Bible and Critical Theory Seminar 2

Roland has put up a post about the seminar on his blog.  It has photos, which is good because I didn’t actually take any although I did have a camera with me.  Featured in the photo taken outside the Grand are Melissa Pula (University of Denver, “Job’s Body in Pain: Reading Job 16:7-14 with Elaine Scarry”), Simon Holloway (University of Sydney, “‘If I forget you’: a linguistic and stylistic analysis of Psalm 137), Helena Bolle (Macquarie University, “The Vulnerable Body in the Wisdom Literature) and me. I am the one wearing blue jeans and carrying the SBL Auckland bag. Melissa is on my left.

It is interesting that everyone who actually addressed specific biblical texts looked at Hebrew Bible.  In addition to the three above, we also heard from Julie Kelso (University of Qld, “A Woman is being Beaten and Maybe She Likes it? Approaching Song of Songs 5:2-7 with the Formidable Intellect of Andrea Dworkin”), James Harding (University of  Otago’ “Ideology, Intertextuality and the David and Jonathan Narratives”) and Roland Boer (University of Newcastle, “Negri, Job and the Bible”).  Clearly next year the people who are looking at the other stuff need to present  so that there is no need to change the title to Hebrew Bible and Critical Theory. 🙂

Not, mind you, that I minded only getting Hebrew Bible (and more general work).  I don’t have the time or the expertise to do work in this area, so it’s fascinating to hear what other people are doing and the conclusions they’re coming up with.

And now, onto the things that struck me about the papers. Note that this is not by any means an exhaustive coverage of the seminar – just things that stood out for me.

A definite highlight for me was Darren Jorgensen (University of Western Australia) presenting “Simulating the sacred: Theodor Strehlow’s Songs of Central Australia“. Strehlow was the son of the Lutheran founder of Hermansburg Aboriginal Mission near-ish to Alice Springs and because of his relationship with the Arrernte people with whom he grew up he was entrusted with many of their stories. Songs of Central Australia is a book of his translations of these song-cycles into English, although Darren argues that they are not so much translations as conversions. Instead of simply providing word-for-word English versions, Strehlow converted them in poetic form with a rhythm and cadence influenced by Greek and Norse myth.  This has frustrated later anthropologists who are unable to trace back from Strehlow’s versions to the original Arrernte songs, but in trying to recreate the sense of the sacred for a Western audience, Strehlow used, ISTM, the principles of dynamic equivalence.  Perhaps I’m a little slow, but one of the things that stood out for me about this was Darren’s explanation that although Aboriginal societies have much sacred information that is only available to particular parts of the group, when the community gathers, all the information is available to the community.

Stefan Solomon talked about “Revenant Revelation: Reading the Archive in Carpenter’s Gothic“.  His paper presented me with a new way of understanding the word αρχων.  It is related to αρχηων (or perhaps αρχηον) which means archive, a repository of knowledge.  Thus αρχων, which I have always understood as meaning ruler or judge or authority, is actually (also) a guardian of knowledge.  This, of course, makes sense in the context of  gnosticism and the fact that I had not realised it before probably just shows that my understanding of Greek has been limited to New Testament studies, but still…

Julie Kelso gave us a whirlwind tour through her paper (“A woman is being beaten…”). Despite the fact that she had all her quotes on handouts, I found it too dense to follow easily – given that it is right outside my area of expertise. What I took away was the need to think about how often heterosexuality and heteronormativity are functionally equivalent – another new-to-me concept.

Tamara Prosic (Monash)  talked about “Orthodox Christianity, Utopia and Socialism”. Through my post-prandial stupour,  the bits I latched onto were those that helped me to understand some of the significance between Orthodox and Catholic and Protestant theology – the Orthodox church does not have a concept of Original Sin, but sees sin as something that disrupts community.

Melissa Pula introduced me to Elaine Scarry’s concept that to be embodied is to be without power and that to have a voice is to have power.   To have a body is to have limits and being able to give voice is a means of survival for a body in pain. God in Job has a voice but no body. OTOH it occurred to me that in Job God describes Godself in bodily terms eg when God asks Job (38: 28-29)

Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew: from whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfost of heaven? (NRSV)


James Harding’s paper looked at the problems inherent in misuse of statistics in biblical studies in his examiniation of the work of  Sylvia Schroer and Thomas Staubli on the one hand and Markus Zehnder on the other on what it means for David to love Johnathan. He argued that Schroer and Staubli’s problem was assuming that because the particular Hebrew word describing David’s love for Johnathan is used to describe erotic love in Song of Songs, it must  indicate erotic love in the David/Johnathan relationship. Zehnder argues that because it is more often used to describe non-erotic love, it is not erotic in David and Johnathan. In doing so, he fails to take into consideration the respective contexts and genres of his sources. Thus, although there are statistics, they don’t prove what the people using them suggest that they prove.

Simon Holloway, OTOH, was much more careful with his use of statistics. He justified paying attention to a particular Hebrew word by saying that it is used 88 times in the active voice (in the Hebrew bible, I think, but maybe it was just in Psalms) and everywhere else except in Psalm 137, it has a direct object. In 137:5, we have literally “if I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget” (no object). He looked at a number of ways that commentators have dealt with this anomaly and the problems with them. On the surface, a rather nice option is revoicing the verb.  I found myself wishing that I had enough Hebrew and a sufficient understanding of the transmission of the Hebrew Scriptures to be able to consider intelligently whether this option really does imply that we think we are better at Hebrew than the Masoretes.

So many interesting things to study, not enough time to do it in. 😦 If anyone has any ideas about ethical ways for me to find enough money to study full time for the rest of my life whist still maintaining the standard of living to which I have become accustomed, please let me know. 🙂


Neither Roland nor I mentioned what must surely be considered the most important point of the seminar (at least by Jim West) – Michael Carden mentioned Huldrych Zwingli in his presentation on “Sodomites, Sodomy and Same-Sex Marriage”.  It was only a passing reference to him when Michael quoted Heinrich Bullinger, Zwingli’s successor as head of the Zurich church and pastor at Grossmünster, but nevertheless, a mention.


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