The 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. They 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:
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.
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.