In his ‘Lenin and Herrenvolk Democracy’, Losurdo makes an insightful observation on the policy of ex-colonial powers in relation to their former colonies. Hong Kong was, of course, forcefully stolen from China after the first opium war (1839-42), and then ‘returned’ with much reluctance in 1999. Losurdo writes:

Secessionist tendencies of every kind are once again lying in wait, regularly fed by the ex-colonial powers. When it wrested Hong Kong form China, Great Britain certainly did not conceive of self-determination, and it did not remember it [or bourgeois democracy for that matter] even during the long years during which it exercised its dominion. But, suddenly, on the eve of Hong Kong’s return to China, to the motherland, the governor sent by London, Chris Patten, a conservative, had a species of illumination and improvised conversion: he appealed to the inhabitants of Hong Kong to claim their right to “self-determination” against the motherland, thus remaining within the orbit of the British Empire (Lenin Reloaded, p. 249).

You can lay a certain bet that English, and indeed US, influences are at work in Hong Kong at the moment. That said, people in the rest of China say that Hong Kong has become much more Chinese over the last decade or more. That process continues.

Probably something like this, as he said to the wealthy, middle-class students in the 1968 protests in Italy, especially at Valle Giulia:

When yesterday at Hong Kong you and the policemen were throwing blows, I sympathized with the policemen! Because policemen are sons of the poor, they come from urban or rural outskirts.

This is from 1918, but sounds eerily like today:

Before the revolution the Ukraine was exploited by the Western imperialists quietly, so to speak, without “military operations.” French, Belgian and British imperialists organized huge enterprises in the Ukraine (coal, metal, etc.), acquired the majority of the shares and proceeded to suck the blood out of the Ukrainian people in the usual, “lawful” and unobtrusive way… Imperialism had no desire to yield and positively refused to reconcile itself to the new situation. Hence the “necessity” for the forcible enslavement of the Ukraine, the “necessity” for its occupation. (Collected Works, vol. 4, p. 177)

As $600 million dollars are thrown by the Australian government to bolster anti-terror activities, it is worth considering the leading causes of death in Australia. These are from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (see also Crikey) and cover the years 2003-12.

Suicide 22824

Car accidents 8525 (not pedestrian deaths or accidents involving other types of vehicles)

Homicide 2617

Diabetes(indigenous Australians) 1690

HIV 879

Domestic violence (estimated) 850

Falling out of bed 417

Falling off ladders 230

Shingles 228

Electrocution 206

Falling off chairs 198

Accidental gun discharges 190

Gastro and diarrhoea 168

Tractor accidents 137

TERRORISM (1978-2014) 113

Indigenous deaths in custody 66

Chicken pox 63

Whooping cough 20

Lightning 10

Yes, in ten years more people died from gastro, or falling off ladders, chairs or tractors, than than those that died from terrorism over 35 years. Indeed, you have more chance of dying of chicken pox than terrorism.

During the civil war (the white armies were sponsored by the ‘entente’), one of Stalin’s many roles as a military commissar was to oversee the restoration of vital rail lines. Imagine him as transport minister today!

To Comrade Lenin.
I am hurrying to the front, and writing only on business.
1) The railway south of Tsaritsyn has not yet been restored. I am firing or telling off all who deserve it, and I hope we shall have it restored soon. You may rest assured that we shall spare nobody, neither ourselves nor others, and shall deliver the grain in spite of everything. (Collected Works, vol. 4, p. 120).

Actually, a train was later named after him:

Iosef Stalin train 03

Stalin 03

Bible and Critical Theory Seminar: Program for Dunedin ’14

Here is the program for the 2014 Bible and Critical Theory seminar, to be held in the Upper Room of the Governor’s, 438 George St, Dunedin (please note the change of venue), 10–11 December. Abstracts for each paper are also included below. All are welcome to attend.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

9:30-9:40          Introduction

9:40-10:20        Linda Zampol D’Ortia, “Dize que se hazen efeminados”: Constructions of masculinity in the sixteenth century Jesuit mission to Japan

10:20-11:00      Elaine Wainwright, A Queer[y]ing of the Matthean Sermon on the Mount

11:00-11:20       Morning Tea

11:20-12:00      James Harding, Gender, Intertextuality and Male Friendship in Sirach

12:00-1:30        Lunch at the Governor’s

1:30-2:10           Judith McKinlay, “Whose is the Land (2 Sam 3: 12)?” Questioning the Questions Underlying David’s Killings at Gibeah (2 Sam 21: 1-14) and Te Kooti’s at Matawhero

2:10-2:50          Deane Galbraith, Why is Historical Criticism so Racist? A Case Study

2:50-3:20          Afternoon Tea

3:20-4:00          Nikki Aaron, Speaking about Sex to Neo-abolitionists

Drinks and Dinner

Thursday 11 December 2014

9:30-10:10        Joanna Osborne, Encountering the Bible through Hotere’s Song of Solomon

10:10-10:50      Moana Hall, Developing a Maori woman’s reading “tool” for interpreting biblical text

10:50-11:20      Morning Tea

11:20-12:00      Roland Boer, Towards a Materialist Doctrine of Evil

12:00-1:30        Lunch at the Governor’s

1:30-2:10           Kevin Sarlow, Irony Theory, Biblical Studies and Derrida

2:10-2:50          Timothy Stanley, Grammatology’s Empty Gesture: On Derrida’s Unanswered Questions Concerning Religion and Technology

2:50-3:20          Afternoon Tea

3:20-4:00          Anne Taylor, Why did “the Jews” choose Barabbas?

Drinks and Dinner


Linda Zampol D’Ortia

“Dize que se hazen efeminados”: Constructions of masculinity in the sixteenth century Jesuit mission to Japan

Recent studies have recognized the missionary work of the Society of Jesus in the early-modern period as a global enterprise, and as a network of people and elements which interacted and influenced each other, with less correlation to their positioning at the core or at the periphery of the organization than was initially thought; as part of my Doctoral thesis, I am contextualizing the early years of the Japanese Catholic mission (1570-1580) in the Jesuit network. One aspect of this apparatus that has been completely overlooked in the past is its constructions of masculinity, and how they connect to other constructs operating in Europe and in the missions in the early-modern period. In this paper I will look at how these different (and often clashing) forms of masculinity operated mostly unnoticed, considering how their constructions were deeply influenced by culture, class, nationality, and the Jesuit “way of proceeding”.

Elaine Wainwright

A Queer[y]ing of the Matthean Sermon on the Mount

In her Foreword to the collections of essays Queering the Non/Human, edited by Noreen Giffney and Myra Hird, Donna Haraway says that “[q]ueering has the job of undoing ‘normal’ categories, and, none is more critical than the human/nonhuman sorting operation” [xxiv]. Traditionally Queer Theory has been concerned with undoing ‘normal’ categories in relation to gender and sexuality.  More recently, however, scholars have been queering and queer[y]ing much more diverse areas than human sexuality. Giffney and Hird turn attention to what they designate the “non-human” or that Haraway would call “companion species”. Their work turns attention to the emerging discipline of animal studies and the possible dialogue between queer studies and animal studies. In a recent article in the collection Reading Ideologies, Ken Stone brought this new and emerging dialogue between these two fields into biblical studies in an essay subtitled ‘Queer Animals of God in the Book of Job” (Stone 2011, 316–331). In this paper, I propose to bring queer theory and its engagement with animal studies and with time/space theories into dialogue with a recent ecological reading I have undertaken of the Matthean Sermon on the Mount. I will raise questions as to how or whether such a reading of this biblical text, attentive to time/space and to the other-than-human, might be informed by an approach that might be called queer(y)ing.

James Harding

Gender, Intertextuality and Male Friendship in Sirach

Significant research has been done on the interconnections between Sirach and the older, authoritative literature of Israel. Alongside this current in research, and frequently dovetailing with it, has been a growing interest in Ben Sira’s representation of women (see e.g. Camp 2013), as well as a significant interest in the theme of male friendship in Ben Sira’s teaching (see e.g. Corley 2002). What I propose to do here is to explore how these themes relate to one another, beginning with the probable Hebrew original of Sirach 36:29. Sirach 36:29 is woven out of the second creation account in Genesis (cf. Camp 2013: 66), and portrays a likeness between a man and his wife in respect of the body. Just a few verses later, a man’s friend is portrayed as “a friend as oneself” (rêa‘ kenephesh). My proposal is that, in partial, but imperfect, continuity with older texts known from the Tanakh, Ben Sira portrays the likeness between a man and his wife in terms of the body, and the likeness between a man and his (male) friend in terms of the inner life. This anticipates the more strongly dualistic anthropology of Philo, as well as Ephesians 5:22–33.

Judith McKinlay

“Whose is the Land (2 Sam 3:12)?” Questioning the Questions Underlying David’s Killings at Gibeah (2 Sam 21:1-14) and Te Kooti’s at Matawhero

While the Bible itself provides a link between these killing narratives, it can also be employed as a tool to jolt our complacency about our present, relying, as it does, on a forgotten past. For, as Patrick Evans, following Homi Bhabha, notes, “forgetting” is “a complex process by which the white settler culture managed and continues to manage its sense of belonging.” In applying a postcolonial lens, I am also aware of Sam Durrant’s comment that postcolonial narrative “is necessarily involved in a work of mourning” as it “confronts an indigestible past, a past that can never be fully remembered or forgotten.” This, then, is a brief consideration of two indigestible narratives. Both concern matters of identity, matters of power and the observance of covenant, with the overarching question, “whose is the land (2 Sam 3:12)?”

Deane Galbraith

Why is Historical Criticism so Racist? A Case Study

Much of David Theo Goldberg’s work on race and racism interrogates the ways in which racial distinctions remain embedded within contemporary conceptual frameworks and academic institutions. In order to investigate how embedded racial assumptions affect the practice of Old Testament historical criticism, this paper examines scholarship on the Spy Narrative (Numbers 13–14 and Deuteronomy 1:19–46). The case study uncovers two main areas in which racial assumptions continue to impact on the procedures and conclusions of historical criticism: (1) the arbitrary stereotyping of material designated ‘myth’ as whatever the ‘truly’ biblical material is not, combined with a social evolutionary theory which purports to connect the two; and (2) an appeal to increasingly more subtle racialized categories to reprise explanations which were originally based on explicitly racist assumptions. The case study finds that racialist assumptions remain a constituent part of historical criticism. Historical-critical scholarship is, in its origins and embedded structure, racialized scholarship. As a result, biblical studies continues in many ways to be complicit in, rather than a challenge to, modern forms of racial discrimination and oppression

Nikki Aaron

Speaking about Sex to Neo-abolitionists

Female sex work in the Third World is at the front of a variety of moral debates revolving around choice. Neo-abolitionist movements spearheaded by Christian evangelicals and radical feminists do not believe sex work is work, but sexual slavery. These two groups work together to end what they call ‘modern-day slavery,’ but others call sex trafficking, and many understand to be sex work. The arguments around choice are complex and do not constitute the basis of this paper. Rather, in this paper I will discuss from a postcolonial feminist perspective how these Neo-abolitionist movements have failed to give women any voice. I will then further the discussion with a critique of Gayatri Spivak’s argument that women are afforded no voice because of ‘white men saving brown women from brown men.’ While Spivak suggests that these women can never speak, because they are victims of patriarchy and colonialism, I will suggest that postfeminisms present an alternative lens, in which agency comes through speech, and the Third World sex worker can and does speak.

Joanna Osborne

Encountering the Bible through Hotere’s Song of Solomon

I would like to propose a paper that explores multiple readings between the texts embedded in Ralph Hotere’s painting Song of Solomon, with an emphasis on the relation between semiotic analysis and the materiality of mark making in the production of meaning and affect. The artwork is a collaborative commentary that Hotere made with poet Cilla McQueen on the 1991 Gulf War in Iraq. Lyrical hand inscribed text from the Song of Solomon is juxtaposed with military terminologies over 14 panels of a not so conventional artistic rendition of the Stations of the Cross. My reading would be a reflection upon the biblical text through this painterly political lens, maintaining tension between a theoretical position, the textual and material analysis of the painting, and the biblical source. I would draw also from alternative biblical criticism on the Song of Solomon and converse with several other artists’ references to the Song of Solomon. My theoretical position would fall somewhere on the spectrum of a new-materialist affirmation of the material turn that does not reject the usefulness of semiotic analyses.

Moana Hall

Developing a Maori woman’s reading “tool” for interpreting biblical text

“We don’t want anyone else developing the tools, which will help us to come to terms with who we are. We can and will do this work. Real power lies with those who design the tools  – it always has – the power is ours.  Through the process of developing such theories we will contribute to our empowerment as Maori women moving forwards in our struggles for our people, our lands, our world, ourselves” (Kathie Irwin, 1992:5). Contained within this citation are strong indications that show how critical it is for Maori women to develop their own research tools. The process of bringing a Maori woman’s worldview into dialogue with biblical text is the heart of this paper. Kaupapa Maori is the means for enabling this, and its use will offer opportunity to interpret the Bible in ways that pay attention to the history, experience and aspirations of Maori. It provides space for women to make visible their mana (personal power) and recognises their uha (female essence) and their relationship of oneness to the land. The literature outlining the history of the Frankfurt School highlights a range of political engagements by its members, their worldviews, social location and political context. It highlights that exponents of critical theory have been useful in creating a role in opening theoretical grounds for more radical thinking that has supported the articulation of Kaupapa Maori theory within the academy. To date this theory has not however been applied to the discipline of reading biblical text. Using a weaving metaphor, my paper will develop a Maori woman’s reading tool for interpreting biblical text by drawing on Kaupapa Maori theory, and literary tools that employ an adapted form of reader-response criticism.

Roland Boer

Towards a Materialist Doctrine of Evil

How does one begin to construct a dialectical materialist doctrine of evil? I mean not the banal effort to identify some communist practices as evil, such as one might find in The Black Book of Communism (Werth et al. 1999) – Red Terror, authoritarian communism, personality cult, show trials, rectification movements, all of which are then tallied in a speculative death list that runs into the tens of millions. Instead, I mean the understanding of evil as that has emerged from the practice of communism in what are by now many forms. This is by no means an easy task, for it has not to my knowledge been undertaken thus far. That task has at least four steps, beginning with the question of human nature. That socialist movements in the nineteenth century inherited an Enlightenment heritage of the inherent goodness of human beings is clear enough. How that perception changed and how human nature itself changed after the revolution is the burden of this first section. Second, I explore how the codes of good and evil were recalibrated in socialist material, especially in class terms. Third, I focus on the crucial role of the Red Terror as a great leap forward in developing a doctrine of evil. Finally, I revisit the matter of compulsion, in its interweaving of economic and extra-economic factors, in the further development of the doctrine. The analysis that follows draws upon the works of Marx, Bloch, Adorno and Horkheimer, Lenin, Stalin and Mao.

Kevin Sarlow

Irony Theory, Biblical Studies and Derrida

In this paper, Kevin Sarlow examines how deconstruction may inform biblical studies and irony theory in our attempt to discover theological revelation through biblical irony. George MacRae (1973) affirms that biblical irony is theological revelation and Gail O’Day (1985) agrees, saying that biblical revelation is the vehicle for irony. Sarlow analyses the value of deconstruction, and explains the significance of the stability of irony (as this is noteworthy and invites further attention) in biblical literature. Using biblical examples, he asks, “what is the benefit of the Derridean approach to interpreting irony in different biblical genres?”  He compares the unresolved situation of the Jacob and Esau cycle, the temporary instability of Joseph and Job’s ironic situations in life, and some ironies from the gospel genre. He demonstrates the instability and temporary instability of irony in these diverse biblical genres. Unresolved or unstable irony (that victimises the protagonist) lends itself to deconstruction. Derrida recognises this possibility in the mysterium tremendum. Also Sarlow shows the connection between deconstruction and unstable irony. His approach will encourage interest in reading the Bible, provide interest in biblical irony theory, and provide a starting point for further research in Derrida and biblical studies.

Timothy Stanley

Grammatology’s Empty Gesture: On Derrida’s Unanswered Questions Concerning Religion and Technology

In an edited compendium on Religion and Media, Jacques Derrida asked why “all the Christian churches are more mediatic than their Jewish, Moslem, Buddhist, etc. equivalents?” Derrida’s question was aimed at the connection between religion and media, but in a way that looked past the form of information technology and the contemporary return of religion. This interest in the link between Christian thought and technology echoed his more broad critique of logocentric onto-theologies of presence. However, more to the point, his question was left unanswered. The following essay will demonstrate why Derrida’s question should be understood as an empty gesture. The reason will be located in the form of his grammatology as such, which ultimately never clarified the question concerning technology after Martin Heidegger.

Anne Taylor

Why did “the Jews” choose Barabbas?

Is it possible to think of Christianity without its foundational crucifixion? The gospel narratives all suggest that this might have been an option when they tell of the choice to release one of two prisoners, Jesus the Christ or Jesus Barabbas. The choice to release Barabbas is followed by a vociferous demand that Jesus the Christ be crucified, and so it is done. My interest in the story lies in the choice of Barabbas and the consequences for the people said to have made the choice. By means of literary analysis, clues in the text (Trible), I seek possible reasons for the choice, then apply theories of political myth (Boer) and mythistory (Sand) to the legacy of the Barabbas story, always aware that it might have been different.

One of the great things about being in remote parts for a while is that you miss out on the news. So I returned from the latest bicycle tour to find out that the pugilist Tony Abbott (our despised prime minister) has finally managed to pick a fight. A boxer from way past, he was known as a fighter with a simple, crude, but effective strategy: breathe heavily, sweat, close your eyes and throw everything at your opponent. He won all four of his bouts in the second round. Disdaining headgear, he seems to have blocked any punches thrown at him with his face. He took up boxing after being dropped from the rugby team, but while he did play rugby, he was the first to sink a short jab into an opponent when he thought the referee wasn’t looking. He carried this pugilistic approach into student politics, on one occasion hitting the wall with his fists on either side of the head of an opponent. Fast forward to today: when stuff-up after stuff-up happens for a prime minister like Abbott, what do you do? Pick an international fight. First, he tried to pick a fight with Russia over Ukraine, proposing to send Australian soldiers. Putin, it seems, found it nothing more than amusing. Now he has picked a fight with the Islamic State, and succeeded. Busting to send soldiers to Iraq before almost before anyone else, he pulled a political stunt. Last week a massive police operation threw everything at supposed ‘terrorists’. The result: two arrests, with most of the sixty odd people detained released soon afterwards. The Islamic State obliged with a fatwa against Americans, Europeans – ‘especially the spiteful and cursed French’ (love that phrase) – and as an afterthought, Australians and Canadians. Abbott has the fight he so desperately wanted, except that now it is on the international stage.

Meanwhile, there has been much talk of ‘intelligence’ by ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation). They now have yet more powers to monitor anyone in Australia and to decide who might be a ‘risk.’ As they do so, I can’t help remembering an insightful piece I read many years ago concerning the recruitment profiles for such organisations. They prefer people of moderate intelligence. Too little and you can’t do the job; too much and you may question the nature of the work you have to do. But a moderate intelligence ensures you are more likely to do the job faithfully, without asking questions. Obviously, we are in good hands.