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The Biblical Case for Gay Marriage – Newsweek

Posted by NT Wrong on December 8, 2008

newsweekOpponents of gay marriage often make appeals to the Bible. The Dec 6, 2008 edition of Newsweek has a look at what the Bible really says about marriage, and finds that — funnily enough — there isn’t much in the Bible which supports your average American nuclear family…

“Let’s try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. “It is better to marry than to burn with passion,” says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?”
‘Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy’ Newsweek, Dec 6, 2008

As Walter Wink nicely showed a while back, the sexual mores of the Bible are a whole world apart from our own — and that’s the case, whether we’re politically conservative or liberal. Newsweek summarises: “The Bible was written for a world so unlike our own, it’s impossible to apply its rules, at face value, to ours.”

“In the Old Testament, the concept of family is fundamental, but examples of what social conservatives would call “the traditional family” are scarcely to be found. Marriage was critical to the passing along of tradition and history, as well as to maintaining the Jews’ precious and fragile monotheism. But as the Barnard University Bible scholar Alan Segal puts it, the arrangement was between “one man and as many women as he could pay for.” Social conservatives point to Adam and Eve as evidence for their one man, one woman argument—in particular, this verse from Genesis: “Therefore shall a man leave his mother and father, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” But as Segal says, if you believe that the Bible was written by men and not handed down in its leather bindings by God, then that verse was written by people for whom polygamy was the way of the world.”
‘Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy’ Newsweek, Dec 6, 2008

The article agrees that Leviticus proscribes sex between men. (It also explains the absence of proscriptions against lesbian sex as a result of the lack of “entry”, relying on what it calls an “entry” from the Anchor Bible Dictionary — a Freudian slip?) But the article also points out that even the fundies ignore most of Leviticus while they fixate unhealthily on what men are doing with each others’ nakednesses:

“Most of us no longer heed Leviticus on haircuts or blood sacrifices; our modern understanding of the world has surpassed its prescriptions. Why would we regard its condemnation of homosexuality with more seriousness than we regard its advice, which is far lengthier, on the best price to pay for a slave?”
‘Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy’ Newsweek, Dec 6, 2008

And when it comes to Paul’s views on homosexuality, Newsweek quotes Neil Elliott (author of The Arrogance of Nations): “Paul is not talking about what we call homosexuality at all.” Given that the modern idea of ‘homosexuality’ — linked as it is to ideas about personal identity within an imposed binary framework of ‘sexuality’ — is barely one hundred years old, it’s not surprising that Paul had a quite different conception from ours.

The article later gets a bit sappy, talking about the Bible’s “universal truths” and message of “love”, glossing over its vile central message of the punishment of the vast majority of people in favour of a minority “chosen people”, and ignoring Jesus’ own short-sighted prejudice against non-Jewish people. The abstract universalized message of the Bible is just as unjust as its particular instantiations. But all in all the Newsweek article makes some solid points about gay marriage and the Bible.

    “The mama looked down and spit on the ground
    Everytime my name gets mentioned
    The papa said oy if I get that boy
    Im gonna stick him in the house of detention
    …And when the radical priest
    Come to get me released
    We was all on the cover of Newsweek
    – Paul Simon, ‘Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard’

Posted in Justice, Religion & Society, The Bible | 15 Comments »

Returning the Bible to Fantasy

Posted by NT Wrong on August 29, 2008

“The Bible must be taken out of context. Re-turned to and into fantasy.”
– Jack Zipes. “The Messianic Power of Fantasy in the Bible.” Semeia 60 (1992):7-21, 8.

Paul Farrell returns the Bible to fantasy in his collection of children’s Bible stories, Illustrated Stories from the Bible (that they won’t tell you in Sunday School) .

His book includes all the children’s favourites, including ‘Jeptha’s daughter’, ‘Little Gershom’s Penis’ (Gershom is Zipporah’s son), ‘Moses Helps God to Understand’ (Num 13-14), and ‘When Jesus Drowned the Pigs’.

This page is from ‘The Slaughter of the Midianites’, which always gets the kiddies off to dream-land:

Posted in Books, Humour, Justice, The Bible | 2 Comments »

D. A. Carson reviews Roland Boer – But what concord hath Christ with Belial?

Posted by NT Wrong on July 24, 2008

I had to smirk when I saw that D. A. “The Don” Carson had volunteered(?) to been assigned the review of Roland Boer’s recent book, Rescuing the Bible, in the latest offering from the Review of Biblical Literature. There’s something amusing about reading somebody’s apoplectic criticisms when you know they come from a completely different planet. The one thing that puzzled me is why The Don would be bothered considered qualified to write a review of Roland Boer’s book … Anyway, let’s have a read through D. A. Carson’s final paragraph, where he provides the bulk of his own criticisms, and I’ll interweave a few comments of my own:

“This book, a fascinating mix of dogmatic left-wing self-righteousness combined with rich and scathing condescension toward all who are even a tad less left than the author, is rich in unintended irony. Boer cannot see how implausible his arguments become. While nominally allowing “religious” people to believe in the supernatural so long as they support his left-wing agenda and join forces with him in a “worldly” secularism, what he says about the Bible and about biblical scholarship is so blatantly committed to philosophical naturalism and historical minimalism that even the most mild supernaturalism is ridiculed: no allowance can be made for divine revelation, anyone who thinks Moses really existed is not really a scholar, biblical studies can be called “scientific” only if the scholars themselves do not preach, and so forth.”

Roland Boer explicitly describes Rescuing the Bible as a “manifesto”. Given such a genre, the book should be “dogmatic” — every bit as dogmatic as the latest edition of Moody’s Dogmatic Theology, if it could manage that degree of dogmatism. But Carson appears to have missed this fact. The manifesto genre does not make the work “self-righteous”, and it is disingenuous to make the equation. Moreover, the focus of Boer’s book is very much on positive left-wing uses of the Bible, not on negatively denegrating right-wing (ab)use. This is reflected in the pages Boer has devoted to positive examples such as Wilberforce (concerning whom Boer was perhaps a bit too positive), Müntzer, Gerard Winstanley and the Diggers, and Camilo Torres. Carson’s criticism of the manifesto for being a manifesto is an elementary mistake concerning categories of genre. But the impression he gives of the book’s negative content is unfair and misleading.

Boer’s manifesto is clear that it is providing a way to use the Bible as an instrument for left-wing ends. So Boer has provided examples of how the Bible can be — in the future — and has been — in the past — used to further such goals. This is a welcome antedote to the dominant presentations of the biblical material these days, in which it is either used or abused by right-wing political interests to further their own goals. As this is Boer’s stated approach, it is simply not relevant whether a person would also use the Bible for religious purposes. So Carson has missed the point in his criticism that Boer “nominally” allows “religious people to believe in the supernatural so long as they support his left-wing agenda”. Boer is just not primarily concerned with belief or disbelief in this book — his primary concern is the political use of the Bible. To describe this as “nominally” allowing religious belief is a severe misrepresentation of Boer’s concerns in the book.

If Carson had understood this, he might not have made his erroneous charges of “unintended irony” and “implausible” arguments — charges which are fallacious and inapplicable once it is understood that Boer is primarily concerned here with the Bible as instrument for left-wing ends rather than the Bible itself. And whether Carson likes it or not, any “scholar” who presupposes the object of his study is “revelation” from God or that a “Moses” existed is doing theology, not biblical scholarship. Carson might also have taken Boer’s advice not to mix preaching with scholarship when he lapsed into the worst type of preaching at the end of his paragraph.

“Boer consistently damns everyone on the right by ridiculing the obvious targets, but probably he would not appreciate it if a counterpart on the right ridiculed those on the left by skewering Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot.”

As noted, Boer’s manifesto is much more concerned with providing a positive plan for the use of the Bible for left-wing ends than with negative assessments of right-wing (ab)use.

“It turns out that Boer wants to “rescue” the Bible not only from what people on the right say that it means, but from what the Bible itself says, for whenever the Bible, in all its multivalence, disagrees with Boer’s vision of the summum bonum, it is to be undermined, set aside, and mocked — not even wrestled with. Readers are repeatedly told that those nasty right-wingers have “stolen” the Bible. Boer never considers the possibility that quite a few left-wingers have simply abandoned the Bible, leaving the terrain open for those who at least take it seriously.”

Carson slips up here, and reveals the real basis for his criticism. See how easily the right-wing use of the Bible is equated with “what the Bible itself says”. Carson’s basic presupposition is exposed for all to see. For Carson the Bible is a right-wing Bible. And his slip-up is justification enough for Boer’s whole project. Carson’s equation of right-wing users of the Bible with those who “take it seriously” is also revealing of his stand. Can’t your left-leaning reader of the Bible also take it seriously? Apparently not in Don’s world.

The use of “wrestled with” reveals another common evangelical presupposition. For some evangelicals, only those who seek the most tendentious explanations for the “abusive” parts of the Bible have interpreted it properly. Underlying this is a strange presupposition concerning the Bible’s perfection, a perfection which justifies what would otherwise be the most tortuous explanations, and which condemns those who conclude that the Bible is less than perfect by accusing them of not having “wrestled” adequately with the text. The approach pretends to deal with the evidence, but in fact rests on an a priori position that the Bible is perfect.

“What will satisfy Boer, it seems, is not the liberation of the Bible, but the liberation of the Bible from any agenda he considers right-wing, so that it can be locked in servitude to a left-wing agenda.”

Carson basically got Boer’s project right here. But I think this was unintended, as he was only aiming to be sarcastic.

“Boer’s dismissive arguments to prove the Bible is hopelessly multivalent — a commonplace among many modern and postmodern readers today — is spectacularly unconvincing because he does not interact with any serious literature (and there is two thousand years’ worth of such literature) that argues, with various [sic] degrees of success, how the Bible does hang together.”

Hmmmmm… there’s two thousand years’ worth of “serious” literature showing that the Bible is a unity, huh? Does Don know that for most of those two thousand years, the “serious” literature employed a seriously convoluted set of interpretational devices to impose unity on the Bible — such as allegory, typology, anagogy, etc? While it might have been considered “serious” at the time, it sure isn’t now. In any case, I’m not so sure that Boer’s only trick is to show that the Bible is “hopelessly multivalent” and open to different readings. From my memory of reading his book, Boer appeals both to the right-wing “abuses” of the Bible as well as its uses. Although the line between use and interpretation is a fuzzy one, and maybe a “continuum” is a better model for it, Boer at least pragmatically operates as though there is some distinction. So, sometimes a surface reading of the Bible is all that is required, sometimes it requires a reading against the grain. I don’t know that I’d side either with Boer or Carson when it comes to their hermeneutics, but I am sure that Carson has again oversimplified or misrepresented his description of Boer’s approach.

“But perhaps this is not too surprising from an author who cherishes chaos precisely because chaos undermines God’s authority — and all authority save Boer’s must be overthrown. I think that many biblical writers would call that choice idolatry. At the end of the day, Boer is trying to rescue the Bible from God.”

The final three sentences of Carson’s review simply shouldn’t have been included in any scholarly review. Carson has accused Boer not of any critical fault, but of opposing God himself. Has the RBL started to publish Sunday sermons? Earlier, Carson tried to equate a right-wing reading of the Bible with the Bible itself, and here he equates a left-wing reading with opposition to God. Carson’s criticism is revealed to be based less on any scholarly critical grounds than on religious presuppositions. That’s fine for a Sunday sermon, but it should have no place in a purportedly scholarly review.

Moreover, in accusing Boer of opposing God and practising idolatry, he seems to consider a right-wing interpretation of the Bible to be immune from the same charge. It’s as though the Bible has become so tied up with right-wing and conservative politics and religion that he has become blind to its left-wing passages and possibilities for use. And that’s precisely the reason why a manifesto such as Boer’s was needed in the first place.

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Books, The Bible | 20 Comments »

James Barr advises Christians and Scholars to Take the Bible Literally

Posted by NT Wrong on July 18, 2008

from an article in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, back in 1999 …

“A literal biblical chronology would mean a world created in seven days, about 4000 B.C., give or take one or two hundred years. But many creationists do not want to be biblical literalists. Of course the Bible in a general way is a big source of inspiration for their movement, but the exact figures of the Bible are not a matter of principle for them, as I understand them. In my opinion, it was a big mistake for many of the mainline religious organizations when they opposed the creationists by saying that the Bible should not be taken literally. This is not what the creationists do. It is, on the contrary, what the churches and other organisations should do: that is, to argue that, in this respect, the Bible’s figures should be taken literally, because it is when they are taken literally it becomes clear that they are not historically or scientifically true.”
– James Barr

Hoorah for Barr!! Damn it, but I so often relish his words, like those of few other biblical scholars.

James Barr set himself against those who would construct an artificial separation of theology and science/history, realising that both stand and fall together. The attempt to defend the bible as ‘theologically true’ but not a ‘textbook’ on history or science is, first, a false dichotomy, and, second, a division that its authors simply could not have conceived of. The bible is ‘theologically’ false because it is ‘historically’/’scientifically’ false – if these categories are understood emically (and so, non-exclusively). Disproof of the bible’s own conception of history or science (not our categories, mind you) is disproof of its own theology. Any denial of this stems from an imposition of modern categories which attempt a separation where none was thought possible.

So, heed James Barr’s call from beyond the grave: Take the Bible literally (don’t impose your own ill-fitting concepts on it).

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Fundamentalism, Historiography, Science, The Bible | 5 Comments »

NEWS: Latest Lawsuit Against Bible

Posted by NT Wrong on July 13, 2008

In other News

Tattooed Pork-eating Shellfish-eating Gay Cross-dressing Bastard Palestinian Wiccan Man with crushed testicles has sued the publishers of the New International Version for Zillions.

“We think he has a very good case,” said his lawyer, Denny Crane.

Posted in Humour, Religion & Society, The Bible | 1 Comment »

SBL International Auckland – Day 4

Posted by NT Wrong on July 10, 2008

Philip Culbertson received the prize for the best title to a paper at the International Congress:

“Bobbitizing God: On the Importance of the Divine Genitals Remaining Un-Manageable”

Philip Culbertson examined the third gender fa’afafine from Samoa (a male who takes on feminine gender roles and dress). After some discussion of fa’afafines, and the cultural construction of gender in general, he suggested that God’s gender be thought of as something that he performs on certain occasions rather than as something essential to God. That is, sometimes God acts in a masculine way, sometimes in a feminine way.

George Aichele discussed the different Jesuses in the four Gospels and the manner by which the canon serves to control diversity by subsuming them under a single voice. He provided a great set of examples of how each of the Gospels portrays a different Jesus. Apparently the paper will be published in the The Bible and Critical Theory. It’s an absolute blast – look out for it.

And then we went to the pub. We spotted this blackboard on the wall, advertising a beer called “Petrus”:

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Gender, Jesus & Christ, The Bible | Comments Off on SBL International Auckland – Day 4

SBL International Auckland – Day 3

Posted by NT Wrong on July 9, 2008

The first sessions of the day I went to were a bit ordinary, so I ducked unto the Book Review Session for Roland Boer’s Rescuing the Bible. This was a good move. George Aichele provided some excellent comments. He first questioned whether it is correct to say that the religious right had “stolen” the Bible (as Roland Boer had asserted), due to the fact that the very idea of a canon is intrinsically conservative. There can only be a “Bible” as long as we consider it authoritative. That is, the Bible would disappear if not considered authoritative. So, he reasoned, it is even impossible to say that the Bible can be taken “out of context”, to the contrary, the “Bible” is the context. What the Left should advocate, according to Aichele, is nothing less than the complete removal of the codex itself. And then he came out with this comment:

“The only good Bible is a dead Bible.”

George Aichele gave the example of The Brick Testament as a retelling of ‘biblical’ stories which manages to free the stories from their canonical context. The aim of the Left should be to reduce the Bible to a husk – reduce the Bible to the mere illusion of a book.

Aichele contrasted his view with those in the Left who want the Bible to act as canon, a venerated classic, to recover, as some have put it, “the dangerous memory of Jesus”. Such a view would try to rescue the radical bits, while failing to recognize the oppressive parts in which it is embedded.

George Aichele also questioned Boer’s advocation of a utopian socialist “myth” which should be aimed for, objecting that all myths are universalizing and totalitarian. Instead, with reference to Lyotard and Zipes, he advocated multiple fairy tales and fantasies rather than a single overbearing myth.

Aichele finished by pointing out that the motivation to be suspicious of the Bible’s contents is not something that derives from the Bible itself, but from outside, from a secular hermeneutical standpoint. If the motivation for suspicion were from the Bible, after all, we would have to be suspicious of that, too. Yet sometimes the Left has accepted the Right’s claim that we are not choosing our beliefs and actions, but we are “just following the Bible” (which, for the right means “just following the Bible” to oppress women, minorities, and homosexuals, encourage capitalism, etc, etc; for the Left means some illusory authentic radical core). Rather than rescuing the Bible, we therefore need to rescue people from the Bible.

Phew, eh?

Here’s Roland Boer in action:

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Criticism, The Bible | 2 Comments »

The Contribution of Biblical Studies to the Humanities – Mark S. Smith

Posted by NT Wrong on July 2, 2008

From The Skillful-and-Wise One, Mark S. Smith:

“Perhaps beause of its historical roots in theology, the field of Israelite religion (not to mention biblical studies generally) remains one that does not generate its own general theoretical contribution to the humanities or social sciences.”

– Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and Other Deities in Ancient Israel. 2nd edn.; Grand Rapids & Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2002: xxx.

Is Mark S. Smith right?


Posted in Academia, Biblical interpretation, Criticism, The Bible | 3 Comments »

Can’t Darwin and God get along? Giberson ‘Saving Darwin’ Interview

Posted by NT Wrong on July 1, 2008

Karl Giberson, author of Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (June 2008), is interviewed in Salon.

I tend to think that Christianity and Evoution are mutually exclusive. But Karl Giberson is one of those folk who think they can get along just fine.

And he does make some nice comments. Like this one:

Salon: What is it about our culture that has led to creationism’s popularity?

Karl Giberson: In short, intellectual laziness. We’re not prepared to do the hard work to make our culture more sophisticated. We don’t drill into our children in Sunday school or church the fact that ancient people thought differently about the world than we do. Even a modest amount of sophistication in biblical interpretation will show that the biblical authors, in both the Old Testament and New Testament, are not writing history.

And why is American evangelicalism much more popular than, say, European evangelicalism? Giberson says that American evangelicals have been quite successful in marketing Christianity to the lowest common denominator.

Karl Giberson: Biblical literalism is very simple. You read the Bible in English and you say to yourself that these are the things God wrote down through a secretary a long time ago, and all I need to do is read this in English and that’s all the work I have to do to understand it. Who wouldn’t want that to be the case? If you try to tell these people that they need some egghead scholar from Harvard, who can read Hebrew, to come in and help them with it, that seems offensive and alienating, and people aren’t attracted to that. So I think the ability of American religion to invent itself and to appeal to common denominators, sometimes the lowest denominator, has allowed these evangelical movements to flourish with their own agendas.

Good comments – I wonder what he thinks about Wiki-Bible?

Posted in Fundamentalism, Science, The Bible | Comments Off on Can’t Darwin and God get along? Giberson ‘Saving Darwin’ Interview

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