SBL Reflections

Not much damage done. I’m currently sitting in the Toronto airport waiting for a plane to Calgary so I thought I would type something up.

My paper went ok, except that there was a missed communication somewhere and the draft was never forwarded on to the respondents. Alas. Still, it was not as controversial a session as I thought it might have been. No one got burned at the stake or even lynched.

Barry Bandstra was very kind and gracious, even though Hector Avalos and I took issue with some parts of his otherwise excellent intro to the Hebrew Bible. He admitted that we had some valid critiques and I got a much better appreciation of what goes into writing an introduction. When both the critic and critiqued come away more educated, it is a successful session, I think!

I will post my paper here once I get a chance to edit it.

I though Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza really missed the point of the exercise, though, especially in regard to Zeba Crook’s paper which critiqued various introduction to the New Testament and how they handled miracle stories. S.F. wanted to assert that there were different ways other than the “naturalistic” by which to understand miracle stories and said that a Jew reclaiming the German language in the post-holocaust era would be a miracle. I wrote a note to my self, “What has this to do with floating axes?”

The highlight of the conference for me, though, was the Bible blogging and  online publication session on Monday. All the papers were great and delivered with a lot of style:

James Davila, University of St. Andrews-Scotland
What Just Happened:  The rise of “biblioblogging” in the first decade of the twenty-first century (his whole paper is posted on his blog).

Christian Brady, Pennsylvania State University University Park
Online Biblical Studies: Past, Present, Promise, and Peril (25 min)

Michael Barber, John Paul the Great Catholic University
Weblogs and the Academy: The Benefits and Challenges of Biblioblogging (25 min)

James McGrath, Butler University
The Blogging Revolution: New Technologies and their Impact on How we do Scholarship (25 min)

Robert R. Cargill, University of California-Los Angeles
Instruction, Research, and the Future of Online Educational Technologies (25 min)

The BIG NEWS is truly earthshattering! Dr Jim’s blog was mention at the outset of James’McGrath’s paper. Indeed, he even showed a couple of my lolcats! Horray! This is not the same thing as having my book cited fabourably, it’s way better. Here are the winning kitties:

So, go visit James’ blog, Exploring Our Matrix!

And here is one for him (pianist and Genesis fan that he is)!

Anyway, I met a bunch of other people too, including Scott Bailey and Joel Watts.

Well, boarding soon, so I must go

User-prays Solution to the Heath Care Crises.

The perfect solution for Alberta’s heath care crisis has been found! The user prays!

The Calgary Herald published the solution this morning in the letters, nay, epistles, to the editor section. With a little work, it could work. Or not. The author, a guy with the intials W. E., writes:

Re: “Health crisis enrages Tory MD,” Nov. 18.

The dedicated men and women working in the medical field are doing their best amid a crisis. What needs to be said is that it’s not the government’s mandate to look after the sick. It is the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus charged the 12 disciples to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without pay, give without pay.” (Matthew 10:8).

This is not to say that we do not need hospitals, doctors, nurses, specialists and emergency facilities. But there is much available through believers who understand what Christianity has to offer. Christianity is not a passive religion.

Christianity is a way to give it the name by which it was first called. God is the source of all supply. Christian Science, for example, shows us there is a way by which the great facts of God’s nature can be demonstrated to man, and that this is the way pointed out by Jesus Christ. The way can do much to relieve the stresses in the health-care system.

So, get the government out of health care. We can’t have them taking jobs away from Christians!  What a crock. How can it NOT be a government’s job to look after its own people and visitors?

I suppose the Mr. E.’s version of the Christian option is cheaper, he suggests that Christians do it all for free. And that includes casting out demons! I bet they don’t teach that in medical school!

Ah, but the limits of faith! We will still need hospitals and medical staff. But who should pay for them? Not the government, if paragraph 1 is to be accepted. Should it all be privatized? That’s not very Christian (Tea Partiers notwithstanding) since ,as Epp points out, Christians are supposed to work for free (and at least in some places in the New Testament, hold common property Acts 4:32-35). COMMUNISTS!


God being displeased. But at who? (whom?) The lefties or the righties? Does he want cup of tea?

Ahh, the greatest Canadian of all time, Tommy Douglas, must be rolling over in his grave to hear how another Christian thinks that the government has no role in healthcare. (But perhaps he ISN’T in his grave! Perhaps he hass been raised from the dead by a “Christian Scientist” and had his socialist demons exorcized! (Sweet Zombie Tommy!)

Tommy and his gun-men. The Not-Exactly-Salvation-Army!

The father of Canada’s evil, government organized Health Care and Evil Communist Plot (let the reader understand) was a Baptist preacher turned politician. And, for all my raging fundamentalist atheism, I’m rather glad he did. He had some good ideas and cared about people and his country. What more could you want from a politician?

It is always refreshing while putting the finishing touches on a conference paper to get up in the morning and read how some other poor slob went public with a worse written and thought out pile of drivel than I’m likely to produce. W. E. really doesn’t have a plan. If he wants fellow Christians to pitch in and help some people’s sufferings then fine. Many Christians, like lots of other people, religious or otherwise, are quite good and that and committed to their neighbours. But the shortcomings in our healthcare system is not the lack of Christians realizing their true calling, but lack of resources, political will, and a system the government seems hell bent on replacing rather than repairing. Simply appealing to religion is NOT a solution or even a part-solution. No health care system could or should depend on charity. It should depend on recognition that everyone, not just Christians, have obligations to one another. Who is better positioned to organize this than the government? If the government is broken then it needs to be fixed too.

Alas, Albertans just keep voting for the same right wing retards, election after election, by linking western myths of the rugged individualism to the interests of big business and big oil.

Here are some ideas for health care, just off the top of my head,  not all of them are totally flippant.

1) Stop the privatization

2) Fund the public system properly.

3) Worry more about finding the money for salaries that will keep the best doctors, nurses and other professionals in the province rather raising the salaries of the senior administration to keep them.

3) Bring back the health care charges folks with good jobs like me had to pay to help offset the costs for folks of modest means.

4) Listen to the Health Care professionals for ideas on how to improve the organization etc. of the public system and implement the most promising ones.

5) Make sure all senior admin and government health care officials are selected from folks are, or have least one loved one suffering from an on-going chronic illness that requires frequent use of the public system.

6) Place the offices of all senior admin and government health care officials so that they are accessible only through the crowded emergency and other over-stressed hospital wards.

Hide Your Reading Glasses! Dr. Jim’s been published again.


That’s right, some of the stuff I’ve been working on is now available.

First of all, I have two short articles in the new Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity, edited by Daniel Patte. One is on the Deuteronomistic History and the other on the Book of Kings.

For those heading to Atlanta, SBL will be having a session on the Dictionary.


Variety of Historical and Cultural Contexts for Biblical Studies:
The Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM  11/21/2010
International South   HYATT

More importantly, I have two proper essays in a new collection.

Ehud Ben Zvi and Christoph Levin (eds.)

The Concept of Exile in Ancient Israel and its Historical Contexts
(BZAW, 404; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2010).

The collection is the proceedings of two meetings, one at the University of Alberta in Edmonton AB in 2008 and the other at Ludwig-Maximillans-Universität in Munich (2009) which were held as part of a larger research collaboration across different departments of the two institutions. These meetings were held as workshops dedicated to the problem of the exile in prophetic literature.

Here is the TOC, lifted shamelessly from De Gruyters site. (Hey, this part of the ebook is a freebee)

Christoph Levin, Introduction.

Jan Christian Gertz, Military Threat and the Concept of Exile in the Book of Amos.

Martti Nissinen, The Exiled Gods of Babylon in Neo Assyrian Prophecy.

Kirsi Valkama, What Do Archaeological Remains Reveal of the Settlements in Judah during the Mid Sixth Century BCE?

Christoph Levin, The Empty Land in Kings.

Juha Pakkala, The Exile and the Exiles in the Ezra Tradition.

Hermann Josef Stipp, The Concept of the Empty Land in Jeremiah 37:43.

Ehud Ben Zvi, Total Exile, ␣Empty Land and the General Intellectual Discourse in Yehud.

Ehud Ben  Zvi, The Voice and Role of  a Counterfactual Memory in the Construction of  Exile and Return: Considering Jeremiah 40: 7–12.

Jakob Wöhrle, The Un Empty Land. The Concept of Exile and Land in P.

Reinhard␣Müller, A Prophetic View of the Exile in the Holiness Code.

Reinhard  Müller, Images of Exile in the Book of Judges.

Francis Landy, Exile in the Book of Isaiah.

Francis Landy, Reading, Writing, and Exile.

John Kessler, Images of Exile: Representations of the “Exile” and “Empty Land” in the Sixth to Fourth Century BCE Yehudite Literature.

Here’s a pair of extracts from my two contributions, and the kittie that announced the impending volume some months ago on this blog:

Myth of the Exilic Return: Myth Theory and the Exile as an Eternal Reality in the Prophets.

This paper deals with M. Eliade, J. Z. Smith and Wendy Doniger along with a discussion of the Exile as a mythic trope in the Hebrew Bible alongside creation/expulsion and the “Combat Myth” and the closing of Amos.

In returning to my roots in this essay, I will explore some aspects of the prophetic corpus’s constructions of the exile and restoration as mythical conceptions that seek to return one to primordial origins. These origins are not a paradise, however, but contested territory in which divergent myths clamour for attention and serve as a locus for thought (p.296).

What we have then, is really two competing mythologies in Amos, and, I would suggest, in many other biblical passages as well. One is of an eternal expulsion and death; the other is of the capacity to bring order and life once again to the cosmos. The two myths coexist within the ancient Judean symbolic universe. There is never a perfect resolution of their incipiently problematic tensions, just as we have with the multiple creation myths. Nor should we expect there to be (pp. 305-306).

At the early stages of preparing this paper for presentation in Munich I was reminded of a story told by my friend and colleague, Tom Robinson, about a class he was teaching on early Christianity. He was distributing a map of the areas bordering the Mediterranean Sea when one inquisitive student asked “What’s the map’s scale?” Tom answered, “One to one, full scale. Be careful when you open it.”Perhaps I should have taken that advice to heart myself since in this paper I will be opening up Second Isaiah, which, of course, has its own full-scale interpretative problems, and most scholarly work charting Isaiah has labelled huge expanses of territory: “Here there be dragons”.  The maps I will be talking in this paper have little to do with cartography or geography, and so I should apologize that I will not attempt to reconstruct the original Baedecker’s guide to ancient Mesopotamia. Nor can I offer advice on the best hostel on the road from Babylon to Jerusalem. My title was inspired by the seminal address of Jonathan Z. Smith that became the eponymous chapter of his book of 1978, Map is Not Territory.

What biblical scholars call the “Exile” is itself part of a “map” constructed by interpreters to find their way through the mass of biblical materials and the data about the ancient world in which these documents were produced. It is this difficult terrain that comprises the “territory” of biblical scholarship. For its part, the Bible contains many passages relating to the real, imagined or threatened deportation and displacement of Israelites and Judeans from the land claimed to be given them by a deity. Each of these passages is itself the result of a “mapping” process that relates religious and ethical concerns to political and military fortunes and the belief in a divinely sanctioned homeland  (pp. 275-76).

And  don’t forget the comparison between Second Isaiah and “Cargo Cults”. That threw the audience for a loop.


Roland Boer’s Dress Rehearsal

A roving reporter caught a sneaky, behind the scenes look at the dress rehearsal for Roland Boer’s family oriented (at least, family originating) Society of Biblical Literature paper,

Too Many Dicks at the Writing Desk, or, How to Organise a Prophetic Sausage-Fest

Session: S20-330

Prophetic Texts and Their Ancient Contexts

Saturday, Nov. 20
4:00 PM at the Inman room in the Hyatt Regency

Yes, Roland has hired a chorus of back up s(w)ingers.

And for S.B.L.’s attempt to reward Boer for his pro-family scholarship, see the numerous posts on his blog.

All Her Bass Belongs to Her: Brandi Disterheft, SJB Deluxe

I haven’t been posting much of late, so let’s try to get back into the swing of things with a new


is a Canadian composer, bassist and singer now based in Toronto. Unfortunately, her website is currently down, so I couldn’t see what was there, but it might be working soon.

She has two albums; the first, from 2007, is called Debut (iTunes).

I don’t have it, but it is on the “things to order” list. A few excerpts from an online review from All about Jazz by Raul D’Gamma Rose.

The incredibly gifted Disterheft has all at once crossed the threshold of first albums and pushed the horizon much further than any musician of her vintage. Debut (Superfran Records, 2007) is a truly remarkable achievement. The album has nine original compositions that are not just original, but appear to have come from a voice so distinctive that one can safely say, “You’ve never heard anything like this before.” Unless you were the late Oscar Peterson, in which case you might say, “She has the same lope or rhythmic pulse as my bassist, Ray Brown. She is what we call serious.” And that, Dr. Peterson, would be putting it all too mildly.

Debut is the kind of first album that most musicians can only dream of to launch their careers. Praise is also due to fellow West Coaster, Michael Kaeshammer, a fine musician in his own right, for the production.

She also appears as part of the Richard Whiteman Trio (piano) along with drummer Sly Juhus, who has followed her on her solo career.

I do have her second album called “Second Side” and it’s currently getting lots of airtime on my stereo. A wide range of material, some instrumental (she is a great bassist) and some with vocals (she is also a great singer). There are all sorts of styles and textures on the album and it all works for me.

Holly Cole does the vocals on “He’s Walkin'” (and co-wrote it), and it is perhaps the most accessible, radio-friendly tune on the album. Ranee Lee sings on “This Time The Dreams on Me”

Here is the link to Justin Time Record’s blurb about her and it.

And a review excerpt from the aforementioned Raul d’Gama Rose at All About Jazz.

Despite being more adventurous than Debut, Disterheft continues to reference the blues with deep conviction. Using contemporary interpretations of that idiomatic platform, the bassist/composer has succeeded in creating truly ebullient, elastic and ever-evolving compositions, as she plucks her way forward. The result is a record that is delightfully unexpected in content and near-flawless in performance.

Well, how about some music? Here is a youtube video:




The Shocking Truth about Chuck Norris.


Would a lolcat lie?
Sew,  he seez me, sez "Aww" 'n den jus' fallz ober 'n diezes.

Vote for my new lol! Click the pic!

Dr. Jim to Speak in Calgary about NOT practicing what teaches.

That’s right. I’m a hypocrite. Actually, just an atheist teaching religious studies and the Bible, and I will make a full confession

Confessions of an Atheist in Religious Studies

Tuesday Dec. 14  7:30pm – 9:30pm

U of C campus; Cassio A/B Room in Mac Hall

2500 University Drive NW
Calgary, AB

Here is the blurb from the Facebook event:

The field of Religious Studies is constantly battling with questions of “insider” versus “outsider” knowledge of religious traditions, ideas, and societies. Many people—even on the “outside”– assume that Religious Studies scholars necessarily belong to the traditions they teach and research. Many others, however, assume that academic examination of the Bible or Judeo-Christian religious traditions are intended to challenge or even subvert the teachings and integrity of those faiths. As an atheist researcher and teacher of the Hebrew Bible (who also dabbles in introductions to Judaism and mythology) there are many roadblocks and pitfalls, especially if one is also an active advocate for secularization and humanism in the public sphere. In presenting these potential land mines Jim will also point to the riches in teaching in these fields.

Mac Hall is designated with an “MH” on this map: You can reach Mac Hall turning left on to Collegiate Blvd. off of 32nd Avenue NW. The closest parking will be in Lots L13, L12, or L11.

Admission to this event is $10 General Public, $5 for Students, and FREE for Friends of the Centre and University of Calgary Freethinkers Club Members

And please note, the entrance fee goes to offset the bills of the Centre for Inquiry in hosting the event and their other good work. I’m doing my bit for free. Well, there is always the glory. Don’t forget the glory.

Dr. Jim gets ready for Atlanta!

Yeah, I’m going.

I’m doing a paper in the Ideological Criticism section on Saturday Nov. 20 (session S20-319). The theme is “Secular Biblical criticism and Introductions to the Bible”. Johanna Stiebert (Leeds), presiding.

4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Room: Fairlie – Hyatt Regency

My paper is called “Why is this mythology different from all other mythologies?” I have a really crappy and no longer entirely applicable abstract in the program book, but here is a better foreshadowing of what my paper is all about.

“Myth” is a notoriously difficult to define, but its application to any of the materials in the Old Testament is complicated by modern theological conceptions of the uniqueness of the Israelite world-view.  Fortunately, this state of affairs has been changing in key areas but it has yet to fully impact the way the Hebrew Bible is presented in textbooks intended (at least in part) for the secular classroom. despite there being a number of other wise excellent texts, few are really strongly based on the conceptions and methods taught in secular Religious Studies, and none I have seen really addressed the thorny problem of “myth” in anything approaching a comprehensive fashion. Some books, while claiming a secular religious studies approach, actually undermine it.
The blurred dividing line between secular biblical research and confessional biblical interpretation is maintained in these books, the publishing industry, and in most academic societies devoted to biblical studies, such as the Society of Biblical Literature. This, in turn, helps preserve a barrier between secular biblical criticism and the wider field of Religious Studies. A fully secular critical introduction that is designed as a component in a comprehensive study of world and/or ancient religions remains lacking.

A Snap from this Summer’s Atheist BBQ!

I’m very overworked so no time to post but I don’t want the Thinking Shop to stay completely dead, so here is a photo from the GREAT ATHEIST BBQ GET TOGETHER this past summer.

MMMMM, Baby…. Goooooood!

Cooking the Book. On the Bible and How Not To Do Religious Studies

Ok, I admit it, I may have screwed up slightly in assigning this book for my Religious Studies 3000 “What is Religion?” course in the Autumn 2009 semester, but it was clearly the best of the bunch and a whole lot of it was really quite good. I admit not reading it as carefully as I should have. It looked good overall, the chapters I read closely were very good, and everything else seemed generally in order.  I had a few issues with this volume but no text-book is perfect.  Perhaps I’m just a sloppy previewer, but I find that I can never really assess a text until the class actually starts.

James C. Livingston
Anatomy of the Sacred: An Introduction to Religion
(Prentice Hall, 6th Edition).

In many ways, it is a pretty good introduction to the nature of religion in comparative contexts and how to think about issues like ritual, social organizations in religion and the like. It is fairly fair and objective. A major source of aggravation is its favouring of the standard “religion is sui generis” line but this is almost unavoidable with any introduction I’ve found. In Livingston it is manageable for the class room and one can always get the class to assess the viability of that claim.

I really don’t think it does students any good to assert too strongly that religion cannot be reduced to manifestations of other social or psychological factors, although certainly not to a single factor. Having been raised academically on Eliade and with that lecherous Rudolph Otto skulking in my educational history around too, I sort of adopted the “Sacred” talk, but I’m really trying to kick the habit. Trying to understand what religion is is a thorny enough problem. One cannot make any progress towards solving it by saying it is just the way people and societies act in reference to a mystery. I can see why religious folk want key parts of their beliefs and experiences considered “off limits” to rational exploration and critique. That scholars invent methodologies to create a corresponding taboo to their own thought is counter-productive. Anyway, enough of that.

As I’ve already intimated, this isn’t my main problem with the book.

What is really egregious comes in chapter 8: “Deity: Concepts of the Divine and Ultimate Reality”. Livingston is talking about the rise of monotheism and the whole discussion goes to hell over the space of a couple of short pages. He talks about the “Patriarchal and the Mosaic periods” (p. 172). What freaking patriarchal and mosaic periods?!? He treats these guys as historical figures. Has he not read ANY modern biblical studies? He then writes:

The ancient Israelites did not arrive at a knowledge of Yahweh by examining the order of nature or by rational speculation, as did the Greeks. Rather Yawheh was revealed to Israel through her historical experience and, most notably, through the Exodus from Egypt, the Covenant sealed at Mount Sinai, and the Exile in Babylonia” (pp. 172-73).

After providing an abridged rendering of Exodus 3, Livingston provides the answer to Moses question as to the identity of the deity speaking from the burning bush, describing it like this:

“The answer Moses received is a most significant event in the history of religions”

AARGH! How is this an event? It is an episode in a myth! It takes ages to get students not to regard episodes in stories uncritically as real events. It is almost impossible when a textbook makes the same damn mistake! And why are these mistakes so often made when the mythology in question is Jewish/Christian and not Shinto, Buddhist or whatever?

Anyway, I managed to turn this into a passable “Teaching Moment”, getting the class to survey the chapter and pick out lapses in judgment and thought in it.  A number of them picked this up right away (as one student said “It sounds ‘truthy'”), and those that didn’t learned something about human frailty on the part of authors. Still, it is even more egregious that this is the 6th edition of the book, and I checked the fourth and same lapse is there too. This seems to be a longstanding feature of the book. No one has caught this in any of the efforts at revision?

Still, I should admit that I am a bit mad at myself that I didn’t read this chapter as close as I should have before hand. I’m not sure it would have been a deal breaker; like I said, the rest of book had some excellent features, and I couldn’t find anything else to have the students buy.

I’ve  run completely out of patience with the almost impossible to avoid rubbish that Livingston repeats here (he certainly did not invent this idea!). “Yawheh was revealed to Israel through her historical experience” What frikkin’ theistic religion (other than deism) DOESN’T think that their deities show their power in historical events? And didn’t the Israelites think that big storms, famines, locust swarms, etc. were the will of their God? Didn’t Babylonians interpret their military history as being influenced by their deities?

The interesting historical and literary question is why some Judean writers composed a more more or less narratively interconnected corpus offering a long, historical legacy for their readership while the scribal elite in other societies did not.  And in any case that process should properly be placed in the Persian and Hellenistic periods and not 1000 years earlier in a time when the “historical” Moses didn’t bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Other cultures must have had some historical sense and Israel had hardly broken the chains of mythology.

As I’ve said above, this mistake seems very common when scholars treat the Bible and the religions surrounding it, less common with other traditions. Of course, Livingston cannot be blamed entirely. He is merely repeating the gist of a large body of work on the Hebrew Bible that constructs a “history” of the Israelites from a paraphrase of the biblical text and treats their worldview as historically oriented in contradistinction to virtually all other faiths. Certainly, the ancient Israelite and Judean worldviews were NOT identical to that of their neighbours, but then the Babylonians’ were NOT identical to that of the Assyrians, Hittites, Egyptians, Persians and so forth. Too often, scholars construct lump together non-Israelite cultures and religions as one part of a dichotomy with Israel and the Bible on the other. This polarity does not help the cause of understanding any of these ancient people, religions or texts. “All non-biblical religions look the same” and “All god are created equal but Yahweh is more equal than that others” are biases that biblical and world religions scholars must overcome.

The Far Left Side. Pure Brilliance!

Secular biblical scholars and historians of Israel need to do a better job within the larger Religious Studies academy to highlight modern secular work on the Bible and its production. This requires a closer alignment between biblical studies and R.S. and cutting of the confessional apron strings that bind biblical studies to discourses seek to affirm that there is an exceptional nature of the Bible and Israel.