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.


  1. I like Spong, but only because he's somebody to whom I can point my finger and say, "Aha! A Bishop who appreciates the fact that the Hebrew Bible is a Semitic text!"

    I certainly cannot comment on his NT scholarship (or lack thereof), but his appreciation of the Bible as a text that bears more of a structural relationship to the Midrashim than, say, to Plato is refreshing.

  2. Yes it is indeed time to move on and throw away, with both hands all of the "religious" nonsense and lies that we have inherited.

    People such as Spong and others have done us a great service by pointing out the toxic inheritance that ChristianISM has bequeathed the entire world.

    This author spent 50 years investigating the "truth" claims of ChristianISM and has thus pointed out that there is NO basis in Truth or Reality for any of these "truth" claims.

    He was also thoroughly familiar with ALL of the modern critical scholarship re Christianity and pointed out that most of it was essentially true.

    In recent years he published several essays summarizing the findings of this scholarship, and extended (and criticizing) the findings with his own Divine Understanding.

    Though, like mainstream Christian apologetics and theology altogether, it suffered from an entirely reductionist bias. That is did not, and in fact could not, even begin to proffer an esoteric understanding of any Sacred Text, Christian or otherwise. It was thus an extension of the entirely godless secular world-view or ideology/paradigm that (mis)-informs the Western world altogether.

    So how do we move on?

    The first step is to become really clear about the limitations of ALL of our inherited cultural scripts, both "individual" and collective.

    This set of essays, and the website altogether provide the necessary tools for doing just that.