Archives of Reception of the Bible

Past blogging in more ways than one.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Reception Workshop, University of Bristol

This event took place last week at Bristol, and was very enjoyable. (The cake was good too!) As I've said before, Ika Willis is the Faculty of Arts' Lecturer in Reception and she will be running a new MA in Reception and Critical Theory here in 2007-08. She organised the day as a kind of intro to what other people are doing here in terms of reception. As you can see below, a good number of departments were represented. Hopefully, when our MA in Biblical Reception is up and running, students can tap into a number of complementary courses (and this kind of event) elsewhere in the Faculty.

Monday 20 November 2006
Verdon-Smith Room, Institute for Advanced Studies, Royal Fort House

Session 1: 10am-12:30pm

10:00am: Welcome and introduction, Dr Ika Willis
10:20-12:30pm: Informal presentations by attendees

10:20 Dr Ika Willis, Classics/English
10:30 Mr Paul Hurley, Drama: Theatre, Film, Television
10:40 Dr Dot Rowe, History of Art
10:50 Dr Neville Morley, Classics & Ancient History

11:00 Break

11:20 Dr Jo Carruthers, English/Theology
11:30 Mr David Tollerton, Theology
11:40 Ms Caroline Hadley, Drama: Theatre, Film, Television
11:50 Mr Joao Cosme, Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies
12:00 Dr Angela Piccini, Drama/Archaeology
12:10 Professor Charles Martindale, Classics & Ancient History

Lunch: 12:30-1:30
Lunch will be provided, and there will be an opportunity for discussion and feedback.

Session 2: 1:30pm-3:00pm

Informal presentations by attendees

1:30 Dr Regina Llamas, Historical Studies (BICC Fellow, CEAS)
1:40 Dr John Lyons, Theology & Religious Studies
1:50 Mr David Rose, Drama: Theatre, Film, Television
2:00 Dr Henry Power, English
2:10 Ms Fay Yao, English
2:20 Ms Cher Redman, Theology
2:30 Dr Simon Jones, Drama: Theatre, Film, Television

Coffee: 2:45pm-3:30pm Coffee and cake will be provided, and there will be an opportunity for further discussion, feedback and summing-up

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Encyclopaedia of the Bible and Its Reception

Jim West pointed out this project a few weeks ago. I first heard about it from David Thomas of the University of Birmingham, our external in Bristol for Islamic Studies. It sounds very ambitious, has some very good names attached to it, and I am really looking forward to seeing the volumes as they arrive.

Edited by
Hans-Josef Klauck, Bernard McGinn, Paul Mendes-Flohr, Choon-Leong Seow, Hermann Spieckermann, Eric Ziolkowski

in cooperation with
Dale Allison, Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, Donna Bowman, Brian Britt, Michael Cameron, Ran HaCohen, Ann E. Killebrew, David W. Kling, Volker Leppin, Eric Meyers, Martti Nissinen, Dennis Olson, Nils Holger Petersen, James Robinson, Christine Roy Yoder, Thomas Römer, Günter Stemberger, Marvin A. Sweeney, Johan C. Thom, David Thomas, Jan G. van der Watt, Samuel Vollenweider


Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception (EBR) pursues the twofold task of comprehensively rendering the current state of knowledge on the origins and development of the Bible according to its different canonic forms in Judaism and Christianity, and documenting the history of the Bible’s reception not only in the Christian churches and the Jewish Diaspora but also in literature, art, music, and film, as well as Islam and other religious traditions and current religious movements. With this broad program of reception history, EBR moves into new terrain, seeking to do justice to the fact that the biblical texts have not only their own particular genetic background and setting but also been received and interpreted, and exerted their influence, in countless religious, theological, and aesthetic settings. What follows is a brief account of both the historical background and the future plans of this project.

Bible studies, having emerged mainly under the auspices of European Protestantism during the ages of Humanism, Reformation, and Enlightenment, underwent a global upsurge in the twentieth century. Anglo-American research, which closely followed European initiatives up through the mid-twentieth century, has gained ever more autonomy since the 1970s. New exegetical approaches were developed, often with a more contextual focus, especially in the areas of social and literary history. This growth and the increasing diversification of interpretive methods were not confined to North America. Parallel trends occurred in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Moreover, at the same time that this process was de-Europeanizing and globalizing biblical studies, the field was further enriched by the religions and denominations whose members now entered it. While Protestant exegetical research has continued to prosper, invaluable contributions have been made by Jewish biblical studies, the center of which shifted from Germany to North America in the wake of the Shoah, and by biblical studies in the Catholic Church, where exegetical disciplines evolved rapidly in the wake of the Second Vatican Council.

The foundation of the modern state of Israel led to great advances in biblical archeology, as the numerous excavations and surveys, and the increased technological precision of methods, made possible countless new insights. The same is true throughout the rest of the Mediterranean and the Near East. “Material culture,” iconography, epigraphy, and the discovery of new archives and libraries changed our understanding of the Ancient Near East and classical antiquity as essentially as it transformed our view of the background and formation of the Bible.

The rapid expansion of knowledge in biblical studies is exhilarating but creates complex difficulties, especially those associated with the splitting of the field into ever-multiplying areas of specialization. No biblical scholar today, regardless of the part or aspect of the Bible he or she may specialize in, can master the pertinent current research without confining his or her knowledge to a single biblical writing, a very limited area, or a particular approach. The view of the “whole” is ever remoter. Furthermore, the proliferation of languages in scholarly literature has heightened the challenge of communication. In the twentieth century, the leading means of communication, hitherto German, English, and French, were augmented by numerous other languages, including Hebrew, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, the Scandinavian languages, Russian, Japanese, and Korean. The advancement of English as the foremost language of communication since the 1970s, while largely beneficial, has had the unfortunate side effect that scholarly literature written in other languages can expect to be considered by a significant number of scholars only if translated into English or made accessible through reference works published in English.

The state of biblical studies sketched above demonstrates the need for an English-language encyclopedia with a broad, international scope. There currently exists no encyclopedia that summarizes and synthesizes the vast current knowledge of biblical studies and allied disciplines while creating links, identifying problematic areas and lacunae in scholarship, and stimulating new research. Nor has any encyclopedic effort been made to take stock of the major shift that occurred in most disciplines of the humanities during the last two decades of the twentieth century and the initial years of the twenty-first to an orientation informed by what has come to be called “cultural studies.”

Biblical studies have participated in this interdisciplinary exchange and have been further enriched by a burgeoning interest in reception history, a scholarly enterprise whose literary-historical roots extend back to late nineteenth-century Stoffgeschichte (the study of themes) and its expansion into twentieth-century Wirkungsgeschichte (the study of effects), and whose development was abetted by the popularity of reader-response theory in literary studies during the closing decades of the twentieth century. Today, aside from the classic historical questions about the conditions and circumstances of the Bible’s origins, inquiries into the reception and culture-forming influence of the Bible draw considerable attention. As a now well-established branch of Bible studies, Auslegungsgeschichte (exegesis history) continues to influence modern debates upon the theological sense and purpose of church history. Moreover a growing number of research projects have examined the interpretation of biblical themes, motifs, and characters in music, art, literature, and film, as well as in Islam and various non-monotheistic religious traditions and new religious movements. A result has been the illumination of how biblical traditions transcended the realms of church and synagogue and entered the cultural consciousness of both Western and non-Western societies.

EBR’s two major foci—the Bible and its reception—are reflected in the five main domains under EBR’s purview, each of which is overseen by its own “main editor” and comprises five or six specific areas managed in turn by their own “area editors.” One domain each is dedicated to the formation of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New Testament, including the contextual history of surrounding events, society, religion, culture, and economy. Two more domains cover the influence of the Bible in the Judaic and Christian traditions respectively, while the fifth domain encompasses biblical reception and influence in literature, art, music, and film, as well as in Islam and in other religions that do not ascribe exclusive authority to the Bible but in some way draw upon its traditions. While not omitting anything that may shed light upon biblical traditions, EBR aspires to completeness only in its coverage of the scriptures themselves and their formation. Inasmuch as a complete accounting of the global history of their reception and influence over two millennia is impossible, EBR documents that history in ways that pragmatically account for the major themes and issues and provides the necessary guidance for further research.

EBR is edited by an international team of scholars representing a wide variety of religious, denominational, and disciplinary perspectives, none privileged above the others. The work is produced in English to facilitate global compilation and reception, and scholars from around the world are being invited to contribute.

Designed to be primarily a user-friendly resource for scholars in biblical studies and related fields but also accessible to general readers interested in the Bible, EBR will consist of thirty volumes, of approximately 600 pages each, appearing over a projected ten-year period (2008–2017) and accompanied by a parallel online version.

The Editors
July 2007

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Serious Man, Rhetorical Man, Straw Man: Just How Much of a Threat is Stanley Fish to Christian Theology?

Serious Man, Rhetorical Man, Straw Man: Just How Much of a Threat is Stanley Fish to Christian Theology?

William John Lyons

Dept of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Bristol,
3 Woodland Road, Bristol, BS8 1TB


In his presidential address to the Society for the Study of Theology’s annual meeting in Edinburgh in 1999, Anthony C. Thiselton read a paper subtitled, “Towards a Theology for the Year 2000 as a Grammar of Grace, Truth and Eschatology in Contexts of So-called Post-modernity”.[1] Fully half of this ‘constructive’ proposal was concerned, however, with his negative response to what he termed the “disastrous” American pragmatic tradition, especially the work of Richard Rorty and Stanley Fish.[2] His audience was informed of the use of these theorists by certain American theologians, but guided by his representation of the pragmatists, they were encouraged to regard this as an inexplicable error and left to wonder how the likes of Stanley Hauerwas could be so fooled.[3] And in the ensuing discussion, nothing happened to alter that situation.

Unlike many, if not most, people at Edinburgh, however, I have read Fish for myself—even some Rorty—and a number of theological appropriations of his work. And in Edinburgh I was reminded once again of the disparity between the theological implications which Thiselton draws from his portrayal of the pragmatists and those formed by my own understanding of Fish. This paper is an attempt, therefore, to draw out those differences by first describing the Fish seen by scholars such as Thiselton,[4] Paul R. Noble,[5] and Kevin J. Vanhoozer[6] and then suggesting an alternative view of Fish which may explain his attractiveness to some of our American colleagues. Rorty, I will leave to one side for now.

Paul Noble’s published thesis and his detailed response to Fish in a two-part article in the journal Religious Studies primarily represent the first view of Fish here. Noble characterises Fish as the apostle of free-play, as a “relativist” who argues that texts are “infinitely-open” in that they can be made to mean absolutely anything a reader might want them to mean. Not surprisingly, Noble rejects this portrait of Fish. The second view of “Fish” has been suggested by myself and others,[7] and is a rather more deterministic figure who would still argue that texts are ‘infinitely-open’, but also that possible interpretations are limited to those which flow directly from the context of the reader. In other words, texts are ‘infinitely-open’ only because reader contexts are ‘infinitely-open.’

Before continuing, I should respond here to a common understanding of Fish’s work; namely, that it implies that any meaning can be imposed upon his texts and that he cannot complain about how he is understood—my Fish is, therefore, no more ‘accurate’ than any other version. Such a criticism is actually based upon Noble’s version of Fish, but for the sake of argument, let me play the game here. The point is not whether or not I have presented the real Fish, but whether my version is more theologically relevant than the Fish rejected by Noble. The real problem here is that Noble, Thiselton, and Vanhoozer think that they have now dealt with Fish—the only Fish—and so cannot appreciate that theologians such as Hauerwas are dealing with very different marine life. Those who subsequently hear the debate are then unable to make any sense out of what is going on.

In what follows I want to take some current buzz-words in hermeneutical debate—say ‘relativism’, ‘infinitely-open’, and ‘indeterminacy’—and ask how they are to be defined in the light of each portrait of Fish. I shall begin by presenting Noble’s version before pointing out its flaws and following him in rejecting it. I shall then present my own version—though its acceptance here should certainly not be taken as a claim of perfection. Thirdly, I shall suggest that the hermeneutical approach of my version of Fish is virtually identical to the general hermeneutical stance taken by Noble, Thiselton, and Vanhoozer, albeit with one important difference: the loss of a text able to adjudicate between competing interpretations. Finally, I shall ask, very briefly, just how much of a threat is my version of ‘Stanley Fish’ to Christian theology.

Fish According to Paul Noble

For Noble, the defining characteristic of “Stanley Fish” is the assertion that an interpretive community may twist its text into any shape; this Fish can be fairly described, therefore, as an apostle of freeplay. This portrait is primarily based upon his reading of Fish’s infamous example of a ‘list’ of names on a blackboard that his students are asked to read as a ‘poem’.[8] For Noble,
"Fish’s hermeneutic entails that there is no question that a sufficiently ingenious interpretive community could not get a set text to answer, because as Fish himself explains, ‘while there are always mechanisms for ruling out readings, their source is not the text, but the presently recognised interpretive strategies for producing the text. It follows then that no reading, however outlandish it might appear, is inherently an impossible one."[9]

Fish’s distinction between “serious man” (the foundationalist) and “rhetorical man” (the non-foundationalist) Noble clearly understands as meaning that the latter can choose which face to wear, which text to hear. Being ‘infinitely-open’ here then means that a text is open to absolutely any interpretation, a ‘relativism’ exists in which anything and everything goes!

Noble illustrates his argument against this Fish by offering examples that purport to show that texts cannot be made to mean just anything. In a typical example he states that while a “pipe” may have be seen as a “telescope” by Galileo, no-one chooses sees the pipe as “a steamroller or as a killer whale” as this Fish implies they could.[10] Noble also enters into Fish’s debate with Wolfgang Iser about the ‘ironic’ nature of the chapter title, Arcadian Simplicity, in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.[11] He takes issue with Fish’s rejection of Iser’s claim that, regardless of its exact nature, one must surely accept its “giveness” as a title.[12] For Noble, there is no possible alternative reading and so the chapter title itself is a ‘reader-independent fact’. With this and other such objective ‘anchors’, Noble offers us a relatively secure text and guards us against the consequences of Fish’s radical anti-realist epistemology.

In responding to this portrait, there are two factors to consider. The first is that Noble’s Fish appears to be identical to the usual caricature of the mad deconstructionist, forever overturning the significance of his tax bill, his pipe, his text, his killer whale, his whatever. But since this is not a person who actually exists, this Fish is clearly not giving us an account of the mundane empirical reality we perceive. After all, we know that we don’t see a “pipe”—or a tax bill—as a “killer whale” and consider it highly unlikely that any one else would either.

The second point is that Noble’s Fish is internally inconsistent, a fact which I, at least, don’t like, preferring my theorists neat and tidy. Although the poem experiment is often read as asserting that readers can make texts mean whatever they want, the chapter in which it occurs contains both the argument that there is no such free standing reader and the statement that “a text cannot be overwhelmed by an irresponsible reader.”[13] Can Noble’s Fish make coherent sense of this? I think not. Should we accept such an ingenious, incoherent Fish as right (whatever that would now mean)? No, Noble is right to reject him and so should we.

Fish According to William John Lyons

In this portrayal of Stanley Fish, I would like to go back and begin at the beginning. Fish’s early work involved a close reading technique, ‘Affective Stylistics’, which slowed down the reading process so that one could see how the reader was responding to the text.[14] At this stage, his approach could be categorised as semi-formalist, the text existing independently of and constraining the reader. Fish later came to see such an approach as fundamentally incorrect, arguing that in his earlier work he had done

"what critics always do: I ‘saw’ what my interpretive principles permitted or directed me to see and then I turned around and attributed what I had seen to a text and an intention. What my principles direct me to see are readers performing acts; the points at which I find (or to be more precise, declare) those acts to have been performed become (by a sleight of hand) demarcations in the text; those demarcations are then available for the designation ‘formal features’ and as formal features they can be (illegitimately) assigned the responsibility for producing the interpretation which in fact produced them.[15]"

Fish’s change of mind can be summed up as an acceptance of the view that every human sense perception is ‘interpreted’; as he puts it, “interpretation is the only game in town.”[16] To accept this so-called ‘anti-realist’ position is not to conclude that there is no raw data out there as some might have us believe, but it is to argue that there is no way for humans to encounter it directly or to use ‘it’ to adjudicate between interpretations.[17]

From this position, Fish set out to explain the following conundrum.

"What is the source of interpretive authority: the text or the reader? Those who answered ‘the text’ were embarrassed by the fact of disagreement. Why, if the text contains its own meaning and constrains its own interpretation, do so many interpreters disagree about that meaning? Those who answered ‘the reader’ were embarrassed by the fact of agreement. Why, if the meaning is created by the individual reader from the perspective of his own experience and interpretive desires, is there so much that interpreters agree about? What was required was an explanation that could account for both agreement and disagreement.[18]"

Note here the empirical nature of the enquiry. This Fish is not trying to prescribe an absurd rule for playfulness or ingenuity, but rather to describe and explain a real situation that he regards as obvious within literary studies.

For Fish the explanation was found in the concept of an interpretive community,

"not so much a group of individuals who [share] a point of view, but a point of view or way of organising experience that share[s] individuals in the sense that its assumed distinctions, categories of understanding, and stipulations of relevance and irrelevance [a]re the content of the consciousness of community members who [a]re therefore no longer individuals, but, insofar as they [a]re embedded in the community’s enterprise, community property.[19]"

According to Fish, each person is a member of many different interpretive communities, some of which are unchanging (e.g., race) and some of which can change rapidly (e.g., religious conviction).[20] It should be noted, however, that his definition of an ‘interpretive community’ is somewhat ambiguous. Despite his statement above that it is “not so much a group of individuals who shared a point of view, but a point of view or way of organising experience that shared individuals”, it is clear that he does use the term to indicate both. For example, Fish writes elsewhere that “as a fully situated member of an interpretive community, be it literary or legal, [one naturally looks at the] objects of the community’s concerns with eyes already informed by community imperatives, urgencies, and goals.”[21]

This emphasis on the way in which readers are “grasped” by the interpretive strategy of their community/ies demonstrates that this ‘Fish’ does not see his “rhetorical man” as radically free and able to make the text say anything he wants. Here, the absolute “relativism” of Noble’s Fish can only be entertained on the theoretical level because real readers are always predisposed towards specific readings.[22] But it would be a mistake to see this, with Elisabeth Freund, as an imprisonment within a potentially oppressive interpretive community.[23] The constraints operative limit but they also actualise; without them, the interpreter can do nothing at all.[24] And although a set of constraints must always be in place, its exact contents are not set in stone; constraints may change over time.[25] Nevertheless, at any given point in time, they are responsible for limiting interpretation.

For Fish, words occur only in context and are understood immediately as heard in that context; there is no gap between hearing and interpreting.[26] Moreover, they generally have an obvious and purposeful meaning, an “intention”. Fish writes that

"[w]ords are intelligible only within the assumption of some context of intentional production, some already-in-place predecision as to what kind of person, with what kind of purposes, in relation to what specific goals in a particular situation, is speaking or writing.[27]"

But the meaning understood, the intention constructed, is always context dependent and slight changes in context will subtly change the way in which both are understood. But this does not necessarily mean that sense can be made of a communication in any context. If a ‘text’ proves incoherent, its readers will probably attempt to reduce the dissonance created by selecting interpretive assumptions which allow them to make sense of what they have encountered—for example, “Oh, its a first century text.”

There is no way, however, to encounter a neutral text. Indeed, because the ‘text’ is always being viewed through community spectacles, it no longer exists as a separate, free entity to which an appeal can be made in order to demonstrate the correctness of one’s interpretations. As Fish puts it in his book Is There a Text in this Class?

"[t]he answer this book gives to its title question is ‘there is and there isn’t’. There isn’t a text in this or any other class if one means by text what E.D. Hirsch and others mean by it, ‘an entity which always remains the same from one moment to the next’;[28] but there is a text in this and every class if one means by text the structure of meanings that is obvious and inescapable from the perspective of whatever interpretive assumptions happen to be in force.…[29] What I am suggesting is that an interpreting entity, endowed with purposes and concerns, is, by virtue of its very operation, determining what counts as the facts to be observed.[30]"

The Hirschian text disappears, and it is the Fishian text that now appears in its place and forms the ‘object’ of criticism.[31] Of fundamental importance here, however, is the fact that the fishian text that is now being encountered is, in Fish’s own words, “obvious and inescapable from the perspective of whatever interpretive assumptions happen to be in force”; it is solid to the touch.[32]

The existence of community-specific texts does not mean, however, that a community cannot encounter different readings or persuade another group to adopt its view. But since interpretations cannot be proved by an appeal to the text, other readers must be persuaded to discard their own assumptions and accept the assumptions which will lead them to see the same text.[33] As an example of how communication can take place across community boundaries, Fish utilises the question of one of his students to a colleague, “Is there a text in this class?”[34] The colleague’s immediate reaction was to say yes and name the text, The Norton Anthology of Literature.[35] However, the student did not mean this but was rather asking does a text exist as an objective entity?

In his discussion of this example, Fish argues that in order to hear the comment as it was intended to be heard the hearer must either already be in a position to hear or must move into a position from which the comment can be understood.[36] Here this can happen because Fish’s colleague is aware of a number of ‘rubrics’ within which the sense of the comment can be examined, and eventually he arrives at, “Ah, there’s one of Fish’s victims”,[37] a victim who can ask if the text exists objectively by using the phrase, ‘Is there a text in this class?’ If these rubrics had not been available, however, Fish writes that there would have been a need for the speaker to

"make a new start, although she would not have to start from scratch (indeed starting from scratch is never a possibility); but she would have to back up to some point at which there was a shared agreement as to what was reasonable to say so that a new and wider basis for agreement could be fashioned.[38]"

Agreement between communities will take place when they share reading strategies that enable them to see as evidence features that appear only as a result of those strategies. But because strong definitions of community boundaries are as beyond us as the Hirschian text, Fish concludes that we can recognise fellow community members only with a knowing “nod of recognition.”[39]

In this version of Fish, therefore, it is never the case that anything goes, but rather that only what goes, goes. ‘Indeterminacy’ is now to be defined as a ‘limited indeterminacy’; readings are infinite in number but limited in scope. Nothing in such a hermeneutic even begins to suggest that Noble’s “pipe” will necessarily be seen as a killer whale, but neither can this or any other interpretation be ruled out on the basis of the “text” in itself because such a thing cannot be invoked to resolve disputes. Two points are noteworthy here. First, we might say that a particular reading could not exist because no such interpretive community could ever exist. But apart from checking every interpretive community that has ever existed or ever will exist—obviously impossible—how can we know this definitively? But, second, and more importantly, the number of readings possible, though still infinite in number, is limited and so the situation we are looking at is more one of interpretive disputes over comparatively minor topics; for example, is a “pipe” a “telescope” and not, is it a “killer whale”. But minor only in one sense; relatively small changes may still have large effects. After all, seeing a grey tube as a telescope rather than as a pipe is likely to be of considerable significance when we come to describe the scene in which it occurs.

The loss of the text as adjudicator

The hermeneutical situation described—of a limited but infinite number of competing readings—differs in only one major respect from that proposed by Thiselton, Noble, and Vanhoozer; the loss of a text sufficiently ‘available’ to adjudicate between interpretations.[40] Thiselton has attempted to use Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concept of cross-cultural overlaps creating stable but fuzzy-edged concepts in order to reinstate the text proclaimed lost by Fish. According to Thiselton,

"[w]hen he looked at language, Wittgenstein observed that some language games could be thought of in entirely context-relative terms, but for the most part ‘we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing’. In other words, although social practices of given communities do indeed provide a background which contextually shapes concepts and meanings, overlapping and interpenetration also offer certain criss-crossings which constitute trans-contextual bridges. Sufficient bridging can occur for Wittgenstein to suggest that in many cases a trans-contextual frame of reference for meanings can be found in ‘the common behaviour of mankind’. It is not the case, as Fish suggests it is, that we must choose between the sharply-bounded crystalline purity of formalist concepts and the unstable concepts of contextual pragmatism. Concepts may function with a measure of operational stability, but with ‘blurred edges’. Difference of social context and practice may push or pull them into relatively different shapes but do not necessarily change their stable identity. For Wittgenstein... ‘concepts with blurred edges’ are situated on middle ground along the road from formalism to pragmatism.[41]
Presumably, a semi-formalist text results, with gaps filled in a variety of ways by different readers."

This situation mirrors the debate between Fish and Iser mentioned earlier. Fish’s response in that debate is therefore directly pertinent to Thiselton; how are we to say which concepts are of this type? Unless we can access raw data and prove its existence directly, we cannot claim it as evidence for a necessary stability without circularity. And any attempt to demonstrate a stable concept within interpreted reality (e.g. Noble’s ‘Arcadian Simplicity’) is open to the objection that we can never check all possible interpretive communities, all readerly horizons.

Please do not misunderstand me here; I have no wish to deconstruct every concept ad infinitum or to try to prove that no concept is solid. I just see no way that the solidity of any concept can be conclusively demonstrated. And, therefore, no way that Noble’s claim that ‘Arcadian Simplicity’ is a reader-independent fact can be made good. It does seem to me, however, that the history of biblical exegesis can be accounted for quite happily by my description of Fish’s hermeneutics. All biblical texts have a number of variations that cling to them and defy all attempts to point to the text as adjudicator. Recognising this brings the history of biblical exegesis alive as a rich source for Christianity instead of seeing it as a mere repository of interpretations—virtually all of them wrong.

A Threat to Christian Theology?

What is the effect of this portrait of Fish on Christian theology? Does disaster result? Or is it a useful description of our situation? Although there is no space here for a detailed study of the impact of ‘my Fish’ I should like to counter three charges of disaster. First, is Fish a threat to the Bible? No, he simply describes and explains both the variety of interpretation we have had—and will have in the future—and why, as the history of exegesis demonstrates, the Bible has never been able to function as an adjudicator of what it means in and of itself. Second, is Fish’s anti-realism a threat to the realist existence of a deity beyond the projections of humanity? No, because the essence of non-foundationalism is its recognition that it can say nothing about what lies beyond human perception. Fish represents absolutely no threat to a theology of revelation such as that of Karl Barth. If we talk of a God reaching into Creation through whatever means, he cannot deny the possibility, except—perhaps—to claim that Occam’s razor renders it unnecessary. Finally, does Fish’s claim that we are unable to touch reality in itself mean that we cannot discern God in creation? No, because such a view would be unnecessarily dualistic. We are part of creation ourselves and therefore our interpretive lenses are no barriers to encountering the divine in the created order.

It is my conclusion then, that Fish is not the great nemesis of Christian Theology that Thiselton, Noble and Vanhoozer would have us believe but rather the opposite. Fish is the provider of an important theological explanation of the effect of humanity’s finitude upon both our biblical interpretation and our God-talk. In accepting Fish’s arguments as accurate, our greatest gains as Christian theologians may well be a more humble restraint in expressing our own views and, hopefully, a newfound desire to give heed to the voices of those we have traditionally despised.

[1]Now published as ‘Signs of the Times: Towards a Theology for the Year 2000 as a Grammar of Grace, Truth and Eschatology in Contexts of So-called Post-modernity’, in The Future as God’s Gift: Exploration in Christian Eschatology (Ed. D. Ferguson; Society for the Study of Theology: Explorations in Contemporary Theology Series; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2000), pp . Interestingly, much of the discussion of the pragmatists has been removed, presumably because of space considerations (at 54 pages, the Edinburgh paper was rather lengthy.)

[2]Rorty’s works include Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979); Consequences of Pragmatism: Essays, 1972-1980 (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1982); Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Objectivism, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Essays on Heidegger and Others: Philosophical Papers 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
The primary collections of Fish’s work are Is there a Text in this Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980); Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989); There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, and Its a Good Thing Too (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994); Professional Correctness: Literary Studies and Political Change (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995); The Trouble with Principle (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).

[3]See, for example, S. Hauerwas, and S. Long, ‘Interpreting the Bible as a Political Act’. Religion and Intellectual Life 9 (1989), pp 134-42; cf. also S. Hauerwas, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic (London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981); Unleashing the Scriptures: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America (Nashville: Abingdon Press , 1993).

[4]See also his comments on Fish in his New Horizons in Hermeneutics (London: HarperCollins, 1992), pp 537-42.

[5]The Canonical Approach: A Critical Reconstruction of the Hermeneutics of Brevard S. Childs (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995); ‘Hermeneutics and Post-modernism: Can We Have a Radical Reader-Response Theory? Part 1’, Religious Studies 30 (1994), pp 419-36; ‘Hermeneutics and Post-modernism: Can We Have a Radical Reader-Response Theory? Part 2’, Religious Studies 31 (1995), pp 1-22.

[6]Is There a Meaning in This Text? The Bible, The Reader, and The Morality of Literary Knowledge (Leicester: Apollos, 1998).

[7]W.J. Lyons, ‘The Words of Gamaliel (Acts 5:38-9) and the Irony of Indeterminacy’, JSNT 68 (1997) 23-49; S.D. Moore, ‘Negative Hermeneutics, Insubstantiated Texts: Stanley Fish and the Biblical Interpreter’, JAAR 64 (1986), pp 709-19; A.K.M Adam, ‘The Sign of Jonah: A Fish Eye View’, Semeia 51 (1990), pp 177-92; F.W. Burnett, ‘Postmodern Biblical Exegesis: The Eve of Historical Criticism’, Semeia 51 (1990), pp 51-80.

[8]Is There a Text in This Class?, pp 322-337.

[9]The Canonical Approach, p 239; quoting Is There a Text in This Class?, p 347.

[10]‘Hermeneutics and Post-modernism, 2’, p 7.

[11]Stanley Fish, ‘Why No One's Afraid of Wolfgang Iser,’ Diacritics 11 (1981), pp 2-13; reprinted in Doing What Comes Naturally, pp 74-86; Wolfgang Iser, ‘Talk Like Whales: A Reply to Stanley Fish’, Diacritics 11 (1981), pp 82-87. See also ‘Interview’ in Iser, Prospecting: From Reader Response to Literary Anthropology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), pp 42-69.

[12] ‘Hermeneutics and Post-modernism, 2’, pp 17-18.

[13] Is There a Text in This Class?, pp 331-7; see esp. p 336. The remainder of Fish’s essay on the ‘blackboard assignment’ is, it appears, seldom read. Nevertheless, it should perhaps be acknowledged that, given the large number of misunderstandings generated (e.g., D. Blakemore, Understanding Utterances: An Introduction to Pragmatics [Oxford: Blackwells, 1992], p 172; A. Pilkington, ‘Poetic Effects: A Relevance Perspective’ [UCL Working Papers in Linguistics, 1, 1989], p 121), the list/poem has often served to confuse rather than clarify the issues.

[14]Is There a Text in This Class?, pp 21-67.

[15]Ibid., pp 12-13.

[16]Is There a Text in This Class?, p 355. Both Gill (‘Moral Implications of Interpretive Communities’, p 53) and Thiselton (New Horizons in Hermeneutics, p 537) credit Fish with having pursued this basic insight to its fullest extent. Among the disciplines in which Fish has worked are law, critical theory, cultural studies, literary theory, and many more.

[17]Is There a Text in This Class?, p 165. Christopher Norris argues against Fish that reality eventually breaks into our constructions of the world (Review of Fish’s Doing What Comes Naturally, Comparative Literature 42 [1990], pp 144-82). But an obvious response from Fish would be that whatever it is that breaks in to our constructions of reality, is still itself only a part of that constructed reality; it can never be an extrinsic ‘reality’ apart from all construing.

[18]Doing What Comes Naturally, p 141).

[19]Ibid., p 141; cf. Professional Correctness, p 14).

[20]Doing What Comes Naturally, pp 30-32).

[21]Ibid., p 303.

[22]Is There a Text in This Class?, p 332.

[23]The Return of the Reader: Reader-Response Criticism (London: Methuen, 1987), pp 110-11. Vanhoozer also echoes this view, arguing that Fish, “by according a relative absolute authority to interpretive communities, has created an environment that is potentially User-unfriendly” (Is There a Meaning in This Text?, pp 170-71).

[24]Hence the title of Fish’s book There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech…and it’s a Good Thing, Too.

[25]In answer to criticism of Is There a Text in This Class?, Fish defined interpretive communities as “engines of change” (Doing what comes naturally, pp 150-52, 156).

[26] Is There a Text in This Class?, pp 307, 310, 313, 317-18.

[27]Doing What Comes Naturally, p 295; cf. pp 99-100.

[28]Validity in Interpretation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), p 46.

[29]Is There a Text in This Class?, p vii.

[30]Ibid., p 8.

[31]When Jonathan Culler faults Fish for the immediate re-appearance of the text in Fish’s interpretations after its supposed demise, he is clearly confusing these two types of texts (On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism [London: Routledge, 1983], pp 71-72). It is only the Fishian text that reappears and forms the ‘object’ of criticism.

[32]Although Vanhoozer acknowledges that Fish is not guilty of a “silly relativism”, he goes on to present a Fish who is unable to explain the ability of texts to challenge communities. He writes that “we have to conclude that there is no text in Fish’s class—no text, that is, strong enough to resist interpretation” (Is There a Meaning in This Text?, p 170). By failing to appreciate the solidity of the Fishian text, Vanhoozer effectively reverts to Noble’s version of a Fish whose interpretive communities can make of texts what they will.

[33]Is There a Text in This Class?, pp 356-71.

[34]Ibid., pp 303-21; but cf. also pp 329-39.

[35]Ibid., p 305.

[36]Ibid., pp 314-16.

[37]Ibid., pp 313-14.

[38]Ibid., p 315.

[39]Ibid., p 173.

[40]This inability to use the text to falsify readings appears to be at the core of Vanhoozer’s problem with Fish. He writes that “the distinction between text and interpretation is vital if we are to maintain hermeneutical rationality and thus the possibility of deeming a particular reading false” (Is There a Meaning in This Text?, p 297). Although this fear of ‘false readings’ drives much of Thiselton, Noble and Vanhoozer’s work, we would do well to ask ourselves if we share their fear. For the Fish that I have portrayed here clearly implies that we can always say that other readings are false, and the response that we cannot because any reading is possible is not one which we need entertain except on a purely theoretical level. We cannot help but reject some readings and our encounter with all readings becomes a process of negotiation in which we learn from some and not from others. It is the need to go beyond this, to use the text as a kind of club to still interpretation, which truly marks out Noble, Vanhoozer, and Thiselton from Fish. Why is this so important to them?

[41]New Horizons in Hermeneutics, p 541.

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Article on-line

Something I've been keen to ask bloggers about has been about their experiences of putting articles on-line. Well, here is a first for me. This article was published last year, but uinfortunately the text was slightly defective (I was never sent proofs). So here on-line is a correct PDF version with page numbers from the published version inserted into the text.

'A Man of Honour, A Man of Strength, A Man of Will? A Canonical Approach to Psalm 137', Didaskalia 16 (2005), 41-68.

Sorry its not NT, Mark. Maybe next time :)

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Friday, November 10, 2006

On Berlinerblau

Bloggers seem to have found Berlinerblau’s comments fun (see Hypotyposeis for a list of links). I confess I just found them interesting for the Reception link. I have commented elsewhere (see on 25th March) on the secular and Biblical Studies, and my response is still the same. Every time someone (this time James Crossley) says "what can be done", I immediately want to first ask ‘who will do whatever it is and from what powerbase?’, and then ask ‘why is there a need to do anything at all? (James, I could be complacent, I guess, but it is a deeply peaceful mental complacency that feels fully justified in its indolence :)

The SBL committee is a reactive (though not very reactive) entity which reflects its history and its membership (many of whom were/are philologists long before they were/are theologians, if indeed they ever become the latter). This is not to say it can’t change or shouldn‘t change. But what I find remarkable with Berlinerblau is his feeling that the SBL must become something other than what it is. There is a driving need there that I just don’t recognise. Is it because Berlinerblau is based in Washington and is just infuriated by Bush et al and their use of the Bible? If so, does he really think the SBL could stop this?

At this point, certain comments about the Bible as just another text and Biblical Studies as just another discipline tend to fall flat for me. Which other text is interpreted correctly by large number of people outside the academy? The nearest analogy I can think of is drama or music. Does any current director of a play have to kow-tow to an academic opinion about what Shakespeare was all about? Hell, no. They just need bums on seats. Scholars can be upset about some of the claims these people make (e.g., history proves this), but there is little or nothing they can do about uses that contravene their norms in other ways. Nor should there be. Professional opinions about the Bible are just the same as those about Shakespeare – interesting to some and not to others. What is wrong with that?

It is also worth remembering here that not all non-academic readings of the Bible need to be heavily policed. Berlinerblau thinks of Bush, Koresh et al. I’d rather think of base communities. Every time I read liberation theology I tend to think as an academic, ‘that’s a crap reading’, but that doesn’t make me right about the value of their hermeneutics or about those of my scholarly tradition. If anything I feel a deep guilt about the rabid eurocentrism of the latter. I prefer base communities to Bush, but others in SBL will vehemently disagree. Let them. Its all grist to the academic mill.

As an aside, I want to mention something that has bothered me about the SBL on and off for years. Every year 10,000 or so academic fly to some US city and create huge amounts of greenhouse gases. If I organised an ecology seminar at SBL,… well, I just be embarrassed and wouldn’t dare do so. How would SBL give a prophetic voice to ecological issues in Berlinerblau’s model? Just wondered.

Sean, this isn't meant to give you a guilt trip, but I will be reporting you to the Baptists on Ethics and Air Travel [BEAT] Committee for your incredibly wasteful trip to the US :)

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Goodacre on Berlinerblau and Reception History

Mark Goodacre picks up on Berlinerblau’s implicit comments on Reception History and offers his own comments.

I think this misreads the strengths and the attraction of Wirkungsgeschichte. One of the things that is so enjoyable and intellectually stimulating about reception history is that it is a collaborative enterprise. You do not have to be an expert on 16th century French renderings of Jezebel to be an expert on 20th century Ethiopian ones; indeed, you could organize a conference in which you get together a variety of scholars with different expertises to discuss Jezebel, and you could engage, each bringing something different to the table. Let me illustrate. I am not at all an expert on the reception history of the Passion Narrative, but I do know a bit about the Passion in twentieth and twenty-first century cinema. At a really stimulating conference in March 2005, I was lucky enough to talk about the Passion in film as one small part in a larger gathering at which there were experts on music, art and a variety of other things, all towards an appreciation of the Passion across history. I was not excluded from talking about the Passion in contemporary film because I didn't know about the Passion in eighteenth century European music. That the study of reception history is a growing concern at the conferences is quite clear, SBL included, and I repeat that one of its attractions is its collaborative, inter-disciplinary nature.”

Mark’s point is an excellent one as far as it goes. Those who specialise in many areas of Biblical Studies should definitely be encouraged to attend such conferences and give their input into some of these very interesting questions. But, of course, the problem is that these scholars will not likely organise such conferences. The Passion conference that Mark mentions was organised, I believe, by the Centre for the Reception of the Bible in Oxford (run by Chris Rowland and Chris Joynes). So someone probably still needs to sit between these people and draw them together, i.e. someone interested in Reception issues per se. The conference organised here in Bristol in September involved people rather more explicitly interested in these issues, but still some participants found the interdisciplinary aspect of the experience worthy of positive comment. The implication of Mark’s comments—and something I had not thought of before—is that a few people doing this could make a significant difference to the type of work being done if others are willing to view their efforts positively. Very encouraging thought.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Berlinerblau on the SBL and all its ills (and by implication, on Reception History)

In a thought-provoking discussion of the SBL and all its ills, entitled 'What's Wrong With the Society of Biblical Literature?', Jacques Berlinerblau makes some comments that resonate with some of my own claims about the dilettante nature of reception history.

“Another problem: Under the mistaken assumption that it is an academic society like any other, the SBL has encouraged scholarly specialization. In so doing, it has always favored philology and archaeology, all the while avoiding the more capacious domain of hermeneutics. The study of how Scripture has been interpreted across history, and in contemporary society, has traditionally held little interest for a society that places a premium on the examination of ancient languages and artifacts. But the study of hermeneutics really forces one to be a generalist. It is a diachronic enterprise through and through.

Let's say that you are interested in studying depictions of Queen Jezebel in music and art. You will need to know about descriptions of her in Hebrew, Greek, or Latin (if not all three). You will need to know what the learned rabbis and fathers of the church had to say. Then you will need to look at renderings of the queen in, say, 16th-century France and 20th-century Ethiopia. In other words, you will need to abandon any pretense of being a specialist (my italics).

The Bible is a civilizational document, one that runs the course of history. So any attempt to study its continued interpretation must be interdisciplinary, and the scholar in question will have to step outside of well-defined fields of inquiry. But because the SBL models itself after specialist academic associations, it cannot speak to the very complexity of its own subject matter.”

Having heard Berlinerblau on the Bible’s use in Washington, I would be very happy to regard him as an exemplary ‘dilettante’ biblical scholar. The most significant point here though is the comparative lack of people involved in such interdisciplinary work. Like Berlinerblau I have no objection to those who work on weird minor texts, some of my academic friends do just that, and I have even been guilty of it myself, but are these really the major areas of work that exists in our discipline? I somehow doubt it.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

SBL sessions on Reception 6 (American Politics)

John's Apocalypse and Cultural Contexts Ancient and Modern
Joint Session With: John's Apocalypse and Cultural Contexts Ancient and Modern, The Use, Influence, and Impact of the Bible
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: 144B - CC

Theme: Battle Hymns of the Republic: Clinton, Bush, Gore, Koresh, and Marilyn Manson

David Barr, Wright State University, Presiding

Harry O. Maier, Vancouver School of Theology, Bush’s Apocalypse: Themes from Revelation in Washington, DC (25 min).

David A. Bosworth, Barry University, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic": The Kingdom of God in American Politics (25 min).

Break (5 min)

Kenneth Newport, Liverpool Hope University, Clinton, Koresh, Culpability and Catastrophic Millennialism: The Book of Revelation, Negotiation and the Waco Siege (25 min).

Jacqueline Hidalgo, Claremont Graduate University, Averting the Apocalypse: The Horrors of Global Warming and the Rhetorical Power of the End (25 min).

Thomas Fabisiak, Emory University, Antichrist Superstar and Martyred Celebrity: Marilyn Manson's Appropriation and Transformation of Revelation's Beast and Lamb (25 min).

Discussion (20 min)

Role of Scripture in the 2006 Elections
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: 202A – CC

As Republicans continue their successful outreach to Christian communities and as Democrats try out new strategies to reach persuadable religious voters, this panel will examine the role of religion in general and the use of scripture specifically in the recently completed 2006 election cycle. By drawing on Washington based political experts, journalists, biblical scholars and other religion scholars, this panel will assess the relative quality and wisdom of the various political strategies to reach religiously motivated voters. The panel will also consider the implications of the 2006 results for the upcoming 2008 presidential race
Michael McCurry, Former White House Press Secretary and Member of the Board of Governors, Wesley Theological Seminary, Presiding
Shaun Casey, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, Wesley Theological Seminary, Panelist
Missy Daniel, Editor, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, Panelist
Terry Eastland, Publisher, The Weekly Standard, Panelist
Anna Greenberg, Vice President of Greenberg, Quinlan, a political polling and consulting firm, Panelist
John Podesta, President and CEO, Center for American Progress, Former White House Chief of Staff, Panelist

Rhetoric and the New Testament
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: 146A - CC

Theme: The Use of the New Testament in Contemporary Political Rhetoric

Thomas Olbricht, Pepperdine University, Presiding

C. Jan Swearingen, Texas A&M University, From Rome to Washington and Back Again (30 min).

Roland T. Boer, Monash University, Political Myth, or, the Antinomies of Christian Zionism (30 min).

Martin Medhurst, Baylor University, Political Proof Texts: Rhetorical Functions of the New Testament in American Presidential Discourse (30 min).

Khalil E. Jahshan, Pepperdine University, Seaver College, Onward Christian Soldiers: Religion as a Political Mobilizational Tool in Contemporary American Politics (30 min).

Discussion (30 min)

Remember Berlinerblau as well.

The Use, Influence, and Impact of the Bible
9:00 AM to 11:45 AM
Room: Bridge Room: Wilson - GH

Theme: The Bible's Impact in Private and Public Discourse

Paper 4: Jacques Berlinerblau, Georgetown University, Using the Bible in Contemporary American Political Rhetoric (30 min).

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SBL sessions on Reception 5 (Various)

Recovering Female Interpreters of the Bible
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: 302 - CC

Theme: A Panel Discussion of Marion Taylor and Heather Weir's new book Let Her Speak for Herself: Nineteenth-century Women Writing on Women in Genesis (Baylor University Press, 2006).

Nancy Calvert-Koyzis, King's University College, University of Western Ontario, Presiding

Marla Selvidge, Central Missouri State University, Panelist (20 min)
Timothy Larsen, Wheaton College, Panelist (20 min)
Judy Fentress-Williams, Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary in Virginia, Panelist (20 min)
Bernon Lee, Grace College, Panelist (20 min)
Marion Taylor, Wycliffe College, Respondent (20 min)
Heather Weir, University of Toronto, Respondent (20 min)
Discussion (30 min)

Book of Acts
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: 145B - CC

Theme: Acts in the Second Century and Beyond

Charles Talbert, Baylor University, Presiding

Richard I. Pervo, St. Paul, MN
Acts in the Suburbs of the Apologists (30 min).

Joseph B. Tyson, Southern Methodist University
Wrestling with and for Paul: Efforts to Obtain Pauline Support by Marcion and the Author of Acts (30 min).

Andrew Gregory, Oxford University, Irenaeus and the Reception of Acts in the Second Century (30 min).

François Bovon, Harvard University, Stages in the Reception History of Acts during the First Six Centuries C.E. (30 min).

Discussion (30 min).

The Texts of Wisdom in Israel, Early Judaism, and the Eastern Mediterranean World
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Meeting Room 12 - RW

Katharine Dell, University of Cambridge, Presiding

Eric S. Christianson, University of Chester, Ecclesiastes in Reception: Understanding the Pervasive Appeal of the Preacher (30 min).

T. A. Perry, University of Connecticut, Joyous Vanity: Qohelet's Spirituality (30 min).

Stuart Weeks, Durham University, Qoheleth and his Creator (30 min).

John Jarick, University of Oxford, Unraveling the Threefold Cord of Ecclesiastes (30 min).

Discussion (30 min)

Bible and Cultural Studies
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: 302 - CC

Theme: The Bible and its Cultural Effects

Kathleen Nash, Le Moyne College, Presiding

Jeremy Punt, University of Stellenbosch, Popularising a Prophet (Isaiah) in Parliament: The Bible in Post-Apartheid, South African Public Discourse (20 min).

Katrina Van Heest, Claremont Graduate University, Scriptures and Piracy: Textual Politics in Public Intellectual Property Discourse (20 min).

Jesper Svartvik, Lund University, Hugo Odeberg's Pharisaism and Dejudaized Christianity Anno 1943 (20 min).

Discussion (30 min)

Benjamin Abelow, Great Neck, NY, Symbolic Images of Endemic Childhood Trauma Embedded in New Testament Writings: Cultural Functions and Implications (20 min).

Jeremy W. Barrier, Texas Christian University, Stigmata as a Language of Torture in Galatians 6:17: Paul's Body within a Postcolonial Optic (20 min).

Discussion (20 min)

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SBL sessions on Reception 4

Romans through History and Cultures
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: 153 - CC

Theme: Reformation Readings of Romans: From Erasmus to Bullinger

Khiok-Khng Yeo, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Presiding

Laurel Carrington, Saint Olaf College, Erasmus’s Readings of Romans 3, 4, and 5 as Rhetoric and Theology (20 min).

Edwin Tait, Asbury Theological Seminary, Pedagogue of the Groaning Creation: The Law in Martin Bucer’s 1536 Romans Commentary (20 min).

Peter Opitz, University of Zurich, Bullinger’s Reading of Romans (20 min).

William Campbell, University of Wales, Respondent (20 min)
Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, Respondent (20 min)
Troy Martin, Saint Xavier University, Respondent (20 min)
Discussion (30 min)

Papers will be summarized not read in their entirety. They will be available on the web by the 1. October 2006 at

Romans through History and Cultures
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: 155 - CC
Theme: Reformation Readings of Romans: Luther, Calvin and their Influence

R. Ward Holder, Saint Anselm College, Presiding

Gary Neal Hansen, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, Door and Passageway: Calvin's use of Romans as Hermeneutical and (20 min)

Sujin Pak, Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, “Romans 5 and 13 as Lenses into the Similarities and Differences of Melanchthon, Calvin and Luther’s Romans Commentaries” (20 min).

Deanna Thompson, Hamline University, Letting the Word Run Free: Luther's Lectures on Romans and Popular Reception (20 min).

David Whitford, United Theological Seminary, Respondent (20 min)
Kathy Ehrensperger, University of Wales , Respondent (20 min)
Kurt Richardson, McMaster University, Respondent (20 min)
Discussion (30 min)

Papers will be summarized not read in their entirety. They will be available on the web by the 1. October 2006 at

Romans through History and Cultures (Joint Session with Paul and Politics)
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: 152B - CC

Theme: Panel discussion of Robert Jewett, Romans, Hermeneia. (Fortress, 2006)

Cynthia Kittredge, Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, Presiding
Sze-kar Wan, Andover Newton Theological School, Panelist (20 min)
Brigitte Kahl, Union Theological Seminary, Panelist (20 min)
James Dunn, Durham University, Panelist (20 min)
Daniel Patte, Vanderbilt University, Panelist (20 min)
Robert Jewett, University of Heidelberg, Panelist (20 min)
Discussion (20 min)
Discussion (30 min)

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SBL sessions on Reception 3

John's Apocalypse and Cultural Contexts Ancient and Modern
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: 154A - CC

Theme: John's Apocalypse and the Creation of Community

Edith Humphrey, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Presiding

Brian C. Jones, Wartburg College, Narrating the End of the World: The Social and Psychological Function of Apocalyptic Literature (25 min).

Peter S. Perry, Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago, The Rhetoric of Hymns: Revelation 5:8-14 (25 min).

Stephan Witetschek, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Who Crucified the Lord? And Where? Some Thoughts About Revelation 11:8 (25 min).

Heike Omerzu, University of Mainz, The Divine Child: The Reflection of Roman Imperial Cult in Revelation 12 (25 min).
David L. Barr, Wright State University Main Campus, Earth Opens Her Mouth: the Ruin and Renewal of Earth in John's Apocalypse (25 min).

Sigve Tonstad, Sykehuset Asker and Baerum, Blood "as high as a horse's bridle": The Devil is in the Details (25 min).

A further session-held jointly with the The Use, Influence, and Impact of the Bible people is listed in a later post because of its focus on politics.

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SBL sessions on Reception 2

The Use, Influence, and Impact of the Bible
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: 301 - CC

Theme: The Bible and Death

Eric Christianson, University of Chester, Presiding

Brennan Breed, Emory University, Job, Lazarus, and the Juxtaposition of Pain and Hope in the Office of the Dead (30 min).

John Walliss, Liverpool Hope University, Images of Death and Destruction in the Apocalyptic Art of Basil Wolverton (30 min).

David M. Gunn, Texas Christian University, Goliath’s Head: Rendering Death in the Bible for Youth (30 min).

Regina A. Boisclair, Alaska Pacific University, Isaiah and the Three Year Sunday Lectionaries: Post-Shoah Considerations of the Anamnesis of Public Worship (30 min).

Jannine Jobling, Liverpool Hope University, Death at the Feast: Esther, Politics and Purim (30 min).

The Use, Influence, and Impact of the Bible
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: 153 - CC

Theme: Panel discussion of J. Sawyer, D. M. Gunn, C. Rowland, J. Kovacs, eds., Blackwell Bible Commentary Series (2004-2005).

Kenneth Newport, Liverpool Hope University, Presiding (5 min)
David Jobling, St. Andrew's College-Saskatoon, Panelist (20 min)
Scott Langston, Texas Christian University, Respondent (10 min)
David Gunn, Texas Christian University, Respondent (10 min)
Eric Christianson, University of Chester, Respondent (10 min)
Discussion (20 min)
Tobias Nicklas, Catholic University of Nijmegen-Netherlands, Panelist (20 min)
Christopher Rowland, University of Oxford, Respondent (10 min)
Judith Kovacs, University of Virginia, Respondent (10 min)
Break (35 min)

The Use, Influence, and Impact of the Bible
9:00 AM to 11:45 AM
Room: Bridge Room: Wilson - GH

Theme: The Bible's Impact in Private and Public Discourse

Alison Jack, University of Edinburgh, Presiding
Peter T. Lanfer, University of California, Los Angeles, Use of the Hebrew Bible in Jewish Magical Texts (30 min).

Mark Elliott, University of St. Andrews, Scotland, Leviticus as the Groundwork for Christian Spirituality (30 min).

Mary Chilton Callaway, Fordham University, American Idol: The Material Bible as Bearer of Cultural Values (30 min).

Jacques Berlinerblau, Georgetown University, Using the Bible in Contemporary American Political Rhetoric (30 min).

L. Daniel Hawk, Ashland Theological Seminary, Land of the Pilgrim’s Pride: Joshua, Destiny, and Dispossession (30 min).

Business Meeting (15 min)

A fourth session-held jointly with the John's Apocalypse and Cultural Contexts Ancient and Modern people is listed in a later post because of its focus on politics. I would also highly recommend Berlinerblau, see above, for anyone interested in Bible and Politics. A real showman ( I wonder if he has missed his real calling), but with very interesting things to say about American politics and its use of the Bible.

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SBL sessions on Reception 1

Over the next few posts I want to note the sessions at SBL which have a particular focus on reception issues. Some of these are sessions whose primary focus is on reception of the Bible, but a number are individual sessions that look particularly interesting too.

History of Interpretation11/18/20069:00 AM to 11:30 AMRoom: 302 - CC

Theme: Biblical Interpretation since the Reformation
Carol Bakhos, University of California-Los Angeles, Presiding

James Brashler, Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education, Teaching and Preaching Isaiah 6: A Comparison of Aquinas, Oecolampadius, and Calvin (30 min).

David Tabb Stewart, Southwestern University, The Politick Text: 17th Century Text-Reception of Leviticus in English (30 min).

Nicholas Perrin, Wheaton College, From Holtzmann to Harnack: The Nineteenth-Century ‘Quest for Origins’ and the Quest of the Historical Jesus (30 min).

Peter Feinman, Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education, William Foxwell Albright: Creating Order Out of Chaos (30 min).

Business Meeting (30 min)

History of Interpretation11/20/20064:00 PM to 6:30 PMRoom: 144B - CC

Theme: Early and Medieval Biblical Interpretation

Mark Granquist, Gustavus Adolphus College, Presiding

C. Kavin Rowe, Duke University Divinity School, “God made him both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36): The History of Exegesis and the Context of Interpretation (30 min).

Rev. Colin H. Yuckman, Princeton Theological Seminary ('05)', Spoiling the Egyptians': Exodus 3:22 at the Crossroads of Christendom and Empire (30 min).

David A. Lambert, Yale University, Reading Repentance into the Bible: Some Medieval Strategies (30 min).

Aaron Canty, Notre Dame Seminary, Graduate School of Theology, John of La Rochelle and "divisio textus" (30 min).

Joshua Garroway, Yale UniversityWWJD: The Exegetical Implications of John Chrysostom’s Synagogue Problem (30 min).

This last paper looks especially interesting in the light of my current work, but, hey, there you go.

Abstract of WWJD: The Exegetical Implications of John Chrysostom’s Synagogue Problem

Did 4th century Antiochene Christians wear “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets? Doubtful. But there is good reason to believe that the sentiment, if not the fashion, had indeed caught hold in the community. Chrysostom’s increasingly well-known Homiliae Adversus Iudaeos reveal unmistakably that one of the chief reasons given by Christians for attending the synagogue and participating in other Jewish rituals was the desire to imitate Christ’s behaviors in the flesh. Christ had been circumcised, frequented synagogues, and observed the festivals, and some Antiochene Christians felt compelled in some measure to follow suit. This study first examines Chrysostom’s strategy for combating this mimetic urge – why, on his reckoning, Christians should not do what Jesus had done. The second and more substantive section examines the exegetical implications of this social crisis for Chrysostom’s approach to the Jewishness of Jesus in the gospel narratives. Particularly in his commentary on the Fourth Gospel, one sees how Chrysostom acknowledges but subtly undercuts Jesus’ Jewish identity and his observance of Jewish rites.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

SBL survival

Sean Winter asks bloggers for their tips on surviving SBL.

“In fact, because it will be my first SBL, I am looking for all the advice I can get about how to make the best of what looks like a pretty intensive few days. So, all you bibliobloggers out there, what are your top 3 tips for surviving SBL?”

I would have thought regular visitors like Mark Goodacre would have one perspective here and other more, let say, irregular attenders like myself would have another. It is not clear, Sean, whether you think this is a once only trip, the first of a handful of visits, or the beginning of a regular thing. I have now attended three SBLs with quite different experiences at each. I am not a fan, largely because the paper sessions are often not very informative because of the cramped format. But let’s see if I have learnt anything.

My top tip for you, Sean, would be to plan to get as much out of your session as you can. You will no doubt be sat at the front for two and a half hours with the rest of the session presenters. People will come and go - don’t be put off by this, its quite normal. The other papers may be related, they may not. The quality will almost certainly be varied, as will the time for questions (people over-run regularly). Don’t expect to be able to chat to people in the audience afterwards. You might be able to, but generally people rush off. In twenty minutes, you can really only make one point well. Don’t try to get more points in, and don’t rehearse the problem for most of your paper. Get stuck into what you are adding to the debate and be very clear about it. Note anyone in the audience you really want to talk to about your stuff and approach them. The name badges might help if you don’t know what certain people look like. Remember anyone interested and look out for them at social functions later (see below). Finally, don’t expect too much. You might get the top people in the field and have a brilliant session. I hope so. But you might not get anyone either. Chalk that up to experience, I’m afraid.

My second tip, Sean, is that you need to choose sessions to attend carefully and sparingly. SBL is far too big to run around for four days, trying to see everything – you’ll feel wasted and probably cheated. Pick sessions that look interesting overall, look for individuals you always wanted to see and hear, and don’t expect plenary sessions to be talking shops – they are usually just short papers in another form. As I have already said quality is variable – if you meet one person at the conference you can have future dealings with, you have done ok. Make time for the books – “easily” one of the best thing about SBL. New books at half American prices. Just have plenty of space in your luggage. Also get out into the city, even if only for a few hours. I am not saying Washington will restore your sense of reality, but seriously SBL is a crazy place.

My final tip is social. You might bump into people you know, but you might easily not do so. There is a list of where people are staying, but it is easier to arrange a meeting or two before you go, and take it from there. It eases the sense of being lost in the multitude. The bibliobloggers met up last year, I think, and may do so again, but they are all busy folk and may not. Numerous functions are arranged by various bodies and these parties can be good fun. The Sheffield University/Phoenix press bash on Monday evenings is a good laugh, with nice people and plenty of booze. But there are also more ‘spiritual’ meetings by various denominational groups, and you might find these interesting for papers or socialising.

I guess that what is behind all these tips is the idea that the better you prepare before you go, the better your experience will be when you get there. Some people love it – I remember Stephen Moore describing it as the best four days of his year – but others loathe it. Still others (very good scholars indeed) have never been and never will.

Last year was my best experience of the conference professionally because I had two really helpful people in the audience. Although neither asked a question during the session, I collared one durng the short break left by the end of the questions, having read his name badge from the front and realised who he was, and the other was Philip Alexander, and I talked to him later at the Sheffield evening do. But their input alone made it worth going. I am still not sold on the SBL as anything other than a social event (not being a high-flyer who is on the editorial boards that meet there), but I may well go again relatively soon (Boston maybe).

Enjoy it, Sean, it is certainly an experience.

I'll try to say something about reception related sessions in the next few days.

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