“These aren’t the criteria you’re looking for” Myth and the Control of the Star Wars’ Canon (AKA The Empire Shot First but the Fans Strike Back)

That’s the title for my paper for the regional American Academy of Religion conference in Calgary, May 9-11. It’s the first time I’m doing one for the AAR, so this should be fun.

wookie

Here’s the blurb

These aren’t the criteria you’re looking for”  Myth and the Control of the Star Wars’ Canon (AKA The Empire Shot First but the Fans Strike Back)

The Star Wars franchise has generated considerable academic interest and some consider it a form of modern mythology. Others deny this because it lacks some characteristics of myth including communal ownership.  Recently, the Disney Corporation has sought to clarify what is “canonical” in Star Wars, hoping to maintain internal consistencies between the six films and the officially licensed, and still growing “expanded universe” of animated television shows, print media, video games and more. Many dedicated fans, however, have rejected Lucas’ revisions of the initial trio of movies, the three prequels and some of the expanded universe.  There is also “non-canonical” material produced by fans, many of whom belong to clubs, attend conventions or even claim to follow a Jedi “religion”, all of which is beyond the creative control of franchise owners. This is comparable to the interaction between religious canons some ostensibly non-canonical material may enjoy a high status with or without clerical sanction in a tradition. Such a comparison suggests that in evaluating the status of pop-cultural phenomena such as Star Wars as cultural mythology scholars should not privilege the holding of legal rights, large budgets and mass distribution over viewing the material as it functions in social and personal contexts even in defiance of “official” declarations of canonicity and orthodoxy. In this perspective Star Wars, like most other mythology, constantly regenerates itself as part of a living tradition even in the face of an empire that strikes back.

GeorgeLucas

In keeping with the theme, the tentative schedule has my paper first in the Religion and Society section that opens the conference. The “fans” will probably shoot back…

Canonfodder

Israelite Myth and Hebrew Prophets: My Regional SBL Paper, Calgary

I will be making two appearances at the Pacific Northwest Regional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion (May 9-11, 2014), University of Calgary. I will be doing two papers, one for each organization. The tentative schedule is here. Here is my SBL abstract:

Israelite Myth and Hebrew Prophets
(Tentatively scheduled for 4:30-5:10, Saturday, May 10 Room TBA)

Myth is a fundamental aspect of religions around the globe and the question of myth in the Hebrew Bible has long interested scholars. There remains, however, an unfortunate myopia about the social functions of myth within the discipline.  Besides the denigration of mythology vis-à-vis history that is still frequent especially in Biblical Studies’ more conservative wing, myth is typically understood as a more or less formal genre whose characteristics are comparable to ANE cosmogonic and cosmological traditions.  The biblical materials are sometimes said to be demythologized adaptations of or polemics against these non-Israelite exemplars. What is missing is awareness that all cultures are unique and that Judean myth may have several distinct characteristics that developed alongside other distinctly Judean religious and social constructs.

Much recent work on select books and passages in the Hebrew Bible have successfully avoided these pitfalls, but a more comprehensive study of the mythological universes of ancient Judean religion is needed. In this paper I outline a possible approach to Judean mythology as a functional property of wider cultural repertoires or symbolic universes. While the cosmology and cultural mythology of the Pentateuch may provide the most obvious case studies, I will apply the approach to the prophetic corpus as constituting an expression of mythology in its own right in its construction of a legacy of divine-human mediators. Indeed, no other ANE society is known to have valued the preservation and production of material about and ascribed to prophets so highly as ancient Judah.

If all goes well, this paper will be the first chapter of the book on myth and the prophets that I’ve been working on for ages. I’m going to get all J. Z. Smith-y and Burton Mack-esque in the book and talk about the “play” between the scribal institutions and the imagined world of ancient prophets and their “preserved” visions and oracles.

Wall-E in Edmonton: The Aftermath

My talk in Edmonton on Wall-E and Silent Running went very well. Jessica Swann was a great organizer and host, we have a very good turnout, and no one threw tomatoes at me! Who could ask for more?

It was great to see the U of Alberta crew again, Ehud, Francis, Jessica, Mike, John, Ian, etc. Had a good lunch with Jessica and Ehud, and wonderful dinner at 9th Street Cafe with a fun crowd including Mike Kok, and Peter Sabo.


The drive up to Edmonton was gruelling, with blowing snow, ice, and idiots all over the road. The trip back was much better although the snow was flying again south of Calgary.

Dr Jim Pontificating in Edmonton on Wall-E and Silent Running

This Friday (March 21), starting at 3:00 pm in L-2 of the Humanities Building

wall E

And the Lord Human made Huey, Dewey, Louie, Wall-E, and Eve.
The Deification of Humanity in Silent Running and Wall-E

 

 This is hopefully the final pre-publication version of the paper I’ve been playing with over the past year. My thanks to Jessica Swann of the U. of Alberta Religious Studies Grad Students Society for the invite and the organizing of everything!

huey

El blurb:

The 1972 film, Silent Running (dir. Douglas Trumbull) and the 2008 hit animated feature, Wall-E  (dir. Andrew Stanton), revolve around themes of a future Earth unable to support vegetation. Both films freely adapt Genesis’s stories of paradise  and Noah’s ark, albeit to different ends. Neither film is a warning about the death of humanity because of environmental damage, but a call to “enlightenment”, i.e., to knowledge of a true relationship between nature and humanity. Yet, both films undermine this truth even as it is asserted as they seemingly put an ignorant humanity in the place of a deity as creators of robots that carry “true” human ideals.

Silent Running is set aboard one of a number of  giant spacecraft housing the last remnants of Earth’s forests. The story revolves around a crew member, Freeman Lowell, and the ship’s three robots (Huey, Dewey, and Louie). Enraged by an order to destroy the forest-domes so that the ship can return to commercial use, Lowell murders his crew-mates. Before committing suicide, he leaves one forest-dome in the care of Dewey.  Silent Running’s idealistic but disturbing hero is both Adam and Cain but also God, in appointing Dewey to biblical Adam’s task of preserving the garden.

The 2008 hit animated feature, Wall-E stars an earth-bound machine and his robotic romantic interest, Eve. Wall-E is a kind of inverted Adam figure, cleaning up the planet after it was abandoned by humans until vegetation can grow again.  Again, humanity is in no danger of extinction although they are unknowingly in the control of a computer system that does not want an Exodus back to earth. With children in its intended audience, Wall-E is a far more optimistic film.

The two films “humanize” the robots with emotions and they become idealized humans charged with a “sacred” mission on behalf of “natural” humanity. The films appear to be asking whether people can live up to the human potential of their own creations. As creators, however, humans assume the role of gods, but the two films differ on the potential of humanity to be restrained by the products of its own ingenuity.

Hector Avalos on Jesus: Lecture in Arizona

Biblical Scholar Hector Avalos will be addressing the “historical” Jesus debate as part of Free Thought Arizona’s day of activities on March 16 at the Duval Auditorium. University of Arizona, Tucson AZ (10:30 AM-Noon).

Here is the blurb.

Scholars of Jesus usually divide themselves into Jesus historicists and Jesus mythicists. Historicists believe that there was a real historical person behind the Jesus of the Gospels even if there are many legendary additions to his biography. The historicists have an overwhelming majority, and include Bart Ehrman, a self-described agnostic, and virtually all Christian scholars. The mythicist position is a minority, and includes Robert Price, Earl Doherty, and Frank Zindler. They hold that Jesus is a completely fictional character, and perhaps originally part of a mystery religion. This lecture demonstrates that there is too little information from the time of Jesus to favor either side conclusively, and so agnosticism is the best position until more relevant new data can be acquired.

Biography: Dr. Hector Avalos is Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, where he was named Professor of the Year in 1996, and a Master Teacher in 2003-04. A former fundamentalist preacher and faith healer born in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, Dr. Avalos is now one of the few openly atheist biblical scholars in academia. Avalos received a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Arizona in 1982, and a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School in 1985. In 1991, he became the first Mexican American to earn a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Studies at Harvard. He is the author or editor of nine books, including Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (2005), The End of Biblical Studies (2007), and Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship(2011).

This event is sponsored by FreeThought Arizona and will be held at DuVal Auditorium

 

A number of secular biblical scholars are doing this sort of thing now. As I noted earlier, Zeba Crook is debating Richard Carrier in Ottawa’s  Centrepointe Chamber Theatre, Saturday, April 5, 2014, 7:30-10:00 pm.

 

Historical Jesus Debate in Ottawa

The Center For Inquiry in Ottawa is hosting a debate on the Historical/Mythical Jesus! Zeba Crook, professor of religious studies at Carleton University and the famous “there was no Jesus” historian and philosopher, Richard Carrier, are airing their contrary views on the subject on April 5!

Zeba Crook, from the U of Carleton Website.

“Zeba Crook did a BA in Political Science at UBC, while running on the Canadian National Track and Field Team. Late in his BA he discovered the academic study of religion, and spent several years preparing for and completing an MA in Religious Studies. He moved to Toronto to take up his PhD in New Testament Studies. He came to Carleton in 2003″ (Carleton Website).

Richard Carrier, photo from Wikipedia

Visit Carrier’s blog at http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/

“Richard Carrier is the renowned author of several books including Sense and Goodness without God andProving History, as well as numerous articles online and in print” (from his blog).

The debate takes place at Centrepointe Chamber Theatre, Saturday, April 5, 2014, 7:30-10:00 pm.

Tickets on sale now. Go here.
$15 general admission
$10 for CFI members

Special offer for new members:  Become a Friend of the Centre for Inquiry, and get one free ticket (two for a family membership).  You can join online(http://centreforinquiry.ca/support/centre_for_inquiry_membership/), or at any CFI Ottawa event.

Yours truly won’t be able to be there since I’m here and here and will be for the foreseeable future. Alas. But hopefully the debate will be online eventually. It should be good. Carrier is quite a celebrity in the mythical-Jesus camp and is formally trained as an ancient historian. Crook is likewise a serious historian with a speciality in New Testament and he has no theological axe to grind, so the debate should be on matters of data, method, and interpretation.

The debate will certainly be classier than this.

Stout Brew Day

It was brew day yesterday; my third batch of homebrew beer and it went pretty well. My first two batches were from dry malt extract but this was an all grain kit so it was a bit more involved. I’ve also done a number of kegs of cheap cider and that is dead easy.

drunk kitty

 

I got the latest kit from Ontario Beer Kegs, who I highly recommend for all things homebrew related. I’ve bought kegs, various parts and all my beer kits from them. Really fast service and the prices are really good.

Their American Stout kit came with the following:
9 lb 2 row malted barley
1 lb chocolate malt barley
1 lb roasted barley
1 oz Cascade hops (60 min)
1 oz Northern Brewer hops
Safale US 05 yeast.

I finally got to try out my el-cheapo Canadian Tire turkey frier. I used the pot before but not the burner.  It went pretty well: no injuries, property loss, threatened law suits, or visits from the police. One bad boil-over, though. :stirpot:

Boilover

Looks pretty gross. Kind of like what I hope it doesn’t look like once I drink a lot of it.

I did not get an accurate measure of how much beer I ended up with but it seemed a lot more than the 5 gallons I was shooting for. :drunk:  Not that I’m complaining.

For an all grain kit you get the ingredients and only instructions for how long and what temperature you mash the pre-beery-goodness grains in hot water and at what temperature, and how long you boil the result and when to add the hops to the boil. The rest is up to you because there are so many different ways to go about it.  I did the simplest way, Brew in a Bag. What this means is that all your grains go in a great big bag that is lining the mash bucket. When done, the bag is removed with all the grain, it is squished out and there you have your wort. Less efficient than other ways but it is cheaper in terms of equipment needed and easier.

I had to use an online beer calculator to figure out how much water to start with.  It suggested 7.4 gal which was suspiciously close to the brim of my 9 gallon brew pot. Technically, you are supposed to brew in bag in a single pot for heating the water, mashing and then boiling. I’m glad I bought an Igloo cooler for mashing in the bag since there wasn’t really room for the 11 lbs of grains in pot with all the water. A pain transferring  the hot water (twice!), though.

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The grains mashing in a 10 gallon igloo cooler. With the lid on, the temperature holds really well. The downside is transferring a lot of hot water from and to the brew pot and having more to clean up.

I really squished the bag out pretty thoroughly, and so maybe I recovered more of the absorbed water than the program thought I should and that’s why I have more beer. My hydrometer showed an OG of 1.056 @ 72 F (recipe estimated 1.054), so it’s not really watered down. I also got to use my new wort chiller which just hooks up to a garden hose and the coils transfer the heat. Some experimenting with the proper water pressure was needed, and of course I got soaked.

Anyway, it was loads of fun despite Mary not volunteering to do all the clean up for me. In 3-4 weeks I should have some 5.5% ABV stout entertain myself with. And I now also have a proper stout faucet, so I should be able to get a nice creamy head on the brew if I get the pressures right.

Stouts are generally low carbed and pushed with Beer gas (a mix of nitrogen and CO2) through special faucets. I’ve been using beer gas at Molly’s from the start that I used for everything but now I also have a small CO2 tank for other beers that need more fizz, like the wheat beer I have on tap now.

And what to do with 11 lbs of post-beery-goodness barley? We found a recipe for using them as a basis for Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits. Goliath and I intend on doing some male bonding over a brew!

goliath

 Goliath, the manyly mountaineer, will obviously need a brewski biscuit when he comes down from there.

 

 

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CALL FOR PAPERS: Research in Religious Studies Conference May 8-9, 2014, Calgary AB.

Planning is now underway for our 12th Annual Research in Religious Studies Conference to be held on May 8 and 9, 2014 at the University of Calgary. Our conference has been held in Lethbridge since its inception in 2003 but since the Pacific Northwest Region of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature meeting will take place in Calgary we are pleased to relocate for this one year. This will make travel to the conference much easier for students from other locales in and outside of Alberta. Yours truly remains the primary contact person; therefore, please contact me (james.linville AT uleth.ca) with any questions, etc.

Over each of the last several years we have had over forty papers presented. Students came from across Canada and some even from the US. It is a great experience. This year, students will be able to stay for the AAR/SBL regional meeting (separate registration needed).

In general, we try to evaluate each paper proposal as they come in. We don’t a fixed number of papers we can accept. If it is good, we will find a spot for it! We have accepted three papers already from three different institutions. Remarkably, two of them are on the Hebrew Bible. We usually get relatively few on that, but lots on Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Religion in Popular Culture, Gender, Methodology, and many that don’t fit any category (which is why we don’t make up the sessions and sections until we have the papers accepted). Anyway, it’s a great time and a splendid learning opportunity.

The conference provides undergraduate and graduate level students with the opportunity to present papers on the history, belief, practices, cultural contexts, and artistic or literary expressions of any religious tradition. Proposals for papers from any discipline within the academic fields of the humanities and social science are welcome.

The conference is open to students from any educational institute at any point in their educational career. Although we encourage PhD students to attend, we are particularly seeking papers by undergraduate and masters level students.

Papers will be selected on basis of abstracts submitted.

The here to submit your abstract!

For help with abstracts and getting your paper ready for presentation, go here.

Biblical Hebrew Poetry: The legacy continues.

So, I spent most of the Society of Biblical Literature meeting this past weekend holed up in my hotel room trying to write my two papers, only to end up totally stressed at 1:00 AM and writing stupid limericks. I did get the papers done, but I think the limericks are better.
Here they are (at least the ones I put on facebook–I had more but I can’t remember them), with a new one made just for this post.
I.
One time King Hezekiah
Said to his friend old Isaiah
Why did you scold
when I showed off my gold?
And you dress like Lady Godiva?
II.
There once was a prophet named Amos
who got himself really quite famous
Said we’re unjust
Leave Bethel he must
For predicting that Yahweh will flame us.
III.
Ezekiel ain’t got no rival
For trying what mightn’t be viable
Baked bread-oh my word-
On flaming hot turd
And it even got into the Bible.
IV.
Jeremiah once left his home
To bury his undies under a stone
He said it’s God’s plan-0
That I preach commando
And get arrested and jailed all alone.
V.
There once was Hosea the Prophet
His rocker he really was off it.
His bride was no virgin
she should’ve married that surgeon
And avoided the biblical gossip.

We Celebrated Halloween

It was awful.

Grumpy cat Grumpy Cat-O’lantern made by The Real Mrs Dr. Jim

We only have 5 trick or treaters this year. Three wonderful little zombies and a pair of 17 year olds…

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