Meetings 2010


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Winter Meeting 2010 (abstracts)

Professor Cheryl Exum (Sheffield): The Arts and the Exegete (Presidential Address)

Professor Ellen van Wolde (Nijmegen): The verb bara’ and the collocation tohu wabohu in Genesis 1:1–2:4a

Dr Jonathan Stökl (Cambridge): (No) Prophetesses in Ezekiel 13: Reconsidering ‘the daughters of your people, who prophesy’

Dr Susan Gillingham (Oxford): Psalms 1 and 2 through the Centuries

Professor Hugh Pyper (Sheffield): The Beginnings of the Bible

Dr Hilary Marlow (Cambridge): ‘What am I in a boundless creation?’ An Ecological Reading of Sirach 16 & 17

Professor David Chalcraft (Derby), ‘The Bible Moves in Mysterious Ways: The Sociology of the Mobile Bible in Late Modernity’;

Professor Martti Nissinen (Helsinki), ‘Prophecy and Gender in the Ancient Mediterranean’.

panel discussion was held on the topic of ‘The Bible and the Academy’, with Professor David Clines (Sheffield), Ms Elizabeth Harper (Durham), Dr Paul Joyce (Oxford), and Dr Sarah Nicholson (Glasgow).

Summer Meeting 2010 (abstracts)

Dr Martin O’Kane (Lampeter): Biblical Art from Wales: Text and Context

Ms Elizabeth Harper (Durham): Genesis 5:29: It’s all in the name

Dr Elzbieta Lazarewicz-Wyrzykowska (Cambridge): Male Body, Masculine Honour: A Gendered Reading of the Samson Narrative

Dr Jenny Dines (Cambridge): ‘What if the Reader is a She?’ Biblical Women and Their Translators

Dr John Jarick (Oxford): Imagining a qōhelet as an ekklēsiastēs

Dr John Tudno Williams (Aberystwyth): The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship: Guilding’s Theory Revisited

Dr Carly Crouch (Cambridge), ‘Sit Down upon the Dust: A Talionic Approach to Warfare in Deutero-Isaiah’

Dr Florentina Badalanova Geller (Royal Anthropological Institute), ‘The Akedah: Ethno-hermeneutic Interpretation’

Professor Nicolas Wyatt (Edinburgh), ‘The Griffin in the Ideology and Iconography of the Levant’

Dr Yvonne Sherwood (Glasgow), ‘The Persistence of Blasphemy: The Bible as a Public Edifice in the “Secular” State’

Professor Michael Fox (Madison), ‘Job’s Tale’.

A Career Development workshop was led by Dr Stuart Weeks (Durham) and Dr James Aitken (Cambridge).

Aileen Guilding Conference

Professor Steve Moyise (Chichester), ‘Quotation and Allusion in Paul: The Minor Prophets as Test Case’;

Professor George Brooke (Manchester), ‘The Influence of the Dead Sea Scrolls on Modern Interpretations of Jewish Traditions in the New Testament’

Dr James Aitken (Cambridge), ‘The Characterization of Speech in the Septuagint’

A celebratory banquet closed proceedings.

Abstracts

Winter Meeting 2010

Professor Cheryl Exum (Sheffield): The Arts and the Exegete (Presidential Address)

The Bible has played an inspirational role in the arts for centuries, and the arts have, in turn, influenced the way the Bible is read. Examples were drawn from fine art, film, music and literature to argue that attention to the ways the biblical text has been rendered in the arts can make us better exegetes. Or, at the very least, can stimulate, sharpen or support one’s interpretation of a biblical text. Consideration was given to biblical texts in which looking is represented (and the question was asked, How?) and to texts that avoid representing looking (where the question raised was, Why?). Paintings of David watching Bathsheba bathing, it was argued, draw attention to the way the biblical narrator controls both content and mode of presentation in order to achieve a certain effect. Just what, or how much, can David see? Does Bathsheba know she is being watched? Paintings of the scene align the viewer with David’s voyeuristic gaze, and help us recognize how the text similarly aligns the reader with his perspective. Adopting David’s male subject position means that women viewers—and readers—are asked to identify against our own interests, and to accept a view of woman as an enticement that can bring about a man’s downfall. But why should exegetes blame Bathsheba, as many do, for appearing on the scene in the act of washing? Why not accuse the biblical writer who chose to portray her this way, and, by withholding her point of view, to leave her open to the charge of seduction in order to make David look better? Two major Hollywood films (Henry King’s 1951 David and Bathsheba, starring Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward, and Bruce Beresford’s 1985 King David, starring Richard Gere) make us even more aware than the paintings of how perspective and point of view are manipulated to align the viewer with the male point of view and encourage us to ‘see’ the woman as dangerous, a source of temptation.
The issue of the voyeuristic gaze (such as David’s) versus the erotic look (where looking does not intrude upon that which is seen) was explored using the metaphorical descriptions of the body in the Song of Songs and some artistic representations of the text’s unusual imagery. Unlike David’s voyeuristic gaze at Bathsheba, looking in the Song is not detached. When, for example, the man looks at the woman’s body and describes it for the text’s readers, he is speaking to her—describing her to herself and inviting her to see herself through his eyes. A feature of the Song that renders our looking less voyeuristic, and our pleasure more aesthetic than erotic, is the use of densely metaphorical language to describe the body. Thus we might say that, unlike the narrator of the story of David and Bathsheba, the Song of Songs poet protects the woman from the voyeuristic gaze, while at the same time representing her as being looked at. That the woman looks too is essential to the Song’s presentation of love as mutual delight and pleasure.
The expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael from Abraham’s household shows how art helps us to see what the biblical writer does not want us to see. When artists visualize the expulsion, they offer viewers what the text withholds, Hagar’s and Ishmael’s point of view, with the result that the viewer, unlike the reader, is openly invited to feel sympathy for them. Viewers are likely to find Abraham’s action difficult to comprehend, if not morally reprehensible, and a close reading reveals the complex narrative transactions the biblical writer had to resort to in order to justify the expulsion. Similarly, in the story of Lot and his daughters, the biblical narrator has repressed a version of the story that art helps us recover, a version in which the real issue is the father’s unconscious incestuous desire for his daughters. In the biblical version, the narrator’s forbidden desire for incest with his daughters is fulfilled, but with distortions aimed at censoring its unacceptable content. In art, the father’s complicity and active involvement are openly acknowledged.
The paper concluded with examples from music (Handel’s Esther, where changes, such as the omission of any reference to how Esther became queen and simplifying the relationship between Esther and the king, were used to draw attention to ways modern exegetes treat, or fail to treat, these issues) and literature (Stephen Heym’s The King David Report, which, among other things, invites us to speculate on the biblical writer’s ideology by showing the dilemma of the author of the report).

Professor Ellen van Wolde (Nijmegen): The verb bāra’ and the collocation tōhū wābōhū in Genesis 1:1–2:4a

Words are the vehicles of experience and thinking. They enable people to utter their most individual feelings, insights, discoveries and ideas. Words in the Hebrew Bible originated in ancient Near Eastern contexts and are, though fossilized in ancient texts, still understandable to modern people living in a completely different historical setting. How is this possible? How can we determine these Hebrew words’ meaning? I propose to study words, language and texts in close relation to mental processing.
The aims of this paper were to examine the meaning of the verb bara’ and of the collocation tohu wabohu in Genesis 1:1–2:4a (from now on Genesis 1)—words which are commonly understood as designating ‘to create’ in the sense of ‘the act of bringing something new into existence’ and ‘desolate and void’, respectively— and to describe the mental picture that Genesis 1:1-2 conveys.
Subsequent analyses of cognitive linguistic and textual data, and a comparative study of Babylonian and Egyptian material led to the conclusion that Genesis 1:1-2 describes the divine act of separation (cf. E. van Wolde in JSOT 34.1 [2009] 3-23), in which the start of God’s separating activity evoked in v. 1 is specified in v. 2c: his breath or wind executes this action. The process of separation by ‘elohimin order to make ‘space’ (‘atmosphere’) between the heaven and the earth started in v. 1 is duratively executed by the ruach ‘elohim’s circling around across the waters as described in v. 2c (cf. my recently published book Reframing Biblical Studies: When Language and Text meet Culture, Cognition and Context [Eisenbrauns, 2009], buy from Eisenbrauns).

Dr Jonathan Stökl (Cambridge): (No) Prophetesses in Ezekiel 13: Reconsidering ‘the daughters of your people, who prophesy’

In this paper I suggest a new interpretation for the background of Ezek. 13:17-23. Until recently, most interpreters read the women in this pericope as witches and therefore evil; more recently a number of interpreters have stressed that it is only Ezekiel who regards these women as bad and that they should really be understood as female prophets who competed with Ezekiel. In contrast, I point out that the history of growth of the pericope has to be taken into account.
As the text stands, the women are accused of being false prophets, just as their male counterparts in vss 1-16. But in an earlier layer of the text which still shines through we find the women connected with some form of communication with the dead; this, in turn, fits with the munabbiātu found in some texts from Emar. Because of the biblical prophets they had been interpreted as female prophets as well, but the use of the verb nubbû in the context of caring/communicating with the dead suggests that they were religious specialists communicating with/caring for the dead. This and the openness with which they are addressed in the Emar material suggest that they were highly skilled specialists with considerable regard. It is likely that the Hebrew mitnabbe’ot originally had a similar function and therefore high social status. The textual history of the book of Ezekiel turned them into female prophets at odds with Ezekiel; reception history turned these women into witches. In their own life-times they were probably well regarded religious specialists.

Dr Susan Gillingham (Oxford): Psalms 1 and 2 through the Centuries

Should Psalms 1 and 2 be read as a composite psalm, with their complementary themes of Torah and Messiah, in the manner of Psalms 19A and 19B, with their themes of Creation and Torah? The paper first countered this suggestion, arguing that not only are the structure and content of Psalms 1 and 2 entirely different, but also their Wirkungsgeschichte, unlike Psalm 19, shows how they have been received in very different ways: examples included illuminated manuscripts (the ninth century Utrecht Psalter and the twelfth century St. Alban’s Psalter were used here) and musical compositions (Claude de Jeune on Psalm 1 and Handel on Psalm 2 were used, as well as Lazar Weiner on Psalm 1 and Bernstein on Psalm 2).
The paper then sought to answer the question, ‘In what sense, nevertheless, might Psalms 1 and 2 be seen as Zwillingspsalmen?’ Neither has a superscription, they have several linguistic correspondences, and, in terms of genre, both serve a didactic purpose, addressing the congregation rather than God. Their reception history shows how they have been frequently been read as a composite whole—in 4Q Florilegium, the Psalms of Solomon, the New Testament (for example, in variant Western texts of Acts 13:33, Psalm 2 is referred to as ‘the first psalm’); they are treated in this way by commentators as early as Justin Martyr and Hippolytus of Rome, the Babylonian Talmud Tractate Berakoth 9b-10a, and by medieval Jewish commentators such as Abraham ibn Ezra, and Reformation writers such as Erasmus and Luther. Jewish tradition primarily viewed them as ‘two in one’ by reading the first psalm through the lens of Moses and the second through David, whereas Christians read Psalm 1 as about the exemplary humanity of Jesus and Psalm 2 as about the divinity of Christ. The paper illustrated these readings through more examples from music and art.
The paper concluded that, nevertheless, over the last sixty years we have seen greater rapprochement between the two traditions, in that the first psalm has been read more generally as about an anthropocentric, pragmatic faith with obedience to God’s law making sense of the present, and the second psalm as about a more theocentric faith, with God’s dealings with the community of faith through a coming deliverer making sense of the future. The paper thus proposed that there is now more ecumenical scope in reading these two psalms as one unit rather than two; furthermore, as a Prologue to the Psalter, this has an impact on how Jews and Christians together might perceive these two voices throughout the Psalms as a whole.

Professor Hugh Pyper (Sheffield): The Beginnings of the Bible

That the Bible begins ‘In the beginning’ is so obviously appropriate that it has been very seldom questioned. However, most of the world’s scriptures do not begin with an account of the beginning of things and this may lead us to wonder whether the seeming naturalness of the biblical beginning is in fact itself a testimony to the prevalence of biblical categories in Western culture. A.D. Nuttall in his study of literary beginnings contrasts the biblical/Hebraic concept of an absolute beginning with the classical/Greek option of beginning ‘in medias res’. On examining more closely the way that biblical books begin, this contrast is seen to collapse. The interest in ‘the’ beginning in Western thought owes more to Augustine and his neo-Platonic background as seen in his reading of Genesis than it does to the Hebrew Bible. Indeed, even Genesis 1 is not interested in some absolute beginning and giving an account of the natural order of things. Genesis starts ‘in medias res’ and the message could hardly be clearer that this is not a natural process, but an extraordinary and supernatural act. Rethinking biblical beginnings may wean us away from the understandable but one-sided concentration on narrative as the backbone of biblical literature.

Dr Hilary Marlow (Cambridge): ‘What am I in a boundless creation?’ An Ecological Reading of Sirach 16 & 17

This paper drew on insights from the field of ‘ecocriticism’ within literary studies to examine the creation poem of Sirach 16:26-17:14 from an ecological perspective. The text is significant for such a purpose because of its reuse of the Genesis creation accounts, in particular the notion of human beings as the image of God and with dominion over creation, which has caused some critics to label the biblical accounts as exploitatively anthropocentric. Preceding sections of Sirach include discussion of human significance ‘in a boundless creation’ and human free will and moral responsibility, and these themes are developed in the poem itself. The poem’s description of the creation of humankind suggests both human finitude, a characteristic shared with other life forms, and the uniqueness of the divine image in human beings. These characteristics are set within the context of the cosmos as a stable and ordered whole, obedient to God, and of the responsibilities stipulated in the Torah to deal rightly with one’s neighbour. Reading this text from an ecological perspective invites recognition of the ambiguity of human place in the world, transient yet earth-changing, and of the ethical challenges in caring for global ‘neighbours’ in the face of growing environmental pressures.

Professor David Chalcraft (Derby), ‘The Bible Moves in Mysterious Ways: The Sociology of the Mobile Bible in Late Modernity’

no abstract provided

Professor Martti Nissinen (Helsinki), ‘Prophecy and Gender in the Ancient Mediterranean’

no abstract provided

Summer Meeting 2010

Dr Martin O’Kane (Lampeter): Biblical Art from Wales: Text and Context

The presentation reported on a three year project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which focussed on highlighting the wealth of biblical art that exists throughout Wales, in the medium of painting, stained glass, and ceramic. The illustrated talk included a discussion of biblical images found in churches, synagogues, art galleries and private collections, demonstrating the pre-occupation that existed in nineteenth-century Nonconformist Wales with translating the biblical word into image in a way that safeguarded and prioritized the authority of the word. The presentation opened with the iconic image of Mary Jones receiving her Bible from Thomas Charles, an event that triggered the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society, and concluded with the importance of the Bible as a source of inspiration for contemporary Welsh artists.

Ms Elizabeth Harper (Durham): Genesis 5:29: It’s all in the name

In Genesis 5:29, Lamech claims that his new born son Noah ‘will comfort us from our burdensome manual labour, from the soil which YHWH has cursed’. Two verses later Lamech dies and shortly after, except for Noah and his ark, all living things expire in the flood. Is it cold comfort, then, that Noah ends up bringing to ‘us’? Moreover the Noah stories never again talk explicitly of the cursed soil. Was Lamech deluded? Is 5:29 an anomalous fragment that has no place in the Noah stories? This paper suggested that the enigma of 5:29 went even deeper. It pointed out how ambiguous and uncertain 5:29 is and then traced the riddle of 5:29 through the ebb and flow of the final-form flood narrative, discovering numerous echoes throughout the story. The flood story read through 5:29 takes on a rather different hue highlighting themes often overlooked (cleansing, the priority of the earth over Noah). By the end, 5:29 still remains an enigma, for none of the traditional answers are fully satisfactory (for example, 8:21, 9:20).

Dr Elzbieta Lazarewicz-Wyrzykowska (Cambridge): Male Body, Masculine Honour: A Gendered Reading of the Samson Narrative

This paper provided a close reading of the Samson narrative (Judges 13-16), guided by an anthropological understanding of masculine honour, intrinsically connected with the male sexual body. It was argued that in the story of Samson’s ill-fated marriage to the woman from Timnah, and in the resulting exchange of acts of violence between him and the Philistines (Judg. 14.1-16.3), his honour and masculinity are challenged. They are subsequently lost as a result of his defeat, humiliation and mutilation of his body (Judg. 16.4-25). Finally, they are restored in his act of vengeance, albeit at the expense of his life (Judg. 16.28-31). Such an approach helps explain the motives for the character’s behaviour. Furthermore, it shows that the violent defence of honour, depicted as a means to fulfil God’s plan for Israel, is employed in the ideology of war reflected in the book of Judges.

Dr Jenny Dines (Cambridge): ‘What if the Reader is a She?’ Biblical Women and Their Translators

Although women in the Hebrew Bible have received a good deal of attention from both feminist scholars and those interested in cultural reception history (retellings in painting, film, opera etc.), very little has yet been done on the Septuagint. From the perspective of a contemporary feminist reader, my paper examines how various translators treat some of the more lively female characters in their source-texts. Do they alter the women they encounter, either by enhancing or diminishing them by their characterization? What might any differences reveal about the interests of the translators and their original readers? Particular attention is paid to texts which have come down in two distinct forms: the A and B texts of Judges (for Deborah, Jael and Bath-Jephthah), the LXX and Alpha texts of Esther, and GkI and GkII for Tobit (Anna, Edna and Sarah). The outcome will reveal considerable variety in translational treatment; the distinct differences in the case of each of the double recensions will prove especially significant.

Dr John Jarick (Oxford): Imagining a qōhelet as an ekklēsiastēs

One of the most intriguing characters in the Hebrew Bible goes by the designation of qōhelet. We cannot be sure what this designation is meant to convey, since it is a feminine Qal participle of a verb not otherwise used in the Qal, though it presumably has something to do with the noun qāhāl(‘assembly’). Is the sage a woman, functioning in a man’s world and presenting herself more or less as a man? Or is the sage really a man, but taking on the persona of Wisdom, a feminized concept in Hebrew imagery? Or is he a eunuch, working in a royal court where the prerequisite for certain kinds of civil service was castration? In any event, under this enigmatic title the protagonist of the book of Qohelet imagines himself/herself as the greatest of all the kings of Jerusalem and proclaims as that personage that everything is vanity. In the Greek version of the book, the sage is designated as an ekklēsiastēs, which carries the clear meaning of ‘assemblyman’, a member of the ekklēsia(‘assembly’). Thus the thoughts in the Greek version are presented as those of a common man, a citizen among citizens, and so when this individual imagines himself as a king it is analogous to the character Samippus (in Lucian’s dialogue The Ship), who daydreams of being a great king of the east and concludes that it is not a happy business after all. Thus in the Septuagint book of Ecclesiastes we encounter an assemblyman acting as a king, drawing his readers into his imaginings and thereby entertaining and perhaps convincing them with his musings.

Dr John Tudno Williams (Aberystwyth): The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship: Guilding’s Theory Revisited

The paper offered a summary and critique of Guilding’s theory as propounded in her book of 1960 and considered its reception at the time it was published. In particular, major problems remain regarding the dating of the Triennial Lectionary Cycle, which formed the basis of her theory. It was suggested that the theory’s impact on subsequent discussions of the Jewish background of the Fourth Gospel was on the whole limited. However, it was noted that C.K. Barrett stood out as a major expositor of this gospel who had made most extensive and practical use of her work. Certainly, subsequent to her research, over the last fifty years much work has been expended on the festal and liturgical aspects of the gospel.

Dr Carly Crouch (Cambridge), ‘Sit Down upon the Dust: A Talionic Approach to Warfare in Deutero-Isaiah’

no abstract provided

Dr Florentina Badalanova Geller (Royal Anthropological Institute), ‘The Akedah: Ethno-hermeneutic Interpretation’

no abstract provided

Professor Nicolas Wyatt (Edinburgh), ‘The Griffin in the Ideology and Iconography of the Levant’

no abstract provided

Dr Yvonne Sherwood (Glasgow), ‘The Persistence of Blasphemy: The Bible as a Public Edifice in the “Secular” State’

no abstract provided

Professor Michael Fox (Madison), ‘Job’s Tale’.

no abstract provided

In addition to those summarized above, the following papers were also presented at the Aileen Guilding Conference: Professor Steve Moyise (Chichester), ‘Quotation and Allusion in Paul: The Minor Prophets as Test Case’; Professor George Brooke (Manchester), ‘The Influence of the Dead Sea Scrolls on Modern Interpretations of Jewish Traditions in the New Testament’; Dr James Aitken (Cambridge), ‘The Characterization of Speech in the Septuagint’. No abstracts are available for these papers.

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