Bible & Critical Theory Seminar, Auckland
Queens Ferry Hotel, Vulcan Lane
1 & 2 September 2012
10:00 – 10:10 Opening session
10:10 – 10:45 Elaine Wainwright
Of Borders, Bread, Dogs and Demons: Reading Matt 15:21-28 Ecologically
Matt 15:21-28 is a story that interweaves political aspects of boundaries or borders with a claim to centrality using the metaphor of the ‘lost sheep’. Intimately linked with this is access to resources, an access that is not only ethnically but also gender-inflected. Interwoven through this narrative and often overlooked is the fracturing named as demon-possession and the ‘daughter’ on whose body that is inscribed. Even though this pericope has been read from a range of perspectives in recent decades, some of which are my own readings, it is still a text fertile for re-reading. In this paper I propose to read with an ecological lens informed by the intersection of political, economic, socio-cultural, religious and ecological features. In order to undertake such a reading, I will engage theories around power [and resources] of Michel Foucault and Chela Sendoval and bring these into dialogue with the work of ecofeminist Lorraine Code to form a new reading framework yielding, I am wagering, new insights.
10:45 – 11:20 Rebecca Lindsay
Overthrowing Nineveh with Postcolonial Imagination
The Book of Jonah is one which sees boundaries continually blurred: from a prophet who does not do as commanded to a repenting God. While the Book of Jonah has featured prominently in research (and beyond), the focus has tended to be upon the eponymous protagonist or the character of God, leaving aside the city of Nineveh and its inhabitants. This paper focuses on the blurry city of Nineveh: evil empire and/or pious penitents? Drawing upon Kwok Pui Lan’s ‘postcolonial imagination’ it re-reads this ‘great’ ‘evil’ city of Nineveh, suggesting that the characteristics of the text do not align neatly with many of the assumptions brought to bear on Nineveh’s identity. We are confronted with the need to look afresh at other biblical texts and characters we are so sure we know and understand. It is an attempt at asking questions and seeking to unlearn, wondering if reading with Nineveh works to open up new imaginative possibilities to break down the dichotomy between centre and periphery, good and evil.
11:20 – 11:30 Break
11:30 – 12:05 Kirsten Dawson
Gender and Violence in the Book of Job
This paper will look at some of the ways in which ideas about gender and violence are deployed in the rhetoric of Job. Drawing on Slavoj Žižek’s book Violence, I use his threefold schema of subjective, systemic, and symbolic violence as a framework for an examination of the explicit and implicit violence in the book of Job. On the surface, the gendered imagery of subjective violence furthers the depiction of Job’s abject suffering, and suggests that he is a character who identifies with those who endure violence. However the underside of the gendered language of violence is that it renders invisible the interests of the victims of systemic violence, and reinscribes the symbolic violence that underpins oppressive gender relationships. While Job portrays his suffering as a victim of subjective violence with great passion, he does not relinquish the idea that his rightful position is as the chief beneficiary and perpetrator of the exploitative social system. YHWH’s speeches from the whirlwind, while providing little resolution for Job’s complaints, provoke fascinating questions regarding Job’s fundamental assumptions.
12:05 – 12:40 Robert Myles
Homelessness, Neoliberal Ideology, and Jesus’ “Decision” to go Rogue
In attempting to further probe the problem of Jesus the Bum, I explore an ideological crack between the interpretation of agency and structure in Matthew 4:12-22, that is, Jesus’ apparent decision to go rogue and begin his itinerant ministry. The beginnings of Jesus’ ministry and his calling of the first disciples to leave their livelihoods are often idealized as paradigmatic scenes. Jesus’ ability to “choose” his “lifestyle” is heightened at the expense of textual details alluding to socioeconomic disenfranchisement and forced displacement. Aside from serving an obvious theological function, such interpretations also underscore the neoliberal discourse of the individual, free-roaming, moral agent, able to make isolated economic choices, while concurrently downplaying structural and systemic factors external to an individual that drive particular behaviours, reactions, and outcomes. This paper moves towards a critical re-reading of Mt 4:12-22 that disrupts dominant ideologies of homelessness as they surface within this text and its interpretation.
12:40 – 13:50 Lunch at QFH
13:50 – 14:25 Roland Boer
A Dead Spouse, A Vegetable Garden and a Cousin’s Field: On Private Property
Does private property, as commonly understood, exist in the Hebrew Bible? The answer is no. The reason comes from a history well known to students of jurisprudence and economics, but largely unknown to biblical scholars. The story: private property was invented by Roman legal theorists in the second century BCE, who defined absolute private property as the relation between an individual human being and a thing (res). But they could do so only in light of a slave-based economic system that reduced a substantial portion of the population to the status of things. That is, by definition private property (dominium) is at its heart a relationship between a master (dominus) and a thing (res) known as a slave (slavus). The problem is that this definition was lost as the Roman Empire crumbled, only to be recovered by the ‘Lawyer Popes’ of the eleventh-thirteenth centuries, by Italian universities and then by the Enlightenment, from whence it became a cornerstone of capitalism. All of which means that our assumed universality of private property is anything but universal. Neither the Sumerians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, nor, for that matter, the Hebrews, had any sense of absolute private property. How then do we interpret texts taken as key witnesses to private property? These include: Abraham’s acquisition of the field of Machpelah in Genesis 23; Jacob and land for an altar in Gen 33:19-20; stipulations regarding inheritance, redemption and jubilees in Leviticus 25 and 27; Boaz’s acquisition from Naomi of both land and woman in Ruth 4; David and the threshing floor of Araunah in 2 Sam 24:18-25 (see 1 Chr 21:18-22:1); Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard in 1 Kings 21; Jeremiah and his cousin’s field in Jer 32:6-15. I will offer a few suggestions in relation to my project on the ‘Sacred Economy’ – which brings together Régulation economic theory, Soviet-era research into the economics of the ancient Near East and a theory of responsive metaphorisation for the way texts relate to their contexts.
14:25 – 15:00 Christina Petterson
Writing Death, Writing Life
This paper examines the construction of the bodies of Jesus in John’s gospel and their relation to the written medium of the text. Beginning with the incarnated body, I want to trace how the gospel narrative builds up the body of Jesus, by drawing attention to action and emotions. I then move on to the resurrected body, and look at how chapter 20 seems to wrestle with the empty tomb and the resurrected body of Jesus, and moves from no body to the flimsy corporealness of a Jesus, who forbids Mary to touch him, to the very physical body, into which Thomas can poke his fingers. These bodies will then be connected to the gospel as writing, bearing in mind that John places his purpose of writing twice at the end, in each of the two resurrection narratives (20:30-31 and 21: 24-25). The line of questioning is not to establish a historical reason for the emergence of the gospel as literature, but to probe into the different planes of reality that the gospel leaves us with.
15:00 – 15:35 Deane Galbraith
Interpellation Not Interpolation in Num. 13-14: The Non-Instrumental Ideology of Louis Althusser and Half-a-dozen Ways to Avoid a Death Sentence from Yahweh
This paper examines the numerous tensions in Num. 13-14 concerning the identity of those who are exempted from Yahweh’s death sentence, in light of Louis Althusser’s non-instrumental view of ideology and related concept of interpellation. Source- and redaction-critical approaches have typically treated the spy narrative’s inconsistent exemptions of Caleb, Joshua, the younger generation of Israelites, and/or Moses (and possibly others) as indicia of multiple sources, redactional layers, supplements, or interpolations within the text. Most of these signs of disunity, however, may be more productively viewed as the result of different subject positions and their corresponding ideologies, derived from different sectors of the Judean and Samarian populace yet coalescing in their support of the text’s ideology of a righteous remnant. The paper thus develops Roland Boer’s recognition of the potential of Althusser’s view of ideology to challenge the logics of both the historical-critical division of biblical texts and also the supposed recovery of subversive counter-voices within oppressive biblical passages.
15:35 – 15:45 Break
15:45 – 16:20 Holly Randall-Moon
The Secular Contract: The British Monarchy and White Diasporic Sovereignty
Using the work of Charles W. Mills, this paper critically interrogates how legal and political characterizations of the law as secular work to disavow the settler nation-state’s racialised foundations in colonial violence in the form of a “secular contract”. The secular constitution of nation-states such as Australia and New Zealand presents these nations as liberal and autonomous even as their formation through the imprimatur of the British Crown continues to involve symbolic rituals of exchange and deference to the British monarchy. The paper focuses on two state visits by Prince William to Australia and New Zealand in 2010 and 2011 as an example of what Goldie Osuri and Bobby Banerjee describe as the maintenance of “white diasporic loyalty”. I conclude that secularism must be re-thought of as not simply the operation of law without religion, but also, as complicit with the ways indigenous sovereignties in (white) settler nation-states are negated.
16:20 – 16:55 Yael Klangwisan
Gift and The Song of Songs
This paper explores Helene Cixous’ response to the theory of ‘Gift’ and then presents a ‘live’-reading of the Song of Songs in terms of Gift. This is an approach to the Song of Songs which could be seen as a kind of birthing that allows multiple escapes the Realm of the Proper. The goal that will both succeed and fail is to enter Cixous’ feminine realm of ‘pure’ Gift with the text through form and language of the paper. Rather than being confined to cycles of exchange and return, of absolutes, of economies, the Song of Songs will be shown to continually overflow boundaries and break laws. The new and unique are birthed all the time inside the text, rupturing language into unlimited possibility and endless creativity. Love escapes. Bringing together Cixous’ own live-texts and the author’s creative response to the Shulamith, the scene is set for a vibrant reading.
16:55 – Late Drinks & dinner at QFH
10:00 – 10:10 Opening session
10:10 – 10:45 Don Moffat
Ezra 9-10: A Split Text?
Ezra 9-10 is a contested text. It has been, and is, used to justify racist and separatist agenda by scholars and lay people alike. In contrast, Ezra is also described as post-colonial, a text of resistance. Post-colonial influenced readings sometimes undermine the separatist appropriation of chapters 9-10, while sometimes siding with them in finding the coercive power of the dominant group at work. Is Ezra 9-10 a text of resistance, a text of dominance or both? Aspects of the notion of hybridity expose influences of imperial power and oppression in the identity of the characters. This has implications for the perceived message and the appropriation of the text.
10:45 – 11:20 Caroline Blyth
‘Whatever you needed…she had it’: Deconstructing the femme fatale in Judges 16 and Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely
According to biblical scholar Dan Clanton, ‘Few female characters in all of biblical literature are deemed more scandalous than Delilah’. Certainly, in traditional interpretations of Judges 16, not to mention cultural representations of the story in film, art, and literature, the character of Delilah is more often than not represented as a femme fatale – a dangerous woman whose treacherous charms and lethal sexuality can bring even the strongest man quite literally to his knees. In this paper, I seek to explore this characterization of Delilah, by deconstructing the cultural phenomenon of the femme fatale. As a focus of my enquiry, I use Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled thriller Farewell My Lovely, a story which has a number of resonances with the biblical Samson and Delilah narrative. By considering these two texts together, I hope to shed some light on the complexities of the femme fatale persona and thus ask anew if Delilah does indeed deserve such an epithet.
11:20 – 11:30 Break
11:30 – 12:05 Julie Kelso
Irigaray’s complex reading of the Annunciation and the virginity of Mary has generated a lot of discussion in feminist theology and feminist philosophy of religion. Notably, according to the philosopher Pamela Anderson, Irigaray and the feminist (Catholic) theologians who have embraced her readings of Mary are in danger of replicating the “ethically debilitating forms of transcendence-in-immanence that Simone de Beauvoir successfully uncovers in the immanence of the female narcissist, lover, and mystic”. In this paper I argue that in order to appreciate Irigaray’s recent thinking concerning the Madonna it is necessary to come to grips with what she is trying to establish with respect to the concept of virginity. It is important to remember that, historically, this concept has been reviled by feminists as the reduction of women to exchangeable commodities within markets controlled and utilised by men, and also revered as a refusal by certain women to assume their passive stance as mother and wife within patriarchal social orders. Irigaray is well aware of this contradiction and, I think, is attempting to think the future possibilities of ethical subjectivity for women by returning to the very figure of this contradiction – the virgin mother – with her virginity understood not as integritas but as sanctitas.
12:05 – 12:40 Niall McKay
A Political Reading of Luke 1:51-52 And 3:8-9 in the Light Of Ezekiel 17 – Inspired by John Howard Yoder and a Poststructural Intertextuality
Introduced by Julia Kristeva in 1966 the concept of intertextuality can be a productive way to frame biblical interpretation. Unfortunately the term is often misused in New Testament scholarship, usually featuring as a clichéd truism or self-evident methodological axiom. A more rigorous exploration of poststructural intertextuality may engender a helpful linking-hermeneutic for interpreting scripture; here demonstrated through an intertextual reading of Luke shaped by John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus which draws Luke 1:51-52 and 3:8-9 into close proximity. This textual concatenation echoes with the Septuagintal allegory in Ezekiel 17 and adds colour to the Lukan reading; an ancient textual interplay enriching Yoder’s text. Those who adhere to Yoder’s theo-rhetorical agenda are given (further) warrant for their suspicion of political power. In particular we are enjoined to guard against alliances with contemporary versions of the astute King of Babylon and the mighty Pharaoh.
12:40 – 13:50 Lunch at QFH
13:50 – 14:25 Debra MacDonald
John Gray’s Straw Dogs and Luke’s Satan: An Exploration into Human Nature
An ancient Chinese ritual involving canine effigies made of straw serves to illustrate the practice of exalting and disposing of things in the same breath. Gray’s polemic in Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals argues that humanism and Christianity are upholders of the anthropocentric idea of self and neglect to recognise humanity as a small part in a much greater and antediluvian identity. Taking an anthropological approach to the representation of Satan and demon possession in Luke’s gospel narrative, leads me to explore philosophies around human nature and more specifically- the self. Gray’s position regarding human nature on face value seems pessimistic; however, his main argument is insightful and useful for biblical studies.
The Lucan Satan has traditionally been read as a supernatural character in direct opposition to Christ and his followers, thus Christendom has blamed Satan and his evil influence over people. The blaming of Satan lifts self-responsibility and inevitably leads to scapegoating others. Drawing an anthropological reading out of the narrative of Satanic confrontation and possession, violence is made a cyclic and purely human problem. Through Gray’s insight and this reflection on Luke’s Satan, a true progressive Christianity emerges.
14:25 – 15:00 Mark Manolopoulos
Jesus on Wall Street: Overturning Temples, Tables, Empires
Perhaps one of the most famous passages in the New Testament is the Nazarene’s overturning of the money-changers’ tables in the Temple. This event is conventionally construed as some kind of ‘cleansing of the Temple,’ but some contemporary biblical scholars have convincingly argued that it is a far more radical political act. William R. Herzog, for example, figures it as properly subversive: “Jesus attacked the temple system itself” (2000: 112), assailing it because it was unjust. I transpose this Christic subversion to the present day, in the context of the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon and the various crises we face (financial, ecological, etc.): I contend that Jesus would not only be involved in the protest movement, but that he would be devoted to the task of the revolutionary overthrow of oppressive institutions, systems, empires. Now, wouldn’t such an understanding of Jesus be of consequence to the billions that identify as ‘Christian’? After all, if true Christians are, by definition, those who are devoted to following.
15:00 – 15:15 Break
15:15 – 15:50 Sarah Curtis
Considering the presentation of Magdalene by Luke and John: Neither fetish nor phallic but feminine
The contrast in the vivid presentations of Magdalene by Luke and John is conducive to her reproduction as both a fetish of sado-masochistic enjoyment by the traditional misogynist and a fantasy of phallic authority in feminist revision. Is there another way of considering the combination of Luke and John, to quote Paul Verhaeghe’s interpretation (Does the Woman Exist? P. 246) of Lacan’s feminine, as one “that escapes being reduced to an ever absent signifier”? This paper will look at Lacan’s work on the structure of sexuation and feminine jouissance and apply it to argue that the function of Luke and John is neither to place Magdalene on the side of fetish nor on the side of the phallic but in the feminine.
15:50 – 16:25 Tim Stanley
What Is This Strange Technological Thing Called the Bible?
After a brief summary of Derrida’s account of Platonic writing as différance, and Catherine Pickstock’s critical response, this paper will trace a different delineation of Christian writing rooted in the available artifactual evidence of early codex books. Christianity’s pervasive early adoption and innovation of this medium will be explored in relation to both Hebrew and Greco-Roman scribal cultures in order to project new directions for a theology of writing adequate to our contemporary digital era.
16:25 – 16:35 Closing session