The Bible in Today's World

It was a very real honour and joy for the NRCBR and Newman University, yesterday (09/01/2020) to host the launch of the Birmingham diocese ‘The God who Speaks‘ programme for the Roman Catholic ‘Year of the Word (2020)‘.

The God who Speaks

The theme of the event was, ‘The God who Speaks: The Bible in Today’s World‘ and three talks that explored the (sometimes surprising) ways in which the Bible functions within the contemporary world.

Professor Susan Docherty (head of the Theology and Philosophy at Newman) extended a warm welcome to all and introduced the day.

The first talk was by Dr Richard Goode (senior lecturer in Theology) on the Bible in the social media world. This drew attention to the diverse uses of the Bible within public spaces and discussed how recent trends in the use of the Bible within the political arena reflect those within social media, suggesting not so much a decline in biblical literacy, but differences in its use. The session concluded with the challenge raised by extremist white nationalistic groups and their often overt use of the Bible to promote their ideology and message.

Richard Goode speaking about the Bible in the digital (social media) world. Image: Jim West

This was followed by a fascinating (and packed!) workshop led by David McLoughlin (Emeritus Fellow in Christian Theology, and Movement of Christian Workers). David helped us to read a number of the parables of Jesus in a new way that would help us to explore how they might relate to the world of 21st century work. David set each of the parables within their social and historical settings that allowed us to understand their ‘real world’ context of Roman-period Palestine and how that might relate to the contemporary working world.

David McLoughlin discussing the parables of Jesus and the world of work. Image: Jim West

At the midpoint, at the wine reception, Fleur Dorell (national co-ordinator for the CBCEW and Bible Society) officially launched the Birmingham diocese ‘The God who Speaks’ programme to mark the Roman Catholic ‘Year of the Word’ 2020. As well as introducing the various activities and events that are planned – and still in the planning – Fleur talked passionately about the importance of the Bible to Christian faith and the need for much closer engagement with the Bible and encouraging its wider use.

Fleur Dorell (Bible Society and CBCEW) launching ‘The God who Speaks’ programme. Image: Jim West
The launch of ‘The God who Speaks’ at Newman University. Image: Jim West
Jim West speaking on the Word that Abides. Image: Helen Ingram
Jim West introducing reception studies at the ‘God who Speaks’ event. Image: Hywel Clifford

The key note address was given by Dr Jim West (MingHua Theological College and Charles Sturt University). It was great to have Jim back with us and his illustrated lecture examined the way the Bible has been used and understood in no-textual ways, looking at a wide range of examples from art, music and film. The lecture raised a number of questions relating to the relationship between the Bible and different cultural arenas, and also the power of these interpretations on how the Bible is understood today. A very stimulating question and answer session included issues about the relationship between academic biblical studies and the church.

The Bible in Today's World

January 9th 2020

Newman University

13.30 – 19.30

Is there still a place for the Bible in the modern world? It might be the sacred text of Christianity and as such central to the Christian faith and community. It might also be frequently counted as one of the most influential pieces of writing within Western history and (in regards to the King James Version) to English language. However, does this collection of ancient writings really have a place in the world of the 21st century? Why is it still read? In what ways is it still being used? Does it still have the capacity to influence our ideas and values?

Exploring these questions concerning the place and function of the Bible in today’s world is the focus of the ‘God who Speaks: The Bible in Today’s World‘ event at Newman University on January 9th. The event forms the launch of the Birmingham ‘The God who Speaks’ programme for the Catholic ‘Year of the Word (2020)‘ that celebrates the 10th anniversary of Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini (The Word of the Lord) and the 1,600 of the death of St Jerome.

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Great free offer for 'The God who Speaks' (2020)

We are also delighted to announce that De Gruyter, the publishers of Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (EBR), which to date runs to 17 volumes, has very generously offered 30 days free access to the online EBR database to all those who have booked a place on our ‘The God who Speaks‘ event for the Year of the Word (2020).

The EBR is the definitive and authoritative source for biblical scholarship and contains over 30,000 articles written by over 4,000 authors from over 50 countries. Approximately 1,500 new articles are added each year by leading experts from over 20 fields. The database is fully searchable.

The editorial board is presided over by renowned international scholars: Constance Furey, Steven L. McKenzie, Thomas Römer, Jens Schröter, Barry Dov Walfish, and Eric J. Ziolkowski. The print edition of the encyclopedia was the winner of the 2010 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title award.

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The God who Speaks (2020)

2020 is set to be a exciting year for anyone with an interest in the Bible and its use, and the Theology and Philosophy department at Newman University are really delighted to be part of it!

A number of Bible Societies have joined together to support the year 2020 as the ‘Global Year of the Bible’. Consequently, a wide range of events and activities have been planned to highlight the place of the Bible within contemporary life, to foster a wider awareness of it, and to encourage its use. The year 2020 has added significance for the Roman Catholic tradition as it marks the 10th anniversary of Verbum Domini – Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation on ‘The Word of the Lord’ – and the 1,600 anniversary of St Jerome’s death. To this end the Catholic Church with the Bible Society are launching a series of events, resources and initiatives for the ‘The God who Speaks – Year of the Word, 2020‘.

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The Genius of Luke

We have been discussing recently the writings of Luke in one our modules, particularly his Acts of the Apostles. Every time I run this session I am always struck by Luke’s ingenuity and the sheer intelligence found in his work. Recognition of Luke’s talents is not new and commentators frequently note his literary ability and point to the rounded nature of his characters. His capacity to paint pictures with words means that images, stories and events stick in the mind. Parables that are exclusive to his Gospel tend to be those that are the most often remembered; the Prodigal Son, Good Samaritan, etc. However, this is only one element of Luke’s artistry as a writer.

‘St Luke the Evangelist’ by El Greco, circa 1610-1614. Oil on canvas. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St._Luke,_Painting_by_El_Greco._Indianapolis_Museum_of_Art.jpg

There are a number of competing ideas that attempt to explain why Luke wrote his two volume ‘history’. Most introductions to the Luke’s writing (either his Gospel or Acts) will provide you with an overview of these. Bart Ehrman (2004) gives a brief but very clear summary of the main positions. Whatever conclusions we might draw concerning the motivation behind Luke’s writing, it is clear that the ekklesia (or what would later become called the Church) was facing a number of significant, if not existential, challenges from outside and within. These crises had the potential of threatening the survival of the emerging Christian movement.

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Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting #6 – free access

The latest edition of the Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting (6) is now out. Once again, it offers some extremely good and interesting article.

Over the past year, I have noticed an increased interest in the question of vegetarianism and veganism. In this edition, Simon J. Joseph (University of California) investigates vegetarianism and Christian origins: Other Voices: Remembering the marginalized vegetarian in the study of Christian origins.

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New Testament Greek summer school 2019

The First Steps into New Testament Greek summer school that we run each year at Newman University is always something a little bit special. Firstly, it is more than just an intensive learning crash-course in New Testament Greek. Initial language acquisition is an integral part of the week, but we also spend time looking at the world in which the language was used and that produced our early Christian writings. We also spend time working with the Greek text in a variety of forms and contexts that include; critical editions, online texts, manuscripts and inscriptions.

Summer Greek 2019
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Hadhrat Ibrahim – Susan Docherty on Voice of Islam

Professor Susan Docherty

Susan Docherty (Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism and head of subject for Theology at Newman University) took part in a discussion of how Hadhrat Ibrahim (Abraham) is understood within Islam, Christianity and Judaism on the Breakfast Show on the Voice of Islam radio station today (10/07/2009).

Professor Docherty said,

I was delighted to have this opportunity to engage with the listeners about the ongoing relevance of the figure of Abraham/Ibrahim for Muslims, Jews and Christians, who all honour him for his righteousness and faith in one God.

This topic was very much in the forefront of my mind because I have recently contributed to a new edited book on the interpretation of Abraham in early Jewish and early Christian Literature. It also connects with the wider work of Newman University, as we are involved in various inter-religious partnerships and projects researching faith schools. Within our undergraduate degree programme in Theology and Philosophy here at Newman we also offer modules like ‘The Abrahamic Inheritance: Dialogue and Difference between Christianity, Islam and Judaism’ and ‘Politics and Religion in Britain’, which encourage students to explore the connections between the major world faiths and their place in modern society.

To view more about Professor Sue Docherty view her staff profile page. To view more about the Theology courses at Newman University view the course search.

Susan Docherty on the Voice of Islam
Sue’s contribution begins at the 31:43 mark

‘Field-guides’ to Fauna and Flora in the Bible

‘Naturalist’s Kit’. Image: Lucy Source: http://www.questfornectar.com/amateur-naturalist-equipment/

If you have been inspired by either this series of blogs or the #30DaysWild challenge to do some of your own exploration of the fauna and flora of the Bible but you are not sure of where to start, I have listed here some useful resources that can act as your field-guides.

Finding resources on this topic is becoming much easier as the portrayal of non-human life within biblical literature is a lot of renewed attention. The confluence of environmental crises (climate, pollution, population, land use, habitat exploitation and depletion, etc.) has provided an opportunity for those with faith communities to reexamine these issues in the light of their sacred texts.

Which resources you will find helpful will depend upon your interests. Some might be interested in just knowing a little more about the context to, for example, the teachings of Jesus or the prophets. Others might be more interested in the intersection between the biblical writings and the ecology. Is the influence of the biblical tradition as bad as some of its critics argue? Are there modes of understanding within these texts that might help us address the crises we now face. What does the Bible say about animal welfare and exploitation? There is some very interesting work being done from Christian, Jewish and Islamic perspectives re-looking at vegetarianism and veganism. Other people might be more interested in the texts as historical documents and want to gain a clearer historical, anthropological understanding: What do they tell us about how the ancients viewed their world and their place within it?

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Your turn – Day 30 of 30 Days [Biblically] Wild

An old stile and rolling countryside, Warwickshire. Image: Richard Goode (2008)

Today is the last day of our 30 Days [Biblically] Wild challenge that has been inspired by the Wild Life Trust‘s ‘30 Days Wild.’ Over the past four weeks we have looked at a range of plants, animals and birds. The idea has been to look at species with which we could reasonably expect to encounter in the UK and perhaps would necessarily expect to find mentioned in the Bible. What I hope to have in some way achieved is to raise an awareness of the extent to which non-human life and the environment saturates this collection of texts that is so often assumed to be simply about God and humans. In the same way, just as non-human life suffuses our landscapes (if we just spend a little time to look for it), so too it permeates and influences the biblical writings.

We can see that the biblical writers were profoundly aware of their deep interconnections with the land. The preservation of the land (materially as well as spiritually) was intricately tied to their preservation as a people. Hareuveni (1991) and then Benstein (2006) are right in emphasizing the way in which the land formed their theology and provided a rich vocabulary through which to express it.

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