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
10:10-10:50 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.