Friday, July 31, 2009

More on Bible and History

In an earlier post, I effectively began a survey of Old Testament texts assessing their historical veracity and usefulness for cnstructing a history of ancient Israel. I pretty much covered the primary history of Genesis to Kings and touched on the Latter Prophets and 1 Enoch. As far as Genesis and the Torah are concerned, I think it's safe to say that most biblical scholars are minimalists as far as history is concerned. In other words no one is interested in a historical Moses, or dating the Exodus these days, let alone a historical Jacob or Abraham or Sarah. These are recognised as stories composed and written many centuries after the times in which they are set. It follows then that Joshua has likewise been minimalised, so to speak, as far as history is concerned. There are some who might try to find history in parts of Judges but the days when scholars debated the amphictyony as a critical institution of ancient Israelite society are long gone. In the biblical studies history wars, the line sits at Saul, David and Solomon. As yet, there is still no independent evidence to verify the stories in Samuel (Saul and David) or 1 Kings (Solomon). It's only in 2 Kings that we start to find a story world peopled by characters and relating events for which we can find other attestation. And even then, the other attestation does not necessarily agree with the bibical account. But at least we know that some of the kings in 2 Kings were real people.

There is, of course, another account of this history, the book of Chronicles, 1 & 2 Chronicles/Paralipomena - the Greek name means the things left out. however, the problem with Chronicles is that not only does it include material not found in Samuel or Kings but the portrait of David and Solomon found in Chronicles is markedly different to that in Samuel and Kings. Indeed, Chronicles is mostly concerned with the Temple cult and so David here appears in a very idealised almost priestly form and Solomon after him. It omits the story of Bathsheba, Absalom's rebellion and other less than flattering accounts of David. So Chronicles account of these stories is generally not regarded as having much historical merit at all.

Related to Chronicles is Ezra-Nehemiah, which in Jewish bibles is counted one book but in Christian bibles is counted as two. And just like Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah is very problematic for doing any history. Parts of both texts are related in first person, however neither Ezra nor Nehemiah seem to be aware of each other's existence, which is odd to say the least because they appear to be contemporaries in the text. Is one fiction and the other historical? The problem, which is which? And what then is the relationship of Ezra-Nehemiah to Haggai and Zechariah which appear to have another account of the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple. Is there history in any of these four texts? And then there is 1 Esdras which is another version of the material in Ezra-Nehemiah and some from Chronicles with some original content of its own. In other words, it's mostly derivative and not without problems at that.

Whatever one can say about Esther, one certainty is that this is a fiction designed to provide a scriptural warrant for Purim. Tobit, any history there, most unlikely. Judith? If that's history I'll eat it. Ruth is a lovely story but can it really serves as a history especially as it concerns the ancestors of David, who is likely to be a fictional character. Job? To read Job as history is a meaningless exercise. The text is not interested in providing historical details such as when or even where Job lived. The text, of course, is a script and Job is likely to be a sacred drama of some sort. Jubilees is a retelling of much of Torah.

When we turn to the rest of the biblical literature it gives little or no help in writing a history of events. Psalms, Proverbs, Qohelet, Wisdom and Sirach might be useful for writing a history of religion. Lamentations and Song of Songs are of little use to history work. Daniel is prophetic commentary on the events around Antiochus Epiphanes in the 2nd century BCE and so useful in that sense. 4 Ezra is prophetic commentary on the destruction of the Second Temple.

Only 1 and 2 Maccabees seem to be doing any real sort of history and even there we have to be careful. 2 Maccabees is more interested in a theological interpretation of events and does not cover the same breadth as 1 Maccabees. 3 and 4 Maccabees on the other hand are not interested in history, as we understand it, at all.

So if we're wanting to write an Israelite history, most of the Old Testament literature is of little use for getting details of key events and persons.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My night out

I'm really not certain how we ended up there. Well, we signed ourselves up for it some weeks ago at St Mary's after the regular Sunday evening Mass. But why? I'm talking about the special Mass to celebrate the 150 years of the Brisbane Roman Catholic Archdiocese. It was on tonight and not at the Cathedral but over at the Brisbane Convention Centre. My flatmate and I and another friend went along.

I had mixed feelings about it. Unfortunately, as is so often the case these days, we had to endure the marketing spin with slogans such as 'Graced Tradition, Spirited Future' being spruiked regularly throughout the event. I really hate spin these days and I hate it even more in the name of religion. The welcome to country was done really well but then rather than get into the Mass they wanted to run a brief historical panorama, which was handled so appallingly by someone playing an escaped convict from the 1830s - 40s giving a bit of a narrative about their life. It really was unnecessary and painful. And it was preceded by a woman reading some well spruiked stuff about our 'graced tradition' etc. Painful.

It was good to get into the Mass when it finally started. There were heaps of bishops from around the country and the archbishop of Dublin, which is where the first bishop of Brisbane was consecrated back in 1859. The Irish guy gave a not bad homily which was a relief because even though Bathesby has a good heart his homiletics leave an awful lot to be desired and the only other alternative would have been Cardinal Pell Horrible man. Thankfully he had no speaking parts whatsoever. Amidst all the bishops, too, were a couple of Eastern Rite bishops looking quite glamorous in their outfits.

The music left a bit to be desired. The organ/keyboard left an awful lot to be desired, so cheesy, it sounded like something out of a Vicki Eydie Swingles Celebrity Lounge performance. And before the Mass started they tried to get us 'warmed up' with a particularly trashy number that wouldn't have gone astray at Hillsong or somewhere like that. For a minute I feared we would be subjected to some sort of Pentecostal conference type thing. But I'm happy to say the music really did improve - well the choir and the hymns anyway. The keyboard remained cheesy all the way through. It was a nice touch to start with Canticle of the Sun and including the stanza praising Sister Death.

The saddest part of the Mass was at communion. As well as a horde of Catholic bishops, there was also the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane and the Dean of St John's Cathedral and other Anglican clergy plus the local Coptic Orthodox priest and Uniting Church Moderator as well people representing the Assemblies of God, Salvation Army, and Quakers. I think especially for events like that the Catholic Church should practice intercommunion and most definitely with the Anglicans and (Coptic) Orthodox because they all share the same sort of understanding of the Eucharist (I noticed the Anglicans bowing at the elevation of the host and the cup). Obviously Quakers, Salvation Army and Assemblies of God probably don't because the Eucharist is not really celebrated in their denominations and so there is no shared framework, although I'd still be prepared to err on the side of inclusion. But the others certainly should be no problem. Catholics and Anglicans certainly informally practice intercommunion a lot already. And I really think the time has come for Western and Eastern churches to adopt intercommunion especially as all the old anathemas and excommunications have been lifted.

Overall, I think the Mass was good as far as these things go. Cut back on the hype and the happy clappy and the cheesy instrumentals and it would have been great. And I'm still surprised that I ended up there at all. It's certainly not something I would have done once upon a time.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

History, Story and the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible

Probably because I've been reading Megan Moore's book, Philosophy and Practice in Writing a History of Ancient Israel, in fact I've just finished it, but questions of history and text are really to the fore at the moment. But my last couple of posts are New Testament focused and I want to come back to my home turf, Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.

Over the last couple of decades there has been a bit of a history/culture war between what everyone terms minimalists and what Ed Conrad has called maximalists and Moore terms non-minimalists over how to do a history of Ancient Israel and the role the biblical texts should play in such an enterprise. I said in one of my earlier posts that for too long "biblical studies has been understood as a variant of history, digging around in the texts to ascertain what actually happened." Too often most of the so-called history has been little more than elaborate paraphrases of biblical narrative, but too often without any of the literary merit of the biblical text itself.

As part of the biblical history process, there has been the digging around in the texts, worse the dissolving of the texts to create new ones, hypothetical ones such as the Book of J or first Isaiah and so forth. These are then used in a kind of circular process to verify the historicity of the biblical narrative because these hypothetical source texts are seen as artefacts in that history even though they are really nothing more than scholarly constructions. I knew a colleague once who was very critical of the Documentary Hypothesis of the Pentateuch. He would always say that he was keen to get to heaven and see if he would meet the Yahwist - "Hi, I'm Sam Yahwist, the author of J" - we'd always chuckle over that line.

And as with the New Testament, there was also a role for oral tradition but whereas in NT it was only a matter of a number of generations with the OT and primarily the Genesis stories of patriarchs and matriarchs it was an oral history handed down over many centuries. However in the 70s the historicity of those narratives really began to be questioned and nowadays we are all pretty much minimalists when it comes to Genesis. To try and read Genesis as history really misses the point of the stories which, when treated as sacred stories, are found to be rich in a plethora of meanings, that are obscured by, lost through trying to treat them as history.

The same applies to the Exodus stories and it was brought home to me the other day at Mass most strikingly. Currently in the daily lectionary, the Old Testament readings are from Exodus. Monday's reading concerned Moses confrontation with the golden calf and the ensuing events in Exodus 32. My attention was particularly caught by this

21 He said to Aaron, "What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?" 22 "Do not be angry, my lord," Aaron answered. "You know how prone these people are to evil."

What we have here is an example of a recurring pattern throughout these texts of putting down, abjecting the past, the ancestors. It's found in Genesis, most dramatically in the account of Joseph and his brothers. It runs all the way through the exodus accounts from Exodus to Deuteronomy, in a setting where the Israelites are almost in constant, dare I say, intimate contact with the LORD. In Joshua the triumphant (and genocidal) entry into the land sputters out towards the end into an almost civil war and ominous warnings from Joshua. Judges is a carnivalesque world were everything is topsy turvy finally spinning out of control with the parodically sociopathic Samson to culminate in the outrage at Gibeah and civil war followed by pack rape to close laconically saying "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." Judges is pretty much an anti-heroic narrative, at times employing a fairly morbid sense of humour as in the accounts of Jephthah and his daughter and Abimelech. The Samson story, too, is sociopathic comedy. But history? No more than the Iliad or the Odyssey or the Epic of Gilgamesh, in other words not much at all.

In Christian Bibles Judges is followed by Ruth but in Jewish Bibles the narrative moves straight into Samuel. While Judges closes seeming to say, "if only we had a king we'd be fine" Samuel and then Kings basically reply "be careful what you ask for" These Israelites are pretty bad left to their own devices but under kings they screw up even more, so much more that first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians are sent by God to put an end to the whole Israelite experiment itself.

This same pattern of abjecting the ancestors is maintained in the (latter) prophetic books (as it is also in 1 Enoch) which serve really as a commentary on the whole primary 'history' Again oral tradition used to be invoked in using these texts as history. Now it's possible to imagine a community dedicated to the memory of a Jeremiah or maybe an Isaiah but what about an Obadiah or a Joel (if we can actually ascertain in what time period Joel is actually set) or a Nahum? And is it a coincidence that the names of these prophets have something to do with the themes of the texts which bear their names. I'm most familiar with Isaiah and the Twelve Minor Prophets and the one thing that strikes me most about these two texts is how much they read as scripts for perfomance pieces. More than anything else Isaiah reminds me of a liturgical performance; is it really a libretto?

Many of the Psalms, too, read as commentary. Again that was brought home to me most strikingly on Monday by the Responsorial Psalm which was from Psalm 105/106, a long piece proclaiming the wickedness of the Israel including the incident of the Golden Calf

19They made a calf in Horeb
and worshiped a metal image.
20They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass.
21They forgot God, their Savior,
who had done great things in Egypt,
22wondrous works in the land of Ham,
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23Therefore he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him,
to turn away his wrath from destroying them.

In his In Search of 'Ancient Israel', Philip Davies speculates that the greater part of the Hebrew scriptures were composed pretty much contemporaneously. I remember at the time being quite excited by this idea. It made more sense to me than the notion of the rolling book(s) that moves through the centuries accumulating and absorbing additional text in a quite passive way. It always passes through the hands of generations of editors and there is no author to be seen almost anywhere. Something about that struck me as wrong - again it seemed too disturbingly linear and oddly passive. So the idea of them being composed deliberately as part of a broader project has a strong appeal. After all, these texts are remaking a religious tradition or several, I think, in response to the shock of Empire. In parts they incorporate older sources, in parts they rewrite and revise older sources and in other parts they compose wholly new material and most of the time it's not really clear which is which.

The most important history in these texts pertains to religious ideas and imagery. A good example is again in Monday's reading Exodus 32. After the destroying the Golden Calf Moses goes before the LORD and says

30The next day Moses said to the people, "You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin." 31So Moses returned to the LORD and said, "Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. 32But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of"> your book that you have written."

This whole scene is strongly evocative of the High Priest's role on the Day of Atonement. Perhaps the words in Moses mouth are from the very ritual itself. Perhaps. We can't know for sure and that's where the need for humility, of recognising the contingency of all readings, enters in.

Monday, July 27, 2009

History, Mythology, Theology and sacred texts - a response to Audrey

I do all my blogging on my laptop, I do all my computer stuff on my laptop. I have an old desktop but it sits on a very cluttered desk in my very cluttered bedroom. The lack of space and the convenience of the laptop means that I do pretty much all my blogging and all my computer stuff in bed. Bed is about the only clear space in my bedroom and even it has a pile of books sitting on one side of it (books, books, books, my bedroom is crammed with books).

Blogging in bed is a very comfortable way of putting down your thoughts but it can also have its drawbacks. I'm the sort of person who often falls asleep over a book at night. I find I can also fall asleep over the laptop at night too. My last post, Dating the Scriptures, is one in which I fell asleep several times while writing it on Saturday night. I'm quite disappointed with it because I'd wanted to do a bit more, a lot more with the topic than I actually did, in particular getting into Old Testament texts and dating/history questions. But I kept falling asleep, finally in quite a final way. I woke up quite late on Saturday night not certain how long I'd been asleep and realising that I still had the blog page in front of me. I skimmed it through and gave it a bit of a wrap and then published it but not without misgivings. I'd planned to revisit the topic tonight and maybe explore some more the areas that I didn't really get into the other night. But then I checked the blog this evening and I found a couple of comments there including this one from Audrey to which I made a short reply. However there are a number of issues in Audrey's comment which actually relate to some of what I wanted to say on Saturday night so I'm going to respond to Audrey's observations in more detail. In my response I'll quote from the reply I made on the thread as well - except it doesn't appear to be there so my response might be even more detailed than I expected. Ok here goes

Audrey begins by picking up on the destruction of the Temple in 70 and the dating of gospels and other texts:

I thought the post 70 date, has to do with the destruction 0f the temple, as there are references to that event in some of the gosples (could be wrong about this

Audrey is right here but in my post I pointed out how the late J A T Robinson had questioned that assumption in his Redating the New Testament. In my (apparently lost) reply on the thread I remarked that I thought Robinson had done a pretty good job of putting the cat among the pigeons on this question and made a good case for the apparently clear references to be not so clear at all especially when compared to references to the 70 events in texts that are clearly post 70 and clearly referring to those events e.g. 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, Epistle of Barnabas. I don't feel confident that one can date the NT texts on the basis of any presumed references to 70, except say Revelation which I'm inclined to think is written around 70 as I read it as a reflection on the events of the 1st Jewish war and its significance for Christians

As to the early christians rearanging facts to suit early myth and theology, of course they did! Herod killing the new born in Mathew is clearly meant to put Jesus in the same league as Moses - Its not a statement of fact, it's a literary allusion.
I agree that early Christians rearranged and enhanced and augmented facts. The diffferent narrative order of John to that of the Synoptics is a clear example of that and one that has exercised the minds of many scripture scholars over the generations trying to resolve the differences so as to create a coherent single narrative. The events were also framed in specific theological and mythological perspectives designed to highlight their deeper significance. The problem is, of course, trying to identify clearly which is which. I'm not certain that it's possible and so that's why I couldn't say for sure that Herod's slaughter of the male infants of Bethlehem didn't happen. Yes, the story has allusions to Moses but it has other allusions as well. Are they designed to provide an interpretive to understand the significance of real events or are they fiction designed to highlight a specific relationship Jesus has to Old Testament figures and models, or both (I never dismiss both/and)? Certainly by all accounts the event is in keeping with the character of Herod so something like that could have happened. We just don't have any other evidence to say one way or another. One thing for sure is that a dispassionate reading of both Matthew's and Luke's infancy narratives sees a birth associated with some sort of messianic fervour. Something like that would have made a king like Herod act. The only thing is we can't know for sure and we can't tell what might be real and what might be fiction.

As to the resurection - to an atheist like me, it's simple, if he got up - he was'nt dead. If he was dead - he did'nt get up. This is another example of the early christians using myth (and imagination) to make a theological point, to take it literaly is a little silly.

Is it really that simple? And this is a crucial point that I wanted to get into the other night but didn't. In our culture when people die that's it. But not so in other cultures. Many years ago I knew an aboriginal woman, an activist, still is in fact. Back then she was regularly visited by her grandmother who was always telling her off about stuff and so forth. The only problem was that her grandmother had been dead for quite a few years. According to freinds of mine she lived with, the grandmother had a bad habit of appearing at the top of the stairs (they lived in a big old semi-detached house in North Fitzroy) and deliberately startling this woman. They never saw the grandmother but they certainly knew from this woman's agitation and anger when her grandmother was around. Hers is not the only case of visitations from the dead in aboriginal cultures that I know of and I'm sure these cases can be multiplied n times just for Australian indigenous cultures alone. I'm told that in Central Australia aboriginal people don't like going to hospitals because of all the dead people - spirits - they see hanging around there. Similar stories abound in other indigenous cultures from the Pacific, the Americas and so forth. People have told me stories of all sorts of things they've experienced in such cultural settings and how disturnig it was for them as Westerners to suddenly have all their cultural rational certainties challnged through exposure to a totally different cultural perspective. And in that cultural setting things do happen that aren't supposed to from a modern rationalist let alone atheist perspective. In terms of the Resurrection I want to cite South African New Testament scholar, Pieter Craffert who adopts a social scientific anthropological approach to such questions

From a social-scientific perspective two answers can be given as to whether Jesus rose bodily from the dead: yes and no, but they do not mean the same as in the above scholarly answers. As already argued, yes, the sources do report about real cultural events and realities; yes, Jesus's resurrection was a genuine cultural experience for his first followers; yes, he was resurrected, as the texts indicate, in a first-century material body, because in their world, visionary experiences indeed provided sufficient evidence for such cultural claims. These visions were neither delusions nor objectively real events but culturally real experiences that are reported in the New Testament sources. As indicated above, such a cultural-sensitive understanding of the experiences of Jesus's immediate circle of followers is an inevitable insight provided by this perspective.

....once the myth of realism is replaced by the idea of multiple cultural realities, it becomes possible to also re-evaluate the empty tomb accounts. While they function as one ofthe building blocks in the mod-ern rationalist debate about Jesus's resurrection, the New Testament sources already realised that an empty tomb is no secure evidence to claim a bodily resurrection because the body could have been moved or removed. That is, on the assumption that Jesus was indeed laid to rest in a known tomb — which is not an obvious assumption. But it is the cultural logic about the belief in the possibility that deceased ancestors can intervene in human affairs which should be considered here. A different cultural logic about death and the human self is at work in cultures entertaining the notion that deceased ancestors occupy a continued social position and function in society. If Jesus was resurrected as experienced by his first followers, his tomb must have been empty because he (the person/body Jesus of Nazareth) has then assumed a different mode of being — a mode of being consistent with their afterlife beliefs ["Did Jesus Rise Bodily from the Dead? Yes and no!" Religion and Theology 15 2008]

All the early Christian texts affirm these resurrection experiences as key to the whole Christian project getting off the ground after Jesus was executed. From a historical perspective it should not be matter of saying such things can't happen and so they didn't and therefore the stories must be later inventions retrojected back in time - and consequently the texts must be late because they contain these events. And that's pretty much how the 'realist' rationalists have approached these texts for the last couple of centuries. Religious rationalists have in turn argued that not only did these events happen but they can prove from the texts that Jesus physically rose from the dead. Craffert details all manner of arguments as to whether Jesus rose from the dead and whetehr it was a spiritual resurrection or a physical resurrection. Thing is these are all questions of theology and metaphysics not history. From a historical perspective, Christianity got under way because Jesus followers believed that not only was he no longer dead but that they had seen him alive. It doesn't matter whether the historian beleives what they saw was real or, worse, saying it couldn't happen so the story was made up later.

I personally believe in the bodily resurrection, not least for its sheer poetry, but I'm not going to go over and under and around the texts to try and objectively prove it happened because we can't. All we have are those texts, nothing else, and the very nature of life and death means that we cannot access those events in any way outside the texts. All we can say objectively is that Jesus followers believed they saw him alive and leave it at that.

I supose the ten year gap is just to give time for Mark to be written, then considered worthy of being copied, then physicaly caried to other early Christin communitys, by donkey (eh haw) or on foot. Then read, then thought about, discussed, preached about, argued about. then some one has to be inspired enough by something in the original story, or missing in the original story,(this does assume that mark was first, as there is enough evidence to make that a reasonable view) that they felt another version was needed. Ten years under that context is pretty fast, it could just as easily been 20 or 30, as you say the dating are guestimates, one or two years is pushing it, though possible

I personally think that communication was much quicker in the Roman empire. It was a very sophisticated society. The fact is that early Christians were very much creators of texts. They were pioneers in the use of the codex the precursor of our book. I not only think the timelines are guesstimates but very highly constructed to put as much time between the text and the original events. Consequently John is always dated latest of all, I think because John is so richly imbued with theology and mythology. Under the rationalist approach this could only have happened after a long period of time because early Christians certainly weren't into complex theology and mythology and Jesus least of all.

This rationalist approach is actually based on 19th century romantic notions about true religion and rationality drawn from Hegel and Kant and myths of progress and reformation. It's found in the standard models of Old Testament history - history becomes central to the way scripture is read. History is a rational enterprise and furthermore the historical approach to go back in time and actually get to the spirit behind the text. In good liberal Protetant fashion they valued a simple rational relgion and presumed that the religion of ancient Israel was an ancient instance of such. However over time this religion was corrupted with hierarchy, magic, ritual and mythology. The prophets true to the spirit of Israelite religion struggled against this coruption of real religion but in the end to no avail. Finally the priests triumphed and the simple pure religion of Israel was replaced by priestly ritualistic and legalistic Judaism, a moribund and corrupt entity. And then along came Jesus who represented a renewal of the old purity of spirit. He as executed but his followers continued on his name, although only Paul really grasped the radical/rational/ethical teaching of the Master. However over time, corruption set in with mythology, ritual and priests eventually giving rise to Catholicism. But the spirit of true religion welled up again in the Reformation and then in the Enlightenment.

THis account is a very simple portrait, almost caricature, of the biblical studies project of the last two centuries but those dynamics I would suggest still characterise much of New Testament studies although thankfully it's been pretty much dispelled from Old Testament studies (except perhaps in seminaries and theological colleges) . The model of a decline from ancient Israel into ancient Judaism is false. We don't know much about ancient Israel but I'm pretty sure that the reality of ancient Israel is very different from the portrait of biblical Israel. As for the Old Testament texts they are, for the main, products of the Temple and of priests. Furthermore the old idea of Israelite religion as a simple ethical unitarian monotheism is little more than a romantic fantasy. The religion of ancient Temple Israel was a complex form of monotheism or more probably a complex of monotheisms derived from an older polytheist base and with an elaborate cosmology which included astrology, numerology, and sacred geometries together with angelologies.

Christianity emerges from this complex Jewish matrix. Rather than marking some return to some kind of pure and primitive religion I think early Christianity as a Jewish religious movement subscribed to a suite of theologies that were every bit Jewish and every bit complex. Daniel Boyarin argues that the famous Logos text of John 1 is pretty standard 1st century Jewish Logos theology given a Christological twist. You don't need to put John in the last decade of the first century to account for the theology.

Early Christianity was not a species of evangelical Protestantism as found in Baptist chapels and Gospel halls and certainly not Pentecostal superchurches. It was a Jewish religion practicing rituals derived from older Jewish Temple and synagogue models. I'm inclined to think that just as in the rest of Judaism, Christians created texts for use in rituals/worship. Sometimes they adapted older Jewish texts such as the Ascension of Isaiah but soon created their own Gospels, apocalypses, Psalmic texts such as the Odes of Solomon. I don't accept the necessity of long tunnel periods of oral tradition. Oral tradition is all very well in pre-literate societies but neither the Roman Empire nor the ancient Jewish world can be called pre-literate societies. And indeed religiously what else is 'oral tradition' but the regular rituals of worship and sacrament.

So hence I don't see the need for long time frames for the creation of Christian literature, especially literature with strong theological and mythological motifs. I'm suspicious of such models particularly if they are neatly linear and most especially if they are constructed on the basis of romantic rationalist agendas.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dating the Scriptures

A couple of months ago, I saw a really interesting post over at Source Theory, that I've been wanting to write about for a while, on the conjectural date of the Gospels. He says

Recent discussion over at the Synoptic List has again got me wondering at how Matthew, Mark and Luke are presumed to have been written decades apart. That any of them were written even a decade apart is really only a conjecture, based on a hypothesis of literary dependence which does not really require such a conjecture. Actually the two notions are a bit circular since literary dependence is also based on the notion that the Gospels are written decades apart!

The three synoptics may all have been composed within one year of the other two. It is strange that scholars often give dates for Matthew and/or Luke that are a decade or two after Mark, when what they really want to say is merely that, say, Matthew evidences some knowledge of Mark.

I'm quite taken by the idea of Matthew, Mark and Luke being within a year or two of each other. I must admit that I found the standard dating of all four Gospels is too suspiciously neat and tidy. Below is a fairly standard scholarly dating of the four gospels taken from the Wikipedia entry on Gospel:

  • Mark: c. 68–73, c 65-70
  • Matthew: c. 70–100, c 80-85. Some conservative scholars argue for a pre-70 date, particularly those that do not accept Mark as the first gospel written.
  • Luke: c. 80–100, with most arguing for somewhere around 85, c 80-85
  • John: c 90-100, c. 90–110, The majority view is that it was written in stages, so there was no one date of composition.

In most of the standard New Testament Intros the gospel dates worked out something like above, Mark in the 60s, Matthew either in the 70s or 80s, Luke in the late 80s or even 90s and then John last of all in the 90s or early 2nd century. The only major difference was in one of Helmut Koester's books where he seemed to date John to c. 70 but without going into why. (I remember asking my then New Testament lecturer about it but he shrugged it off saying not to worry but ignore it).

As I said such a scenario had been nagging at me because it just seemed too neat and tidy. The big question for me was why always a 10 year gap. It just seemed too arbitrary, having little relation to the messiness of ordinary life. I admit doubts were really sewn by J A T Robinson's Redating the New Testament in which he had a go at dating all of the New Testament texts to before 70. He argued that all four Gospels were roughly contemporaneous. Coming into existence over a roughly 10 year period in the 50s and 60s, a notion that to me always had merit. The standard approach smacked of some sort of 'monology' - there always has to be one gospel, one prime text but maybe for early Christians such monology was an alien concept. Later Christians on the other hand would always be troubled by having not one gospel but four.

Another issue is the question of history. For too long biblical studies has been understood as a variant of history, digging around in the texts to ascertain what actually happened. And so in gospel studies there has been the quest for the historical Jesus all based on the assumption that te textual account must bear some correspondence to reality. And yet the obvious fact of the gospels is that they are constructed not according to the dictates of historical verisimilitude but instead by other concerns altogether. Perhaps that is why John is always dated last of all, its storyline is quite radically different to the other three and therefore, it's assumed, can't bear any connection to the real history. That plus the notion that it is the most theological of the gospels places it in the 90s as far away as possible from the lifetime of Jesus. After all people living close to Jesus' time would not re-arrange the facts and embed them in myth and theology would they? (My answer is yes they would) The other convenient result of such thinking is that the magical and mythical are undertood as later accretions to the gospel events. The more there are the later the text goes the thinking.

Thus we have the phenomenon of the debate over whether Jesus actually rose from the dead. N T wright for one has written extensively on it in an atttempt to represent the final word on the topic. But is there any new data on which to base all these extensive arguments. None whatsoever. At the heart of the debates are the same texts and narratives. It doesn't matter whether one wants to uphold the tradition or 'get back to the facts', neither side is working with any novum. Of course, historical Jesus questers nowadays are working with a plethora of newly discovered texts but most of them do not add any substantial new data. The arguments thus keep chasing their tales, the reconstructions become more and more elaborate.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Some thoughts on Personal Prayer

In last night's post, I said how I probably need to write something on prayer and so here I go. I suppose it's going to be a bit of a brief spiritual autobiography. After last night, however, I can't say where my writing will take me. But I'm not going to be talking about what my friend Madhatter terms " the big E-experience". Not that I haven't had them, mostly years ago in my very younger days. In many respects they're pretty easy to experience but not really all that much to fuss about.

Instead I want to reflect upon the mundane processes of prayer, the daily routines. As I said last night I find myself in a pretty full on prayer routine these days all arising from love. It's not the most intense I've ever done. Many years ago I had a go at the Jesus Prayer of Eastern Orthodox tradition. It's goal is prayer without ceasing and I got pretty close but then had a very powerful what I term insight experience and felt that I no longer needed to continue and so I stopped. I remembr a friend of mine at the time asking "what's it supposed to do" and I realised what she was asking was what sort of power or ecstasy do you get from it. I couldn't answer; well I could, the answer was you get to pray without ceasing but that's not what she wanted to hear. And it was probably not long after that I stopped.

After my appendix explosion of 1991, I had a period of time wrestling with a whole lot of demons to do with death and dying and meaninglessness. I was working at the AIDS Council at the time and had already seen a lot of deaths, being brought to the brink of my own thus forced me to confront a lot of loss and grief issues as well as ultimate questions. I don't remember actually praying at the time but I do remember the crisis breaking in yet another insight experience which I think can only be expressed in some form of painting or other art form. I couldn't do it justice with words.

I don't know that I prayed that much during the 90s. If I did it was in the form mostly of spontaneous prayers coupled with the Peace Prayer of St Francis, a prayer I still really like and pray most days. But the traditional prayers of my Catholic background I pretty much ignored. I had a bit of a rough year for deaths in '98, including my father, but I was by then a Catholic so much on the fringe I was virtually outside and over the fence. Those were the days of JP 2 and it was easy to feel on the edge of things as far as Mother Church was concerned. The one church I would go to, St Mary's was starting to lose it, to head down the path to the current situation so I was also feeling alienated there.

It was a combination of Rabbinic texts and love that brought me back to prayer. The rabbinic texts exposed me to some of the esoteric traditions in Judaism, traditions that I saw had strong resonances with aspects of Christianity, mostly in its Catholic forms. At the same time I was engaging with some nasty Protestant fundamentalist texts from the culture wars in the US primarily. If there was one thing they despised almost as much as faggots it was Catholicism and in particular, Mary. So it made me have another look at Mary and things Marian. This was around the turn of the new century. And there was a friend I was very much in love with at the time (not the person I referred to in last night's post). There was a time when he was having some kind of crisis. I can't remember what now, although I think it might have been exams. So I said a prayer for him and then moved on to saying a decade of the rosary for him and that began my adventures with the rosary. It was all very low key then but I wanted to explore it and play with it and so I did.

I jump forward now to the invasion of Iraq. I was really angry and very depressed by that and by the way the Howard gov't was a full on accomplice. And every day the horrors of that war called out for some response. I found that prayer for the people in Iraq and people elsewhere too seemed the right thing to do (amongst other things of course). I'm trying not to telescope too much. The period from 2002 onwards was a very difficult time. Personally, I had finished the PhD and was confronted with the question 'is that all there is'. There was the struggle to find work, get a job and naturally I wanted to do what I loved, teaching, research etc. I had ideas I wanted to pursue, I still want to pursue. There is nothing more demoralising than applying for jobs over and over again. And as most jobs were overseas, it led to a very serious sense of disconnection. By 2004 I was probably in a deep depression

And at the same time, people around me began having crises, including major health crises in some cases. And of course the wars and the other shit in the world ground on relentlessly. By then I was moving to a daily rosary followed by a number of intercessionary prayers for people I knew and for people suffering around the world as well as some prayers for myself. All generally as way of starting my day. I found too that I liked checking out both the RC Cathedral and its little side chapel. The latter being a separate building was a marvellous space in the heart of the CBD to experience silence in the hubbub. Just sitting, I wouldn't even necessarily pray.

The other interesting thing with the Cathedral was candles, lighting them before the Virgin and a couple of other saints. I don't remember when I first had a go at doing it and I can't remember whether I lit it for me or someone else. I probably did two, one for me and one for someone else. This would have been in 2004 I think. Over time lighting candles has become quite natural for me. Nowadays I light three candles - one for my mother, who's been having a lot of health problems too, one for the friend who I love that I wrote about last night and one for our friendship.

I can't remember when I began the practice of praying for people who die when ever I hear of their deaths. I'm not just talking about people I know but people anywhere as you hear about them in the news. It was either the Afghan or Iraq wars, I presume. Whenever I hear or read a news report of someone or some people dying, I say a prayer for them. It's a very Catholic thing to do. I prayed for Saddam Hussein when he was hung. There's not much difference between you, dear reader, myself and Saddam Hussein. We're all human, we all shit and fart and piss. As the saying goes, there but for fortune. And even if he was a monster then he needs prayers even more urgently. The same applies to John Howard, George Bush and even Dick Cheney. When they die I will pray for them too. I wrote in one of the earliest posts here

Catholics pray for the dead. We pray in part because we recognise we are part of a community that transcends time and space including the walls of death. (That is why Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic churches are adorned with images icons paintings statues of the saints – to acknowledge and affirm that community) We pray for the living and we pray for the dead and (the hope) the dead pray for us too. It is part of what it means to work together, to help each other, to support each other. It is part of justice making, of community making, of what in Judaism is known as tikkun olam, the spiritual repair of the world,

Praying for those who had died was something I adopted quite early on, probably on my part as a way of expressing a solidarity with them, these strangers, more often nameless, as the body counts in the various wars of empire mounted. It was important to do so and I still do.

But the prayers for the living grew too. As well as situations of crisis and conflict around the world, I have a long list of individuals that I pray for at the end of my daily rosary. They are all friends and family who've been having difficult times; some former students too. Once you end up on that list it's hard to get off it. Since Newcastle, I've added Roland Boer and his father and mother to that list too. It strikes me now as positively monkish except I'm not living as a monk. I'm out there in the world doing things. I was doing this all the time I was working as a union organiser. Riding to work on public transport gives you lots of time for prayer. I also like walking and that also gives time to pray as well.

All of my rosaries were intended for people suffering catastrophe, war. During the Israeli attack on Gaza earlier this year, my rosaries were dedicated to the people of Gaza and the end of the crisis. Other times catastrophe, such as the Aceh earthquake/tsunami, are the focus. And times when people I know have died (and there have been a few over the last few years), they become the focus of my rosary. It becomes a way of calling people to mind, of expressing solidarity and connection, as well as the hope that they may derive some benefit as well. All faith involves doubt, so it's always a hope. You don't want to fall into the trap of pious certainty because that way arrogance lies although as I'd been praying for the end of the Howard government for some time I'd like to think of that as a clear case of prayers answered (mind you I suspect it likely there were many people praying for the end of that government so it's certainly not my prayers alone).

I can't remember when I added my friend, the one that I spoke of in my post on love, to the list of people at the end of my rosary. I added him because I love him. I think love is a good motivation to pray for someone. By that stage, my rosaries were focused on my mother who as I said has been having health problems for a while. But I should backtrack a bit. A little while ago, I decided to experiment with the Angelus, in part because I wanted to test the notion that Marian prayer operated on a deification principle (I'll probably need to write about deification some time too). I knew the rosary did and I'm now pretty confident the Angelus does too.

So when my friend asked me for prayers as he was going through a crisis, it was not difficult to expand upon the existing routine. Expand I did. Somehow I still manage to find time to do all the other things as well as incorporate this expanded routine. He gets his own rosary too now. I don't know how much longer I will sustain. When I saw him a couple of days ago he was looking really good so maybe soon I can scale back.

The really intersting thing with all of this practice is that I haven't had any grand peak experiences or anything remotely "mystical" at all and neither do I seek it. At the same time when I think about myself back in 2004 and the mess I was in, I really have to say that the prayer routine played a very large part in getting me through, primarily because it gave me a sense of connection that I was in need of and an other-focus which is so important for keeping sane. Unbeleivers might say it's all in my head and yep that might well be the case. But even if it is, in my head I'm connected now. And oftentimes there are times and situations when there is nothing one can do. It can be isolating, demoralising, disempowering. To pray for the people of Iraq, the people of Gaza, the people of Darfur, to name some examples at the very least helps to resist the insidious demonisation and dismissal of them and their suffering by the dominant discourses of empire. There aren't demonstrations every day and when it comes to Burma, say, no one listens anyhow.

But as a believer, there is someone listening. Now I don't believe in the Superman god who's all powerful and does magic tricks all the time but I do believe somehow in the efficacy of prayer. To cite the prayer of the faithful in the Mass, I believe all our prayers are answered, we just cant see how sometimes. I was talking with a friend the other day and I was telling him about the UQ job tutoring I've got this semester and just how much of a coincidence it was that it was that I found out about it and was able to put up my hand for it. His response was 'this keeps happening all the time with you; you've been living by faith' It was weird because I'd never really thought of it that way. I am living by faith - it's an attitude of trust, I suppose. And perhaps that's something I've developed through prayer. Sometimes it feels very scary and sometimes all the old anxieties bubble up, all the old hurts. And sometimes if I start praying for someone else, like the friend I love, then the focus shifts. It's not the big E, not even really a little e, just a subtle reorienting that's flavoured with love.

And now it's time to off and pray.

FRIDAY UPDATE: Curiously, this morning I received a request sent to myself and others from a Buddhist friend asking for prayers for a friend of his just diagnosed with cancer. I've added them to my list. I don't know who else he sent the message to but it's a good feeling to be part of a network of prayer, an interfaith one too.

Another Addition to my Blog List

Blogging at Breakfast! Mark has sent me a link to an interesting, by the looks of it, Catholic Liberation Theology Blog, An und für Sich. The German means roughly "actually on the whole" I like it so much I've added it to my blog roll. You've got to love a blog that's subtitled “You cannot fuck the future, sir — the future fucks you.”

The post Mark pointed me to was the second of two on Catholic Social Teaching, Further Thoughts on Papal Strategy. Some really good stuff and here's a sample

the overall function of CST is not to provide a concrete plan of action — indeed, the papacy never takes the risk of outright endorsing any overly concrete plan of action or set of political actors. The function instead is to serve the self-preservation and self-aggrandizement of the papacy itself by providing rallying points for the various constituencies whose loyalty the church must somehow preserve. Again, I don’t want to accuse any individual pope of doing anything purely out of his own personal vainglory — undoubtedly they believe that preserving and glorifying the Church is an intrinsic good, which makes sense if you view the Church as the means of redemption on earth. For example, maintaining the Church’s privileges allows for easier access to the means of grace, which justifies maintaining good relations with the powerful. In the extreme case, avoiding endorsing revolution helps to keep Catholics from being persecuted as such — certainly a prudential step that it’s hard to argue with, although the history of the Latin American church suggests that the papacy could’ve done more good by making more aggressive use of its moral authority and publicly shaming leaders.

But here’s the thing: the papacy never really uses its moral authority in a direct way. It just accumulates it and reinforces it. It says all the right things to appeal to a variety of people with moral instructions that sound really good while being non-obvious — yet it never really puts itself on the line for anything concrete. The papcy never intervenes directly in the political scene, only tries to cultivate the impression that if it did, that would be a good thing.

That’s what I was trying to get at in a weird conference paper last year that drew together Gramsci and Schmitt’s writings on Roman Catholicism with Laclau and Agamben: the pope is a unique political actor insofar as he never has to do anything. In the division Agamben posits between glory and governance, the papacy is pure glory.

You can also check out the earlier post A Rule of Thumb; or Catholic Social Teaching isn't what you think it is. As someone who quoted from several Papal encyclicals back in 1972 when in court for breaking the National Service Act by giving out literature encouraging people not to register for conscription, I can't help but think about the unintended consequences of texts. I recalla that Dorothy day and the Catholic Worker movement drew strongly on Catholic social teaching giving it a very pacifist and anarchist slant (one of the reasons/motivators for my ending up in court in 1972). And the same applies, of course, to biblical texts, scripture. Could the author ever have imagined the rich and diverse and often very bizarre uses to which their texts would be applied.

I also want to highlight this post Christ did more than just Suffer, which contains a critique of something by James Alison. This is the passage being critiqued

And this for me is the central point in any discussion about monotheism and idolatry: what is the criterion by which we can learn the difference between idolatry and worship? The answer which the Catholic faith gives me is this: the reason why it is possible to be non-idolatrous is because God has given us God’s own criterion for what it looks like to be non-idolatrous. And that criterion, given that God has no parts or divisions, and in every movement towards us is One, is also God. The criterion took the form of a lived-out fully human life story, that of Jesus, whose meaning was the reverse of all the human criteria that are usually brought into play in such stories. God gave, as God’s own criterion for God’s own power, not the power of Emperors, legislators or Priests, but the ability to occupy the space of losing, curse, shame and death without being run by them, in such a way that that space and the whole anthropological structure of human existence that depends on it, is able to be relativised. Idolatry is seen to be an involvement in the human cultural reality of death from which God longs for us to be free.

And here is some of the critique:

In the comments to the post, I react with the annoyance that people have come to expect from me:

Why the “reverse”? Why not say that it was different from everyday standards, yet recognizably good nonetheless? Why this fetishizing of reversal for its own sake? It leads you to miss things — like the joyfulness of Christ’s life. He didn’t submit to the cross because that would really fuck with our preconceptions. Right? God isn’t just willfully trying to screw with us because he would be mad if our expectations were too accurate, right? Seriously. It’s perverse, the way so many Christians fetishize Christ’s suffering as though it’s the key to everything.

I’d like to expand on these remarks here, at some length. I am perfectly happy to say that Christ is against “the power of Emperors, legislators or Priests.” If I didn’t think he was, then I wouldn’t identify at all with Christianity. What I object to is the supposed logical consequence, namely that Christ’s true power is “the ability to occupy the space of losing, curse, shame and death without being run by them.” Why is it that God appears to be so bound by the expectations precisely of the Powers? Why does rejecting their claims amount to “losing, curse, shame, and death” and only that?

Look at things from the perspective of the oppressed. To them, is “the power of Emperors, legistlators, or Priests” a self-evidently desirable and good thing? Sure, it’s better to be powerless than not if you’re in the current system, but once you see an alternative to that entire structure in Christ, those power positions don’t seem very appealling. No one is going to follow Christ if he’s saying, “Just suffer for its own sake, because I’m God and I’m here to mess with your shit!” No — they follow Christ because of the joyfulness of his life, because of the unexpected abundance he brings along with him.

His life is recognizably good and appealling, and if you’re oppressed by the structure rather than benefiting from it, you can see that clearly. If you’re benefiting from it, he looks like a total nihilist who will destroy everything — and so with much regret and hemming and hawing, you must unfortunately put him to death. But again, I think it’s perverse to claim that this was the goal. Christ’s willingness to face death — though please note, he doesn’t do so stoically or nobly, he’s crying out in honest agony — is absolutely crucial to what he’s doing, because it shows that he absolutely refuses the blackmail of the earthly Powers and because it subsequently empowers his followers to refuse that same blackmail.

I encourage you to read the rest and check out the rest of the blog.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On Same Sex Love

There's something personal in the air at the moment. Maybe it's to do with today's eclipse in Cancer (in my third house, that of communication). Roland Boer has been documenting his father's dying in a series of posts over at Stalin's Moustache for some time. And my friend, Nicotina the Fag, not only put up a rather personal piece on gay love over at Hamiltonian Decomposition last week but also emailed his friends to check it out and respond to it. I had been wanting to write about a number of topics biblical, and also maybe something on St Mary's, and certainly something on prayer but maybe it was today's eclipse and maybe because I spent this afternoon with someone that I love that has prompted me to take up Nic's offer and respond to his thoughts. I do so with considerable trepidation because it will no doubt entail me getting very personal; I tend to be very protective, cautious of things very personal, close to my heart (I am a casebook Cancer). I find it hard to talk about such things and yet here I am about to write it all on a blog for all and sundry to see, including my friend who I love.

So Nic begins:

Gay love, by its very definition of sameness, and from the bi-modal gendered society we live in, often manifests itself in different ways to straight love. Straight love is often constructed around ideas of difference which reflect the stereotypes and differences of male and female. For the gay person, a lover might not only be an object of desire but a competitor, a role model, a reflection of ourselves or a validation. Such aspects may play a role in straight relationships, but only in gay love are the acts of wanting someone and wanting to be someone so cryptically intertwined. Sometimes the two desires are difficult or impossible to separate.

I would probably not use the term gay love but rather same sex love, but that's just a semantic quibble on my part. Otherwise I would probably pretty much agree with most of what he says here. I would probably augment by saying that straight love works on stereotypes and gender differences that are constructed in patriarchal terms; it's hierarchical and to do with ownership of the womb and its products. And then there is the Oedipal dimension that Freud documents and Irigaray deconstructs. The woman is as much mother as lover to the man, who himself traditionally takes the role of the woman's father (hence the giving the bride away in traditional weddings). The woman's role is determined by male projections onto her which Irigaray refers to as the Father's law of the Same and why my friend Julie Kelso says that heterosexuality does not exist yet, only heteronormativity.

Homosexual love does not operate on such a paradigm, in part, because it exists outside the norms, has in the past been excoriated and condemned, abjected. It's also not reproductive and so has no value in the the property dynamics of patriarchy and progeny. That's not to say that same sex love is not impacted by heteronormativity. We are all conditioned by the heteronormative and it remains our prime model of what it means to love and be in intimate relation. But as Nic points out, there are differences, differences of mode and energy between same sex love and straight love (one of the reasons marriage is a completely inappropriate institution for same sex relationships). I strongly agree with Nic when he says about same sex love "a lover might not only be an object of desire but a competitor, a role model, a reflection of ourselves or a validation." I'm not certain about competitor, I've never quite felt that myself but I'm Cancer and Nic is Aries, very much a competitive sign. But certainly role model, reflection and validation. When I love a man it's because I see something estimable in him, and often because I see an aspect of myself in him. Validation? Actually I want to validate him, more than anything else sometimes and that's certainly the case with my friend today.

I think Nic left out one other important aspect of same sex love and that is the mentoring aspect, but then he was looking at validation of self from other. Mentoring works the other way round and it's most commonly associated with age variant relationships but I don't think they have a monopoly on it. The thing is mentoring works best when it's mutual. The danger of the age variant relationship is that it becomes a one way process, the older moulding the younger Pygmalionesque. But all true pedagogy is reciprocal, it's the basis of the pedagogic eros, and there is an eros to pedagogy. Homosexual love has a long association with pedagogy, teaching, apprenticeships, mentoring (and why I think My Fair Lady is very rich with queer reading potential). Perhaps the self validation that Nic refers to comes from the feedback loop of mutual mentoring.

In my case, I am someone who is attracted to younger guys. Love, falling in love for me involves some kind of recognition of something in the other, something beautiful, precious, and something that must be nurtured. Desire, of course, is there but I can desire guys without necessarily falling for them and while there is a particular look that really turns me on - dark hair, dark features (I have a particular thing for South Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean/Latino guys) amongst other things - the guys I've loved or had crushes on are all types. Marc who died three years ago and who was the great love disaster of my younger years was a redhead! And certainly the friend I love does not fit my standard turn on at all. Astrologically, I can see the various points of connection between our charts. Oddly I had a go at his chart for him many years ago when we first met and I never recognised the connections then. And yet on reflection I think I've loved or felt a strong affection for him in some way for a very long time. At the same time I only really became aware of it in the last few months when amongst other things we began engaging intellectually with each other.

It's really odd to think of falling in love through the intellect, and writing that I realise it's the first time I've used the term falling in love in his context. Because I suppose I have, but at the same time it doesn't feel like the other times I've fallen in love and it certainly doesn't feel like those old crushes. I've told him that I feel a very deep love for him. And what I really want to do is affirm him, validate him. And I suppose if I recognise something of me in him then it's a form of validating myself. But is what I termed recognition of something beautiful and precious to be nurtured seeing something of me in him? Or maybe it represents something I would like to be - by the way I don't know what this something is in my friend's case I only know it is beautiful and precious - and that's another pattern of love for me. I have a very strong admiration for the guys I love - they become my heroes, even if they/we fuck up and it turns disastrous. I never lose that admiration.

This has probably gone further than a simple response to Nic's musings. But then Nic goes on to talk about his own infatuations and attractions in terms of jealousy of people who have something that he doesn't. That's probably an Aries thing too because I can't recognise that feeling at all. Nurturing is probably the stronger drive with me (yeah, yeah I'm a Cancer). I'm not jealous of my friend. I love him because there is something beautiful about him and I'm not talking physical beauty here but a beauty of soul and heart. I've learnt a lot from him - he's a good teacher. And what's also really interesting is the unexpected dimensions of myself that I've discovered through our friendship. I've told him that he's had the most amazing impact on my prayer life. I wont go into details as to why but suffice to say he's been through a rough patch and he indicated to me that he saw value in prayer, intercessionary prayer. So I've been praying for him, including Mass on an almost daily basis. When I was in Newcastle I was staying just around the corner from the Anglican Cathdral where they had a daily Eucharist so in Newcastle I did daily Eucharist each morning before the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar.

I realise I will have to follow up this post now with one on prayer but for the purposes of this post I should qualify that he's not the only recipient of my prayer intentions. But on top of my other prayer commitments I have added a whole additional layer for him alone. And he is probably the main motivation for the near daily Mass/Eucharist practice now. Prayer is an important act of solidarity regardless of whether one believes it has other benefits (which I do) and so my prayer is an act of solidarity with him, an expression of support and an attempt at spiritual nurturing. He wants to go to Mass with me soon and I want that very much too (and maybe I need to write about the Mass sometime too). The Mass, the Eucharist has always been important to me. It's probably the one thing that has kept me not only connected to Christianity but Catholic Christianity. While I can see its parallels and background in other religions, still no other religion has the Mass. It's a profound rite of communion and healing.

So I seem to have wandered away from love and my love. I wrote a while ago that coming out is a journey without maps. I think homosexual love is a journey without maps. All our culture offers is marriage and its variants as models of love and relationship. They don't really work for straights. They certainly can't work for us. And with my friend there is no model, not even my past loves. As I said above I'm only realising that I have probably fallen in love with him except that it doesn't feel like those other times when I fell in love. Maybe because I'm older now. Does age change things that much? Maybe because we engaged on such an intellectual level and also there has been such a mutual engaging in matters spiritual. I've always wanted that in any sort of loving friendship. But I have no guidelines which is scary because I don't want to damage the friendship. And of course I can't get too neurotic about that either. I might not have any guidelines but I know what my flaws are. And my prime commitment is to the friendship. I don't want to do anything that would jeapordise that. His friendship is too important.

Elizabeth Stuart has argued that friendship should be a model for our most intimate and committed relationships. I'm inclined to agree. The people I love will always be my friends and I will always love them. And I don't necessarily restrict intimacy to sexual intimacy alone. And at my age I don't really have any expectations physically. That would be delusional and I'm making sure I keep such delusions under close control. They can't be gotten rid of but just let them fool around in the backyard and, above all, don't let them in the house. Because there's more to intimacy than sex. Mind you it's curious that Nic never spoke about intimacy in his post.

I've just read through what I've written. I've pretty much come to the end and it's late. There's still a lot left unsaid I realise and that's the problem with writing. It follows its own course and thus determines what will get included and excluded and now I'm just going around in circles deciding whether to publish because once I do it's out there for all, for him to see. Ah well, a leap of faith shouldn't be a problem now.

UPDATE: From Astrodienst, my stars today

Something transcendental
This influence deepens the emotions and creates a greater need to belong to an individual or to a group. Friendships are extremely important to you today, and they may change your life. Love relationships are more intense, and physical sexuality is experienced as something transcendental. This is a good time to try to understand your emotions and how they affect your relationships. Today you can enrich and enhance a relationship as you realize the strength of your feelings, in a moment when you experience the full force of your emotion. Certainly any emotion that you feel today will have extraordinary force and vigor. No experience under this influence is superficial, nor would you be satisfied with any that was.
The interpretation above is for your transit selected for today:
Venus Sextile Pluto, , exact at 17:24
activity period from 22 July 2009 to 24 July 2009

It began yesterday, so no surpise I'm thinking about love, transcendence and so forth.

Monday, July 20, 2009

History and Biblical Ancient Israel

Right now I'm reading Megan Moore's Philosophy and Practice in Writing a History of Ancient Israel, in which she examines the debates between so-called minimalists and maximalists when it comes to Ancient Israel and how to use the Old Testament for purposes of history. I guess I'd fit mostly in the minimalist camp, especially if I understood myself to be primarily a historian, which I don't. Certainly I don't regard the Old Testament as having a lot to tell us about the historical Iron Age kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and certainly nothing that came before. We can also glean little or no information of what happened in the Babylonian or Persian periods (there's no history in Esther). Well, at least not if you want a history that contains events and personalities. You can, of course, do a history, or maybe better do a study of the religious ideas in the Old Testament how they reconstruct a variety of religious motifs and stories and how they construct a past in that process. You can also examine how those ideas and story worlds fit within the broader context of ancient Middle Eastern religions and you can look at how those ideas are taken up in subsequent texts too.

The reason I'm writing on this is because I discovered today that Michael Heiser's Two Powers in Heaven blog is, if not shutting down, then discontinuing. Thankfully it doesn't mean the blog is being closed because there's lots of good stuff there including a most fascinating essay that Michael Heiser has put up from the Journal of Biblical Literature in 1961. Titled 'The "Son of Man" of Daniel 7:13 f.: A New Interpretation' it's by Julian Morgenstern. In it he argued, that the Son of Man/Ancient of Days Daniel 7:13 f. is derived from the old solarised YHWH cult instituted by Solomon and derived from the solar cult of neighbouring Tyre. Morgenstern argues that just as the Tyrians worshipped the sun in two aspects, Baal Shamem and , so too in Solomon's Jerusalem God was worshipped, an elder Ancient of Days who went down to Sheol at the time of the autumnal equinox and a younger Yahweh, Son of Man, who rose from Sheol at the time of the vernal equinox and was embodied in the king.

Now late last week I was memed; I had to identify the five worst biblical studies books I've ever read. Now it was difficult because, as I said, I had to read a bit of crappy stuff in my undergrad days and then again during my PhD. Most of the crappy stuff was crappy because it attempted to present a history of Ancient Israel. But all it really ever achieved was a retelling of the Old Testament account. Refreshingly, despite its age, Morgenstern writes something interesting and something which anticipates where some of the discussion would be 50 years later. But back then he must have felt that he was out on the edge. Thing is there are still some worthwhile insights in his essay.

And I hope that Two Powers in Heaven will resume again one day.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I have been memed: Five books that have left me more stupid

There's a meme going around the biblioblogosphere, five books that have left me more stupid. Roland Boer was memed by Jim West and Roland has gone and memed me! There are rules to this thing which are:

1. These are Biblical Studies books. Note that anything written by Tim LaHaye is not a Biblical Studies book.

2. Feel free to list multiple books by the same author, but you need to have at least three authors out of the five books.

3. You’re free to include books that were so stupid you couldn’t finish them.

4. Explain, in as few or as many words as you can muster, why the book in question was so mind-numbingly stupid.

So actually this is a really difficult task. I read a lot of crappy books back in my undergrad days but I can't remember them. I also read some terrible stuff working on my PhD and once again memory has been kind to me. I only tend to remember the stuff I like. But while I won't include Tim LaHaye I'm still going to draw a broad circle around what might be classified as biblical studies (it really is a very broad category depending on what one's religious or non-religious affiliations, not to mention one's disciplinary specialties).

So to keep an Australian flavour, I'm going to start with Barbara Thiering. Her books have been published as serious contributions to New Testament and Qumran studies although presumably they were designed to give her a very healthy retirement nest egg. I'm sure her bank was happy too.

So starting off, Jesus the Man (1992). What's wrong with it? Well, everything! The book is a load of bollocks, total trash. It was also the book that made me utterly critical of any text that uses endnotes rather than footnotes or in text referencing. Jesus the Man is riddled with statements that direct one to what I presumed would be citations of other texts or similar supporting material. Presumably Thiering thought most people wouldn't bother checking her endnotes because of such supporting materials if you actually bother to turn to the back of the book and check them out you generally find even more outrageous rubbish that simply beggars belief. One I remember pertained to Jesus surviving his crucifixion. According to Thiering both Jesus and Judas are crucified together. Judas has legs broken but not Jesus who has been given knock out drops. Judas and Jesus are placed in the same tomb together. Despite having his legs broken (a practice designed to hasten the death of the crucified person) Judas is able to get up off his slab and administer an antidote to Jesus and revive him. I think most of this was in the endnote and I can't remember what it was supposed to be backing up in the main body of the book. So yes, mind numbingly appalling rubbish!

The next book is the next book by Thiering in her pesher series, Jesus of the Apocalypse (1995). It was given to me by an atheist friend in the mid-90s. The less said of that one the better and it belongs to the "book I started but couldn't finish" category. I don't think I got past page two. Sheer rubbish!

Number three goes to Robert Funk's Honest to Jesus: Jesus for New Millennium (1996). Everything about it was annoying to say the least. Funk and Thiering are very similar in many ways, pursuing the same rationalised, explained away Jesus and Jesus narrative. Both claim to be able to properly read the texts. I'll give Thiering this - she at least has a go at being creative in her books even if they are rubbish. Funk however rants on and on against all the so many who "can't read" or at least can't read the way he can. At the same time, his text is riddled with a plethora of uncritical 'liberal' assumptions many of which buy into simplistic anti-Catholic tropes and all the usual stuff that's down on ritual and mythology and mystery. Even worse, Funk is a good old Yankee imperialist of the liberal rational sort - he's going to teach the world to read.... read the way he does, so we'll step grandly and uniformly into a Funkian Christianity in which everything is logical, rational, and presumably all the world will benefit from US orthodonty as a result. And all the varieties of Christianity and all the other religions too will be absorbed in the Borg imperative of Funk's project.

Next, I have to list John Shelby Spong's Born of Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Virgin Birth and the Treatment of Women by a Male-Dominated Church (1992). I'll be kind, Spong isn't actually a biblical scholar himself but he's a populariser of the sort of stuff we get from Funk and such like. I could have named any of his books but this one just happened to be close by. Spong also likens himself to the late John A T Robinson of Honest to God fame, probably because, like Spong, Robinson was also a bishop, in his case of the Church of England. The difference is that Robinson was a serious scholar; Honest to God was an interesting theological work, worth reading still. Robinson was also a New Testament scholar. Spong is much more like Funk and both have a fundamentalist background and both never got over it. In fact both still take the text literally and are always trying to explain it away, to make it behave according to Western bourgeois liberal and rational precepts. The result is totally boring as one would expect. Neither of them are willing to take a risk and play with the text.

Lastly I'm going to put in a category - all those many books that go on and on about how homosexuality is clearly condemned by "the Bible". I've read a few and they still keep being churned out; but I can't remember any titles. Their authors classify themselves as biblical scholars and/or theologians. It's time to move on, people! There's only so much one can do with two condemnations of male-male anal sex in Leviticus. And quite frankly that's all there is. The same goes for all those people who will not entertain anything but the most heteronormative approach to reading the stories of David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Jesus and John. The world, the text, life is queerer than you can imagine.

Now I'm also supposed to send this meme to five others. I will, but not right now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Back from Newcastle: Bible and Critical Theory Rocks

Well, I'm back from Newcastle and the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar. It was truly an excellent few days. It was a wonderfully diverse group of people, some of whom I knew and was really pleased to catch up with again plus others I was meeting for the first time. I even met one of the bloggers on my blogroll, Judy Redman, of Judy's Research Blog. Judy has two posts on the Seminar here and here. But for a most exuberant account, Roland Boer has a very vivid and illustrated account over at Stalin's Moustache. While there were definitely some hot guys there, I certainly don't remember anything to be quite so raunchy as Roland described, more's the pity.

For me, a combination of factors, lack of money, housesitting and work commitments especially meant that I could not get to the Seminar from 2005-7. I managed to get to it in Auckland last year but it was piggybacking the SBL International and thus not in a pub as is the norm and so while for me it was a great reunion it was not quite the same as this years where it was just us and it was in a pub. I actually felt as if I had come home after a long absence. The old rabbis always imagined Heaven/the World to Come as a type of beit midrash where everyone studies Torah together. I have to say, Heaven for me would be a pub in which there is a Bible and Critical Theory Seminar. The beauty of the Seminar is that it is not necessarily all Bible; Critical Theory covers a variety of disciplines which are able to be put in conversation with biblical studies. And while this year, Bible was mostly drawn from Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the parameter of Bible/scripture is likewise suitably broad.

It's hard to decide what the high points were for me. Two papers really gripped me. James Harding's presentation on David and Jonathan was one. Interestingly some of the themes around that story had been playing in my mind for a while resulting in my previous post. I had actually wanted to write it before I went to Newcastle but never got a chance to. Way back a million years ago I had originally planned to make David and Jonathan the focus of my research but was convinced by Ed Conrad to tackle Sodom and Gomorrah instead. It looks like James is now doing what I had hoped to do all those years ago. Mind you, David, Jonathan, Absalom and Saul play some part in my research interests around the homo-erotics of atonement. My paper at the Seminar last year (and published in the Bible and Critical Theory e-journal earlier this year) particularly looked at those dynamics in the David and Absalom story.

The other paper that really clicked with me was Tamara Prosic's Orthodoxy and Socialism and I really enjoyed meeting Tamara at the Seminar. I have a long abiding love of Orthodox Christianity and I'm afraid I spent a good deal of the time in Newcastle discussing Orthodoxy, communism, Balkan history and politics and the problems of Western Christianities and society with Tamara. She's promised me that when I next get to Melbourne she'll take me to her local Serbian Orthodox church. So I must, must, must get to Melbourne in the near future.

I'm not certain how my paper went but then I wasn't certain about some aspects of it myself. But the beauty of the Seminar is that by presenting you get to mull over your ideas in a way that you wouldn't normally if just sitting around thinking about them. And I have to say I gained a few insights and changed some ideas, or rather the analysis of some ideas, as a result of presenting at Newcastle. It'll probably mean that I can further develop the paper for publication so I'm very happy with that.

The Seminar will be in Dunedin next year originally in July but I notice that the discussion on Roland's blog favors a warmer time of year, namely February. If that's the case then I probably won't be able to make it As yet I have no idea of what's happening for me next year. There's one or two possibilities in the woodworks but nothing that would enable a February trip to Dunedin. Certainly the mid or later part of next year would work better if anything would. So we'll see. However one thing that emerged in Newcastle was the feeling that it's been too long since the Seminar was in Brisbane (2002 in fact) so I'm thinking that 2011 the Seminar should return to Brisbane. That means that we have to find a pub to hold it in. Part of me is thinking 'why not have it in a gay pub'. Why not indeed? The night before the very first Seminar back in '98 I was talking with a drag queen in a gay pub in Collingwood about the differences between drag queens, crossdressers and transgender folk. I was able to draw on that conversation when next day we were discussing the gender politics of the Strange Woman in the Book of Proverbs.

Oh yes, and today it was confirmed that I have some tutoring work plus a couple of lectures in the Introduction to World Religions course at University of Qld this semester. My very first tutoring gig in first semester 1995 was in that course (I last tutored in it in '99) and while it has changed a bit, no doubt, since those days, it's an od feeling to be returning to where it all started years ago. Hopefully that's an omen for new things next year.

Hmm, and I think this is my hundredth post on Jottings!

Monday, July 13, 2009

David: a Meditation

The name itself means beloved and David is loved by everyone, from the LORD down. Ruddy and handsome, his lyre and song can dispel the demons that haunt a king. He turns the heart of a king's daughter and a king's son, and the king himself even as he is driven mad by it. The people love him, of course, and sing his praises, "Saul has killed his thousands and David his ten thousands."

But who does David love? Only three, almost only two. First of all, Absalom, 'Father of Peace', the beloved son, the sacrificial son? Hylas? Absalom, driven by David's inaction, challenged by David's inaction to take up arms against him, sacred combat. Is Absalom the sacrifice by which the king is renewed. Hung on the tree, pierced for the father's sins. What ritual invoked here? And when Absalom went into hs father's concubines in view of all Israel, were they just surrogates for a son's desire... for a father's desire? Oh how David lamented Absalom's death, even though he drove him to it and was renewed by it, by Absalom's blood, by Absalom's semen. Was the lament just a part of the ritual?

Does David love Saul? He laments him but does he love him after all. He laments him but love? Saul loves David to start but love turns to hatred... as the desire grows? Is desire the evil spirit sent from the LORD to plague and torment Saul? Did Saul hunger for David's lips, for David's penis, for David's hole? Is David the surrogate, the stand-in for the royal sacrificial son, and therefore his body Saul's by right, to take before the final coup de grace? Would Saul then lament this fallen beloved, whose lifeblood and semen wet and reinvigorate the earth? The king's power, the king's virility restored by the penetration of (penetration by?) the beloved.

But David does love Jonathan and Jonathan very definitely loves David and cuts a covenant with him. Jonathan, the LORD gives, the gift of the LORD. Through Jonathan, David is given life and kingship. Does David's life mean Jonathan's death? Jonathan; while everyone loves David, succumbing thus to the aura of the beloved, surely Jonathan is the only worthy person in the whole narrative. Heroic, noble, devoted, his love is true, which is more than can be said for even the beloved. Does the beloved really know how to love? Does he really ever love anyone? Certainly he desires people and what they can offer him, but love? But Jonathan loves true, and hence he must die? Was there no chance he could live on as Hephaestion to David's Alexander? Perhaps the ritual's narrative demands a death, if not the surrogate then the sacred son.

Does Jesus, son of David, redeem this old blood debt of David's so that John, a so much later beloved - a gracious gift from the Father to the Son perhaps? - could sing, "let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God." And as if in response, David sings:

How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron's beard,
down upon the collar of his robes.

A lament for lost possibilities?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bible and Critical Theory Seminar

The Bible and Critical Theory Seminar is on Friday and Saturday this week down in Newcastle. I'm looking forward to it. I managed to get to the one in Auckland last year that piggybacked the SBL International meeting at the University of Auckland. But prior to that, my last one was in Melbourne in 2004, held at a pub in Fitzroy. Since 2003, Auckland excepted, the practice has been to hold the meetings in a pub somewhere. In Newcastle, it'll be at the Grand Hotel. When I was in Auckland last year I realised just how much I'd missed it so I was determined to get along this year. Indeed, the seminar was the highpoint of 2004 for me; overall 2004 was not a good year, with the exception of the Seminar and trip to Melbourne.

My original plan with the Seminar was to catch up with Colin Griffiths. That's no longer an option and consequently there will be a certain sadness framing this trip.

Below are the abstracts for the papers this year. There's a lot of good stuff but I'm particularly looking forward to Tamara Prosic's paper on Orthodox Christianity, Utopia and Socialism. Orthodox Christianity tends to be sidelined in the West, and as I'm keen to hear about/from the sidelined and I have a special love for Orthodoxy this paper really caught my eye. I think it's the Orthodox presentation at the Seminar, certainly the first at a Seminar I've attended.


Bible and Critical Theory 2009 Paper Abstracts
Darren Jorgensen

Simulating the Sacred: Theodore Strehlow's Songs of Central Australia (1971)

It may be impossible to reconstruct what it meant for the Arrernte people of Central Australia to have the Bible translated into their language. The continuing practice of Christianity among the Arrernte shows just how powerful this wealth of stories was for this remote community. This conversion experience was reciprocated by a whitefella and the son of the Bible translator, Theodor Strehlow, who worked on converting the song-cycles of the Arrernte into English. These are not so much translations as conversions, as Strehlow, much to the annoyance of later anthropologists, rendered them into a poetry of rhythm and cadence influenced by Greek and Norse myth. In doing so, Strehlow wanted to simulate his own conversion experience, his own experience of this desert people and their lives, and to do so he was forced to turn to that which simulates the sacred in Western culture, in the language of poetry and literature. In reading Strehlow's Songs of Central Australia (1971), we might begin to approach the conversion that took place in the desert of Central Australia, and begin to reconstruct the event of religious imperialism.

Stefan Solomon

Revenant Revelation: Reading the Archive inCarpenter’s Gothic

Encyclopaedic in its ambit, William Gaddis's 1985 work,Carpenter's Gothic, does as Derrida says all good literature should do, and ‘tries to say everything’. In this way, the novel functions as a textual ‘archive’, gathering its material from all manner of disparate sources, and making reference to the political, economic, and religious conditions of an America in the midst of the Reagan-era. In this paper, I will try to elucidate the type of archival labour that such literature engages in, and, with Carpenter's Gothic as my guide, will seek to understand the specific deployment of the Bible within such a framework. Whether in the perversion of scriptural quotation, or the offering of skewed biblical allusions, the workings of Gaddis's archive point towards a ‘decanonising’ of any ‘original’ biblical text, a questioning of all interpretive authority, and the collapse of literal and figurative signification. What are the wider implications of this archival hermeneutic? What can it reveal about American culture more generally? And what does it say about the Bible as an archive in and of itself?

Matthew Chrulew

Suspicion and love

Central to the recent philosophical reactivation of Paul has been the argument that in our era of imperial sovereignty and advanced global capitalism the most appropriate politics is one of love. These attempts to reinvigorate progressive materialist politics are often characterised as a break with the perceived relativist tendencies of French philosophy. We must move, it is said, from the postmodern negativity of critique and disconnection to a new, positive politics of creativity and fraternity. Deconstructionist criticisms have insisted on the violent exclusions necessary to any such politics. This essay will argue that Foucault’s genealogy of modern biopolitics and governmentality as a Christianisation-in-depth demonstrates its suffocating history and contemporary risks. Only through attention to the dangers of the Christian-secular dispositifcould a politics of love be articulated that might unravel, rather than intensify, the grid of power relations.

Tamara Prosic

Orthodox Christianity, Utopia and Socialism

Since the Frankfurt school started discussing religion as an important phenomenon intersecting on many different levels with social existence a lot of pages have been devoted to the search for the positive, de-alienating anthropological and social-revolutionary aspects of Christian teachings. Most of them, however, refer to Western Christianity. Like the proverbial poor cousin, Orthodox Christianity and its teachings were mostly ignored and have never become a topic worthy of analysis in modern critical theory. Ernst Bloch is one of the few, if not the only one, who refers to it inThe Principle of Hope, but only incidentally and rather confusingly and incorrectly, although not without ingenious intuitive insights about its anthropocentric and historical character. The intention of the paper, however, is not to criticize the great guru of the land of utopia for his unfamiliarity with Orthodox Christianity, but rather to draw the “poor cousin” from obscurity into the light of modern critical theories and to present “the earthly” particularities of the Orthodox utopian teachings. In a sense, it is a small addition to Bloch’s mega-project on utopia.

Melissa Pula

Job’s Body in Pain: Reading Job 16:7-14 with Elaine Scarry

Saturated with pain and suffering, Job 16 is one of the most gruesome accounts of divine violence in the Hebrew Bible. In this paper, I consider the ways in which Elaine Scarry’s theory of pain, body, and voice is reflected in Job 16: 7-14. My analysis begins with two of Scarry’s central arguments: pain destroys language and narrows the sufferer's focus onto her body and to be embodied is to be without power while to have voice is to have power. In this passage, I see Scarry’s model reflected in Job’s diminished voice and in his accentuated bodily experience. By ignoring his claims to innocence, his friends and community diminish Job’s voice, while his obsession with his physical inflictions accentuates his own bodily experience.
At the same time, though embodied, Job is not wholly without power. Thus, Job extends Scarry’s thesis on the relationship between pain, body, and language. In this passage, I see Job showing his resistance to the source of his pain despite his apparent lack of voice. His nuanced body imagery gives him voice and enacts resistance. Rather than surrendering his body to God in battle, through his body imagery, Job articulates his resistance. While the marks of divine disfavor on Job’s body cause him to lose power in his community, in a subtle twist, Job uses his body to gain some agency.

Helena Bolle

The Vulnerable Body in the Wisdom Literature

This paper seeks to reconstruct a physiognomy of the human body by analysis of metaphorical language pertaining to the body. The body as an entity vulnerable to an array of detrimental pressures and afflictions is fundamental to much of the metaphorical language used in the Wisdom literature. Of primary concern is imagery in which the body is the vehicle for expressing what modern Western thought would deem mental processes. The issue of dualistic thinking thus becomes pertinent; the extent to which the historian can discard this binary structure of thought is problematic when approaching an ancient framework that often did not differentiate between “mental” and “physical”. To what extent does the body imagery in the Wisdom Literature envisage a cohesive state in which mental processes and mental states are consistent with bodily disease, degeneration or affliction (or their opposites, physical health, wholeness and well being)? Is it appropriate or even possible to talk of a Hebrew conception of pathology? The aim of this paper is to address these questions with a view to providing a model of Hebrew conceptions of bodily distress and their related mental processes, as seen in the Wisdom Literature.

James Harding

Ideology, Intertextuality, and the David and Jonathan Narratives

The question of the ideologically determined use of word statistics to disambiguate the David and Jonathan narratives is the crux of the disagreement between Silvia Schroer and Thomas Staubli (1996; 2000) on the one hand, and Markus Zehnder (1998; 2007) on the other. There are several underlying issues here. What is the role of intertexts in the exegesis of biblical narratives whose construal is not only uncertain philologically, but whose meaning is disputed on ideological grounds? What is the role of the reader (cf. Eco 1979) in the disambiguation and construal of such texts? What is at stake in identifying limits to the interpretation of such texts (cf. Eco 1990)? This paper addresses the use of the Holiness Code in the study of the David and Jonathan narratives, the appeal to Homer’sIliad and the Epic of Gilgámesh, and the excerption of material from the David and Jonathan narratives from Samuel and their insertion into an anthology of ‘gay’ literature (Fone 1998), and seeks to demonstrate that while some of these uses of intertexts are intended to close down the possibilities for interpreting the David and Jonathan narratives, they in fact necessarily contribute to the polyvalence of these narratives, a polyvalence that is not only rooted in the narrative art of the texts themselves, but that is organically related to theirRezeptionsgeschichte.

Michael Carden

Sodomy, Sodomites and Same-Sex Marriage

In which I revisit Sodom and Gomorrah. Current debates around same sex marriage have shown up marriage as a site for heteronormativity. On the face of it, a male or a female couple getting married should not be a cause for panic, least of all invested with dire apocalyptic meaning as one finds on so many US Christian fundamentalist sites. Indeed, one of the arguments used in favour of same sex marriage is that it provides stability in sexual relationships. And, traditionally, marriage is one of the chief ways of regulating sexual activity, albeit primarily women's sexual activity. Surely people who rail against gay "promiscuity" should be in favour of anything that would regulate and "stabilise" homosexual sexuality? However what if marriage is itself understood as a sign of heteronormativity, even a guarantee of heterosexuality itself? Same sex marriage then undermines this heterosexual, heteronormative guarantee? The underpinnings of this equation can be found in Reformation discourse on marriage, continence and sodomy. The Swiss Reformer, Heinrich Bullinger, in his Decades expounds a vision of a "continent" society, in which marriage is the lynchpin and set up against the apocalyptic evil of sodomy. The same themes recur in a 17th century execution sermon, The Cry of Sodom, from American New England by the Puritan minister and preacher, Samuel Danforth. The paper will explore the way both Bullinger and Danforth anticipate many of the themes in contemporary fundamentalist Christian discourse against same sex marriage.

Julie Kelso

A Woman is being Beaten and Maybe She Likes It? ApproachingSong of Songs 5:2-7 with the Formidable Intellect of Andrea Dworkin

Hurt me]is not women’s speech. It is the speech imposed on women by pimps to cover the awful, condemning silence.”(Dworkin, ‘Against the Male Flood,’ 17).

“Splayed legs are silence. Being beaver, pussy, cunt, bunnies, pets – that is silence. ‘Hurt me, hurt me more’ is silence. And those that think it is speech have never heard a woman’s voice, not ever.”(Dworkin, ‘Pornography and Civil Rights,’ unpublished speech)

In the Song of Songs, the beating of the woman by the watchmen in 5:7 is generally understood to be either part of a dream or waking fantasy/nightmare (?) by the woman. Briefly, having risen to open the door to her beloved, she is stunned to find that he has left. She goes out searching for him, but the watchmen instead find, beat, bruise and strip her (Song 5:2-7). This has always been a problematic moment in the text, especially for those who wish the song to be understood as an egalitarian model of love between the sexes. However, according to Virginia Burrus’ and Stephen Moore’s (2003) recent work on the Song, developed especially in light of Roland Boer’s own pornographic x-egesis, the ‘beating’ scene might just subvert the oppressive reduction of woman to passive sexual partner, even victim, expressing instead woman’s desire for masochistic enjoyment.

…the line between the female masochist and the battered woman may continue to blur troublingly – as though it were actually impossible to distinguish in the end between a woman whose rapist claims “she asks for it” and a woman who quite literally asks for it, in the “contractual” context of s/m eroticism. (Burrus and Moore, 2003: 48-49)

Ultimately, they insist that this ambiguity in Song 5:2-7 – the difficulty of distinguishing ‘the pain-filled pleasure of a bottom and the pleasureless pain of a battered woman’ – is essential to maintain. The queer, often pornographic elements (possibilities?) of the text, drawn out implicitly in the writings of medieval allegorists and most explicitly in the work of Boer on the Song, destabilise the gender binary that thwarts women’s sexuality and subjectivity under the regime of heterosexuality, i.e.heteronormativity.

In this paper I want to ask two different, though related questions: ‘Does a woman’s desire for a “good beating” subvert or sustain patriarchal sexual order?’ and, ‘Is it possible to imagine a woman being beaten as a (philosophically) good thing, as something that enhances her humanity in a patriarchal social order?’ I shall offer some preliminary answers to these questions in conversation with Virginia Burrus, Stephen Moore, Roland Boer, Andrea Dworkin and the Song of Songs.

Simon Holloway

‘If I forget you’: a linguistic and stylistic analysis of Psalm 137

No other psalm defies the delineation of genre to the same extent as Ps 137. Hailed variously as a 'touching lament' and as a 'bitter dirge', many admirers of the work are hard-pressed to incorporate the final, somewhat dissonant verse into the same broad category. Rather than attempting to downplay this verse, as some scholars have done, this paper aims to demonstrate that it is crucial to an understanding of the psalm'ssitz im leben. It allows us to establish (albeit hesitantly) a date for composition, to remark with more surety upon the intended audience in their relationship with the author, and to confidently identify the central irony within the overall piece. It is this ironic element that says more about the author and his/her own identity as a Judean than would a hundred other psalms, written in more conventional fashion.

Holly Randall-Moon

The secular state of the nation: sovereignty, secularism and law

What does it mean to say that the Australian state is a secular one? Secular law typically begins when a state has no religious competitor for authority. For this reason, it can be said that the Australian state is secular because its authority is derived from its own laws. What makes Australian law sovereign, the highest authority within the state, is its secularity. However, given Australia’s colonial heritage, it is not just the absence of religious authority, such as a state religion, that gives the state its secularity. The law’s foundations in colonial violence and the extinguishment of Indigenous sovereignty as a competing authority are also a crucial way in which secular Australian law can continue to operate as the sovereign authority within the state. In this paper, I will think through the ways legal and political characterizations of the law as secular work to disavow the state’s racialised foundations in colonial violence. How might secularism be re-thought of as not simply the operation of law without religion, but also, as complicit with the ways indigenous sovereignties in colonial states are negated?

Roland Boer

Negri, Job and the Bible

This paper is drawn from an afterword to Antonio Negri’s The Labour of Job, the translation of which will appear with Duke University Press later this year. The book was written when Negri was in prison in Italy and then in exile in Paris and it is an effort to come to terms with revolutionary disappointment after his involvement with the far left in Italy. The text of Job was one way of dealing with that disappointment. In assessing Negri’s engagement with Job, three features stand out, at least for one trained in that arcane discipline of biblical criticism: radical homiletics, philosophical commentary and the politics of cosmogony. In this paper I explore each one as I follow the ropes that moor Negri’s The Labour of Job to the Bible and biblical criticism.

At the heart of the book is what I would like to call a radical homiletics. A discipline much neglected these days, homiletics is really the art of connecting a text like the Bible with the realities of everyday life, moving from the intricacies of textual analysis to the application to life. Negri’s homiletics is radical on two counts, one political, resting on Marx, and the other textual, reading Job as a pre-eminent document for our time. Job both describes our time and offers a way through the impasse of Left action.

Further, this book is a philosophical commentary. Caught in the rough ground between two camps – radical philosophy and biblical criticism – it is not conventional biblical criticism, if such a thing actually exists, with its characteristic assumptions, methods and skills. Is Negri then a lone philosopher making a foray into biblical analysis? Without a sense of what may be called the ‘mega-text’ of biblical criticism, is he bound to trip up? Not quite, for there is another patchwork tradition of what may be called philosophical exegesis or commentary. Some texts of the Bible – Genesis 1-11, the letters of Paul, Job – continue to call forth commentary from philosophers and sundry critics of other persuasions. Negri’s text falls in with this group.

Third, there is the strong organising axis of measure and immeasure, an axis I will soften and reshape into the tension between chaos and cosmogony. Indeed, (im)measure is the way Negri reinterprets that biblical opposition and he does so through the theme of the ‘creative ontology of labour’. I want to explore the political possibilities that this biblical theme offers Negri.