Meetings 1999


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Winter Meeting 1999 (abstracts)

At University House, Birmingham from Monday to Wednesday, 4-6 January 1999

Professor Robert Carroll (Glasgow): Beyond Kerygma and Kritik: A future for Hebrew Bible Studies in the Institutions of our Learning? (Presidential Paper)

Dr Stefan Reif (Cambridge): Jews, Hebraists and Old Testament Studies

Ms Johanna Stiebert (Lancaster): Shame and Prophecy: Approaches Past and Present

Revd Dr John Bowden (SCM Press): What about the Old Testament?

Professor George Steiner (Cambridge): Transitions

Dr Greg Glazov (Oxford): The Hand-on-the-Mouth gesture in Job 40:4 (Short paper)

Dr Heather McKay (Ormskirk): Clothing, Ornaments and Stylised Speech: SymbolicMarkers of Power and Negotiation in Biblical Texts (Short paper) 

Summer Meeting 1999 (abstracts)

At the Kelvin Conference Centre, University of Glasgow from Monday to Thursday, 19-22 July 1999

Special theme: Academy, Bible and Church

Professor Gabriel Josopovici (Sussex): The Tale of a Heel and a Hip

Professor Graeme Auld (Edinburgh): Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land?

Dr Yvonne Sherwood (Roehampton): Darke Texts Need Notes: Reassessing Prophetic Poetry (Short Paper)

Mr David Chalcraft (Derby), Sociology and Old Testament Studies: Some Reflections on the Past, Present and Future Prospects (Short Paper)

Professor Philip Davies ( Sheffield): Ownership? Responsibility?: What is the Guild to do with the Bible?

Professor Robert Davidson (Fife): The Bible in Church and Academy?

Professor Robert Gordon (Cambridge): Zion and Zaphon: Sacred Geography and the Interpretation of Old Testament Texts

Dr Alistair Hunter (Glasgow): From Canon to Scripture to Text: Reflections on the Faustian pact between Academy and Church

Professor Keith Whitelam (Stirling): Back to the Future: Biblical Studies and Geopolitics

Professor Alice Bach (Stanford): Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: A Girl in the Guild

Abstracts

Winter Meeting 1999

Presidential Address: Professor Robert Carroll (Glasgow): ‘Beyond Kerygma and Kritik: A Future for Hebrew Bible Studies in the Institutions of Our Learning?’:

This represented an attempt to say something about the past of the discipline, especially in relation to the speaker’s experience of thirty years membership of the Society for Old Testament Study, and about the future prospects for its continued existence in the new century and millennium about to dawn. It was hoped that the discipline would be able to transcend its roots in the confessional beliefs of so many of its members (Kerygma) and the critical academic scrutiny of the Hebrew Bible (Kritik) in order to incorporate new developments in reading the Bible as well as more popular approaches to the Bible. Issues relating to pre-millennial tension (PMT) and post-modern theory (PMT) were also raised and discussed in relation to elements of fundamentalism/ evangelicalism inherent in current uses of the Bible in popular culture. Some points were made about the ‘feminization of the Guild’ and some specific written performances of powerful, intelligent women writing on the Rezeptionsgeschichte of the Bible were singled out for recommendation. A possible future for Hebrew Bible studies was seen in the ‘beyond Kerygma and Kritik’ dimension of treating the Bible as cultural literature. The address ended with a reminder of the appalling destructiveness of the twentieth century linked to a reception-history intertextual reading of Torah in the form of a recitation of Primo Levi’s poem ‘Shema’ (Deut. 6.4 adapted to the conditions of the Shoah).

Professor Stefan Reif (Cambridge): ‘Jews, Hebraists and “Old Testament” Studies’:

The object of the paper was to answer three basic questions: Are there aspects of Jewish literary culture that may be said to match, at least in some interesting and valuable, if critically limited ways, elements in the modern study of the Hebrew Bible? What have been the underlying attitudes to Jews, Judaism and Jewish literature on the part of Christian Hebraists over the past few centuries? To what extent may it be argued that there are still to be found in current Old Testament studies approaches to the subject that leave Jews feeling uneasy about full participation? In the discussion of the first question, attention was drawn to characteristics of Jewish biblical exegesis that were not widely familiar, or were simply misrepresented in the world of Old Testament scholarship. Examples were cited of midrashic interpretations that had solid, down-to-earth aspects; of early medieval interpretations that demonstrated sceptical and historical tendencies; and of comments by the classical Jewish exegetes of the Middle Ages that were closely paralleled in modern scientific treatments of scriptural texts. To answer the second question, comparisons and contrasts were made between the approaches of the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries. The intellectual backgrounds to these approaches were traced to the Protestant Reformation and to German historical criticism. Literature was cited to demonstrate how negatively Christian scholars viewed rabbinic sources, Judaism, and the role of Jewish teachers of Hebrew. In the third part of the paper, the continuation of such negative attitudes was traced in the modern period and it was pointed out that numerous statements revealed a high degree of tendenz rather than a commitment to critical analysis. Some scholars were presenting what was in effect Christian theology in the guise of critical study, or what amounted to political bias as if it were historical analysis. Although there were encouraging signs of more pluralist and ecumenical trends on the part of non-Jews - and Jews were, for their part, developing critical biblical studies, especially in North America and Israel - there were still conservative Christian attitudes that left Jewish scholars singularly uncomfortable about participating fully in this field of study.

Ms Johanna Stiebert (Lancaster): ‘Shame and Prophecy: Approaches Past and Present’:

Shame is prominently discussed both in the literature of psychology (where it is contrasted with the emotion ‘guilt’) and of social anthropology (where it is associated particularly with women and with loss of status and where it stands in binary opposition with honour). In the last ten years the anthropological honour-shame model has been widely used as heuristic pattern for analysing biblical texts. With regard to the Hebrew Bible the focus has been primarily on the patriarchal narratives and Deuteronomistic history. The preponderance of shame vocabulary, however, occurs in the prophetic corpus. Here the honour-shame model proves to be ill-fitting. Among other reasons discussed with particular reference to the book of Isaiah, is that the honour-shame model tends to belong to static societies, whereas, insofar as social contexts are implied or described in the Major Prophets, these tend to be depicted as marked by turmoil and chaos attending the exile. In the absence of discussions using models constructed for the purposes of examining situations of upheaval (such as revolutions or millenarian eruptions) three new approaches were outlined and discussed with regard to the shame discourse of Ezekiel 16. The purpose was to probe their suitability for elucidating this baffling text with a view towards redressing the paucity of prophetic shame studies. The first approach examined antilanguages. Antilanguages are associated with so-called antisocieties which seek self-consciously to create a different society from that which has been or is dominant and are characterised by insistent use of metaphor (especially sexual metaphor), as well as by hyperbole and disjointedness. The second approach examined grotesque language, which is also characterised by exaggeration and excessiveness, particularly with reference to the body and bodily functions. The third approach considered the sociological phenomenon of deviance amplification.

Revd Dr John Bowden, Editor and Managing Director of SCM Press, ‘What about the Old Testament?’:

Dr Bowden described his involvement with the Old Testament, first as university teacher, then as publisher, over more than thirty years. He lamented the diminishing role of Old Testament studies in the wider theological scene, and drew attention to the disadvantages of the publication of books about the Old Testament by Old Testament scholars. He pointed to the lack of more generally accessible works and textbooks and asked whether it was a good thing for the discipline that John Bright’s History of Israel was still the flagship for its subject. He ended by asking whether the talents of the members of SOTS could not be better deployed in this more general direction.

Professor George Steiner (Cambridge): ‘Transitions’: Professor Steiner declined to provide an abstract.

Dr Greg Glazov (Oxford): ‘The Hand-on-the-Mouth Gesture in Job 40:4’:

There is a tendency among commentators to posit that the book of Job concludes with the silencing of Job, i.e. with Job’s hand remaining on his mouth in deference and submission to Yhwh. This impression is rationalized by telescoping Job 42:1-6 upon 40:1-5 which contains a vow not to speak again (e.g. as do Westermann and Muenchow). Job is therefore believed to retract, betray or repress his former complaints and law-suit. To rescue Job’s integrity, critics are led to interpret his hand-on-the-mouth gesture as a gesture of disgust and contempt for Yhwh (J. B. Curtis, Elie Wiesel, etc.). However, gesture studies and the study of non-verbal communication (Darwin, M. Gruber, etc.) will not allow the gesture at 40:4 to be interpreted as one of contempt. Analysis of this gesture (Gruber) shows that it should be interpreted from context. The context points to the importance of Job 9:20 which suggests that by putting his hand on his mouth, Job is “taking the fifth amendment” lest anything he might say will be taken as evidence against him. Consequently, Yhwh’s Behemoth-Leviathan speech is, as argued by a number of commentators (Habel, Brenner), aimed at releasing Job from his fear-inspired self-repression and opening him up to dialogue. This is indeed confirmed by Job’s second speech. Reference to gesture studies therefore help to confirm Habel’s argument against Westermann that the divine-human confrontation in Job, must be understood dialogically, and helps to establish the normal structure of such confrontations in Hebrew prophecy and apocalyptic.

Dr Heather McKay (Ormskirk): ‘Clothing, Ornaments and Stylised Speech: Symbolic Markers of Power and Negotiation in Biblical Texts’:

1. In all societies, dress - as a material form of human discourse common to both genders - provides a simple means of analysing the daily obedience of society members to their roles and social locations. And in the Hebrew Bible, the wearing of certain dress and insignia can be seen to operate as both an evidence, and an enforcer, of the social norms of the societies portrayed in the texts. 2. Cultural-anthropological studies provide clear examples of the forms of restrictions executed by dress upon stance and gesture and upon types and speeds of movement. By means of dress, gender and status differentiation are both internalised - as one dresses - and made manifest - as one is seen to move and operate in society. 3. In a small number of stories women characters effect vital changes in the behaviour of male leaders - sometimes by their words and sometimes by their actions. Sometimes the women characters behave in strange, inappropriate ways, but the actions they carry out - in the end - prompt the men to mend their ways and produce an honourable resolution to the story. Cross-gender dialogues provide the loci for the most intriguing, scandalous, or otherwise compelling conversations in the biblical texts. Their inherent asymmetry permits them to tackle awkward societal issues in a way that draws less attention to the origins of the difficulty because attention is focused on the sexual chemistry between the two protagonists. Various examples were given from biblical texts. 4. It was concluded that males have a clear, autonomous gender role that develops from child to patriarch. Women have the possible gender roles: virgin daughter, wife, widow and harlot - all distinguished by means of dress. All the adornments are given by men and demarcate powers, including symbolic items such as dialogue with the deity, power of action on the public domain, and the sexuality of females. On occasion, these seemingly fixed ‘rules’ are apparently overturned and the unexpected person succeeds and wins the day. Or do they? Are these stories no more than a crafty narrator’s skilful ploy?

Summer Meeting 1999

Professor Gabriel Josipovici (Sussex): ‘The Tale of a Heel and a Hip’:

The Hebrew Bible is not exactly indifferent to morality and theology, but it often seems to devise narratives which will force us to question both. The story of Jacob is particularly striking in this respect: it begins with a grabbed heel, reaches its climax with a twisted hip, and ends with crossed hands. Why all this twisting and crossing? The key lies in the two epithets which describe Jacob at his birth: he is called Jacob because in the womb he grasped his brother’s heel or pw/s[ and Esau later links his name with pk/s[ or crooked. He is thus a crook or a heel. But he is also described as µ’? whole, upright, innocent (like Noah and Job). It will not do to describe this conjunction simply as irony. We need to understand how, in the ancient world, cunning and innocence or uprightness might go together. Odysseus, after all, is both polumhti”, many-wiled, and polutlhmon, much-enduring. Recent studies have shown how in Mediterranean societies even today truthfulness, far from being considered a desideratum in a child, is seen as a positive weakness; the valued child is the one who knows how to lie, for in his hands the patrimony will be safe. It is in fact only our Protestant, post-enlightenment culture which takes it for granted that lying and virtue are incompatible. Shakespeare still understood the old ways of thought as well as grasping what was supplanting them, and demonstrates this in the exchange (which hinges on the interpretation of an episode in Jacob’s life) between Shylock and Antonio in Act One Scene Three of The Merchant of Venice. To understand how pk/s[ and µ’?, cunning and uprightness, co-exist in Jacob is thus not only to understand this story but the story of David and indeed the whole Hebrew Bible.

Professor Graeme Auld (Edinburgh): “Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land?’:

The paper first compared and contrasted Hebrew Bible and Divinity in the Scottish Universities in 1964 and 1999. Memories of the summer of 1964 in Jerusalem, including singing Zion songs with Anglicans in the Arab east, and observing returned Zionists in the Israeli west who were straining to glimpse their most sacred places in another country, illuminated contested claims to both songs and land. The Scottish tradition of ministerial formation in the public university was compared with continental European traditions and with other professional faculties in UK universities. The notion of theology as merely personal response was deplored. Alternative readings of Psalm 137 were offered: as supporting both those who can no longer sing and those who cannot not sing, because no land is too strange. The older Edinburgh tradition of Hebrew and Oriental Languages was sampled; and a link made with Professor Josipovici’s paper: an Orientalist’s reading of the Hebrew Bible is of profound relevance to Theology

Dr Yvonne Sherwood (Roehampton): ‘Darke Texts Need Notes: Reassessing Prophetic Poetry’:

Taking issue with a view of literature as artfully crafted, smooth discourse, and questioning Romantic and New Critical readings of prophetic language, this paper argues that prophetic language is better understood as baroque. It takes its cue from Hermann Gunkel’s seminal essay ‘The Prophets as Writers and Poets’ and argues that there is something about the prophets that is ‘dark’, ‘stammering’, ‘secretive’, ‘shadowy’, ‘bizarre’ and ‘colossal’. Whereas Wisdom literature conceives of words as choice delicacies to be savoured or as soothing ointment, the prophetic word describes itself as fire, metal or sword. Whereas Wisdom has most in common with an Augustan aesthetic of ‘what oft were thought, but ne’er so well expressed’ (Pope), prophetic language has more in common with the strange disjunctive images of an ‘anti-literary’ figure like Donne. Prophesy is like Donne’s poetry in that it creates heterogeneous counter-intuitive linkages and makes itself felt through the skin and through the body. What Donne and prophecy have in common is the desire to split and rearrange reality, a desire that, in prophecy, relates to the need to represent the radical otherness, and rhetorical power of God.

Professor Philip R. Davies (Sheffield): ‘Ownership? Responsibility? What is the Guild to do with the Bible?’

A number of factors, internal and external, have contributed to a sharpening of the question ‘what should the Guild do with the Bible?’ in recent years. Among these factors are pluralism, secularisation, and politicisation, all of which have become more explicit in our culture, our society and the educational regime in which most of the Guild members are employed. A lot of these also affect, or at least are matched, by changes in the discipline of Biblical Studies itself in its move away from a dominant historical and theological mode to a more varied set of practices in which literary and idealogical-critical agendas are increasingly explicit. In this context, to whom or what is the Guild responsible? Here again, a plurality of interests were identified: ancient authors, the tradition of the discipline, the discipline itself (however defined), students, other interest groups (notably the churches), employers, ourselves. Finally, it was observed that these changes in the nature of Biblical Studies and its role in society may well (but paradoxically) strengthen the bond between confessional and academic interests, despite the quite different constructions each of these two interests typically has of the purpose of Biblical Studies itself.

Professor Robert Davidson (Fife): ‘The Bible in Church and Academy?’:

This paper argued that from the middle of the 19th century in Scotland, critical biblical scholarship flourished equally in Church related Colleges and in the Universities. A mutually creative relationship between Church and Academy in the biblical field is still possible, in spite of attempts from both sides to draw a sharp distinction between the differing approaches, a distinction which may seem attractive both to some people in the Academy and in the Church. Since the Bible comes to us in the form of a canon (or canons) there is nothing incongrous in an academic approach to the Bible which accepts that it has been, and still is, the basis of the life of a believing community (or communities), even if Canonical Criticism raises more questions than it answers. For the believer, to draw an absolute distinction between what happens in the study and in the church involves an act of intellectual and spiritual schizophrenia. Academic study of the Bible may help the Church to face questions about what constitutes authentic religious experience in biblical times and in the present; to wrestle with difficult ethical issues instead of accepting uncritically simplistic biblical stances; and to question a trinitarian imperialism which often does not give full value to the Jewish Bible in its own right, and fails to come to terms with the rich and challenging diversity of material within both the Jewish Bible and the New Testament.

Professor Robert Gordon (Cambridge): ‘Zaphon and Zion: Sacred Geography and the Interpretation of Old Testament Texts’:

‘Sacred geography’, which transcends geographical literality in the service of theological or ideological statement, is a concept that, in the Old Testament, is specially invoked in relation to Jerusalem and the land of Israel, and for obvious reasons. First however, the paper considered Genesis 1-11 and the absence of Zion references in these chapters despite the very good reasons (analogy of Babylon, primeval Zion elsewhere in OT) why inclusion might have been expected. In the course of the discussion it was noted that if Genesis 3 can be read as a story of expulsion from an Eden ‘sanctuary’ the following chapter takes this a stage further by presenting Cain’s expulsion as an ejection from (the) ‘holy land’. Psalm 48 was then discussed as a prime expression of Zion theology per sacred geography. It was claimed that the geography reflected in the psalm was originally, as subsequently, that of Jerusalem, and that the historical-sounding references could possibly reflect an historical experience (cf. Goulder), and not just a cultic celebration, and the more so if proper allowance were made for the use of hyperbole. In the spirit of the occasion and the general title of the programme the paper went on to look at other instances of ‘sacred geography’ and their significance, outside the OT. Although the New Testament does not suggest that Calvary/Golgotha was a hill or mountain the circumstances in which the idea was developed, and the theological appropriateness of this for Christians, were noted. Somewhat by contrast, the not-so-sacred-geography of Revelation 17, in the depiction of imperial Rome under the figure of Babylon, and the theological and political consequences of this, were discussed briefly. Finally, Targumic ideas of Jerusalem expanding to the sea-coast (cf. Zech. 14.10), while having no clear precedent in the OT, are in keeping with other OT aspirations and may (with W D Davies) be taken to reflect not simply territorial ambition but the dreams of those who had themselves been dispossessed.

The Revd Alastair G. Hunter (Glasgow): ‘From Canon to Scripture to Text: Reflections on the Faustian pact between the Academy and the Church’:

The paper argues that the history of the relationship between the church, the bible and ‘the academy’ can conveniently be described under the paradigm of ‘three ages’, respectively of the canon, scripture and text. The canon of the early church served as the unquestioned authority for the development of patristic theology and the proper methods of reading belonged unquestionably to the Church - allegory, typology, Christological interpretation, and fulfilled prophecy. The second stage saw the Reformation focus on scripture which, while it did not deny or seek to deny authority, led inexorably to its dilution. Ultimately this opened the way to a process of academic study which increasingly undermined the theological certainties of the churches. The ‘faustian’ pact lay in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century phenomenon of biblical scholarship largely in the hands of Christian scholars who also endorsed the church’s theology, and tended to mask the crisis of authority which worked in the other direction. Today the possibility of maintaining simultaneously the authority of the Bible, orthodox theology and honest scholarship has virtually disappeared. Ironically, one ‘answer’ may lie in an acceptance of the idea of the Bible as text, with its concomitant implication that processes of dialectic and deconstruction may be a way forward for those who wish to connect theology, bible and church.

Professor Keith Whitelam (Stirling): ‘Back to the Future: Biblical Studies and Geopolitics’:

The paper considers concerns over the current state of the discipline in which stable boundaries, fixed structures, and shared consensus have disappeared with considerable uncertainty about present conditions and where they are leading. The various expressions of concern about contemporary trends and their consequences call for a return to the stable boundaries and shared consensus of the past. Recent surveys of the field tend to draw a contrast between the triumph and domination of ‘the historical critical method’ for most of this century and postmodern, postcolonial, forms of reading and research at its end. Such accounts are invariably internalist, stressing what goes on inside the discipline, while ignoring or passing over important external factors. It is as if biblical studies has proceeded in a political vacuum, seemingly cut adrift from world politics and global crises. Competition between the international powers was not restricted to the political and economic realms but is reflected in their scholarly traditions. It is something which is deeply inscribed within the discipline affecting its choice and presentation of subject matter, the scholarly discourse, its syntax and vocabulary. The bipolarity of scholarship which emerged at the end of the nineteenth century, with competing German and American scholarly traditions, finds an interesting correlation in the geopolitical shifts to which most internalist accounts are oblivious. The pre- and post-World War II periods saw American culture turn towards affirmation and the search for certainty. The fear of the cacophony of interpretative voices in the present is less a contrast with the critical juncture which emerged at the end of the last century than with what ‘the extraordinary degree of ideological homogeneity’ which characterised American scholarship in the post war period. Recent attacks on ideology, and appeals to objectivity and facts, mark a return to the intellectual climate of the 1950s. What has changed are social and political perspectives as geopolitical dynamics have shifted radically. The stable boundaries collapsed to be replaced by polarization, fragmentation, and uncertainty. Just as postcolonial critiques have demonstrated how earlier scholarship was influenced by and implicated in the colonial enterprise, particularly reflected in its confident evolutionism and classificatory system, so it is important to recognise that current scholarship, of whatever flavour, is equally enmeshed in its own world.

Professor Alice Bach (Stanford): ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: A Girl in the Guild’:

Feminist theory will, in my opinion remain pivotal for its emphasis on the multiple subject positions of the reader. In delineating and demanding our own spaces, educated white women became the first Other in the Academy, diffusing the spotlight of universalism and totalizing truth assumed by the former academicians - white men. Then came demands for equal time from blacks, Chicanos, queers, transsexuals. Even though one can uncover the ideological bias inherent in these interpretive texts, too often the blinders of race, class, and even of theology have stayed in place. Thus, reading the canonical unit and its traditional interpretive accompaniment have not escaped the well-defended borders of class, ethnicity, and race that are common to both ancient and modern biblical scholars. As more scholars pursue the continuing discourse we have with past interpreters, we will need to cut through partisan antagonisms as well as the adversarial roles that may be more easily defined. Clarifying issues is not enough; they need to be debated, refusing to grant either authors and editors or traditional commentators of biblical texts the authority they seek to control interpretation.

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