Tuesday, February 23, 2010
  Amos, justice and gender
Julia O'Brien has a fine post Reading Amos in Modern Tekoa, it should suggest other neat possibilities for teaching! Though as Julia shows Tekoa today offers richer possibilities than many other sites.

But as they say "the devil is in the details", and in this case I wonder about a couple of related details. Julia "point[s] out how Amos falls short of all-inclusive justice" citing Judith Sanderson in the Women’s Bible Commentary:
  • "the description of Samaria’s women in 4:1-3 unfairly scapegoats women for the nation’s ills" does it? Or does this passage merely suggest that the women who enjoy the "good life" procured by oppression (cf 4:1 they at least enjoyed the drinkies) are condemned along with thoose who procured them these treats?
  • Amos "failed specifically to champion the women among the poor" surely 2:7b does specifically champion a class of (poor) women (servant girls) from male abuse, and states that such abuse profanes the holy reputation of God.
I don't believe that Amos is entirely free of the taint of common social attitudes of his time (though as a male I am less likely to spot examples), doubtless the book reflects the unconscious prejudices of its writers and editors, but please limit mention of this to cases where the failure to transcend time and place are clear and unequivocal.

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Monday, January 11, 2010
J.K. Gayle at Aristotle's Feminist Subject has a brilliant (shining, sparkling, sharply cut) post the Prostitute... or probably "the Prostitute, Post-Pentateuch Persuasion, and Play in Bible Translation". I won't spoil it by sumarising, or ruin it by excerpting (much ;) but I do want to encourage you to read it. I hope that people who read this blog will really enjoy the post in full, as I am.

To encourage you I will just offer this small gem: the post talks much of wordplay:
By "wordplay," I mean both playfulness with words and wiggleroom in their interpretation.
With that sentence in the opening of the first full section I am hooked.  But it is only a detail, so DO read the post in full, please :)

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Saturday, November 14, 2009
  Gerasene biblical interpretation
Photo by FilmNut
I have just been marking the final assignment for our introductory course on Understanding and Interpreting the Bible. We used Duvall and Hays book as the core and basis of the course (bibliographical details below). They picture the process of interpreting the Bible today in terms of four (or five for the Old Testament) simple steps:
  1. The text in their town - what the text meant and/or was intended to mean or do in its ancient context(s). The outcome of this phase should be a short summmary couched in the past tense e.g. Paul exhorted his hearers to..., Jesus challenged the Pharisees... or Luke encouraged Gentile believers...
  2. Measure the width of the river - encourages interpreters to notice and take account of the barriers time and space have erected which interfere with our capacity to read and understand the text. In the course we stressed this, and noticed time and again the tendency, deeply engrained in Evangelical Christians, to seek to apply the Bible without thinking.
  3. Uncover the principle - religious discourses usually are either based on or give expression to theological principles, unlike the message of a passage (which is time-bound and specific) these are timeless and general.
  4. For the OT: consider the passage through the lens of Jesus and the NT. If Christians believe that Jesus fulfills the OT then this step may well qualify their understanding of passages from the Hebrew Bible.
  5. Apply the passage. Unlike the principle, but mirroring the message these will be specific, and they should be multiple. Both the specificity and multiplicity together help people to then generalise the application to their own lives - generalised applications usually leave their consumers merely with vague good or bad feelings but called to no specific actions.
Photo by digitalART2
We had reminded the class of these steps each week, and practised them most weeks. As well as looking in more detail at how to study the expression of the text, its literary and historico-social contexts and how various Gattungen of biblical literature work.

Doing this marking I have been forced to notice that (at least among NZ Evangelicals) the default response to a first reading of a biblical text is to draw a pious vaguye general "application". This process is like applying a bandaid, quick and easy and painful to dislodge. It is also like a band aid, easier when it is thin - verses are easier to "apply" than narratives.

The result is that faced with the wide and deep "river" that separates us from the authors and hearers of the Bible, we instantly run full tilt down the hill and throw ourselves at the river.

Hence my title, because of this Gerasene tendency (Mark 5:13) many Bible interpreters end up face down in deep water!

Duvall, J. Scott, and J Daniel Hays. Grasping God's word : a hands-on approach to reading, interpreting, and applying the Bible. Grand Rapids Mich.: Zondervan, 2001.

Duvall, J. Scott, and J Daniel Hays. Journey into God's word : your guide to understanding and applying the Bible. Grand Rapids Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009
  Beginning right
Somehow I missed the link to the JTS Torah Commentary site when Bob first posted the instruction to Enjoy this commentary actually despite the linguistic form it is more of an expectation "you will [I am sure] enjoy this commentary" than an instruction ;) Either way the commentary he points to on the beginning of the beginning of the first pericope of the Bible Parashah B'reishit was well worth enjoying :)

Written with (almost but not quite?) an excess of humour the post takes up Rashi's remarks that the first word of Scripture 'says nothing other than "explain me"!'

I used Rashi's approach in the sermon I preached on Gen 1:1.1-3 (the first three words of Gen 1:1) for the latest CareyMedia video series on "Gospel" (the new series is not available yet, but you can watch one of the previous series on So I loved Rabbi Harris' commentary. In particular I was grateful for his opening paragraph to discover a passage and interpretation I had not noticed before:
There is a verse that I love to invoke whenever I teach about "the poetics of biblical narrative," and it doesn't come from this week's portion (but who's keeping score, anyway?). Instead, it is found in the first extended legal section, Parashat Mishpatim (Exod. 21–24). Loosely translated, this is the text: "In all charges of misunderstanding . . . whereof one party alleges, 'This is it!'—the case of both parties shall come before God" (Exod. 22:8); the Hebrew phrase underlying the words "this is it!" is: כי הוא זה (ki hu zeh). The verse seems to be addressing a case in which no one side has a total claim on the truth; in such a case, then, one is bidden to consider both possibilities.
Do read the rest!

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Thursday, October 15, 2009
  Biblical studies podcasts
Chris Heard has begun a podcast series that specialises in Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) topics at first I was unable to check it out as he only published it to iTunes now it is also available for non-proprietary download. Sounds good, I am looking forward to episode two of "God and Someone Else" looking forward since Chris smartly ends with a cliff hanger ;)

Chris thus joins the existing biblical studies podcast series (the order is chronological, since style, audience and frequency offer interesting variety):
Do try them, you'll like (at the very least some of) them!

Incidentally (but appropriately) our PodBible daily podcasts of the Bible itself from various amateur readers precedes all of these biblical studies 'casts :)

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009
  Facticity or important issues?
Jim West in response to my previous post accuses me of "grossly inappropriate" behaviour:
First, ‘minimalists’ aren’t extremists. Second, they don’t view the bible as ‘information’. ‘Information’ carries with it the notion of facticity.
Ah, tales of misunderstanding and exaggeration! Mea culpa. My statement, that Jim objects to, was an exaggeration, and was unfair to many on both "ends" of the imaginary and unreal (but nevertheless useful) spectrum. The extremists do not wish to discuss facts, I accept that ;)

However, from where I sit, the débat des sourds between fundies and minimalists often seems to descend into mere wrangling over questions of factuality. Some members of the debating teams involved are oblivious to this descent because they wish to embrace the ideologies expressed in biblical texts unquestioningly, and seem to believe that affirming the facticity of the text supports this view. Members and supporters of the other side, may regret this “slippage” because their “real” intention is to unmask the hidden agendas and ideologies of these same texts. But energy is expended on debate about history and ideology. Personally, I regret this frittering.

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  Hard Times for Bible Readers
Julia M. O'Brien has another thoughful and provoking post, on Reading Novels, Reading the Bible. In it she notices a phenomenon that has long interested me. Extremists about the Bible, both fundamentalists and minimalists (with apologies to Jim W who does not fit this label in this context), make the same mistake, both reduce the Bible to information.1 In doing so they are thoroughly modern.

Modernity worships factuality. It reduces life to facts. Mystery and wonder are relegated to "entertainment". Moderns know "the price of everything and the value of nothing" (as Oscar Wilde2 said).

No wonder, then if the Bible is important it must be full of facts, or if it must be dethroned then it must be full of errors! This is the student's approach to the Bible, examine, test and discuss it's facticity. How different the reader! Julia quotes James Joyce3:
[in reading novels,]  we walk through ourselves meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love.  But always meeting ourselves. 
Readers of the Bible "walk through themselves" and in doing so not only meet themselves, but also meet God. What we need is more readers and less students of the Bible. For all students meet is information. But there's the paradox, our profession produces Bible students smilies/sad.gif

Dare we, dare I, adapt the way we teach so that we may be less good at developing biblical scholars, but better at producing Bible readers?

This post is an expansion of a comment I left on Julia's blog.

1. In "Le texte biblique et le contexte africain" Revue Zaïroise Théologie Protestante II, 1988, 11-17, I argued that "conservative and "liberal" approaches to the Bible "la trahissent au nom de l'histoire" [betray the Bible in the name of history].
2. Wilde, Oscar, and Joseph Bristow. The picture of Dorian Gray. Oxford University Press, 2006, 42.  (Bristow notes that Wilde adapted this pithy saying in Lady Windemere's Fan two years later, so he was perhaps as fond of it as later generations have been ;)
3. James Joyce, Ulysses. The Modern Library Edition.  New York:  Random House, 1934, p. 210

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009
  Old Testament Podcasts
All the talk of podcasting seems to have fired me up again, in the last ten days, I've posted three new 'casts to my 5 Minute Bible series:
None of these is ground breaking new research, but that's not the goal. Just short (5 minutes or so) snippets that serious Bible readers can hear and then enjoy using to discover more as they read.

If they work for that then the series is working :) and 3.7GB in July (which equates to 16 podcasts each of which was downloaded more than 300 times during the month - not to mention the other 24 podcasts that were less popular).

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Friday, July 17, 2009
  PodBible podcasts the last chapter
Today PodBible podcast the last chapter to complete the whole Bible! Fittingly the chapter was also a whole book - Philemon. After nearly four years of work, starting with 300+ volunteers reading the whole Bible live over Labour Weekend in 2005, and continuing with teams who brainstormed ideas for "something to Think about, Pray about and Do" for each daily chapter the podcast series (of the 66 books of the Protestant canon) is complete.

The daily chapters will continue to be podcast, but the whole Bible is now available to download chapter-by-chapter. Work has begun on two new delivery projects to develop PodBible further.

First packaging chapters to make 60 minute collections (book by book) so that people can download these "Bible60" collections to put on CDs, tapes or their car radios to listen to longer swathes of Scripture (with no TPDs added).

Then making the daily podcasts available in AMR format (much smaller files than MP3files) for download to mobile phone...

By the way, if providing Bible readings to more than a thousand people a day sounds worthwhile to you maybe you could help by taking a share of the regular tasks needed to run the podcasts, with a little training we can provide, anyone who is moderately computer literate could do what is needed in less than an hour a week... write to Tim to get more details...

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