When Pravda first started as a ‘legal’ newspaper after the 1905 revolution in Russia, it still had to pass under the beady eyes of the censor. Apart from having nominal editors, who would go to prison on a regular basis while leaving the real editors to do the job, and apart from all manner of shady networks to ensure copies got out (up to 60,000 a day), they discovered the value of old fogeys.

Each day, the first three copies of the paper had to be sent to the censor for approval. But since Pravda would be distributed whether the censor liked it or not, they figured out a way to gain as much time between the dispatch of the three copies and the inevitable arrival of the police at the printers. A close reading of the law revealed that copies must be sent to the censor, but it did not give a time limit for that delivery. So they gave the task of delivery of the three copies to a 70-year print worker. Given the aches and pains of age, he would creak along to the censor’s office on foot, taking more than two hours to get there (while the paper was rapidly distributed). Then of course he needed a rest after his exertions, so he would stay at the censor’s office, keeping one eye on proceedings. If the censor put down Pravda after reading it and then reached for another newspaper, the old man would say his farewells and meander back to the print shop. But if the censor opened Pravda and immediately called the police, the old man would leap out of the room, call a taxi and race back to the press. Lookouts would watch for his return and if they spotted him careening around the corner in a taxi, they would raise the alarm. The remaining papers were hidden, the distribution department closed and the printing press stopped. By the time the police marched in, a few papers would be left for them to seize.

(ht Tony Cliff)

Given Engels’s reputation as a ladies man, one begins to wonder what exactly he means with texts like this, especially in light of the notorious Prussian censorship:

If they think their needle pricks can pierce my old, thick and well-tanned hide, they are mistaken.

The latter, for their part, deny with barefaced impudence everything that cannot be seen with the eyes … and so, of course, it follows that for them this world is supreme, this world with its enjoyments of the flesh, with feasting, boozing and whoring. They are the worst pagans who have made themselves hardened and stiff-necked.

Especially in light of:

Alongside this intellect there is, however, an equally powerful heat of passion which expresses itself as enthusiasm in his productions and puts his imagination in that state of, I would almost say, erection, in which alone spiritual creation is possible.

A lesser known picture, when he was undertaking military service in Berlin at 19 – and before the famous hirsuit look.

The other day, in fact very soon after I sent my reply to the original effort to banish the celebration of sausages from SBL, I received the following email message. It comes from the relatively new executive director of SBL, John Kutsko, who owns up to asking Charlie Haws to see if he could get rid of that dammed sausage-fest. You’ll notice the effort to keep all this on the quiet, as a supposedly ‘private’ matter, especially between men. But I can’t help wondering: fuck man, what’s wrong with sausages, especially at the Society of Biblical Literature? Castration anxiety?

Dear Prof. Boer,
The staff at SBL is committed to mutual respect and civility, to discussion not argumentation, to membership service not control. I wasn’t dismayed in the least by your response to Charles Haws. It was a fair response. I was dismayed that you posted a private email and you caricatured it.
First, I asked Charlie to write you and he did so with respect and affability. Second, neither he nor I was censuring you. You’ll note his “would you consider revising…” Third, and this to me is the troubling thing, you posted his private correspondence to you, and other bloggers followed suit. He didn’t Facebook his request, but sent you a respectful and cordial email, private in all respects. Nor did he even get the chance to engage you in a conversation. You simultaneously and rather mockingly posted his email then sent him an email after the fact. I don’t imagine this is true, but it appears you wanted to exaggerate and embarrass, and you picked on someone who serves the Society with great personal conscientiousness and professional respect. He made simple request, not one fraught with Orwellian censure or bureaucratic diffidence. He deserved a professional conversation.
John F. Kutsko
Executive Director
Society of Biblical Literature
825 Houston Mill Road Suite 350
Atlanta, GA 30329

And here is my reply:

Dear John,

I simply repeat an observation I made in my letter to Charlie: it was one of the most extraordinary letters I have received for a very long time. Why extraordinary? First, it made the strange point that ‘sausage’ is less preferable than ‘dick’, indeed that ‘sausage’ had never been used before at SBL. Second, it suggested that by removing ‘sausage’ I would in some way foster collegial good will. Third,  the most insidious form of censorship is made not by an iron fist but through gentle persuasion, quietly and apparently in private.

Given the convoluted and nonsensical arguments, as well as hints of what was not said, I could only conclude that Charlie was the bearer of messages from others (which you have now confirmed). He did so cordially, I agree. Your claim that he did so privately is a claim made after the fact and not sustained by the original letter, since he sent it in his capacity, not as one private individual to another, but as a representative of SBL, a public organisation, to a member of that organisation. And I strongly and strenuously disagree that my response, via blogging, was meant to caricature, exaggerate or embarrass. The initial message was itself extremely problematic, as the many responses and comments to it made perfectly clear.

Roland Boer

Jim West is back in the thick – or thin – of things, now with a survey article of how the sausage-fest controversy spans the globe. And the untiring Deane Galbraith has come up with the t-shirt, beer coaster, cutting board, apron and much more – all with the sausage-fest logo. Tomorrow, the head honcho of SBL, John Kutsko weighs in, since he has owned up to asking Charlie Haws to send me the initial message. A case of the messenger copping the flack. And as yet I have not received word as to what the SBL will do with my paper title or indeed paper, so I can only assume that it will go ahead. Next: maybe a paper called ‘The Great Sausage-Fest Controversy: On Minced Meat and Censorship’ (ht to DG).

Here it is, just mailed:

Dear Charlie,

I have given your rather extraordinary letter much thought, although it did cross my mind at first that it was hoax, a prank pulled by a friend or colleague. But then I realised you were in earnest.

Initially I pondered a few other sub-titles, such as:

‘The Prophets and the Bald-Headed Jesus’

‘The Case of Curious George and the Prophets’

‘How to Analyse the Prophetic Dangling Participle’

‘How to Deal with the Executive Staff Member of the Prophetic Guild’

‘How to Blow a Prophetic Trombone’

However, I prefer to stay with the original title for the following reasons. First, I do not think it is appropriate for the SBL to censor titles or papers of scholarly work, especially when such a paper has already been accepted and is part of the program. As John Lyons already pointed out to you in an email message, this is the first step down a long and slippery slope. Second, the paper asks us to think earthily and concretely about the Bible, which is indeed a very earthy and at times crude collection of texts – as I will argue in more details in a book of mine, now complete, called Fleshly Readings. The title of the paper reflects this element and it would be misleading to change the title with a view to softening its impact. Third, I do find it strange that the effort to censor the title of the paper should come from the United States, a country that stands up and champions freedom of speech, and in our case, freedom of research. Without blowing my own trumpet, I would remind you that original ideas arise in this fashion. Fourth, as you are no doubt aware, there has been considerable debate in the blogosphere – here, herehere, here and here – as well as on my own blog – here and here. It would be unnacceptable for me to accept such a change in light of that support. Finally, on a matter directly related to the paper’s argument, I wonder whether the nervousness about the paper from those who have mentioned it to you comes from the anticipation that the paper objectifies male bodies, especially genitals. When it comes to biblical words describing women’s bodies and genitals, as in Ezekiel 16 and 23 for instance, commentators are all too happy, gleeful even, to objectify, analyse and disempower. But to do the same to male biblical bodies is a no-no.

For these reasons, then, I must remain firm and insist that the title stays as it is.


And thanks to Deane Galbraith in a piece over at Religion Bulletin for a new logo, or perhaps T-shirt design:

Reading all the helpful suggestions following my post last night on SBL censorship of my use of ‘sausage-fest’ in a paper title for a session on the Hebrew prophets – the full title is ‘Too Many Dicks at the Writing Desk, or How to Organise a Prophetic Sausage-Fest’ – I have pondered at least two approaches.

One was to come up with some alternative subtitles, especially after consulting the very useful ‘Diktionary’:

‘How to Organise a Prophetic Sausage-Sizzle’

‘The Prophets and the Bald-Headed Jesus’

‘Prophecy and the Cucumber of Love’

‘The Case of Curious George and the Prophets’

‘How to Analyse the Prophetic Dangling Participle’

‘How to Deal with the Executive Staff Member of the Prophetic Guild’

‘How to Blow a Prophetic Trombone’

‘What to do with the Prophetic Tool of Patriarchy’

I am sure there are better possibilities than these, but then I was reminded of a comment on my presentation of the paper at the Centre for Gender Research in Oslo, especially in response to my argument that qeseth hasofer bemotnayw in Ezekiel 9:2-3 and 11 should be translated as ‘the scribal pen(is) on his testicles’ (it is usually rendered a ‘writing-kit by his side’). Now, qeseth is a once only (hapax legomenon) and its context suggests the association of stylus and dick, but none of the commentators even entertain this reading. Yet, when it comes to the singular words describing women’s bodies in Ezekiel 16 and 22-23, commentators are all too happy, gleeful even, to suggest they refer to female genitals. So the comment: when it comes to women’s bodies in the Bible, the overwhelming number of male commentators love to speculate about cunts and so forth, but to do the same to male biblical bodies is a no-no. I reckon Charlie has had a whisper in his ear form one or two nervous nellies who don’t like the thought of their own weiners being exposed to objectifying analysis.

Finally, thanks to John Lyons for this brilliant email, already fired off to Charlie Haws:

Dear Charlie,

You may or may not be aware that Roland Boer has posted news of your attempt to change his paper title on the grounds that some have (will?) find it gratuitously offensive (http://stalinsmoustache.wordpress.com/2010/10/23/sbl-censorship-sausage-fests-are-unacceptable/).

I do not know if you have done this on your own or under pressure from others, Charlie, but can I strongly suggest to you that this is a very, very bad idea, and one which you should drop immediately. What counts as “gratuitous” is something totally in the eyes of the beholder. The Hendel discussion should have alerted you to the fact that swearing and sexual content are not the only elements that many SBL members find gratuitous. Let me assure you that I have found many SBL paper titles gratuitously offensive in my time, but I have had the good sense to realise that my views on this are different to others. For you to begin policing what is gratuitous in this way is the thin end of the wedge, and will inevitably open you up to charges of censorship. Only ruin lies down this road. Please don’t go down it.

It seems to me that it is not for anyone other than the chairs of a session to suggest changes to papers within that session. If the chairs accept the paper, then it is their judgement that it is okay and that should stand; they are the ones who will then have to answer for what they have done, and not the SBL as a whole. The audience can either vote with their feet, or offer academic responses which highlight whatever gratuitousness, if any, is present. Roland is well know for being playful, but with a hard edge to what he does. Any who go along know what to expect, and–in fairness to Roland–his title clearly signals his intentions to anyone else who might otherwise foolishly stumble in and be offended. Wouldn’t it be worse to have an innocuous title, and then offend the unwary with its content?

With best wishes,


PS I will post this on Roland’s blog page. If you ask me not to post your response, I will abide by that request. But can I suggest you sort this out before it gets out of hand.