general ‘Orientalism’ because it concerns the Said-critique tied in with politics and covers a lot of key aspects which I think are documented as part of the contemporary concerns with the Middle East and Islam. Furthermore, many details of Said have been analysed and critiqued but I think it is fair to say the general picture suggested by Said is one with which many of us would agree. I also think that such a broad use is important for my purposes because it covers the broad spectrum of views, both in cultural contexts and scholarly contexts.

On the bloggers, yes, this involved dealing with friends and that wasn’t always pleasant. I could have chosen any number of people and blog entries but there has to be limits of course (as it happens even more useful material has come to light since I submitted and NT Wrong’s blog and its reception would have been a very useful blog to analyse – in fact it all is: watch this space for more to come on that topic…). Jim West was particularly useful in one instance because the key modern political factors were raised on a post about ancient issues which brought together a number of other bloggers so it was blogging gold for my analysis! Jim West was also one of the key exceptions on the issue of the discussion of the Iraq war aftermath (though significantly ignored) and I had to include that, I think.

An aside on Nadia Abu el-Haj: happily she did gain tenure. I wonder if the campaign against her (and I’m worried I’m giving out tips to those with whom I profoundly disagree!) focused far too heavily on things she simply did not say and invented things about her. Presumably the committee would easily have seen through the fact she did not argue that Jerusalem was not destroyed by the Romans (in fact she simply stated the standard view that the Romans did) and so on.

I like this:
Finally, it seems that Crossley’s work would have benefited from a discussion of secularization, especially as it relates to Orientalism and as a catalyst for focusing on specifically “religious” aspects of Israel as sites for potential “antisemitism” (e.g., the Temple, kosher lifestyle). The near-equivocation of “Israel” with “Judaism” in the media seems important to this point. Similarly, Richard King has written a very solid book (Orientalism and Religion) that deals with the characterization of “the mystic East” as a response to contemporary anxieties about secularity. The role of the non-rational in Malina’s work seems particularly ripe for analysis in these terms (I think especially of his chapter on envy). But this point might be moot, since Crossley’s work appears to focus more intently on the “what” and “how,” rather than “why,” questions.

That’s a very interesting suggestion. In this book I partly wanted to avoid issues of ‘secular’ as something distinct from ‘religious’ because I think the problems are similar among those claiming to be ‘religious’ or ‘secular’ alike (hence I gave examples from a range of perspectives). But I think Chris has raised a very significant issue and the potential for a different but related kind of research. I wonder, for example, if something like the championing of Bailey’s work on Jesus and the Middle East would fit into ‘the characterization of “the mystic East” as a response to contemporary anxieties about secularity’? I stress issues of right and wrong could be put to one side (or not, depending on taste) but it would certainly be an interesting point for someone to pursue and I can think of several examples which might back up such an argument. Yes, I like that idea.

Chris calls his points ‘minor quibbles’ and I’d respond that my answers are meant in good spirit and are really only points of clarification. His review was detailed, very positive and fair and that’s a good thing from my point of view. I’m also pretty certain there will be some extremely hostile responses in the future (I’ve braced myself for some time now) so it is particularly gratifying to read Chris’ positive response, particularly as he knows more than a thing or two about this area.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dilettante Hobby Horse

This blog has been mentioned a couple of times: Dilettante Hobby Horse! Like the special post on Wrong's blog, 'all wacky comments on your blogs are encouraged to be dumped in the comments section on this blog. DHH is giving its comments section for the many.'

There are many candidates in my comments section...

Monday, March 23, 2009

John Hobbins, Jesus in an Age of Terror and imperialism

UPDATE: Here is John Hobbins' bizarre response. I know, I know, why bother and all that...the advice various people have given (off blogs as well as on) is right, I really shouldn't (see John Lyons' comments here). But isn't there something quite perverse about this complete lack of engagement with the arguments in light of the questions raised?

The rhetorical effect reminds me of a game of hide-and-seek. If I play hide-and-seek with my 5 year old, she justifiably gets upset if I end the game by discovering where's she hiding right away. The unwritten rules of the game state that I must circle around and pretend I know a lot less than I do, and make the discovery only after a suitable lag in time.
So it is with Crossley. He's crying in his beer because I've pointed out something he doesn't want his readers to know upfront: that he operates from a bunker in la la land when it comes understanding the realities of contemporary geopolitics. The bunker is lined with "masses and masses of evidence" as interpreted by Gregory, Said, and Chomsky. From that bunker he takes potshots at others. Sorry to blow your cover, James. But I think you blow your cover on your own.

Well obviously there is nothing of substance there so I can't respond and the daft nature of it doesn't really inspire much confidence (not to mention the inaccuracies). All the questions I raised still stand needless to say but he seems more into that shock jock rhetoric so I won't hold my breath... One of these days, Hobbins is actually going to have to provide evidence to back up his claims about the people he thinks are so deluded. He's admitted to not having or reading my book (!!) and felt it was enough to predict what was in it (though curiously he didn't mention that the first time) so who knows if he even cares about such things? I'm going to give him one piece of advice: give examples (e.g. from my book, from the works of Said, Gregory, Chomsky etc) to show the faults...

In the comments section, NT Wrong returns and shows the serious problems and very innocent reading of the Bible (and let's remind ourselves he using the Bible for contemporary geopolitical analysis while accusing others...!!) while I really should take Roland's wise advice (definitely read his comments in the comments section below)

John Hobbins has made some criticisms of my (apparent) views relating to Jesus in an Age of Terror and Jim West has made some very telling criticisms. I want to make my own response now.

Hobbins says:
...at least Ferguson avoids the simplistic anti-imperialism which fills the mouths of many in academia...It pays to have a grasp of the criteria by which imperialisms were evaluated in the biblical tradition, and to relate that tradition to America's exceptionalism, real or imagined. On that basis it becomes possible to make better sense out of the contemporary realities of international politics. The alternatives, Realpolitik, neo-conservatism, and isolationism, not to mention the anti-imperialistic approach of Noam Chomsky championed, it appears, by James Crossley in his coffee-table special, have, it is not too much to say, rather less going for them.

Now I would like to know my 'anti-imperialistic approach' according to Hobbins. In my book I discussed the broad cultural stereotypes and propaganda underlying contemporary American imperialism (with British help) and how these are replicated in NT studies and related areas (including blogging - ironically enough). I discussed the stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims and the ways in which 'Jewishness' and Israel is supported in contemporary culture and scholarship in a way that says more about Anglo-American agendas than it does about the object of study. I also suggested that much of contemporary culture, including scholarship, effectively supports Anglo-American imperialistic agendas.

I say this because it is actually a view that can (and has) been accepted by left or right on the political spectrum. You could still be a hard imperialist and recognise the importance of gaining cultural support and using propaganda for an imperialist (or nationalist) agenda. The readings of Leo Strauss might be an example of this as would countless others. My own views on imperialism are not made explicit in the book though I imagine it would be easy to make an educated accurate guess. Where I am explicit is my explicit criticisms of the outrageous stereotypes concerning Arabs and Muslims (among others) and dubious generalisations about a fixed Jewish identity. For example, I said that if Arabs really are prone to joining extremist political movements, are not suited to democracy, obsessed with sex and so on and if 'the Mediterranean' (the category overlaps with 'Arab' in some NT scholarship) abuses family members for their own good then, in addition to this being a product of contemporary Orientalist rhetoric, we really need widespread evidence and not assertions. And of course, why is this being asserted without evidence...well, I think that's obvious. I also added that there are many disgracefully inaccurate references to Muslims and Muslim history and lies said about Palestinians. These can be put right of course but many people seem uninterested in doing so. Why...well, guess...

Where I discussed and developed Chomsky (and we'll return to Hobbins on that matter soon) on areas relating to imperialism concerned issues such as the ways in which the defence of the estimated deaths of 500,000 children in Iraq under the sanctions or US support for some extremely brutal dictators responsible for mass murder as well as racist stereotypes concerning 'the Arab'. Developments along these lines include the previous US/UK support for figures such as Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan - known to boil opponents to death - and the ways in which opposition even from the British ambassador in Uzbekistan was suppressed. Things of that order.

Now let us return to Hobbins' evaluation of my argument. For a start, Jim West is on to something when he points to Hobbins' phrase 'the anti-imperialistic approach of Noam Chomsky championed, it appears, by James Crossley' [my bold]. Has he read the book? I don't know one way or the other. For now let us push Hobbins' logic. My 'alternative' involved criticising the use of racist language and stereotyping. It also criticised the ways in which people defended or avoided issues of death, murder, mass murder linked in with Anglo-American foreign policy. According to Hobbins's logic, such alternatives 'it is not too much to say, rather less going for them.'

I maybe wrong and it maybe necessary for international law to be broken and/or for racist stereotyping and support of murder and mass murder to be necessary and if so then I am presumably naive and wrong and in need of an alternative view. Therefore I need to know why, according to Hobbins' logic, this is necessary. It seems as if I am not reading too much into Hobbins' logic because he continues by adding 'A non-politically correct, non-stupid take on international affairs and geopolitics is hard to come by, but it does exist.' So, I'd add, I really need to know why it is politically correct and stupid to be concerned about mass murder, racist stereotyping and so on. Why is it 'politically correct' and stupid to think that wildly generalising statements about Jews, Muslims and Arabs and lies about Palestinians are wrong? Is it non-stupid to think that endorsing lies and mass murder etc is right? Does Hobbins think it is right to make such generalisations and stereotypes and does he think it is important and non-stupid to use racist language and lie about people? By his own logic in his reading of me then he must. So I suspect he doesn't actually know what he is arguing (to steal an argument from Chomsky) because I'd be amazed if Hobbins really endorsed racism and lying in reality and claimed that it was non-stupid to do so.

As an aside, I'd like to know what this phrase 'politically correct' actually means because it is used in ways that seem ridiculous to me. I'll confess, I'm struggling to understand why my argument is 'politically correct'. And stupid.

Hobbins then recommends figures such as Niall Ferguson (among other things) as 'the makings of a credible alternative to the politics of the Copenhagen/Sheffield school of “postcolonial Biblical Studies” promoted by Jim West (in his own words, “the Don King of the Sheffield school”).'

Now as far as I am aware from what I have read of, and heard from, Ferguson does not endorse the support of racism, stereotypes and mass murder but I haven't read enough of Ferguson. But that is the alternative to my argument and Hobbins' logic has to be deemed somewhat disturbing here. As an aside, Hobbins says Ferguson's view of imperialism includes this: 'Just like the British Empire a century ago, the United States aspires to globalize free markets, the rule of law, and representative government.' Well, that seems a bit naive when we recall those sanctions, support for a host a brutal dictators, mass murder etc - all heavily documented evidence. So is a credible alternative (if we assume my arguments for a moment) to ignore lies, ignore racism, ignore stereotypes, ignore support for mass murder and so on?

As for the Sheffield/Copenhagen school of postcolonial biblical studies, I'm a little confused here. It is certainly true that Sheffield has a tradition of postcolonial studies in the broad sense (and, speaking for myself, I'd have no problem being associated with a school of postcolonial studies) and given the links with Gregory, Said and even Chomsky I can see why someone would label my work as postcolonial in a broad sense (but just don't ask me about the details of definitions etc). I have to confess that I'm not so sure it shares something in common with Copenhagen on this issue. I suspected that Hobbins confused this with the minimalist debate in HB/OT studies. As it turned out Bryan Lee raised the issue on Hobbins' blog and Hobbins said:
It seems to me that minimalism in a broad sense - a radical questioning of the things we thought we knew happened as reported in the Old and the New Testaments - is put to good use as it were by James Crossley among others at Sheffield and beyond in the quest for a "postcolonial" politics. The politics are not unusual on university campuses of a certain type. They are of course unusual to non-existent everywhere else. It is the fusion of a radically skeptical approach to the study of the Bible with a number of leftist political imperatives that one naturally associates with Sheffield and Copenhagen.

I think Hobbins has confused minimalism too much with postcolonialism here. I don't know the political affiliations of the Copenhagen people for a start (left, right, I don't know). I'm not even sure of those typically designated minimalists at Sheffield. Hobbins adds,
To be sure, I have the utmost respect for Sheffieldians like Crossley. They lay their politics out on the table. They don’t pretend. Well, neither do I.

I wonder if this is actually fair. I didn't really lay my politics out on the table (at least not in any detail) even if it is possible to make an educated guess. I'm not even sure that all the Sheffield people have even laid their cards on the table either. I know people like Dever have guessed (wrongly and without evidence) and come close to dressing this up as fact but I wonder if the politics of Sheffield (and Copenhagen) people is something that has often been imposed from outside.

But more significantly, perhaps, I'm not sure I can be tied in with minimalsim in the sense I think Hobbins is suggesting: 'a radically skeptical approach to the study of the Bible'. I suppose I am sceptical in the sense that I don't really care too much about arguments made in the Bible for my life (is that scepticism...? I dunno). But minimalism is more an OT/HB thing at Sheffield. In terms of historical accuracy etc. I can only say I am a minimalist when it comes to John. I'm pretty moderate if not conservative when it comes to the synoptics (I also keep finding myself in agreement with certain evangelicals when it comes to Paul - another story I suppose) and there has not been a real minimalist NT tradition at Sheffield (in a dept founded by FF Bruce!). I think there is a point in what Hobbins says here but it is a little confused. Hobbins adds, 'We (Hobbins v Sheffield) just happen to disagree on a few details of political and historical interpretation, ancient and modern.' Maybe Hobbins wouldn't disagree with me so much on the ancient historical interpretation of the NT as much as he thinks. But I don't know his NT views - maybe he is more of a minimalist than me.

Now Chomsky and a little textual variation. The above quotation citing Chomsky had an 'original version' still available on Jim West's blog which spoke of 'the painfully ridiculous approach of Noam Chomsky championed, it appears, by James Crossley'. Hobbins removed the 'painfully ridiculous' bit. That's fine. I've certainly changed things post-blog publication and have no problem with people doing likewise. But Hobbins re-emphasises the view:
I still think Chomsky’s approach to geopolitics is painfully ridiculous. But whether it is or not was not germane to the point I was interested in making, so I blanded the post down.

This may be in relation to my argument. If so, it would still be interesting to know what he means by this. Chomsky has provided masses and masses of evidence to show the behaviour of the US, whether it is support for sanctions in Iraq or Wolfowitz supporting the murderer Suharto. This sort of stuff is the bulk of Chomsky's political output so I would be very curious to know why it is painfully ridiculous. If not, what is 'painfully ridiculous' about Chomsky's politics? I ask not simply for the most important issue of morality but also because I argued in Jesus in an Age of Terror that, among all intellectuals, Chomsky is dismised not by dealing with the masses of evidence he collected but by cheap rhetoric not dissimilar to that of Hobbins (some much worse and some simply inventing things about him). So if Hobbins would be willing, I'd like to know why he thinks Chomsky is 'painfully ridiculous'

A final point. Let's play with Hobbins' definition of good empire. While I must confess to being a touch sceptical about people using ancient views in the Bible on Babylonian and Persian Empire to talk about contemporary imperialism while at the same time dismissing a scholar who has brought together masses of contemporary evidence of the serious moral problems with US imperialism, I'll take Hobbins at face value for the moment. Hobbins points out that:
Persian imperialism in Isa 40-48 is described in glowing terms. The Persian conquest of Babylonia and the Levant under the leadership of Cyrus was viewed positively insofar as it brought an end to Babylonian imperialism, treated everyone with a measure of respect, and fixed as a goal the extension of its writ to the Aegean isles and coastlands.

If we take this standard, I'm suggesting that the US plus UK have failed miserably. From my perspective, and I imagine many other perspectives, the use of white phosphorus in Falluja, the support for sanctions in Iraq, the handling of Palestine, the support for Suharto, Karimov, Saddam and all the others, the use of Guantánamo and so on and so on and so on is not treating everyone with a measure of respect. Now Hobbins may agree but how this biblical evidence at least is a part of a 'credible alternative to the politics of the Copenhagen / Sheffield school of “postcolonial Biblical Studies” promoted by Jim West' needs explaining.

And as for Jim West, can the man be criticised for good taste?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Jesus in Cultural Complexity

Via a very pleasant time at St Andrews, it's time for another installment of the Olso based project, Jesus in Cultural Complexity. All the details and links can be found here. The topic/title of this conference is 'Holy land as Homeland? Models for constructing the historic landscapes of Jesus'. Here s the conference outline:

What role do modern images of “land”, “landscape”, “nation”, “ethnicity ” etc. play in constructions of the landscapes of Jesus: Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Israel, Palestine? There have been many discussions of how to describe e.g. Galilee at the time of Jesus, but few attempts to identify the models, ideological and cultural understandings of landscapes/ lands/ nations that underlie these descriptions.

It is the purpose of this seminar to undertake such an attempt, the goal is to combine substantial constructions and theoretical analyses. The presentations of Galilee/Palestine can serve as test-cases of many broader and more general discussions. They illustrate many of the issues that come up in discussions of archaeology and nationalism, of landscape and memory and identification for various groups with attachment to the same land.

In biblical studies landscape and space have recently become important as analytical as well as constructive categories, supplementing the traditional focus on time. This has led to an interaction between students of biblical literature and fields where place and space have been studied for a long time: geography, philosophy, cultural theory. Moreover, in the study of the social context of biblical studies in the 19th and 20th centuries there is also a growing awareness of how presentations of the “Holy land”, a very popular object of tourism, study and devotion, were shaped by pious memories and contemporary ideologies.

The papers are divided in several groupings: 1) present constructions of the space of Jesus in the Gospels/space in other Christian or Jewish texts, 2) constructions of Holy land(s) as homeland in the pre-modern and modern (19th century) period, and 3) post-modern period. 4) The historical and ideological context, particularly of 18th and 19th century Jesus/Bible studies.

And here's what's what:


Thursday, March 5:
9:00: Welcome and introduction by Halvor Moxnes
9:15-10:15: Leif E. Vaage, Emmanuel College, Toronto: Diogenes of Capernaum: Jesus the Cynic in borderland Galilee.
10:30-11:30: Karen Wenell, University of Glasgow: Land and Kingdom: Models, Boundaries and Responsibility.
11:45: Rene Baergen, Toronto School of Theology, Jesus on Water. In and Out of Place in the Lake Region of Galilee.
12:45: Lunch
14:15: Lecture at the Faculty of Theology: Burke O. Long, Bowdoin College: A real Jesus in a fake Jerusalem? Florida's Holy Land theme park. Discussion and coffee with faculty and students invited.
16:00-17:00. Liv Ingeborg Lied, PhD University of Bergen: Other lands - other stories? Reading Land in 2 Baruch.
17:15-18:15: Michael Jones, Dep. Of Geography, The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU): Stiklestad and the cult of St. Olaf: Constructing a national-religious Landscape.
18:15-19:00. Concluding discussion of day one.

Friday March 6:
09.15-10:15: Ward Blanton, The University of Glasgow: The Politics of Homelessness in and Around Paul.
10:30-11:45. Adam G. Beaver, Harvard University: Nihil sub sole novum? Early Modern Approaches to the Holy Land.
12.00-13:00: Halvor Moxnes: Homeland and Holy Land – constructions of Galilee in the 19th century.
13.00-14:00: Lunch
14.00-15:00: Keith Whitelam, University of Sheffield, on the cartography of Palestine, 19th c. (title to be discussed)
15:15-16:15: James Crossley, University of Sheffield: Are Politicians Any Different When They Play Away from Home? Historical Jesus and the Land according to Recent British Members of Parliament.
16:15-16:45: Coffee-break
16.45:-19:00: Historical and ideological contexts for (18th)19th century constructions of Jesus and the Holy land.
16:45-17:20: Jonathan Birch, The University of Glasgow: The Road to Reimarus: History, Morality and Political Theology.
17:20-18:00: Todd Penner, Austin College: Landscapes of Nationalism and the Formations of Biblical Scholarship.
18:00-19:00: Concluding discussion of day two.

Monday, March 02, 2009

More on academic freedom

Roland Boer has his suspicions about the way academic freedom is being used in the discussions of the Luedemann episode. I think he is largely right but I’d question those areas of ambiguity in Roland’s comments. Roland concludes:
I won’t go into what is really a long, long story, except to point out that the debate over academic freedom is actually a debate over which master you prefer. In the discussion about Luedemann, it’s clear that most prefer the state as master rather than the church, especially when it comes to that last battleground of theology and biblical studies. There is a double paradox here: first the state legislates for academic freedom, which thereby makes it a constraint; then it gives the illusion of such freedom and actively undermines it through preferred research areas, funded links with ‘business’, money with strings attached, and so on.
I agree on the issue of state backing for the academic world. In Jesus in an Age of Terror I pushed this point hard, both on the relationship between higher education and universities and how this frames the questions in higher education, including biblical studies. In addition to the general point I tried to show this in practice in relation to Anglo-American foreign policies in the Middle East. I also concluded that the logic of such critique means that it could be very difficult for such arguments to be accepted in academia and so books that criticise the sensitive parts (so to speak) of state and intellectual power might be more effective outside the traditional walls of academia.

Roland also makes the general point (criticism?) that ‘In the discussion about Luedemann, it’s clear that most prefer the state as master rather than the church, especially when it comes to that last battleground of theology and biblical studies.’ I don’t know if ‘most’ is true or not. It may well be. But I’d add that I remain more hostile to the treatment of Luedemann than Roland because church interference is still a problem if (say) one goal is to reconstruct the life of Jesus and Christian origins. Now church power may not be what it once was but it does affect biblical studies in a way that it does not other disciplines and does disqualify questions and overall this has had both positives (theological perspectives) and negatives (anti-nontheological perspectives). The problems are minor compared to the ways in which state and private power/-influenced power has interfered (the most notable recent example being the case of Norman Finkelstein) and but ruling out certain questions is still a dubious way in (say) historical research and reconstruction. Because state power is a serious problem, doesn’t mean that the critique of religious power is necessarily wrong (not that Roland quite said that, of course, and Roland in his own comments section, which I noticed after I wrote all this,‘I tend to be very suspicious of both’). I’d push for the critiquing of both religious and state power in intellectual thought and that’s why I’m happy to criticise the treatment of Luedemann.

Here’s an aside…NT Wright, not for the first time, goes way over the top in his rhetoric when he suggests the following: ‘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.’ This strikes me as a little absurd and there may well be cases of certain unpleasant rulers believing in bodily resurrection (it would be interesting to find out what the Christian figures Reagan, Thatcher, Bush II, and Blair believed). Wright’s book though is as conservative and confessional as could be imagined in mainstream academia and Wright has worked at a major English university and academics in major academic positions have accepted key areas of Wright’s book. And Wright's book directly invokes the supernatural to explain Christian origins. Moreover, Wright is a major scholar of Christian origins with the support of major scholars of Christian origins so I’m not so sure his work on resurrection at least really feels the effect of cultural tyrants. Is it going too far to suggest, ‘quite the opposite’…?

Roland is no doubt right that theology/biblical studies is the last battle ground but crazy as I think Wright’s work on the resurrection is, I don’t think we should go as far as pushing this politically motivated agenda critiqued by Roland: ‘the scientific method, objectivity and critical inquiry joined the fray: to be ‘scientific’, ‘objective’ and ‘critical’ actually meant that you did not count God or the gods in the picture as a causal agent. They were and still are politically motivated claims – hardly objective at all.’ These sorts of views will no doubt be found in biblical studies and it could be argued that they may still remain important goals but setting the boundaries to exclude God/gods and divine causality isn’t done and shouldn’t be done, no matter how ridiculous some of us might think this approach to history is. Wright’s book and beliefs on resurrection are not only no serious threat to any state power but they are also no threat to the discipline of biblical studies as it stands. In biblical studies, with confessional dominance, the power is inevitably with believers and it is far more likely that we'd get more cases of a Luedemann threatened than a Wright (though I’d be very suspicious of motives if the state even bothered to intervene too much in issues like this – put another way, from the perspective of power, who cares?). We should not imagine that people still would not want to exclude others due to their beliefs. Michael Bird comes close to advocating a kind of censorship in academic university biblical studies in the comments section in previous post), at least when it comes to employing people in theology departments. These views may not be anything like as troublesome as the opponents of people like Finkelstein and Abu el-Haj but just because they are minor doesn’t mean they aren’t worth fighting (see also NT Wrong’s response to Mike – Mike never clarified in an answer sadly – and the discussion on Roland’s blog). And, I’d add, that if believers were the ones threatened in the way Luedemann was then I’d as happily challenge that mindset.

In fact, thinking about it, there’s little constructive in the above, is there? Just keep demolishing and, don’t forget kids, always fight the power and so on… Well, yes, but I think there is something constructive in what I say and there are plenty of constructive things to do in research but let’s spell those latter things out another time.

As I said, I noticed debate in the comments section on Roland’s blog which has some great interaction between Roland, NT Wrong and John Lyons which has loads of important stuff raised.