Secular Criticism of the Bible: Steering Committee Announced.

A group of around 15 concerned individuals, some of whom met briefly at the SBL conference in New Orleans in November, have elected a steering committee to organize a consultation and hopefully a section for upcoming SBL meetings.

The SCB Steering Committee is:

William Arnal (University of Regina)

Hector Avalos (Iowa State University)

Zeba Crook (Carleton University)

Jim Linville (University of Lethbridge)

Randy Reed (Appalachian State University)

Johanna Stiebert (University of Leeds)

The SBC initiative will be represented in the 2010 Atlanta meeting with a session under the auspices of the ideological criticism section with an invited session on “Secular Biblical Criticism and Introductions to the Bible” , a theme first developed in the initial SBC meeting in New Orleans.

More updates when there is news!

My New Favourite Hymns! God’s Mercy and Biblical Leadership!

Hat Tip to Dan! We know where he’s going!

Found this one on the link to that one.

Ah, good old biblical leadership values. Can’t beat ’em!

A Do-It Myself Carnival of Godlessness

I have no idea why the Carnival of the Godless fizzled. The last one at the start of November was very short, and then there has been nothing. Alas.

So here are some of my favourite godless and less-gods-the better-posts from folks on my blogroll over the last little while!

Destination 360

I can be teh Karnibble Kween?
moar funny pictures


One Minion’s Opinion reminisces about a favourite childhood show, a bit of sentimentality brought about by ChristWire’s very rational, serious and not at all satirical essay on the fact that God hates the homo-Smurfs (and so should you), and there was only one lady Smurf.

Oh, but Christwire isn’t actually freaking out about homosexual smurfs. They’re getting their freak on about how the sultry Smurfette is the only chick in a land of men. (Sic throughout – FYI: homonyms only sound homosexual, dear deer reed readers…)

My dear White Christian American friends, I am hear [sic – here] today to alert the God-fearing American public of yet another subversive attempt of the homo-infested Hollywood to further promote the homo-gay agenda. Homowood is resurrecting this 1980`s television series that was riddled with homogay undertones and, just as horrible, was targeted at none other than CHILDREN!

Methinks Minion became a Poe*-Smurf, but she did discover that there has been talk of  a Smurf movie out in 2011.

I never could stand those little blue buggers (and buggerette).

Apocalypse Smurfs. See, they missed the Rapture.

* Poe’s Law: “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.”


Michael Fridman is A Nadder, a great godless site, and he is a very good Bible Blogger too. He has blogged his way right through Job, and more recently has turned his attention to 1 Samuel with a little post called A Real Biblical Marriage (1 Samuel 1).

Now that I’ve finished blogging through the entire book of Job, time to start another book of the Bible. Samuel is the next logical choice — it’s my favourite book because it is most like a novel. There’s a definite, coherent plot, it’s structured quite well and rather than copious amounts of law or poetic rambling we are treated to a true masterpiece of narrative fiction.

The Brick Testament. Scandinavian Theology at its best!

However YHWH is a petty tribal god and can be bought with gifts. In her pain, Hannah makes a vow that if she gets pregnant with a male child (otherwise what’s the point?!) she’ll dedicate the son to YHWH and make sure he never cuts his hair (ie. she’ll make him a Nazirite according to the laws in Numbers 6). This sounds good to the good God, since he will now get to keep the boy for life.

I don’t know how many other bibliobloggers have him on their blogrolls, but he is very perceptive and entertaining. Here is the link to his Blogging the Bible series.


From Wikimedia

Bay of Fundie has a great continuing series describing his madcap adventure is stupid-land attending a “Darwin was wrong” seminar.


Here is Part Five!

If you’re going to lie, lie big! “[S]cience is debunking every aspect of Darwin’s hypothesis[!]”

That’s what’s great about living in a fantasy world. You can wave your hands and all of your problems go away. Evolution: *Poof!* It’s gone. Atheists: *Poof!* They’re gone. The Establishment Clause: *Poof!* It’s gone.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, evolution is stronger than ever, there are more atheists than ever, and the Separation Clause… Umm… It’s actually looking a little faint. Damn!! Their magic really does work! Quick! Somebody nominate some Supreme Court justices!

The Sensuous Curmudeon turns the heat up on the Discoveroids of the Discovery Institution for their pissant take on “Climategate”.

It began here: Thrilled About ClimateGate, but the Discoveroids couldn’t control themselves. Matters swiftly escalated to this: The Mask Falls Away. (Hey, that one post got almost 9,000 hits so far.) That’s where we identified the “vindication of all kooks” doctrine — which holds that if the legitimate views of global warming skeptics had been wrongly suppressed, then all science dissent has been similarly mistreated, and therefore the science-denial of creationism is now respectable.


The Godless Girl goes all Mark Twainian in Lies, Damn Lies and Lunatics Part 2, not talking healing claims on faith.

Click here to watch both clips side-by-side.

In clip 1 Bentley speaks of a woman whose legs get beaten like a baseball bat on the stage. In clip 2 he’s telling the same story (you can hear the similar lead-in about “crippled people” and “not one”) but this time it’s a small boy whose legs God says to beat on the stage. So which is it, a male or female? I believe these tall tales are fabricated for theatrics and to give the audience a sense of awe and to gain trust before they step up to be healed. Hardly a  trustworthy man of God!


Salvador, Brazil

The Tangled Up in Blue Guy has finally seen the light and is now telling atheists to “Stop it” and just go back to being retend believers so we don’t cause offence (or get sarcastic).

It is time for atheists to leave well enough alone.  We’ve had our say, we’ve had our moment in the sun and now it is time to go back to being nice and quiet and let the Christians guard over us, so that we can all live and let live and no one will ever talk about the ways that religion rules our lives unfairly again.

To all Christians I apologize for being so uppity. I promise to be good.  My hat is in my hand, and excuse me while I go to the back of the bus and get off at my stop and hope that none of you are dishonored again by having to look at me.


Good Grief! The Unrepentant Old Hippy is unconvinced that the timing of Obama’s last T.V. special, which pre-empted the airing of Charlie Brown’s Christmas special was a Muslim plot. Silly girl.

Russell Wiseman, mayor(!) of Arlington, Tennessee, claimed that Obama’s speech on Afghanistan this week was deliberately timed to block the airing of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”…. because he’s a Muslim. No, I’m not kidding:

The mayor of a suburban Memphis city accused President Barack Obama of deliberately timing his speech about the war in Afghanistan this week to block the airing of the “Peanuts” Christmas television special.

According to The Commercial Appeal, Arlington Mayor Russell Wiseman posted the statements on his Facebook page and said the president is Muslim.

Blag Hag tackles Tim Tebow’s Well versed and video’s face. She writes:

This isn’t about censoring Christians so that they can never talk about their faith. There is a time and place for such discussions, and representing a public university in college football is not it. This is about illustrating that you’re rewarded for expressing your Christianity, but everyone who disagrees better keep it to themselves. Christians are a privileged group, and crying “Oppression!” as loudly as they can doesn’t change the facts.


Greta Christina is one of the best godless bloggers around. She wonders what a truly metaphorical religion would be like

I was debating the other day with a believer who was getting bent out of shape about how religion was just a story people found comforting. People didn’t have to believe religion was literally true for it to make a difference in their lives, he insisted. So why was I being so intolerant and mean and trying to take it away? And it suddenly struck me:

The version of religion he’s talking about?

It’s Trekkies.

Anyway, that’s my little Carnival of Godlessness. Hope you liked it. So, lets have some music!

Badly Needed: Campus Crusade for Krampus Claws, the original Grinch!

According to National Geographic, an old Yuletime demon is scaring kids into behaving once again in the alpine areas of Austria.

From National Geographic Blog Central

Krampus (the name means Claw) allegedly appears before Christmas, stealing naughty children away in his sack only to be defeated by the good St. Nicholas who could send the demon back to the infernal regions.

Wikipedia's Dutch St. Nick pic.

St. Nicholas, can put Krampus in his place.

The centuries old belief is making a comeback in Austria after being marginalized in the 1800’s by the church. Marc Silver writes:

Europe once had a roster of Christmas rascals like Krampus, many with pagan roots. And Yule was a lot like today’s Halloween, partly because farmers had time off from chores and could party with abandon. On December 5, the eve of St. Nick’s feast day, folks would bang on doors for food and drink.

Against Krampus, Frosty doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in, well, hell.

Apparently, his nightmarish reign is returning to Austria and there are scores of Krampus Clubs in Salzburg alone.

Sounds like a hell of a lot of fun! Darn churchy spoil sports! This is a tradition we need to import!

We really have excised almost all awareness of evil from kid’s experiences. I think older kids are treated to a lot of apocalyptic imagery  in movies and cartoons (probably mostly directed at boys, I suspect), but real meditations on fear, death, unpleasantness are rapidly being censored out. I wonder if it is really making a positive difference. It might be. Anyone with ideas? Of course, I don’t have any kids who will be kept up all night with nightmares…

Jim West on the Wrath of God

Jim West's Somewhat Inauspicious Arrival On Earth
moar funny pictures

Couldn’t have happened to a nicer cat-disliker.

All Knowledge in the Universe Conveniently Categorized and Graphed.

Maybe not accurately or responsibly, but no one ever visited this site looking for that.

funny graphs and charts
see more Funny Graphs

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On SBL’s Battle of the Bloat: A secularizing suggestion.

Last Wednesday (Nov. 25), April DeConick posted an open letter about the Society of Biblical Literature on her blog, Forbidden Gospels.  I just noticed it the other day, so here is a late response in view of my own hopes to add a new group to the SBL’s already bloated schedule. She makes three closely inter-related main points.

She complains is there is far too much overlapping of groups with similar interests or themes. This only divides the audiences. She suggests that the SBL could engage external consultants to work on scheduling of the conferences. I’m not sure that extenal consultants are the solution, that sounds like a terrible expense, but I agree wholeheartedly with her recognition of this problem. Part of that issue is the proliferation of so many groups, which is her primary concern.

But before dealing with that, we need an  interlude:

DeConick also deals with scheduling. Organizing the time table for sessions for the SBL and the American Academy of Religion meeting (which used to be held concurrently) must have been a nightmare. DeConick observes that the problem of overlapping sessions is actually worse now that the two societies do not hold joint meetings, since the SBL has seen such a dramatic rise in the number of specialized groups.

Her primary complaint concerns the view expressed in the group Chairs’ meeting that the large number of sessions at the recent conferences was a sign of the society’s health.  In her opinion, the rapid growth in the number of sessions and groups has led to over-specialization, diminished audiences for all groups and to a reduction in the actual sharing of ideas among people. I cannot but agree with this. She writes:

Our groups have proliferated to the point that there is so much competition for audiences that entire sessions are beginning to have only a handful in attendance. Papers that may have taken a year to prepare may have an audience of five. This means that there is little discussion and little in terms of dissemination of research to the broader community.

The increasing specialization and fracturing of scholarship into ever more rarified sub-disciplines is, as Steve Wiggins noted in a comment on DeConick’s post, endemic to the wider field of scholarship, but I wonder if it really need to be so bad in the SBL. I think DeConick is right, the SBL could sure stand to loose a lot of the different groups, consultations, and what not it has acquired over the years.

One odd thing about the present situation, however, is that I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find sessions to which I might propose a paper. My stuff often does not fit anything but the very general, open sessions on the Hebrew Prophets and such like.  Yet, these open sessions seem to be rarer and rarer as even the broadly defined subject areas host many sessions with specific themes some of which can be quite narrow in focus. The opportunity for papers that do not fit into these pre-arranged categories appears to be far slimmer now than a decade ago. I might be wrong about this, but it is an impression I am getting.

Agnes thought the SBL New Orleans  Session on "Throwing your Pearl Beads on Lolcats:  Interactive Approaches" was a glorious success.

Remember when T.V. had variety shows? I remember watching Ed Sullivan as a kid. You never knew what you were going to get on any evening. Jugglers then the Beatles, or a broadway singer, a comedian and the Rolling Stones. It was wonderful, and everyone watched everything (although my dad had a fit when he saw the @$^%!!(#^$!(!!! long-haired Beatles for the first time. Some childhood memories will never die).

I like variety. The SBL should have more of it, but not not a wide variety of exclusive-club, inward-looking talking shops, each with their own totemic, esoteric jargon and secret handshakes.

All that being said, I should admit that the plan to start a Secular Critical Scholarship of the Bible group would just be adding to the mess of groups already there. What would the justification for that be?

(Another interlude: A probably apocryphal, but still telling, story I heard during my last years as an undergrad at the U. of Alberta was that there was a committee struck to look into how the university might reduce the number of committees)

First of all, the question of secularism in the SBL is not a peripheral subject but strikes at the heart of the what the SBL is, does, and should be doing to “foster biblical scholarship”. I have heard some opine  that since scholarship should be secular, why do we need to talk about secularism at all? The answer, of course, is that Biblical Studies is not fully secular. Many scholars are, but the academy is definitely NOT. And since people continue to attribute to the texts we subject to critical analysis a fundamentally unique status among writings and human thought, the issue of secularism should be a significant topic of discussion. Yet, it is not. The SBL seems to be OK with papers, sessions, and affiliations with faith-based perspectives. This is a major issue and needs to be discussed openly.

Biblical exceptionalism is rampant in the SBL. Rather than offer analysis the Bible as one of the many textual products of human culture, some presentations seem to construe the Bible as the primary human text and even as a divine text. The latter has no place in academia, and the former often strikes me as simply a quasi-secular corollary to overt theological work.

The last point may be a little harsh but at least it deserves to be discussed openly. What is the SBL for? As a short exchange on this blog and elsewhere several weeks ago reveals, there are members of the SBL who simply cannot see the validity or even existence of non-religious thought about the Bible. One would have thought that an international academic society would do a better job preventing such an identity crisis. As Alan Lenzi argued in Feb. 2008, the SBL needs to adopt some standards for membership.

What does the SBL require for full membership? $65 (see here, updated on February 11, 2008). What kind of learned society has no requirements for its members? The problem this creates is most evident, in my experience, at the regional meetings where I have witnessed pastors or, in one case, a woman who had had a visionary experience share their thoughts about the Bible or god or religion. Is the SBL the appropriate venue for this kind of report?

Full membership in the SBL should be restricted to people with an academic doctoral degree from an accredited program. Student membership should be restricted to academic doctoral students. We should make it harder to join instead of easier. Furthermore, given the function of what we study for contemporary religion and the fact the membership in a learned society can give credibility to one’s status in the field, it does not seem unreasonable to inform potential applicants for membership about the Society’s orientation to academic Biblical Studies. Namely, the application should make it clear that all members of the Society engage the Bible as a product of and influence on human culture. By joining, members implicitly agree in principle to the practice of using the same critical faculties and exercising the same kinds of judgments on the Bible as one might use on, say, an Assyrian royal inscription or a non-canonical gospel. In other words, it should be clear that members of the SBL do not privilege the Bible with a special mode of inquiry (see note).

I agree whole heartedly with this (M.A. students, of course, would not be banished entirely!). As Lenzi points out and as I have said elsewhere there, clearly, many religious people can do good secular research, and we cannot morally impose a religious test for membership. Yet, society as a whole tends to treat “secular” as synonymous with “atheist” and since very strident and widely read atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (who count as non-academics when it comes to the study of religion) rub so many people the wrong way, attempts to “secularize” biblical studies is taken by some as being equivalent “church bashing”. It is not. It is merely church-ignoring.

From my experience, it is far more likely that in any given session in the SBL meetings that someone will start to speak overtly from a faith perspective, or to try to make critical scholarship palatable to “faith communities” than to openly declare secular standards of scholarship. It was such a relief to attend the North American Association for Religious Studies session in New Orleans, that placed biblical studies in the light of  wider scholarship into religion. A very different atmosphere to what I noted in many SBL sessions. NAASR is one of those affiliations that SBL should be encouraging.

So, back to the SBloatL problem identified by DeConick. I think a partial solution would be to eliminate the “religious” sessions. They simply do not belong. Studying religion academically is very different from furthering any one religion’s internal discourses, no matter how intellectual those discourses are. The SBL needs to sort out its identity. It cannot be a clearing house for all talk about the Bible and the Judeo-Christian traditions that uses big words and produces big books. Affiliations with the overt theological groups need to be broken. Theological groups (that is, those that do theology, rather than critically examine other people’s theologies) within the SBL should be ended.

I think far too many SBL members see the society as a vehicle for furthering the inner-church discourses carried out in seminaries and even from the pulpit. Why the hell does the SBL have sessions on “Homiletics and Biblical Studies“?  From their call for papers:

Invited panel session: Preaching from the Psalms. Invited panel session: Preaching and the Personal: Prophecy, Witness, and Testimony. Open call: The Homiletics and Biblical Studies section is seeking papers dealing with the relationship between biblical interpretation and proclamation.

The SBL could certainly loose this and a number of other faith-based sections and groups and its academic credentials would only increase.
What is the intended audience of critical biblical scholarship?  It must not be construed as solely those consuming biblical interpretation as an expression of or aid to their religious beliefs. The SBL actually should not be catering to that market at all. The way I see it, the real audience of biblical academics are those interested in the wider knowledge of human society, culture, and religiosity.

The SBL should abandon its attempts to be all things to all people, resist any attempt to use it as an adjunct of the church or seminary, and take its mandate to further scholarship seriously as part of the wider explorations into human life conducted in the secular humanities and social sciences.

A Parable Unparalleled: Stewart Lee and Jesus

Absolutely hilarious!

Video of James McGrath Singing In New Orleans Released!

Here is the Matrix explorin‘, keyboard ivory-ticklin, Bible-bebloggin’ James McGrath giving his presentation on Genesis in New Orleans (notice the nice carnival atmosphere he creates by his stylish hat!)

Too bad they didn’t let him near the keyboards. Alas. But to console him, I saw this musical kittie on ICHC and thought I had to do something with it. I’ve never met him, but now he owes me a beer.

James McGrath Plays the Stray Cats

moar funny pictures

No idea if he likes the Stray Cats, either. They didn’t have a piono player so maybe not. Keeping with the Bible theme, here are the Latter Day Genesis (in their superstar Phil Collins phase). James probably doesn’t like that either, but he still owes me the beer.

Lolcat Awards for reviewed books relevant to my interests: Dec. 1

Once again it is time for Dr. Jim to give away three custom made lolcats for the three books reviewed in the new The Review of Biblical Literature edition tat are most Relevant To My Interests!

Here they are!

Maria-Zoe Petropoulou
Animal Sacrifice in Ancient Greek Religion, Judaism, and Christianity, 100 BC to AD 200Gud. Alter reddy. Cielin' Cat be pleezed
Reviewed by Adele Reinhartz


Stephanie Dalley
Esther’s Revenge at Susa: From Sennacherib to Ahasuerus

Sennacatrib surveys  the ruins of Susa.  Revenge is Sweet
moar funny pictures
Reviewed by Aaron Koller


Susan R. Garrett
No Ordinary Angel: Celestial Spirits and Christian Claims about Jesus
What the Hell are you lookin' at?
moar funny pictures
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas



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