Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Archive for June, 2008

11111: The Binary Biblical Studies Carnival Meme

Posted by NT Wrong on June 30, 2008

‘There are 10 kinds of people in the world. Those who understand binary and those who don’t.’

Lingamish has tagged me in a meme, designed to replace the failed slightly tardy Biblical Studies Carnival XXX.

Here are the rules:

    a. Tag five Biblical studies bloggers.
    b. Invent fictional posts that they might have written over the last month.
    c. Link to this post.

Here’s my five:

    James Crossley: Resurrection, My Arse!
    Chuck Grantham: Testament of Solomon 14: Sunday School Notes
    Mystical Seeker: Why We’re Merely Taking Different Paths Up The Same Mountain
    Wade Greiner: It’s a Slow Train Coming but Something Is Happening Here and You Don’t Know What It Is
    Phil Sumpter: Interpreting the Bible as God’s Word Allows You to Understand It Is God’s Word

Lingamish also adds a horrific curse to this meme: “Failure to keep this meme going will result in the offender being forced to listen to Todd Bentley reading the complete works of Zwingli.”

Posted in Biblioblogs, Humour | 11 Comments »

Three out of Five Republicans are Creationists

Posted by NT Wrong on June 29, 2008

… and Two out of Five Democrats:

“Between 43% and 47% of Americans have agreed [between 1982-2008] with the creationist view that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so. Between 35% and 40% have agreed with the alternative explanation that humans evolved, but with God guiding the process, while 9% to 14% have chosen a pure secularist evolution perspective that humans evolved with no guidance by God.”

Posted in Fundamentalism, Politics, Science | 7 Comments »

Sir Salman Rushdie on Adapting to Muslim Sensitivities

Posted by NT Wrong on June 28, 2008

I have always enjoyed Salman Rushdie’s books. My personal favourite, for quirky reasons — it appealed to me in many ways — is “The Moor’s Last Sigh”. I got it at a book-signing at which the author signed books and didn’t appear (he was hiding from certain Muslim nutjobs).

“When people ask me how the West should adapt to Muslim sensitivities, I always say — the question is the wrong way round. The West should go on being itself. There is nothing wrong with the things that for hundreds of years have been acceptable — satire, irreverence, ridicule, even quite rude commentary — why the hell not?”
Sir Salman Rushdie

Posted in Inter-religious activities, Islam, Religion & Society | 4 Comments »

Sir Salman Rushdie & Satanic Verses

Posted by NT Wrong on June 27, 2008

With the conferment of a knighthood on Sir Salman Rushdie on Wednesday June 25, 2008, it is time to remember the ‘satanic verses’ – which Muhammad claimed Satan originally tempted him to place in the Qur’an.

As the story goes, Allāt, al-‘Uzzā and Manāt were three Arabian goddesses, who were worshipped at Mecca before Muhammad took over. In an incident referred to as ‘the Gharaniq incident’, Muhammad wrote in one of the suras in his Qur’an (the 53rd; Al-Najm) that these goddesses could provide intercession. He was adopting the old monotheistic trick – rather than dismiss the other gods, it’s better to simply assimilate them into your new religion. But he later had a change of heart and claimed that these words had been inspired by Shaitan (Satan).

The so-called “satanic verses” follow the words “Have you thought of Allāt and al-‘Uzzā and Manāt the third, the other?” in vv. 19-20:

tilk al-gharaniq al-‘ula wa inna shafa’ata-hunna la-turtaja
(“these are exalted birds whose intercession is to be desired”).

Why did Muhammad later claim these verses were inspired by Shaitan? The conclusion on that seems to be that his monotheism was heightened later on in his life, and so the “satanic verses” needed to be erased. And they were erased. They don’t appear in copies of the Qur’an today. The story is most likely to be historically true, given the criterion of embarassment which would prevent a Muslim from inventing such a maligning story about Muhammad, and the inexplicability of a non-Muslim inventing the peculiarities of such a story.

The satanic verses provide a really interesting example of textual and theological development within the Qur’an. This is precisely the reason why Qur’an inerrantists try to deny the truth of the story. For those lamenting the pervasive influence of dogmatic theology on biblical studies, the world of Islamic scholarship is a whole different level of tendentious nonsense.

“Believers in the Prophet’s absolute infallibility deny the possibility of any occurrence inconsistent with that principle. They therefore treated the story as a fabrication and went so far as to excise the two sentences from the Qor’an. Nevertheless the evidence given in well-attested reports and in the interpretations of certain commentators makes it likely that the incident occurred. The two irreproachably pious authors of the Tafsir ol-Jalalayn consider it to have been the occasion of the revelation of verse 51 of sura 22 (ol-Hajj), which they interpret as a sort of divine consolation sent down to relieve the Prophet of the bitter remorse which he felt after his utterance of the two sentences … ”
– ‘Ali Dashti, Twenty-Three Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad, 32

Sura 22.51 probably refers to the original writing of the satanic verses, under what Muhammad would later claim was satanic inspiration, and its subsequent withdrawal later in Muhammad’s life:

“And We did not send before you any apostle or prophet, but when he desired, the Shaitan made a suggestion respecting his desire; but Allah annuls that which is cast”.

The Qur’an, like any other work of a person written over a period of two decades or so, demonstrates the changes and developments in its author’s opinions and ideas.

Posted in Islam, Religion & Society | Comments Off on Sir Salman Rushdie & Satanic Verses

Primacy of Text versus Primacy of Utility of Text

Posted by NT Wrong on June 25, 2008

“I personally wouldn’t be happy in the context of a believing community or any group that roughly knows the answers beforehand (we could parallel this sort of theology with forms of Marxism, Freudianism etc, could we not?).”
James Crossley

Anthony Thistelton, relying on Gadamer, writes that readers must avoid “premature assimilation of perspective of text into the horizon of the reader”. The danger of such “premature assimilation” for Thistelton is that the event of interaction between reader and text might appear “uneventful, bland, routine, and entirely unremarkable”.

“Within the Christian community the reading of biblical texts often takes this uneventful and bland form. For the nature of the reading process is governed by horizons of expectation already pre-formed by the community of readers or by the individual. Preachers often draw from texts what they had already decided to say; congregations sometimes look to biblical readings only to affirm the community identity and life-style which they already enjoy.” ( p. 8 )

Thistelton then notes that this particular danger occurs, in much the same way, in radical reader-response theories — in which meaning is “wholly determined by community horizons”, inhibiting the creative dimension of the texts themselves.

Or as the late, great James Barr observed, any approach governed primarily by questions of (theological, marxist, feminist, psychoanalytic, etc) utility “will inevitably corrupt its accuracy in representing the biblical material itself”.

    – Anthony C. Thistelton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992: 8-10.

    – James Barr, “Evaluation, Commitment, and Objectivity in Biblical Theology.” Pages 125-152 in Heikki Räisänen, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, R S Sugirtharajah, Krister Stendahl, James Barr, Reading the Bible in the Global Village: Helsinki. SBL: Atlanta, 2000.

Posted in Criticism | 3 Comments »

Crossley Never Expected the Papal Inquisition

Posted by NT Wrong on June 25, 2008

James Crossley gives his report on The Pope and Jesus of Nazareth Conference, 19-20 June, 2008, University of Nottingham.

After hobnobbing with the overtly theological crowd, James made this surprising summary about their application of historical criticism:

“Many theologians wanted historical criticism to give them the answers they wanted for theology and discard views that were not helpful.”

(What surprises me is that it’s only “Many”…)

Update: See the comments of Mystical Seeker on theologians diverting historical criticism.

Posted in Criticism, Historiography | 5 Comments »

New Reviews in The Review of Biblical Literature – June 24, 2008

Posted by NT Wrong on June 24, 2008

There’s some interesting reviews in the latest Review of Biblical Literature:

Gregory W. Dawes, Introduction to the Bible, New Collegeville Bible Commentary (2007)

Do you ever get asked, by a general non-specialist reader of the Bible, for an introduction to the Bible that you would recommend to them? Faced with a choice of thrusting a lengthy JJ Collins Intro on them, or the like (which would be too long, and will drown their enthusiasm), or some shorter work (which they will read, but which you cringe about), the question can be a problem. But now Gregory Dawes’ 80-page introduction to the Bible provides a robust and thoroughly readable book that will stimulate beginners while not shirking the deeper issues involved. This book is perfect for its target audience! From the book’s own blurb: “To rescue Bible readers and students from turning their initial enthusiasm into boredom, Gregory Dawes gives us this Introduction to the Bible, the indispensable prologue to the entire series of the New Collegeville Bible Commentary. Dividing the contents into two parts, the author first describes how the Old and New Testaments came to be put together, and then explores how their stories have been interpreted over the centuries.”

Maria Gorea, Job: ses précurseurs et ses épigones ou comment faire du nouveau avec de l’ancien

Gorea explores the complex relationship between other ancient Near Eastern traditions about the just sufferer and the book of Job. Crenshaw likes it very much, considering it does a fine job of setting out the issues, engaging mainly with the primary texts rather than the secondary literature: “For me, this book was a pleasure to read. Every student of the biblical Job should keep it close at hand, for it beautifully traces a compelling philosophical theme through three millennia.”

Cheng, Jack and Marian Feldman, editors, Ancient Near Eastern Art in Context: Studies in Honor of Irene J. Winter by Her Students. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East, 26 (2007)

Contains 21 essays from 20 authors, in honour of Irene Winter.
– Cheng and Feldman provide 3 introductory chapters
– I Ziffer on crowns from Nahal Mishmar
– Ö Harmansah on orthostats in MB, LB, IA
– S Reed on the depiction of enemies in Assyrian art, esp Ashurbanipal’s relief
– A Shaffer on the ideology of Assyrian royal monuments at the periphery
– T Ornan on the increasingly godlike imagery for Sennacherib
– E Denel on how IA Charchemesh reliefs reinforced the status of rulers
– T Tanyeri-Erdemir on the relation between Uraritian temple architecture and royal ideology
– J Aker on hierarchical portrayal of workers in Ashurbanipal’s lion hunt relief
– M Feldman on the Mesopotamian roots of Darius I’s ‘heroizing’ style
– M Atac on Akkadian ‘divine radiance’ (mellamu), with parallels from Greece
– C Suter on how to detect high priestesses in Mesopotamia
– T Sharlach on how to identify an archive of texts as belonging to a woman
– J Assante on Middle Assyrian pornographic depictions of foreigners
– A Cohen on barley in Mesopotamia
– A Winitzer on melilot (Deut 23.26) as “eating one’s fill”, not the usual “grain of wheat”
– J Cheng on objects (vases, etc) which depict themselves
– A Gansell on bridal adornments in ancient Mesopotamia and modern Syria
– B Studevent-Hickman on the 90-degree rotation of the cuneiform script

Maeir considers, all up, their quality is such that they provide a fitting tribute to Winter.

Posted in Archaeology, Books, Justice, The Bible, Writings | Comments Off on New Reviews in The Review of Biblical Literature – June 24, 2008

Bono Preaches on GodTube

Posted by NT Wrong on June 23, 2008

U2 lead singer and anti-poverty activist, Bono received the NAACP Chairman’s Award on March 2, 2007. The pesentation by Tyra Banks and Julian Bond (0:00ff) and Bono’s speech ( 4:40ff ) were broadcast at the 38th NAACP Image Awards.

It’s available, appropriately, on GodTube – and Bono’s speech is well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it before.

There is half a bible verse that is widely quoted against atheists by some (foolish) Christians. It’s very popular amongst American evangelicals:

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no god.’ ”
– Psalm 14.1

Of course, there were no atheists in the ancient Levant. There were none who had no belief in one god or the other. Every man and woman said ‘There is a god’. So what did the verse mean? Well, you only have to read to the end of the verse: “They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.” The fool is the one who (even though they may confess belief in God) ignores or abuses the poor. The fool is the one who acts as if (in their own hearts) there is no “god”, that is, who acts as if it doesn’t matter what happens to the poor.

“The fool” of Psalm 14 is not the atheist. “The fool” is the American evangelical who is happy to live in a system which systematically rapes the poor.

In the context of Psalm 14, America is full of atheists.

Posted in Justice, Religion & Society | 5 Comments »

Bill Maher – Religulous – Movie Trailer

Posted by NT Wrong on June 22, 2008

Bill Maher takes the piss out of almost every religion you can think of in his upcoming movie, Religulous. The trailer is out now ( 2:10 ). The movie itself is out October. It looks a laugh a minute:

“Known for his stance against religion, Bill Maher’s views on the various world religions are explored as he travels to numerous religious destinations, such as Jerusalem, the Vatican, and Salt Lake City, interviewing believers from a variety of backgrounds and groups, including Jews for Jesus, Muslims, polygamists, Satanists, Hasidic scholars and even Rael of the Raelian Movement.”

… though, it’s kind of easy and obvious to just point and laugh at funny religious practices. I wonder if the analysis gets any deeper? I bet not.

Posted in Films, Humour, Religion & Society | Comments Off on Bill Maher – Religulous – Movie Trailer

History of Christian-American Zionism

Posted by NT Wrong on June 21, 2008

Foreign Affairs ( July/August 2008 ) has a good article outlining the history of Christian American support for Zionism.

Many of the reasons for the support are religious, of course. One of the religious reasons stems from the “mythic understanding of the United States’ nature and destiny”:

“As the ancient Hebrews did, many Americans today believe that they bear a revelation that is ultimately not just for them but also for the whole world; they have often considered themselves God’s new Israel. One of the many consequences of this presumed kinship is that many Americans think it is both right and proper for one chosen people to support another. They are not disturbed when the United States’ support of Israel, a people and a state often isolated and ostracized, makes the United States unpopular or creates other problems. The United States’ adoption of the role of protector of Israel and friend of the Jews is a way of legitimizing its own status as a country called to a unique destiny by God.”

There are plenty of other explanations given in this well-balanced article, but I found that one interesting, and compelling – amongst others.

I spotted this on John Hobbins’ Ancient Hebrew Poetry.

Posted in Fundamentalism, Modern Israel, Religion & Society | 1 Comment »