Changes are afoot at the Bible and Critical Theory journal. Specifically, in 2016 there will be two new managing editors: Caroline Blyth and Robert Myles, from the University of Auckland. They both blog at the Auckland theology site from time to time. Meanwhile, through 2015, they will be working with the current editors on getting the two issues of volume 11 through the ropes. Ah yes, you can check out the latest issue of the journal at the website.

With this development, I can safely say that Auckland has become the nerve centre for innovative biblical studies in New Zealand – having previously opined that the honour belonged to Otago in Dunedin. Sorry, Dunedin, but the yellow jersey has gone to another team.

I am absolutely loving the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar this year. Great papers; great venue – we’re meeting in the upper room of The Governor’s Cafe, now owned by Bible and Critical Theory member, Eric Rephhun (thanks, Eric). Dunedin is cool and rainy, as one would expect in early summer. But I am enjoying the papers immensely. There may well be a couple of thematic journal issues in them.

As for the journal, we are listed in a ‘must-read’ top ten of online journals in critical theory.

Next year, the seminar will meet in Newcastle, where everything is happening at the moment.

Program for Dunedin 2014 Wednesday 10 December 2014

10:00 Introduction

10:10-10:50 Elaine Wainwright, A Queer[y]ing of the Matthean Sermon on the Mount

10:50-11:20 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?


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.


Deadline for proposals: 31 August 2014

The Seminar calls for papers at the intersection of critical theory and the Bible. We interpret “critical theory” broadly to include not only the seminal work of the Frankfurt School, but also approaches such as Marxism, post-Marxism, post-structuralism, feminism, queer studies, critical race theory, post-colonialism, human-animal studies, ideological criticism, Continental philosophy, psychoanalysis, ecocriticism, cultural materialism, new historicism, alternative economics, etc. Likewise, we interpret “the Bible” broadly, to include the various Jewish, Christian and Muslim scriptures and related ancient literature, including their history of reception, use, and effect.

Please send paper proposals of 150-200 words to:
Roland Boer: Roland.Boer(at) and
Deane Galbraith:


Dates for Seminar: 10-11 December 2014

Venue: The Original Robert Burns Pub (“The Robbie”), 374 George Street, Dunedin, New Zealand

The Bible and Critical Theory Seminar returns to Dunedin in what is the tenth year of publication of the Bible and Critical Theory Journal and the seventeenth year in which the Seminar has been held. We will meet in the Poetry Corner at the Robbie Burns Pub, which we will have to ourselves until joined by regular patrons in the late afternoon. We will also make our way to Eric Repphun’s new venture, the Governor’s Cafe, for a delicious lunch.
Please also note that the BCT Seminar will follow the annual meeting of the Aotearoa-New Zealand Association of Biblical Studies (ANZABS), also to be held in Dunedin, at the University of Otago, on 8-9 December 2014.


While there is no official accommodation and a range of options around the city, for those comrades who appreciate the conviviality of low-cost communal living, I (Deane) recommend Hogwartz Backpackers, a short ten-minute walk to the Seminar venue and, from 1872 until 1999, residence of the Roman Catholic bishop. Prices start from NZ$29 for a shared room with 4 to 6 beds, and it is approximately NZ$63 for a single room.

Master classes. Every where I look there seems to be one. There’s a growing trend by intellectuals with, um, largish egos, or indeed unhealthily high opinions of themselves, to announce that they will offer ‘master classes’. Forget seminars, lectures, papers, toilet chatter … now it’s a ‘master class’.

So I have decided to offer one of my own. It is to be called ‘The Matriarch’s Muff’ – a careful biblical analysis of certain terminology. The problem is that I am not quite sure when and where to unleash it. I had thought of the Bible and Critical Theory seminar, soon to happen in Auckland (1-2 September). But the presence of a few too many – how shall I say it – matriarchs suggested that may not be the best venue. I then pondered it for the University of Otago, down Dunedin way, a few days later. But the problem here is that there will be a significant number of, well, Presbyterian patriarchs present. This prompted the observation, ‘not even Dunedin is yet ready for the Matriarch’s Muff’.

So when and where do I unleash the matriarch’s muff?

Deviant Dunedin strikes again, that slightly strange place where everything is not quite what it seems to be and where signs say more than one might think. For instance, I suspect that this simple sign at the YHA (Stafford Gables)

… may actually be the ‘I was here’ signature of Annie Sprinkle, who happened to make a movie of the same name in 1976:

A small scuffle has broken out across the Tasman in the wake of the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar. Robert Myles, of the newly minted Jesus the Bum fame, has challenged The Dunedin School’s claim to be the ‘nerve centre’ of innovative biblical studies in Aotearoa.

The catch with these claims and counter-claims is that I am supposed to have uttered this phrase at some point or other. Yet no-one is quite clear on precisely when, where, and indeed if. For the Dunedin School ‘the attribution has never been clearly established’, while Jesus the Bum opines that I may have said it ‘in jest’, parenthetically observing that ‘ (mysteriously, of course, the original post can no longer be found)’.

If I may add some clarity to the discussion of sources and authorial intention, I did in fact let slip in an email message after the Auckland SBL that we would meet in Dunedin at some point soon since it is the nerve or perhaps nervous centre of scintillatingly original biblical studies in New Zealand. Appended to an email for the Bible and Critical Theory list, it prompted an immediate and lightly jocular reply from Elaine Wainwright concerning Auckland’s claim to the yellow jersey. Ever the diplomat, I of course replied to Elaine that Auckland too should be up for the count, although I did think to myself that Auckland had yet to show the goods. That appears to be changing and Dunedin may be about to meet its match.

What I do know is:

a) we have met in both Auckland (2008) and Dunedin (2010).

b) we are planning to meet in lumpy land every second year.

c) the question of where we will meet in 2012 is up for grabs.

Both for those who were there and – especially – for those who couldn’t make it but would love to have been there, a report to supplement that of The Dunedin School:

An upper room in a pub called The Bog in Dunedin – the setting couldn’t have been better for our first, full-blooded Bible and Critical Theory Seminar in New Zealand. Of late the seminar has gained a new lease of life, a buzz or a vibe that is hard to pin down, but one that makes us look forward to the next one like nerds to books. I suspect it is a mix of what happens both on the surface and – far more intriguingly – beneath the surface (more of that soon enough) – but also the blend of unconventional setting and conventional paper formats.

But – I sense one or two asking – was this really the first New Zealand meeting? Sure, we had a BCT stream at the International Society of Biblical Literature Meeting in Auckland back in 2008. But this was our first stand-alone gathering in that most southerly point of civilisation (which is really code for depravity) on the globe. It was about time too, since the kiwis have been making the Tasman crossing for well over a decade to join us in Australia – anywhere between Perth, Brisbane or Melbourne.

The setting for the seminar has always been a key factor – a pub with a decent space for us to spread out, relax, talk and listen. On this occasion, James Harding and Gillian Townsley had undertaken a painstaking search of Dunedin pubs to find one that: a) had a room for us (it was upstairs); b) charged no fee (as long as we drank and ate there); c) provided table service during the papers. Never, in the increasingly long history of the seminar, have we had such luxury. Picture, if you will, an afternoon paper being delivered while engrossed participants were served coffee, wine, beer and titbits on plates. High windows, soft Dunedin light, a full bar as the backdrop to papers, comfortable seats with tables on which we could spread out our Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Coptic, and Ethiopic texts – as well as those irreplaceable scribble notes with which to pass messages to one another.

And who should come along for our thirteenth year (and probably sixteenth meeting … I’ve lost count), but a handful of Australians from across the ditch, two from the UK (one an expat kiwi returning for the love fest) and more than a score from all over Aotearoa.

Roland Boer kicked the show off with a study of the young Engels and his heart-rending struggles concerning the impact of (what was then new) biblical criticism on his very Reformed faith. Eric Repphun, resplendent in a vast tattooed web on his right elbow, drew upon the recent debate between Slavoj Žižek and John Milbank to offer a comparative reading of Scorcese’s Last Temptation of Christ and Gibson’s gore fest, The Passion of the Christ. Last before lunch (it was Sunday, the day after Waitangi Day) was John Barclay, enjoying the more human pace of life in southern NZ and offering a judicious reading of Badiou’s book on Paul – Barclay likes Badiou’s emphasis on a radical breakthrough in Paul but wishes Badiou would have made more of the crucifixion punch.

Lunch done (from an Irish-inspired menu that had British colonialism written all over it), we encountered the full frontal of four challenging papers: Christina Petterson introduced us to two key figures, Christina von Braun and Gitte Buch-Hansen, to offer a thought-provoking reread of John’s gospel; Robert Myles (who has since launched a challenge to Dunedin’s eminent innovative status) showed us how Jesus’ call in Mark 1 to become ‘fishers of men’ has a decidedly queer dimension to it, so much so that ‘to fish’ in the gospels may also mean ‘to cruise’ (or at least that is how I read it); Holly Randell-Moon offered a careful analysis of the way different models of Christian nationalism (conservative under Howard or progressive under Rudd) in Australia fail to come to grips with the real nature of neo-liberalism; and Remy Low (a school teacher, PhD student and revolutionary) challenged us to read a tough text like 1 Peter 2 (on slaves) as a survival mechanism in oppressive times in order to nurture the seed of insurrection for an opportune moment.

More than a head full of ideas, but already the sparks were flowing, plots were being hatched, acquaintances made, looks met and matched, but it was time to unwind, drink the bog’s grog and eat its food.

Day two saw Judith McKinlay start us off with a ‘McKinlayic’ reading: a multi-logue between Judith herself, the daughters of Zelophehad and Edward Gibbon Wakefield – questioning, undermining, exploring the social and cultural memories of both ourselves and ancient Israel. Judith now has the impressive record of having been to most BCT seminars (apart from me), having first attended in 1999 when we met in an abandoned church out the back of Sydney. And she was instrumental in introducing others from NZ to the seminar, so much so that the BCT is inconceivable without Tasman comradeship. From there Majella Franzmann introduced us to SPAFF – the Specific Affect Coding System, a method to quantitatively measure whining, joy, contempt and affection – in order to interpret the Gnostic James and Gospel of Judas. Elaine Wainwright took us on a detailed eco-spatial reading of Matthew 3-4 where we encounter, among others, John the Immerser (or, as I prefer, the Amphibian). Yael Klangwisan offered a poetic reading of the Song of Songs, modelling her approach on that of Luce Irigaray, and Kirsten Dawson reread Job (via Žižek’s subjective, symbolic and systemic violence) as a wealthy landowner guilty of a good deal of systemic violence on his own part. And as a fitting nightcap, James Harding treated us to his unfolding study of David and Jonathan, now with the assistance of Jonathan Culler and Umberto Eco. What happens, he asked, when scholars try to have the last word in interpretation by invoking a closed text like the canon? Nothing less than an explosion of meaning.

This was the BCT at its best, with currents of biblical criticism, cultural studies, political theory, feminism, ecocriticism, Marxism, film studies, philosophy and much more all coming together in a provocative and fruitful mix. It did of course help that we weren’t in some anaemic lecture hall or drab university seminar room. For one thing, the periphery refused to remain discreet. So the papers were delivered while plates of steaming food passing by behind us from the kitchen (it was upstairs too), the crowd downstairs watching an American football game continually raised a thundering cheer at crucial moments during at least one paper (James Harding’s), and at one point a squad of mature women appeared wearing pink T-shirts with ‘Tutus on Tour’ emblazoned across their busts.

But what I, for one, enjoy just as much is what runs just beneath the surface. Did those glances signal the spark of something more substantial? Is he/she really available? What was in those bottles smuggled in by one attendee (for which he was busted)? Did someone really ask another for some of his drugs-to-make-long-flights-seem-like-love-ins? And do photographs of scholars on a trampoline really offer the most flattering perspective? More substantially, stories were told of previous highs (especially the Passover lamb) and (deep) lows at earlier seminars, evil and arrogant professors were condemned, generous ones praised, neo-orthodoxy (especially Karl Barth) was scoffed at, and plots were elaborated regarding parasite universities that would provide work for the immense talent currently denied opportunities by universities in crisis. In short, creative and lateral ideas aplenty.

Finally, I couldn’t help noticing that many of those present were postgraduate students working on some very fascinating material, all of which left me with the impression that if this is representative of the next wave of biblical scholars in New Zealand, then things are looking up.