The master class to end all master classes: unleashing the ‘Matriarch’s Muff’

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?


Annie Sprinkle in Dunedin?

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:

Deviant Dunedin

An uncanny town, this one. Go past an alley one day and it is gone by the next, the houses closing up as though nothing had happened. An aberrant street, turning up here and there unpredictably. These Scottish heirs can give you the evil eye, ear or elbow and the rest of your day will seem disjointed. After a while you get the feeling that the town is not quite here, slipping into another zone, with a few crucial pieces missing. As with the churches …

Breakthroughs at the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar

By the second morning we were looking more and more like DaVinci’s Last Supper – with a Dunedin twist:

I challenge anyone to come up with a better backdrop to a biblical studies paper than this one. Here’s Judith McKinlay framed by a full bar:

As is Elaine Wainwright, obviously pleased by the prospect, or her paper (which was great) or both:

However, in the midst of all this intense study of the sources and reports (here, here and here) – note the careful attention to original texts – we were able to produce at least three breakthroughs:

1. After Robert Myles’s paper, we realised that the Greek term for ‘fishing’ should include a lexical entry under ‘cruising’ (in Mark 1:16-20). After all, what does ‘fishing for men’ mean but cruising?

2. After Elaine Wainwright’s paper a further lexical discovery was made. Not only is John known as ‘the baptiser’ or indeed ‘the immerser’, but he should also be known as John the Amphibian.

3. After desperately searching for the title for a paper on prophetic masculinity I need to present later this year, I drew on a range of great minds to come up with: ‘Too Many Dicks on the Threshing Floor, or, How to Organise a Prophetic Sausage Fest’.

Despite having a hand in the third insight, the two anchors of the Dunedin School were hard to please:

But James Harding (who rounded everything out with a scintillating discussion of David and Jonathan) was much more taken with them:

First glimpses of the Dunedin Bible and Critical Theory Seminar

An upper room, smuggled grog, plots and intrigues to undermine the university system, a surprise visit by ‘Tutus on Tour’ and the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar was off. Along with a few intrepid Australians and one Brit (John Barclay), a good bunch of kiwis gathered in the upper room of The Bog in Dunedin and were treated to a feast of papers. More on that when I have a bit more time, but here we are:

Two firsts for the 13th year of the BCT (apart from meeting in Dunedin): there was no registration since the room was free – as long as we drank their grog – and they had table service for those who needed coffee and other refreshments:

Some of the locals did find the wait for beer o’clock a little tedious:

But it did arrive at last:

Bible and Critical Theory Seminar, Dunedin 7-8 February: Final Programme (absolutely)

In those words immortalised by the Dunedin School, we’re up for some sad Marxist biblical scholarship, Monstrous Christs, Irrupting Badiouan Events, Hysterical Women, Jesus’ Queer Disciples, KRuddy Christian Nazis, Emancipatory Submission, Postcolonial Daughters of Zelophehad, Māori Eco-feminist Hermeneutics, Matthaean Timespace, David and Jonathan’s openings, and a Irigarayan reading of the Song of Songs, not to mention the late additions (cosmic gnostic spaces in the rough and tumble of Job)  … all softened with a large amount of local Dunedin grog.

The Bible & Critical Theory Seminar
February 7-8, 2010
Dunedin, New Zealand

February 7, 2010

0930-1015       Roland Boer, University of Newcastle, NSW

The sadness of Friedrich Engels

Focusing on the early letters of Friedrich Engels, this article explores a little known but exceedingly important aspect of his life: his deep and heart-rending struggle as he gradually lost his Reformed (Calvinist) faith. The issues that confront the young Engels concern the Bible, especially its contradictions (with a focus on biblical genealogies), the relation between reason and faith, and the issue of reading the Bible properly. Engels was a self-taught biblical scholar, but a strikingly informed one. He kept up with the rapidly developing historical critical study of the Bible (newly established in Germany at the time), current issues in philosophy and theology, and he was able to read the New Testament in Greek. We find him debating all these issues with his close friends, Friedrich and Wilhelm Graeber, who were to become pastors in the German Evangelical Church. As he does so he continually shifts positions until he reluctantly gives up his faith. Eventually he would come to terms with his Christian background, offering striking analyses of the revolutionary origins of Christianity.

1015-1100       Eric Repphun, University of Otago

The Monstrous Cinematic Christ: Biblical Narrative as ‘Supplement’ or ‘Multiple Opposite’?

This will be a study of Last Temptation of Christ and The Passion of the Christ and the way both use source material (including the Gospel narratives), all in light of the Zizek/Milbank debate in The Monstrosity of Christ.


1130-1215       John Barclay, University of Durham, UK

Paul and Alain Badiou

This paper discusses the reading of Paul offered by the contemporary French philosopher, Alain Badiou.  Badiou’s emphasis on event and unconditioned grace is supported by readings from Galatians, such that his philosophical notion of ‘event’, with its militant and universal effects, may claim real consonance with Paul.  However, Paul’s strong notions of divine creation from nothing, and of the benevolence of the Christ event, require that God be reinserted into Paul’s theology, while Badiou’s focus on the resurrection, rather than the cross, misses the social radicalism latent in Paul.

Lunch at The Bog

1300-1345       Christina Petterson, Macquarie University, NSW

Spirit and Matter in John

German feminist and cultural theorist Christina von Braun’s work on hysteria and logos from 1985 contains a fascinating chapter on writing, patriarchy, spirit and matter, which draws heavily on John’s word made flesh to argue for the ‘logical’ outcome of the abstraction process of Western philosophy. In this paper, I want to present and explore this argument, bringing it into discussion with a recent PhD dissertation in Biblical Exegesis on the stoic pneuma in John in order to look at the negotiation of matter in the gospel narrative.

1345-1430       Robert J. Myles, University of Auckland

Dandy discipleship: A queering of Mark’s male disciples

This paper involves a re-reading of a selection of texts from the Gospel of Mark employing the socio-rhetorical method combined with queer and gender criticism as informed by the works of Judith Butler, Marcella Althaus-Reid, and Dale B. Martin. Particular attention is given to the ways in which the gender and sexuality of the male disciples has been constructed in both the world behind the text and the world in front of the text. The paper examines how the masculinity of the disciples is performed by placing the texts in dialogue with dominant discourses from the ancient Mediterranean context. While conventional readings unambiguously presume the normativity of heterosexuality and binary categories of gender, this paper challenges such modern assumptions by purposefully and strategically reading the texts sexually. In the process of applying a provocative queer imagination, underlying components of erotophobia and homophobia within conventional hermeneutical filters are also exposed.


1500-1545       Holly Randell-Moon, Macquarie University

Left or Right? Religion and politics in Australia under the Howard and Rudd governments

A number of scholars, such as Ghassan Hage and David Harvey, have argued that conservative nationalisms often emerge as responses to the alienating effects of neoliberal economic policies. In my previous work, I have argued that the former Howard government’s (1996-2007) promotion of “Christian values” in its public policy and rhetoric can be understood as an attempt to reconcile, or compensate for, the individualising effects of neoliberal economic policy. In this paper, I will compare the Rudd government’s use of a social justice view of Christianity and national culture to shift economic policy away from neoliberalism. However, the Rudd government’s differentiation of its own policies as socially based, in contrast to the non-interventionist and individualist policies under Howard, takes at face value neoliberalism’s claim to limited governance and indifference to social relations. There can be no real engagement with the political effects of neoliberal policies if neoliberalism is simply understood as supporting a neutral conception of the individual or economy. For this reason, I question whether the emergence of a progressive Christian nationalism significantly changes the way neoliberal policies are conceptualised and implemented.

1545-1630       Remy Low, University of Sydney, NSW

Submission in the War of Position:  Towards a Neo-Gramscian Reading of 1 Peter 2:18-21

There have been endless skirmishes over the New Testament’s injunctions to submission (or ‘to subject’; Gk: hupotasso) in the realm of Biblical studies and ethics. In this paper, I engage in a close reading of one particular usage of the term in 1 Peter 2: 18-21 from the rubric of a neo-Gramscian theory of hegemony. Drawing on the work of Gramsci, Gadamer, Laclau and Unger, I argue that the mobilisation of the term has to be understood as a military metaphor mobilized within a specific spatiotemporal context: i.e. for the purpose of presenting an exterior semblance of ‘normality’ in a hostile situation while actively anticipating total liberation with the apokálypsis of the Kingdom of God. I propose that the exhortation to ‘be subject’, far from being an essentially oppressive and/or conservative ethico-political signifier to be at best avoided, can be re-articulated strategically for the purposes of emancipatory struggle in multiple sociocultural spheres.

Drinks and dinner at The Bog
The Bog has live music from 2000 on Sundays

February 8, 2010

0930-1015       Judith McKinlay, University of Otago

The Daughters of Zelophehad hanging out with Edward Gibbon Wakefield: What am I doing with them?

This paper endeavours to introduce a postcolonial reading of the texts concerning Zelophehad daughters alongside a consideration of the settlement of Post Nicholson by the New Zealand Company, and the issues such a reading raises.

1015-1100       Moana Hall-Smith, St John’s College, Auckland/University of Otago

Divine colonization in the Book of Judges: A Maori woman’s ecological reading of Judges 19

This paper is exploratory. As part of a larger project, I am working towards developing a paradigm[s] for reading the biblical text and in particular Judges 19 ecologically. In this paper I propose to use a M_ori woman’s postcolonial lens and a Kaupapa M_ori framework to foster a new ecological -feminist reading of Judges 19 as a way of liberating the text from its colonizing and patriarchal orientation. I will draw on the issues of land exploitation, patriarchy, gender inequality and colonial dominance to qualify that a M_ori eco-feminism is integral to postcolonial thinking. From this dialogue I will draw on M_ori conceptual lenses for reading which might guide an ecological reading of Judges 19. Within the confines of this paper a detailed reading will not be possible but simply the proposing of a Kaupapa M_ori framework for more indepth interpretation. I will investigate the pilegesh; as the “other” to men; “other” to the sons of Israel; “other” to the non-human and “other” to the divine through a number of M_ori conceptual tools. Firstly,  whakapapa which is the systematic and orderly record of human, cosmic and primordial causes and effects. It is based on a genealogical and spiritual relationship to the universe; to the landscape and to stones, rocks and other things seen and unseen, therefore, an association between the female body and the land is invoked and the woman’s decapitated body portrays the ordering of the cosmos; death – death – new life. Secondly, whenua translates both land and womb that are symbolically connected by the birthing cord. Thus the woman’s dismembered body has a strong umbilical attachment to all the lands in Israel. Whenua also provides the interpretive tool that demonstrates the abuse and violation of land was/is intrinsically linked to the abuse and violation of women. Wheiao another conceptual tool, is the liminal space situated between the life and death; the realm of the divine “other”. The battered woman is in this place when she is cut into twelve pieces and sent throughout the territory of Israel. By using M_ori conceptual and postcolonial interpretation lenses, I will try to offer a new way of reading the biblical text that challenges those who insist on interpreting through Biblical historical scholarship. This paper’s particular concern will be how attentiveness to the “other” in the text while highlighting the interconnectedness of the land and its community may bring new questions to the interpretation of Judges 19.


1130-1215       Elaine Wainwright, University of Auckland

From Wilderness to Waterfront: The Play of Time and Space in an Ecological Reading of Matt 3-4

One aspect of the ecological reading process that I am developing is the intertextuality that lies ‘in front of’ the text. This paper will dialogue with emerging theories of time and space/place or Time/Space as May and Thrift call it and how these might inform an ecological reading of selected segments of Matt 3-4.

Lunch at The Bog

1300-1345 Kirsten Dawson, University of Otago

Systemic violence in Job 1-2

Using Žižek’s threefold schema of “subjective”, “systemic” and “symbolic” violence, I will examine the violence apparent in the prologue of the book of Job. While the subjective violence that befalls Job is well-recognised, this paper will investigate the systemic violence in which the prosperous Job is enmeshed, and will suggest some of the implications that these observations might have for interpreting violence in the book as a whole.

1345-1430       Yael Klangwisan, Laidlaw College, Auckland

The Marine Lover & the Song of Songs

In the Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche Luce Irigaray formulates a poetic way of reading and critiquing Nietzsche’s Thus spoke Zarathustra. In the Marine Lover, Irigaray enacts her metaphor of water and its relationship to the feminine while simultaneously creating a Nietzschean persona with which to engage face to face. This aesthetic, homeopathic and poetic form of interrogation enables Irigaray to envelope herself around Nietzsche’s words, washing against and permeating the weaknesses in his claims resulting in a particularly triumphant and brilliantly subtle riposte. Irigaray’s way of reading (in the Marine Lover) provides possibilities for reading the Song of Songs, especially in her use of poetic forms, her treatment of the text as “person” and thus the potential for face to face encounter and lithe dialogue with a biblical text that is notoriously evasive.



1500-1545       Majella Franzmann, University of Otago

Personal and Cosmic Spaces of Salvation in James and Gospel of Judas in Codex Tchachos

In this paper, I provide a study of the characters of James and Judas in James and Gos. Judas in Codex Tchacos by investigating some personal and cosmic spaces in which the characters move, which they influence, and which produce certain effects upon them in return. I use critical spatiality as a means of studying the spaces inhabited by James and Judas, the spaces between them and other characters, especially Jesus, and the cosmic spaces that they must enter and/or cross on their journey to insight and perfection to attain the heavenly home they are seeking.

1545-1630     James Harding, University of Otago

The David and Jonathan narrative(s) as open text

This paper attempts to move beyond approaches to the David and Jonathan narrative that try to circumscribe the meaning of the text through appeal to word statistics (cf. Zehnder 1998; 2007; critiqued by me at last year’s B&CT seminar) by focusing on the relationship between the constraints of the text, that is the “linear text manifestation,” and the intentions of its readers. Based primarily on Jonathan Culler’s work on the semiotics of reading (Culler 1981) and Umberto Eco’s on the limits of interpretation (Eco 1990), this paper seeks to determine what elements in the text and what interpretive conventions enable the David and Jonathan narrative to produce meaning. My case is that the narrative, which itself is made up of at least two redactional layers, is an “open text” (Eco 1962; 1979) that has been artificially “closed” by the construction of a biblical canon and the imposition of a closed range of interpretive conventions. It is only this move that has made it possible to delimit the work’s meaning by appeal to Lev 18:22; 20:13 (e.g. Gagnon 2001; Zehnder 1998; 2007; etc.) or to the completion of the Old Testament in the new (e.g. Vischer 1946).

Drinks at The Bog


Transport and Accommodation details
Registration: email either James Harding (james.harding(at) let him know that you’re coming.