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 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!


  • At 21:26, Blogger eddie said…

    Well, im not going to call the idea a load of old cobblers, but I have to ask how it would be of any use to anyone?

    "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?"

    Well I think you would have to probe the mind of the author of the work to discover how he conceptualized "gifts" and "giving" *psychoanalysis?) and then see if he agrees with Derrida. To be honest, it doesnt seem all that possible...


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