Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Archive for the ‘Reception’ Category

Defining Reception History – Philip Davies and St. Paul

Posted by NT Wrong on November 27, 2008

Here’s two recent publications which help us to define that seemingly all-encompassing category, ‘Reception History’.

The first is Philip Davies’ thoughts on the recent SBL Meeting in Boston, care of Jim West.

The second is a television commercial featuring Noah (who, amongst other things, stored the books of Enoch on board his ark so that they could make the transition from antediluvial composition to postdiluvial reception — not that the books of Enoch are at all relevant for watching the tv commercial). Spotted on Ad Cummulus:

Posted in Humour, Reception | 1 Comment »

Michelangelo’s David, His Foreskin, Bono’s Question, and Jewish, Hellenistic, and Renaissance Conceptions of Embodiment

Posted by NT Wrong on September 14, 2008

In his introduction to the Book of Psalms, Bono wonders why Michelangelo’s statue of David includes a foreskin:

“David was a star, the Elvis of the Bible, if we can believe the chiselling of Michelangelo (check the face – but I still can’t figure out this most famous Jew’s foreskin).”
– Bono, ‘The Book of Psalms’

There is a Rabbinic distinction between circumcision of ‘the overhang’ (Milah circumcision) and circumcision of the entire prepuce that covers the corona (Periah circumcision). Some argue that the full Periah circumcision was not instituted until Hellenistic times, and therefore David would have only had a Bris Milah. But, I can’t find any evidence for such a historical development, let alone evidence that Michelangelo would have been aware of historical developments in Jewish circumcision practice. Moreover, it looks to me like Michelangelo’s David has a fully intact foreskin.

In any case, given the Platonic, Hellenizing features of the body of David (and also of Christ) in Michelagelo’s statues, it is more likely that Michelangelo was reproducing a Classical conception of the perfect representative of humanity — whether of Christ or his prototype, David. Graham Ward explains:

“Perhaps more striking are the sculptures of Michelangelo, especially his Risen Christ and his famous David. These bodies are not Jewish bodies and neither of them shows a circumcised penis. Now why, in a culture that found great significance in the circumcision and the humanity of Christ, is the circumcision itself not physically portrayed, even when the genitals of Jesus are carefully delineated?… In the Renaissance period circumcision was mainly associated with Muslims (who were slaves) or with Jews, who were associated with the greedy and covetous sides of nascent capitalism… [T]he circumcized body is a socially and aesthetically (and therefore also cosmically) inferior body… a mutilated and wounded body; not the kind of body that could function as a microcosm of cosmic and political harmony… As classical statues were being excavated, rediscovered and collected, so, in what might be termed a historicist move, Michelangelo returns to figurations of the body evident in the time of Jesus himself. In this inflection the Jewish body is rendered socially, politically, aesthetically, and finally theologically invisible.”
– Graham Ward, ‘On the Politics of Embodiment and the Mystery of All Flesh.’ Pages 71-85 in The Sexual Theologian: Essays on Sex, God and Politics by Marcella Althaus-Reid, Lisa Isherwood, eds. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004: 81-82.

That sounds like a reasonable explanation to me. I hope that answers your question, Bono.

Posted in Fine Arts, Historical Books, Reception | 14 Comments »

Review of Biblical Literature – September 6, 2008

Posted by NT Wrong on September 5, 2008

Let’s have a look at what’s come up in the Review of Biblical Literature over the last month or so that could be of interest…

Boer, Roland, editor, Bakhtin and Genre Theory in Biblical Studies (2007)

This very good collection of essays includes contributions from John Anderson, Roland Boer, Martin J. Buss, Judy Fentress-Williams, Christopher Fuller, Barbara Green, Bula Maddison, Carleen Mandolfo, Christine Mitchell, Carol A. Newsom, David M. Valeta, and Michael Vines. There’s interesting applications of Bakhtinian genre-theory to illustrate the usefulness of Bakhtin’s reformulation. Gunkel commented on the volume, in an exclusive interview with the N. T. Wrong Blog: ‘Vell, ve vould have gone about it in a more disciplined vay, but nevertheless, this book is sehr gut!”

Grabbe, Lester L., Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It? (2007)

Brian Schmidt reviews Lester Grabbe’s latest, a “prolegomena” to a history of Israel. (Is anything further possible, nowadays?) The Deveresque subtitle of Grabbe’s book is a good description of the content, and Grabbe examines a good number of the available methods: social science, archaeology, longue durée, ethnicity, ideology, new fundamentalist approaches, maximalists and minimalists, and the name-calling and shenanigans in what is the most heated topic in Hebrew Bible studies. Grabbe offers methodological principles for history writing. Reviewer Brian Schmidt makes some wise comments about the — at best ambiguous, probably simply wrong — commonplace that ‘archaeology cannot disprove the bible’. Schmidt’s comments on ‘Canaanite’ and ‘literacy’ are also valuable.

Metso, Sarianna, The Serekh Texts (2007)

From the author of The Textual Development of the Qumran Community Rule (1997), an examination of the various scrolls of Serekh ha-yachad, with discussion of their relation to CD also. The volume forms part of the ‘Companion to the Qumran Scrolls’ series.

Tischler, Nancy M., Thematic Guide to Biblical Literature (2007)

This looks like a handy guide to the use of biblical themes in Western literature. The reception of biblical themes is arranged topically: (1) Creation, (2) Earthly paradise, (3) Nature, (4) Animals and humans, (5) Temptation and Sin, (6) God’s Love, Human Response, (7) Friends and Family, (8) Love and Marriage, (9) The Hero, (10) Women as Heroes, (11) The journey of life, (12) Slavery and Freedom, (13) War, (14) Good people, (15) Justice, (16) Government and Politics, (17) Predestination and Free Will, (18) Truth, (19) Death and Afterlife, (20) Last Days. According to the reviewer, the book examines how different people have struggled with these broad questions. In confining itself to ‘Western’ literature, early Jewish and Rabbinic literature is not covered.

Rake, Mareike, “Juda wird aufsteigen!”: Untersuchungen zum ersten Kapitel des Richterbuches (2006)

Klaas Spronk provides a very good review of this book. Rake provides a historical-critical analysis of Judges 1-2, in a book based on her dissertation. She provides a “thorough survey” of theories of development, before offering her own radical reconstruction of the text, which allows her to reverse the majority opinion of influence — she concludes that Joshua is dependent on Judges 1-2, although the direction of influence is complex and uncertain.

Pruin, Dagmar, Geschichten und Geschichte: Isebel als literarische und historische Gestalt

This book analyses the different Jezebel traditions in the Bible and its reception, and also attempts to retrace the development behind the stories.

Younger Jr., K Lawson, editor, Ugarit at Seventy-Five (2007)

The papers derive from the Midwest Regional meetings of the American Oriental Society at Trinity International University (Deerfield, Illinois), in February 2005 — which was held to commemorate the 75th anniversay of the discovery of Ugarit (Ras Shamra). The first five essays deal with the Ugaritic texts. Mark Smith looks at various aspects of Ugaritic religion. Dennis Pardee looks at RIH 98/02 (discovered in 1998), a song to Attartu with parallels to Exod 15 and Judg 5. Nic Wyatt discusses the divinity of kings. Wayne Pitard discusses the monsters Anat fought in the Baal Myth. Pierre Bourdreuil looks at new texts from the House of Urtenu, including some new data on the rapi’uma/rephaim. The last three papers deal with archaeological or historical issues, including a survey of the evidence for the origins of the Arameans by K. Lawson Younger.

Posted in Archaeology, Biblical interpretation, Books, Criticism, Dead Sea Scrolls, Historical Books, Historiography, Reception, Ugaritic | Comments Off on Review of Biblical Literature – September 6, 2008

Israeli David and Arab Goliath

Posted by NT Wrong on August 13, 2008

It’s not only sticks and stones that hurt our bones. The ‘David and Goliath’ metaphor has provided a powerful lens through which to view the Israeli-Arab conflict. Moreover, the metaphor has helped determine the way in which the Israeli-Arab conflict has developed in the real world.

“Israel’s partisans have worked hard to present the country as a tiny David facing a Goliath Arab military machine. In fact, however, virtually all experts—including the U.S. Department of Defence—believe the Israel Defense Forces have always been more than a match for their Arab neighbors.”
– Yahya M. Sadowski, Scuds or butter? : The political economy of arms control in the Middle East. Brookings Institution Press, 1993: 104.

“the Zionist Emergency Council and local Zionist groups provided the basic financial support for this Christian front, which soon, through local chapters and a budget of $150,000, was “crystallizing and properly channeling the sympathy of Christian America.” An effective speakers’ bureau dispatching lecturers across the country, supported by a monthly publication and other propaganda material, helped implant in Christian minds a picture of Israel as a “democratic little David taking on an evil Egyptian David.””
– Alfred M. Lilienthal, The Other Side of the Coin: An American Perspective of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. New York: Devin-Adair. 1965: 7.

“No simile better fits the war … than the legend of David and Goliath. David, of course, is little Israel, numbering less than 2.5 million souls. Goliath, of course, is the Arab world … a population of 20 to 40 million. … The Arabs and Communist representatives accused Israel of firing the first shots. [But] obviously, a nation that knows that it is in danger of stragulation will use its fists.”
– Reinhold Niebuhr, “David and Goliath” (Editorial). Christianity and Crisis 27.11 (26 June 1967): 141-142.

Political Stereotypes Israelis (Jews): Modern; western; having democratic orientations; good fighters; underdog; Israel as David facing an inept Goliath; trusted ally, and a true friend of the United States; a threatened party seeking and deserving peace and security in the midst of implacable enemies, etc.”
– media portrayal of Jews and Arabs, in Mohammed E. Ahrari, Ethnic Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1987: 9.

“In the official Zionist rendition of the 1948 war the events are presented as a battle between a Jewish David and an Arabic Goliath. Central to key narratives in Israeli culture is the myth which depicts the Israel-Palestine conflict as ‘a war of the few against the many’. Since the early twentieth century Zionist historiography has based this narrative of the ‘few against the many’ on the biblical account of Joshua’s conquest of ancient Palestine, while mainstream Israeli historians continue to portray the 1948 war as an unequal struggle between a Jewish David and an Arab Goliath, and as a desperate, heroic, and ultimately successful Jewish struggle against overwhelming odds.”
– Nur Masalha, The Bible and Zionism: Invented Traditions, Archaeology and Post-Colonialism in Palestine-Israel. Zed Books, 2007: 56.

“The story of David and Goliath provided a reassuring myth of survival, not only because it told of the victory of the weak against the strong but also because the youthful victor of the battle against Goliath eventually emerged as the great ruler of ancient Israel, King David. By identifying with David, the Jews of both the pre-State and State periods could allow themselves to believe that they too would eventually achieve a high degree of political sovereignty, analogous to that of David in ancient times.”
– David C. Jacobson , Does David Still Play Before You?: Israeli Poetry and the Bible. Wayne State University Press, 1997: 84.

“the claim of “defenseless Israel facing the destruction of the Arab Goliath” does not correspond to historical facts. [Flapan] argues that Israel, on the eve of the “Arab invasion” had between 25,000 and 65,000 (low and high estimates) standing soldiers, while all the “Arab Goliath” had was 20, 269 to 23,500. By June of 1948, the Israeli fighting forces reached 41,000, and by December of the same year 96,441 ([Simha] Flapan[, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities. Pantheon,] 1987: 194-199). Concealing this fact came to valorize the “national spirit” and show its “superior and just cause” compared to the “evil, unjust, and destructive Arabs.” Then, in this discourse, the powerful is presented as “defenseless” and the “defenseless” is presented as the “destructive Goliath.”
– Riad M. Nasser, Palestinian Identity in Jordan and Israel. Routledge, 2005: 51.

“The international phase of the 1948 war has been filtered through the David and Goliath iconography with regard to the size of opposing forces and belief that Israel was on the defensive – the war taken to be an unalloyed military necessity rather than an outgrowth of expansionist goals. Concerning the relative size of military forces, Ben-Gurion claimed that 700,000 Jews are pitted against 27 million Arabs – one against forty.” The Arab countries equally indulged in wild propaganda about the magnitude of their threat to Israel. For example, the secretary general of the Arab League declared: “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre that will be spoken of like the Mongol invasions and the Crusades.” This hyperbole about Arab strength, coming from both Jews and Arabs, could not alter the fact that the Arab Goliath was suffering from extreme poverty, domestic discord and internal rivalries. Nearly all the Arab countries were in imminent danger of internal collapse.”
– Thomas A. Baylis, How Israel was Won: A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Lexington Books, 1999: 80-81.

“Arab intransigence. On one side, a few million Israelis. On the other side, twenty Arab countries with a population of 100 million. Through ingenuity, resourcefulness, and courage, the beleaguered Jewish settlement in Palestine was able to forestall the attack of five Arab armies. David versus Goliath.”
– Summarising a media perception: William A. Gamson, Talking Politics. Cambridge University Press, 1992: 244.

“”The Auschwitz theme is back again,” says Marc H. Tanenbaum, director of the Interreligious Affairs Department of the American Jewish Committee. “The issue of Jewish survival is again at stake. You can’t have Judaism without Jews. The war assumes a metaphysical importance beyond the importance of individual Jewish lives.” Clifford A. Straus, who is organizing bond rallies in Miami, made the same point: “We’re scared as a people. How many times can David beat Goliath?” … The Chicago Civic Center was jammed with 5,000 people who applauded an enraged Mayor Richard Daley: “Go ahead, Israelites. Be sure to remove every Arab from the soil of Israel.””
– “A Unique Burst of Giving.” TIME Magazine, October 29, 1973.

“The relative sizes of Arab and Jewish populations have always been a serious concern, first to the early Zionists who sought in vain through Jewish immigration to build up a Jewish majority in Palestine, and later to Israel which has sought a larger population base to meet the threat implicit in the disproportionately Goliath-like Arab populations that surround it. But since 1967, the greatly disproportionate sizes of Israeli and Arab populations are only one part of the population problem. The new factor is the higher growth rate of the Arab population within Israel itself. For deriving from the conquests from the Six-Day War, the proportion of Palestinian Arabs to Jews within Israel’s new boundaries rose to a level that, if their higher growth rate continues, Palestinian Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israel itself within a few decades, all other factors remaining constant.”
– Willard A. Beling, The Middle East: Quest for an American Policy. SUNY Press, 1976: 49.

“To the Arabs and the supporters of their cause, Israel is the Goliath, gigantic with American arms and money …”
– Ronald Segal, Whose Jerusalem?: The Conflicts of Israel. Cape, 1973: 11.

“In Washington, Ronald Reagan, by instinct a warm supporter of Israel, reflected that in the public perception, Israel had been transformed from the “David” to the “Goliath” of the Middle East.”
– William E. Smith, “Crisis of Conscience.” TIME Magazine, October 4, 1982.

Posted in Historical Books, Modern Israel, Reception | Comments Off on Israeli David and Arab Goliath

Caravaggio – David with the Head of Goliath

Posted by NT Wrong on August 3, 2008

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610) painted a series of famous ‘David and Goliath’ paintings, including David with the Head of Goliath (1607).

The severed head of Goliath is a self-portrait; Caravaggio’s own head. The model for David was Caravaggio’s boy lover, Cecco. The relationship between the two men sheds light on Caravaggio’s erotic depiction of David, with shirt falling off one shoulder, and trousers partly undone.

In the painting below, David’s sword is inscribed with H-AS O S, in Latin: Humilitas occidit superbiam (“Humility slays pride”). The maxim is taken from Augustine, who interprets the duel between David and Goliath, morally, as one between humility and pride and, typologically, as one between Christ and Satan.

Posted in Fine Arts, Historical Books, Pentateuch, Reception | Comments Off on Caravaggio – David with the Head of Goliath