Scholar in Training

The blog of a new postgraduate student hoping to make it against all odds in the harsh world of modern biblical scholarship. Wow, it almost sounds like a Hollywood blockbuster...

Monday, October 31, 2005

Monday Research Papers

Another Sheffield Monday, another highly enjoyable research seminar. Three papers were read today:
  • Minna Shkul, "Religious Identity and the Power of Naming: Saints and Sinners in Ephesians"
    Ephesians reflects a complex matrix of early Christianities in the late first century. Naming/categorisation within the book itself establishes both similarity and difference, and this naming is done on the basis of ethnic origin and religious affliation; e.g. saints and sinners act as stereotypical codes, which convey central values and paradigms. Minna contests that the author of Eph. uses these various categories to resocialise a formerly pagan audience, getting them to appreciate their Israelite cultural heritage and simultaneously distancing themselves from their pagan, non-Israelite background.
  • Ela Nutu Hall, "Thinking of Judith and Conjuring Salome: Why?"
    This started off examining the painting Judith I by Klimt which has repeatedly been given the title Salome. This might be surprising, until you consider the fact that Klimt paints Judith as a femme fatale, which is not really the Judith we are shown by the apocryphal book. However, the book of Judith has various gender ambiguities, which artwork over the centuries have (unwittingly?) picked up, until we get Klimt's early 20th century's femme fatale, a sexualised, Freudian-neurotic Judith.
  • Kathryn Harding, "'You have captured my heart': The Dynamics of Power in the Song of Songs"
    How does power work in the Song of Songs? Is it a one-way patriarchal thing, or a mutual egalitarian exchange? Kathryn's paper tried to occupy the middle ground by suggesting that the power dynamics within the Song are much more complex than either of these positions suggests. In light of Roland Barthes' A Lover's Discourse, specifically the chapters on union and vouloir-saisir (will-to-possess), the protagonists of the Song can be seen to both desire and dream of total union with each other, whilst at the same time renouncing this dream.
Minna and Kathryn are third year Ph.D. students, Ela is a Research Assistant in the Sheffield Centre for the Study of the Bible in the Modern World. (In fact, I know Minna from Mattersey Hall: she teaches a second year undergraduate module there called New Testament Christian Origins.) They were all excellent papers, and I make it clear here that my summaries of them don't really do them justice. If you're going to SBL, Minna and Kathryn are giving their papers there in just a few weeks time!

On a slightly related note, the Sheffield Biblical Studies website has had a facelift (long overdue, it has to be said!), and there's a photo of the current M.A. students here (I'm the third from the left). I'm not sure if it's my net connection, but the site seems a little slow at the moment. You, of course, may find it faster!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Jesus and James

James Crossley, that is... I just noticed on his blog that my Sheffield colleague has had an article published in JSHJ 3.2 along with a bunch of other historical Jesus stuff. I shall have to read the issue and his article soon - and since James knows more about 1st-century CE history and Josephus than most people I've met, it's bound to be pretty good.

As a comic aside, "Joyless Creams" is an anagram of "James Crossley", and "Use Ostrich Jails" is an anagram of "Historical Jesus".

Friday, October 28, 2005

Being ill sucks

It's been far longer than I would have liked, but I've been quite ill recently. Every time I think I've got over it, something else happens (though the fatigue remains... zzzz...). Last Saturday I threw up at work, spent the weekend in bed, and then I missed a Hebrew lecture this Wednesday 'cause I felt like the entire world was trying to break into my skull. Yes, I know I'm a student, but it wasn't a hangover. Drinking far too much for my own good is a daft indulgence I left behind in my pre-university teenage years. For those of you still with "fresher's flu" (or the lite version), Weetabix helps. Mmmm.... Weetabix.....

Still, I'm here now, in the middle of installing some new graphics drivers. Oh, trying to get the best Doom 3 performance from your PC is so exciting!! Heehee... I like Doom 3. Slaying multitudes of hellspawn, visiting hell and defeating Satan makes me feel like I'm right in the book of Revelation! And I read Left Behind the other day as well. I'm feeling sooo apocalyptic this week!

On a slightly more serious note, Left Behind was an interesting book. I confess that I read it for a bit of a laugh, but I also read it to see how it interprets the Bible. And it interprets it very strangely. I never knew that 1 Cor. 15 was talking about the rapture... how foolish could I have been to miss that mis-reading? Sarcasm aside, I don't believe in the rapture - and I spent 3 years at a Pentecostal Bible college! (I wasn't a Pentecostal to start off with, though - "liberal charismatic" would probably be my box, if I had one.) I don't see anything in the Bible that would convince me, which some may disagree with but I don't think they read the text responsibly.

And, since Mr G. W. Bush believes in the rapture, that makes me even less inclined to believe it, especially considering recent events involving his friends Miers, Rove, Libby and good ol' "Dick" Cheney. The Christian right really gives the rest of us a bad press, and makes me thankful that I don't live in America. Sorry, you guys who do live there, but that's the way it is.

Monday, October 10, 2005

First "real" post

Monday is the "busy day" at Sheffield. Well, it's my busy day, anyway: Hebrew at 10am, research seminars from 11am-1pm, then 'The Newbie's Guide to Research' 2-4pm. And now, I'm sitting typing this alongside a nice bottle of very dry white wine. Mmm.

But, as well as being a busy day, it's been an engaging day intellectually. Dr Diana Edelman gave a paper on Sidonian and Sumarian coins - granted, it's not something I know much if anything about, but it was very interesting to hear her thoughts on how various scholars have built theories on (possibly wrong) theories. A warning to us all to be careful about the assumptions we make and the ideas we might uncritically adopt.

I was also rooting around for ideas for my M.A. dissertation in the library after lectures, and something really struck me. Basically, one of my interests is the Gospel of John, and another of my interests is Derrida and the poststructuralist/postmodern school of thought. Both interests are quite wide to say the least, so you'd think that it shouldn't be too hard to come up with a few ideas... Well, I'm finding it a little tricky!! I think that, because my interests are so varied, I find it naturally hard to narrow things down.

However, flicking through John, I came across a phrase in ch.4 that really struck me:

Jesus answered her [the woman of Samaria], "If you knew the gift of God [tēn dōrean tou theou], and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink', you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water."
(Jn. 4:10, NRSV)

What is a gift? Well, Derrida has much to say on the subject of gifts, a lot of it characteristically difficult to understand:

At the limit, the gift as gift ought not to appear as gift: either to the donee or to the donor. It cannot be gift as gift except by not being present as gift...
(Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money, p.14)

Yeah, that's pretty incomprehensible! But the question Derrida asks (and this is a strand throughout much of his work, such as The Gift of Death) is this: is giving actually possible? Can one give without entering into an exchange mechanism that turns the gift into a debt to be reimbursed in one way or the other? For Derrida, no gift-giving is ever simply that. If I give you a gift, you feel obliged - and, in Western culture at least, are obliged - to acknowledge the gift as such. Even if this is just "Aww, thanks a lot!", it still enters you into the realm of economics. As soon as we see a gift in terms of subjects and objects, the gift is locked into give-and-take, exchange mechanisms, conscious and unconscious gratification and reward. So, is the "gift of God" in John (whatever that is anyway) really a gift, or is it a route into ideological contamination, textual instability and deconstruction?

It's certainly interesting to my mind to propose such an analysis of the concept of "gift" in John - not least because Derrida's concept of "gift" also relies heavily on another of my interests, psychoanalysis. And what exchange mechanism are we dependent on for out concepts of "gift" - the pre-capitalist ancient world, or the post/capitalist world we live in now? (Was the Roman Empire in some way capitalist?) Does it matter? Does it affect how we see John?

Of course, if anyone has comments on this, feel free to post them - even if it's just "I think you're talking a load of old cobblers"! I'm off to sit down and read The Independent - yeah, I know, it's a little late in the day to read a newspaper, but never mind. I paid 20p for it, so I'm gonna read the blasted thing, thank you very much!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Beginnings

Well, welcome all. I'm typing this whilst watching the Northen Ireland vs. Wales World Cup qualifying match. Half-time, and Wales are winning 2-0, which is quite a surprise considering Wales haven't won a competitive match in over 2 years. Anyway, the point is that I really should be learning some more Hebrew vocabulary. Maybe after lunch. (Oh, the procrastination!)

My aim is to contribute something thought-provoking and useful on a semi-regular basis - and hopefully things people will be interested in reading! For now, though, it's hello and goodbye.
 
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