Podcast: An Interview with Robert Myles and Michael Sandford

BSOThe latest Biblical Studies Online podcast is an interview with Robert Myles and Michael Sandford. It is available on iTunes. If you don’t have/want iTunes, it also available here. RM&MSThey have both recently published books on the Gospels an issues relating to class, poverty, homelessness, and scholarly assumptions. The interview is set in a pub and you may also want to pick out your favourite tunes as you go along. 80s songs include Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’ and The Smiths’ ‘How Soon Is Now?’

Also of interest are the publications of Myles and Sandford:

Robert Myles, The Homeless Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014)

If homelessness typically entails a loss of social power and agency, then why do New Testament scholars so often envisage Jesus’ itinerancy as a chosen lifestyle devoid of hardship?

In this provocative new reading of the Gospel of Matthew, Robert J. Myles explores the disjuncture between Jesus and homelessness by exposing the political biases of modern Western readers. Drawing on the ideological politics of homelessness in contemporary society, Myles develops an interpretative lens informed by the Marxist critique of neoliberalism and, in particular, by the critical theory of Slavoj Žižek. Homelessness, from this perspective, is viewed not as an individual choice but rather as the by-product of wider economic, political and social forces. Myles argues that Jesus’ homelessness has become largely romanticized in recent biblical scholarship. Is the flight to Egypt, for instance, important primarily for its recasting of Jesus as the new Moses, or should the basic narrative of forced displacement take centre stage? The remedy, Myles contends, is to read directly against the grain of contemporary scholarship by interpreting Jesus’ homelessness through his wider economic, political and social context, as it is encoded in the biblical text.

To demonstrate how ideology is complicit in shaping the interpretation of a homeless Jesus, a selection of texts from the Gospel of Matthew is re-read to amplify the destitution, desperation and constraints on agency that are integral to a critical understanding of homelessness. What emerges is a refreshed appreciation for the deviancy of Matthew’s Jesus, in which his status as a displaced and expendable outsider is identified as contributing to the conflict and violence of the narrative, leading ultimately to his execution on the cross.

 

Michael Sandford, Poverty, Wealth, and Empire: Jesus and Postcolonial Criticism (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014)

Poverty, Wealth, and Empire presents an antidote to the liberal Jesuses that are constantly being constructed by theologians and historians in universities and seminaries in the West. Sandford’s programme is to pay attention to those texts where Jesus appears hostile to his audiences, or even invokes the idea of divine judgment and violence against certain groups. Drawing on a variety of texts in the synoptic gospels, Sandford finds violent denouncements of the rich and those who neglect the needy to be a consistent theme in Jesus’ teaching.

Rather than deploying biblical texts to support an anti-imperial or liberationist agenda, Sandford foregrounds troubling and problematic texts. Among them are wisdom sayings that justify poverty, texts that denigrate particular ethnic groups, and the ideology inherent in Jesus’ teachings about the ‘the Kingdom of God’. On such a basis Sandford is able to call into question the effectiveness of mainline Christian scholarly interpretations of Jesus in dealing with the most profound ethical problems of our time: poverty, domination and violence.

Always alert to the assumptions and prejudices of much Western New Testament scholarship, Sandford draws attention to its intellectual contradictions, and, furthermore, to the way in which this scholarship has sometimes served to undergird and justify systems of oppression—in particular by its demonstrable dodging of the issue of material poverty and its causes. Building on recent debates in postcolonial biblical criticism, Sandford offers a decidedly ‘illiberal’ reading of Jesus’ sayings on divine judgment, focusing on the paradoxical idea of a ‘nonviolent’ Jesus who nevertheless pronounces divine violence upon the rich.

BCTR 2014: Programme

The programme is now available for BCTR 2014. Everyone is welcome but please let James Crossley or John Lyons know if you intend to come along.

Bible, Critical Theory, and Reception Seminar (16-17th September, 2014) Programme
The Star & Dove, 75-78 St Luke’s Road, Totterdown, Bristol, BS3 4RY

DAY ONE
10-10.40am Tiffany Webster, ‘Margaret Thatcher as God?! An Unexpected Reading of Genesis 11:1-9’

10.45-11.25am Mat Collins, ‘Abraham, Isaac, and Polar Bears: Reading Genesis 22 through the Lens of Lost’

Break

11.50-12.30pm Jonathan Downing, ‘“Take Me Away!”: Prince, the Bible, and the End of the World as Sexual Liberation’

12.30-1.45pm Lunch (S); Dinner (N)

1.50-2.30pm Hugh Pyper, ‘The Bible in Moominland: Tove Jansson and the Deceptive Biblical Author’

2.40-3.20pm James Crossley, ‘Rudolf Rocker, Jewish Anarchists, and the English “Radical Bible”’

Break

4-4.40pm Michael Sandford, ‘Reading the New Testament with a New Age Guru: Jesus and the “New Spirituality” of Eckhart Tolle’

4.50-5.30pm Sarah Hussell, ‘Good News for all? The Bible, Christianity and the Continuation of Domestic Abuse in 21st Century Britain’

DAY TWO
9.30-10.10am Jonathan Cahana, ‘Unnatural Theology: Gnosticism, Radical Feminism, and the Frankfurt School’

10.20-11.00am Jo Carruthers, ‘Paul’s “As not”: Entanglements with Agamben, Calvin, Milton and Theories of Affect’

Break

11.20-12noon Thomas E. Hunt, ‘A Christian Order of Books and the Silence of Zachariah in the Patristic Era’

12.05-12.45pm Fiona Black, ‘Block Books and Erotic Skins: The Song of Songs and the Embattled (Medieval) Reader’

12.45 onward Lunch (S); Dinner (N)

Podcast: Jesus, Paul and Empire

From Biblical Studies Online:

The third installment of the Biblical Studies Online podcasts is now available on iTunes. The theme is ‘Jesus, Paul and Empire':

James Crossley talks about a major recent trend in New Testament scholarship which casts Jesus, the Gospels and Paul as anti-imperial thinkers and suggests that while there may be some truth in this description, the imperialism in the New Testament should not be underestimated.

BSOThe iTunes Content Rating has been designated ‘clean’ so the podcast can be enjoyed by all the family.

Gender, bullying and TRS

This is again worth highlighting from the British Sociological Association Sociology of Religion Study Group: Mathew Guest, Sonya Sharma and Robert Song, ‘Full Report: Gender and Career Progression in Theology and Religious Studies’ (2013).

In talking to women scholars who are at varying stages of their careers about their experiences of academia we have encountered many who speak about being in an environment where they are in the minority among men, in a culture that often affects their confidence, where they observe the difficulties of balancing the demands of academic and family life, and where they have experienced bullying and particular challenges in obtaining promotion. Their experiences demonstrate both the rewards and costs of leaning in and pursuing a career in the academy, and further demonstrate the changes that need to happen if TRS departments are to achieve gender equality.

There came from the respondents plenty of evidence, some of it quite shocking, of bullying of individual women. In some cases this was bullying from Heads of Department or senior members of the university…

Even where there are excellent bullying or harassment policies in place, institutional cultures can emerge that perpetuate a set of behavioural norms that can easily be exposed as unacceptable once highlighted and subjected to critical observation. University-wide networks of women and a strong, confidential mentoring system can make voicing concerns about bullying much easier for female staff, and support groups for female students can serve the same function.

 

Announcement: Director of Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies

The news about Sheffield has been getting around. As many will already know, Biblical Studies at Sheffield is now to be represented by an undergraduate degree programme run by the Department of Philosophy, with Biblical Studies staff dispersed to new departments and schools (e.g. English, History, Philosophy). Accompanying these changes is the creation of a (forthcoming) research institute called the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS) which will cover, among other things, research grants, postgraduate/PhD students, seminars, conferences, and so on.

The Director of SIIBS has also been announced and it is: Katie Edwards. As many will know, Katie is an expert on the role of the Bible in popular culture and advertising, and has recently challenged some of the assumptions about what ‘biblical literacy’ means. She is also known for her major project, Hidden Perspectives. Katie is doing some of the most innovative scholarship around and offers something in British biblical studies which is distinctive and (thankfully) challenges some of the deeply rooted assumptions about the nature of the field.

New book: Harnessing Chaos: The Bible in English Political Discourse since 1968

Advance copies of James Crossley, Harnessing Chaos: The Bible in Political Discourse since 1968 (T&T Clark/Bloomsbury, 2014) have arrived and so should be available anytime now. The cover is decked out in Thatcher Blue.

'Christ dying on the Cross joins those folk who have exercised their right to choose – to buy their own council houses, to send their children to private schools, to occupy “paybeds” in NHS-funded hospitals’ (Jonathan Raban)

‘Christ dying on the Cross joins those folk who have exercised their right to choose – to buy their own council houses, to send their children to private schools, to occupy “paybeds” in NHS-funded hospitals’ (Jonathan Raban)

Here is a summary:
James Crossley investigates how the effect of the social upheavals of the 1960s and the economic shift from post-war Keynesian dominance to post-1970s neoliberal dominance brought about certain emphases and nuances in how the Bible is popularly understood, particularly in relation to dominant political ideas. This book reveals the decline of politically radical biblical interpretation in parliamentary politics and the victory of (a modified form of) Margaret Thatcher’s re-reading of the liberal Bible tradition, following the normalisation of (a modified form of) Thatcherism more generally.

Part I looks at the potential options for politicized readings of the Bible after the end of the 1960s, focussing on Christopher Hill and Enoch Powell, both of whom ultimately cast their their hopes different narratives of ‘decline’ Part II analyses the role of Thatcher’s specific contribution to political interpretation of the Bible and assumptions about ‘religion’. Part III highlights the importance of (often unintended) ideological changes towards forms of Thatcherite interpretation in popular culture, with particular reference to Monty Python’s Life of Brian and the Manchester music scene between 1976 and 1994. Part IV concerns the modification of Thatcher’s Bible, particularly with reference to the embrace of socially liberal values, by looking at the electoral decline of the Conservative Party through the work of Jeffrey Archer on Judas, the final victory of Thatcherism through Tony Blair’s exegesis, and the ongoing dominance of the Thatcherite-Blairite Bible in an Age of Coalition. Some consideration is given to ongoing uses of politically radical interpretations of the Bible outside Parliament. The conclusion is a reflection on why politicians in English politics bother using the Bible at all.

Here is the Table of Contents:

Introduction

Chapter 1: ‘CHAOS IS A LADDER’: A RECEPTION HISTORY OF THE BIBLE IN ENGLISH POLITICS
1. Why ‘English’?
2. Why ‘since 1968’?
3. Political Receptions of the Bible since 1968
a. The Cultural Bible
b. The Liberal Bible
c. The Neoliberal Bible
d. The Radical Bible
4. Tony Benn and the Decline of the Radical Bible
5. ‘The Good Man Jesus’
6. Concluding Remarks

Part I
EXPERIENCING DEFEAT

Chapter 2: CHRISTOPHER HILL’S WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN
1. The Problem of 1968
2. Christopher Hill
3. Christopher Hill’s Bible
4. Experiencing Defeat: 1640s-1660s, 1960s-1980s
5. A Radical, English Bible

Chapter 3: THIS WAS ENGLAND: THE SIMILITUDES OF ENOCH POWELL
1. Rivers of Blood
2. Rethinking the Post-Imperial Nation
3. Church of England
4. Like the Roman? The Lost Gospel of Enoch

Part II
THATCHERISM AND THE HARNESSING OF CHAOS

Chapter 4: ‘YOUR ARMS ARE JUST TOO SHORT TO BOX WITH GOD’: MARGARET THATCHER’S NEOLIBERAL BIBLE
1. Margaret Thatcher: Cultural Phenomenon and Nonconformist
2. Thatcherite Anthropology: Thatcherism versus Communism
3. From the Evil Empire to the Axis of Evil
4. Let My People Go! Margaret Thatcher’s Bible

Part III
CARRIERS OF CULTURAL CHANGE

Chapter 5: ‘WE’RE ALL INDVIDUALS’: WHEN LIFE OF BRIAN COLLIDED WITH THATCHERISM
1. Satire, Comedy and Freedom
2. The Radical Figure of Jesus/Brian
3. He’s Not the Messiah and He’s Not the Resurrection
4. Jesus and Brian, Revolution and Trade Unions
5. Thinking about Sex
6. The Multicultural Jewish Brian of History
7. A Brian for His Times

Chapter 6: SAVING MARGARET FROM THE GUILLOTINE: INDEPENDENT MUSIC IN MANCHESTER FROM THE RISE OF THATCHER TO THE RISE OF BLAIR
1. From Punk to Britpop: Manchester 1976-1994
2. ‘For EveryManc a Religion’
3. Biblical Language: Joy Division and The Fall
4. Biblical Language: Happy Mondays and Stone Roses
5. Taking the Rain out of Manchester? Cityscapes and Personalities between 1976 and 1994
6. Margaret’s Guillotine

Part IV
FROM THATCHER’S LEGACY TO BLAIR’S LEGACY

Chapter 7: YOUR OWN PERSONAL JUDAS: THE REHABILITATION OF JEFFREY ARCHER
1. Thou Shalt Not Get Caught
2. Abel, Not Cain
3. First among Equals
4. A Matter of Honour
5. False Impression: Who Betrayed Whom?
6. Speculative Archerisms
7. Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less

Chapter 8: 45 MINUTES FROM DOOM! TONY BLAIR AND THE RADICAL BIBLE REBRANDED
1. Spiritual and Religious: The Political Theology of Tony Blair
2. ‘This Money and Bloodshed’
3. Doing God? The Iraq War and the Apocalyptic Bible
4. As Is Written: Pure Democracy

Chapter 9: THE GOVE BIBLE VERSUS THE OCCUPY BIBLE
1. 1611 after 2008: the Bible in an Age of Coalition
2. Surviving Cynicism and the Noble Big Other
3. Surviving Postcolonialism
4. What Ever Happened to the Radical Bible?
5. Same-sex Marriage or Subversive Love? The Case of Peter Tatchell

Conclusion: WHY DO POLITICIANS BOTHER WITH THE BIBLE?

Bibliography

Nicky Morgan replaces Michael Gove but…the Bible remains

The breaking news this morning is that Michael Gove is leaving Education and will be replaced by Nicky Morgan. Those of you worried by less Bible in education (remember, Gove issued KJVs to English schools), stay calm. For Morgan, features in the Christians in Parliament videos/vimeos AND mentions the Bible:

“Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP discusses how she became a Christian, why she got involved in politics and the difference that her faith makes to her work in Parliament.”

It seems to be the standard, vague stuff: ‘the church in public life’, ‘biblical framework’ to make the world a better place, and mention of Bible groups in Parliament. The Bible and Christians are nice and present nothing too alien or problematic. There is perhaps a hint of Thatcher’s Bible/Cameron’s Bible in her stress on non-state contributions to ‘public life’.

Worth noting too is Morgan’s opposition to same-sex marriage. In Parliament, the Bible was used to support same-sex marriage (Lammy, Perkins, Bottomley). It may be significant that she privitizes/individualizes her reason when it comes to Christianity (which is not featured strongly in her explanation as reported by the Leicester Mercury): “[it is] also tied in with my own Christian faith too.” Here any problematic intolerance is vaguely tucked away into the privatized realm of “matters of conscience” (as the report makes clear). It might not, after all, be politic to start quoting Leviticus 18.22 or Romans 1.18-32, or indeed that God or Paul or the Bible says so. “My own Christian faith” serves the needs better against the backdrop of socially liberal values.