CBS academics to present at Society of Biblical Literature meeting

Members of the Centre for Biblical Studies are presenting at the virtual meeting between the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature.

The annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature, due to take place in Boston, MA, will run online between 29 November and 10 December 2020. The new virtual meeting will maintain its traditional structure, with a wide range of papers being presented. The department is well represented across sessions, and three members of the Centre for Biblical Studies are due to present papers.

On 30 November, David Bell will present ‘The Lord as ἔκδικος in 1 Thess 4:6: A Voice for Vulnerable Children’ in ‘Children in the Biblical World’ (SBL Session S30-204). David is a fifth-year part-time PhD student supervised by Prof Peter Oakes and Dr Roberta Mazza. The session will be chaired by Prof John Martens (University of Saint Thomas) and the other presenters are Margaret Murray Talbot (Brite Divinity School), Dr Kristin J. Wendland (Wartburg College) and Dr Jeremiah Cataldo (Grand Valley State University).

On 1 December, Siobhán Jolley will present ‘"This Is a Love Story": Reimaging John 20:17 through Fleabag (S2)’ in ‘Bible and Popular Culture’ (SBL Session S1-202). Siobhán is a third-year PhD student supervised by Prof Peter Oakes and Dr Holly Morse. The session, ‘Pop Culture Potpourri’, will be chaired by Dr Dan Clanton (Doane University) and the other presenters are Dr Alison Jack (University of Edinburgh), Laura Robinson (Duke University) and Rebekah Carere (University of Kent at Canterbury).

Also on 1 December, Dr Holly Morse will present ‘The Art of Mothering: Eve's Maternity in Medieval Visual Culture’ in ‘Bible and Visual Art’ (SBL Session S1-101). Holly is Lecturer in Bible, Gender and Culture and co-directs the Bible, Gender and Church Research Centre. The session will be chaired by Prof. Ian Boxall (Catholic University of America) and the other presenters are Prof. Susanne Scholz (Southern Methodist University), Dr Katherine Low (Mary Baldwin University) and Dr David Ray Johnson, Fuller Theological Seminary.

Additionally, on 7 December, Holly will present ‘Mother of Mothers: Exploring Eve's Maternity in Pre-twentieth Century Women's Writings’ in ‘Recovering Female Interpreters of the Bible’ (SBL Session S7-110). The session is themed ‘Women Poets, Artists, and Musicians: Interpreting Scripture through Art and Literature through the Centuries’ and will be chaired by Prof. Joy Schroeder (Capital University). The other presenters are Prof. Deborah Niederer Saxon (Butler University), Dr Rachel Toombs (Baylor University) and Erin Risch Zoutendam (Duke University).

You can search the full program book online here and read the abstracts from our presenters below.

David Bell

The Lord as ἔκδικος in 1 Thess 4:6: A Voice for Vulnerable Children (20 min)

Paul’s response to sexual behaviour reported as taking place in the Thessalonian community includes a description of the Lord as ἔκδικος (1 Thess 4:6). This is usually translated as ‘avenger’ with emphasis on punishment of wrongdoing and on the role of God or Jesus as judge. This paper sets Paul’s use of the term in the context of a brief survey of wider Greco-Roman evidence. The common use of ἔκδικος to signify a legal representative for minors and adult women particularly resonates with the context in 1 Thessalonians. Paul’s portrayal of Jesus as ekdikos in 4:3-8 supports the view that children are included among those experiencing or vulnerable to sexual abuse. The traditional interpretation of ἔκδικος as ‘avenger’ in 4:6 is based on LXX usage of related forms. However, ἔκδικος itself carries a similar range of meaning in LXX as in papyri, inscriptions and literary sources, where it denotes legal representatives, public prosecutors those championing a cause or (infrequently) avenging violent death. The common, defining features are that an ἔκδικος acts to address wrongs by word or action and does so on behalf of one or more others who are unable or not allowed to act for themselves. Such a portrayal of Jesus as ἔκδικος speaking or acting on behalf of those without power resonates well with the content of 4:3-8. Paul portrays the current situation with vocabulary of neglect and exploitation of power (ὑπερβαίνειν καὶ πλεονεκτεῖν (4:6). Those most vulnerable to such sexual exploitation – children and lower-status women, including slaves – would also typically be those who would require an ἔκδικος in legal hearings. As wider context, the listing of ‘corruption’ of children with other sexual transgressions by other Hellenistic Jewish and Early Christian writers (e.g. Philo Hypoth 7.1; T.Levi 17:11; Did 2:2) supports Paul’s similar inclusion of such behaviours within the broad sense of πορνεία. Children in the Thessalonian community may be included in those already being exploited but will certainly be among those vulnerable to future abuse. This perspective expands the range of possible scenarios into which Paul is speaking. Recognising the inclusion of children highlights the power differences and dynamics at work in this new believer community and some of its potential dangers for those of lower power and status. It also adds a new dimension to Paul’s portrayal of Jesus: as speaking or acting on their behalf.

Siobhán Jolley

"This Is a Love Story": Reimaging John 20:17 through Fleabag (S2) (30 min)

This paper will propose a reimaging of the gendered mythologization of Mary Magdalene and her relationship to Jesus as extrapolated from John 20:17, through the lens of Fleabag (S2). It will make the case for Series 2’s portrayal of Fleabag and the Priest as a vehicle for re-remembering. In particular, it will complicate the gendered way in which John 20:17 has been understood in terms of the Magdalene’s character, arguing that both the Magdalene and Fleabag embody the “transgressive” epithet that Waller-Bridge considers so appealing. Ultimately it will argue for a rereading of John 20:17 that challenges the sexualization of intimacy and our definition of a love story. The way in which biblical themes are embedded in western culture more broadly affords popular culture a particular utility in assessing their complex imagery and how ideals about gender and femininity are communicated. Moreover, the dialectical nature of popular culture as both descriptive and prescriptive offers a unique means of engaging with these established ideals. In Fleabag, the complex presentation of the title character draws upon and subverts the way in which Mary Magdalene is conventionally characterized, and thus challenges the subsequent types in which other complex women are cast. This paper will utilize a new methodological approach, liberative reception criticism, which combines traditional reception methodology with hermeneutical criticism adopted from theologies of liberation. In this case adopting a feminist point of departure, text and reception are engaged in a hermeneutic circle of rereading and reimaging. Firstly, the paper will identify latent biblical imagery in the development of the characters of Fleabag and the Priest, illustrating how gendered tropes in the portrayal of the Biblical Magdalene are reclaimed and reimaged. This in turn provides a lens for revisiting biblical source material from John (and its scholarly exegesis from Augustine to Charleston), considering the relationship between text and popular reception. Using this as a tool for critiquing the cultural inheritance that leads to the construction of gender norms associated with female sexuality, it will argue for a rereading of John 20:17 that rightly complicates our understanding of female sexuality in relation to the figure of the Magdalene and the nature of intimacy in our conception of a love story.

Holly Morse

The Art of Mothering: Eve's Maternity in Medieval Visual Culture (25 min)

Although the majority of Eve’s history in art is, like academic scholarship of the garden narrative, dominated by scenes of Creation, Temptation, and “Fall”, and to a certain degree, Expulsion, there are numerous examples of visual renderings of the first woman outside of Eden that can help to open the eyes of contemporary readers of Genesis 2–4 to the complexity of Eve’s maternity. Images of the first parents beyond Paradise follow relatively set iconographic patterns; from the early medieval period, we find evidence of Eve portrayed in a maternal role either at the birth of one or both of her first two sons, Cain and Abel, holding or nursing one or both of these children, or in a state of mourning for the death of Abel at the hands of Cain. While this paper does not seek to offer a comprehensive account of the visual traditions surrounding the depiction of Eve as a breastfeeding or as a mourning mother. Eve’s appearance as a mother with her infants initially seems to have developed as part of the iconographic tradition of The Labours of Adam and Eve, and thus interpretatively speaking functions as a visualisation of Gen. 3.16. Interestingly, these images of Eve with a small child or children frequently appear following the Expulsion in the majority of pictorial narrative schema, thus conflating the tasks verbally described by God in Gen. 3.16-19 and the reality of these as they take place outside of Eden. Though the representation of Adam’s labour, which primarily takes the form of him working the land with tools, or sometimes oxen, bears no relation to the text of Genesis 4, envisioning Eve’s task as childcare aligns with vv. 1 and 2. Thus, while the images of the first man at work are embellishments on the details supplied in ch. 4, imaging Eve with her offspring is an expansion rooted in the Bible account. This paper offers a brief investigation of some early representations of Eve nursing her children as she is depicted in the Moutier Grandval Bible, the Ashburnham Pentateuch, the Junius manuscript, and the potential they have for expanding notions of Eve’s womanhood, both historically and today.

Mother of Mothers: Exploring Eve's Maternity in Pre-twentieth Century Women's Writings (20 min)

Eve is everywoman. With this status, she has had a powerful impact on women’s identity, and indeed the very notion of Woman in the Western world. For the most part, scholarship on the reception of the Garden story has focused on the ways in which men have used the Bible’s first woman to delineate and define women as Other. Yet, throughout the ages, multiple women have appropriated Eve in a bid to redefine themselves and their womanhood. In particular, the role Eve has to play as mother can be discerned, though in a fragmented and disparate trajectory, in the literary work of a number of women writers throughout the ages, which this paper offers as a ‘counter-tradition’ to more dominant strands of interpretation of Genesis 1-3 that focused on the sin of the first woman. The exploration of this ‘counter-history’ provided in this paper is not intended as a comprehensive or linear account of all women writers’ reactions to Eve, nor is the intention to reduce all work of female writers on the first woman to the theme of maternity. Rather, material has been selected that illustrates the ways in which women have imaginatively and creatively used Eve to ‘think with’ in relation to their own connections to maternity, as well as the ways in which their understanding of motherhood has shaped their image of Eve. As Tina Beattie has said, ‘Eve has the capacity to represent every woman, not as the sinister figure of the sexual (m)other who bears the burden of all men’s unexamined fears of the mother, sex and death, but as a woman who symbolises the struggling reality of women’s lives in the existential journey between paradise lost and paradise regained’ (T. Beattie 2002: 101). This statement, made as a call to contemporary theologians, summarises neatly precisely the kind of interpretative position taken by numerous women writers, from Hildegard von Bingen to Christina Rossetti. The examination of women’s literary representations of Eve offered in this paper is intended to illustrate that the figure of the first woman has been used in precisely such a way for centuries by women negotiating their own understanding of what it means to be a woman in relation to the Bible, their faith, their society, and motherhood. By briefly considering the literary work of medieval (Hildegard of Bingen), early modern (Anne Bradstreet and Lucy Hutchinson) and modern (Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti) women’s writings on Eve, we will consider the ways in which rewriting her story has allowed women to rewrite their own lives. The paper argues that women’s own self-defined images of mothering are critical to disrupting often restrictive male-produced constructions of maternity, and will demonstrate that Eve can be an important site for these negotiations.

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