Archives of Reception of the Bible

Past blogging in more ways than one.

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 :)


At 1:42 pm, Anonymous sean said...

Errrrrr ... I have been employed as a NT teacher for 7 years and this is my first trip - does that help?

Plus, I am sharing a room

Plus, I refused a plastic bag at the supermarket today because I had one of those organic hemp thingies.

Plus I really need the plane trip to read the draft of a PhD for one of my research students - he will fail if I don't fly.

At 5:17 pm, Blogger John Lyons said...

Okay, let you off this time. Just don't do it ever again, ok :)

At 11:10 pm, Blogger James Crossley said...

Yes the problem of who and how is always an issue and, as you imply, one for the lieks of me than you. But there are possibilities out there and if someone taps into the undoubted interest among some non-believers then something is possible. My own guess is that what seems (I could be wrong) as massive increase of media interest in religion over the past 10 years or so has led to this strange emergence of a number of secular types crawling out of the woodwork. A kind of reaction. I wonder if there will be a more general movement of secular approaches in this generation of biblical scholars in contrast to what seems to me a a few isolated figures of the older generation. That would provide the powerbase. Anyway, I dunno.


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