Category Archives: Bible

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

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’


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”’


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’

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’


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)


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.

Deadline: call for papers for Bible, Critical Theory and Reception seminar

The Bible, Critical Theory and Reception seminar
Bristol, 16-17th September, 2014

Reminder: the call for papers deadline for BCTR Bristol is 1st August. The general information is cut and pasted below but send in an abstract and title asap.

But this is also the year things start to get real because the location is the Star and Dove pub.

The Star and Dove nervously awaiting John Lyons’ assessment for BCTR, yesterday


The fourth annual seminar will be dedicated to some of the latest developments in biblical studies. Building on the success of the Bible and Critical Theory seminar and journal in the southern hemisphere, this approximate northern hemisphere equivalent will welcome papers in the general areas of critical theory, cultural studies and reception history.

Like many British pubs, The Star and Dove has a bar and a generous selection of beers

Reception history is broadly understood to include the use, influence and receptions of biblical texts in all aspects of culture (e.g. film, pop music, literature, politics etc.). This two-day seminar will be held in Bristol, 16-17th September, 2014. The seminar will be free of charge, though accommodation will have to be found privately. Further details (including confirmed speakers, times, locations, and accommodation tips) will be made available on the Sheffield Biblical Studies blog and the BCTRS Facebook page in due course.

Some of the beer at The Star and Dove is well fancy and even foreign. Perfect for dazzling fellow scholars and future employers with your impeccable taste.

Anyone interested in presenting a paper (typically in a 30 minute slot), or would like any other further information, should contact James Crossley and/or John Lyons.

Paper proposals should include a title and abstract (c. 250 words). Postgraduate students are warmly invited to offer paper proposals. The deadline for participation and call for papers is 1st August, 2014.

Book Notice: Philip Davies, Rethinking Biblical Scholarship

Philip Davies, Rethinking Biblical Scholarship: Changing Perspectives 4 (Acumen, 30 April 2014).

Here’s the summary:

Rethinking Biblical Scholarship brings together seminal essays on the archaeological and exegetical research that has transformed the discipline of biblical studies over the past two decades. Most of the essays illustrate the development of the ‘minimalist’ school of methodology.

Rethinking Biblical Scholarship focuses on history and historiography, exploring how scholarly constructs and ideologies mould historical, literary and cultural data and shape scholarly discourse. Among the many topics examined are the formation of the Jewish scriptural canon and how the concepts of ‘prophecy’ and ‘apocalypse’ illuminate the emergence of Judaism in the late Persian and Hellenistic periods.

Introduction, Niels Peter Lemche
1. Do Old Testament Studies Need a Dictionary?
2. Whose History? Whose Israel? Whose Bible? Biblical Histories, Ancient and Modern
3. What Is ‘Minimalism’, and Why Do So Many People Dislike It?
4. ‘House of David’ Built on Sand: The Sins of the Biblical Maximizers
5. The Origin of Biblical Israel
6. God of Cyrus, God of Israel: Some Religio-Historical Reflections on Isaiah 40-55
7. Scenes from the Early History of Judaism
8. Josiah and the Law Book
9. Judaeans in Egypt: Hebrew and Greek Stories
10. Amos, Man and Book
11. ‘Pen of Iron, Point of Diamond’ (Jer 17:1): Prophecy as Writing
12. Reading Daniel Sociologically
13. And Enoch Was Not, for Genesis Took Him
14. ‘Divination’, ‘Apocalyptic’ and Sectarianism in Early Judaism
15. What Is a Bible?
16. The Jewish Scriptural Canon in Cultural Perspective

The Author
Philip R. Davies is Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield. He is author, most recently, of On the Origins of Judaism and The Origins of Biblical Israel, and co-author of The Complete World of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Opening the Books of Moses.

David Cameron’s Latest Bible

There has been a lot of reporting of David Cameron’s recent use of the Bible and his praise of Christianity. Nothing in what Cameron says is new in English political uses of the Bible, though Cameron’s emphasis has slightly changed. I have discussed these uses before on this blog (scroll below and there are a few posts) and won’t repeat them in any detail but a summary of Cameron’s latest views might help.

Definitions of the “Bible” and “Christianity” continue to be so vague and vacuous that lots of people who do not identify as “Christian” can accept the basic assumptions of what is Good: “Crucially, the Christian values of responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility and love are shared by people of every faith and none – and we should be confident in standing up to defend them.” What are the results of this Christianity? Again, very positive and very vague (though Cameron later mentioned a few Tory policies and his opposition to slavery): “Christianity can also inspire a stronger belief that we can get out there and actually change people’s lives, and improve the spiritual, physical and moral state of our country, and even the world.” Who, in the abstract, wouldn’t want that? That Cameron also references a figure (Jesus) who is presented as wandering around preaching the kingdom of God coming with power, condemning the rich to Hades, calling Gentiles “dogs”, discussing the details of Sabbath and purity law, and taking the whip to money changers, is, in one sense, beside the point. Such contents must be largely ignored or 2000 years of its reception must be boiled down to a pithy core if the Bible is to be the reference point for political argument. Predictably, one of the (or perhaps the) most commonly cited biblical verses is used and, as ever, as a King James Version-ism: “The heart of Christianity is to ‘love thy neighbour’ and millions do really live that out“. All of this could have come from any number of politicians over the past 40 years.

The KJVism is important because Cameron’s Bible and Cameron’s Christianity is, of course, English and part of an English or cultural heritage. As he also claimed, “Easter is not just a time for Christians across our country to reflect, but a time for our whole country to reflect on what Christianity brings to Britain“. The Bible as the book for British or English democracy is tied in with this Cultural Bible. Cameron wrote about “being more confident about our status as a Christian country does not somehow involve doing down other faiths or passing judgement on those with no faith at all” and that Britain is apparently not a “secular country”, citing “the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths” as his example.

Again, this is absolutely standard stuff for British politicians, certainly over the past 40 years. It is not remotely new, as some sections of the press claim, though the press claiming a politician is remarkable for using the Bible or citing Christianity is becoming part of the reception of a politician using the Bible or citing Christianity. When Gordon Brown quoted the Bible he too was presented as doing something remarkable. As was Tony Blair. And so on.

Cameron’s Bible is also the latest manifestation of Thatcher’s Bible. Thatcher was the most explicit and influential political user of the Bible among political leaders over the last 40 years. In her main speeches on the Bible and politics, Thatcher’s Bible added to the Liberal Bible a strong emphasis on what is now called neoliberalism, including the prioritising of charitable giving and support over the role of the state and welfare. She saw her Bible as driving her politics (that her politics perfectly cohered with her understanding of the Bible is another, albeit related, issue). And a softer version of this is found in Cameron’s claim that “Jesus invented the Big Society 2,000 years ago; I just want to see more of it”. Cameron continues by citing what he sees as Big Society Christian types across the UK, including Alpha courses in prisons. The specifics of the Alpha Course and conversion are not mentioned explicitly and there certainly is no discussion about speaking in tongues or charisma. Nor is there mention of the sorts of things Nicky Gumbel gets up to. All of this would be far too weird for a politician to discuss. Instead, Cameron’s Alpha gives “offenders” a “new life inside and outside prison”. And that’s it. But notice: it is a non-state organisation doing what might otherwise be deemed the work of the state. Cameron also goes on to praise soup kitchens and homeless shelters run by churches, the “same spirit” shown during the recent storms where churches and vicars played their part in helping victims through shelter, food and funds.

As mentioned, Cameron is not as blunt as Thatcher; she used the Bible and Christianity to fight the welfare state which was in some ways, she argued, an outworking of Communism. Nevertheless, Cameron has not come out so strongly with the charitable aspect of Thatcher’s Bible until now. Why? The reasons are, I think, fairly clear. Not only has Nigel Farage been trying to woo Tory Christians, but it comes after Cameron’s government has been heavily criticised for not providing sufficient help during the storms and flooding until the Tory heartlands were hit and the sustained criticisms (not least by church leaders) over food banks in the UK after what are euphemistically called “welfare reforms”.

The Bible continues to functions as an implicit authority for English politicians but beneath the vagueness and the praise of church groups is a serious political agenda: the continuation of the critique of the role of the state in welfare provision. Cameron has used the vague and agreeable nature of a common (but entirely anachronistic) understanding of what the Bible really means in an attempt to provide an argument which on the surface would be broadly agreeable. Who doesn’t think charity and helping people is a good thing? And this is why Cameron has to focus on the importance of “religious” motivations, no matter how confused he gets in making sure that all sorts of believers and non-believers also share these views. The underlying logic is something like this: a motivated member of society like you can make sure people do not go hungry so who needs the welfare state! Maybe food banks are a good thing! Why blame the government if you don’t really need it! And the Bible and nice Christians – and non-Christians, and the rest who love our heritage – should agree!

James Crossley

PS here is a presentation of the Bible in Conservative politics