A new dialogue between biblical scholarship and Religious Education

One of the trends that we have been monitoring at Newman and which has been reflected in a number of the posts on this site has been the use of (or allusions to) the Bible within the public spheres; political and social media (for example see, Migrants, Refugees & the search for a Biblical PerspectiveNo room for the 3 ‘kings’: Refugees, the nativity and the social mediaWeaponising Romans 13). Far from being dismissed, as critics would suggest, as an irrelevant, out-dated text that is only read by an ever reducing number of religious zealots, the Bible’s influence (though not necessarily its content) is very present on the contemporary stage. This means that a critical and informed understanding of the Bible (its texts, history, use) remains an essential part of education. It is therefore of great concern that the recent changes to GCSE Religious Education (RE) syllabi (in England and Wales), although placing a greater emphasis on the study of sacred texts, does not reflect recent developments within biblical studies and, at times, could reinforce negative stereotypical views. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that, at present, only one RE A-Level syllabus includes any in-depth component on the Bible. Consequently, Prof. Susan Docherty‘s article in the current edition of the British Journal of Religious Education is a very welcome and much needed call for a new dialogue to commence between biblical scholarship and the provision of RE in UK schools Continue reading

Weaponising Romans 13

One of the oldest methods of using biblical texts is ‘proof-texting’. This is when a specific text is used to legitimate or ‘prove’ a particular argument or position. The early Church fathers were fond of it and it can be frequently found in the writings of the Bible. It is therefore not surprising that most of the references to biblical texts today take this form. Particularly important texts are even referred to as ‘clobber texts’ (originally associated in relation to the homosexual debate) as they are known to deliver the knockout blow in a debate, thereby rendering the opposing side speechless. Follow any theological argument, whether that be abortion, sexual orientation, or female ministry (and countless others) and you will quickly begin to recognise each side’s favourite ‘clobber texts’.

As someone who makes a living from studying and lecturing on the Bible, I have to admit to finding proof-texting often rather irritating and unsatisfactory – whether that is Matthew’s use of them (although I do recognise they also have other functions), Justin Martyr’s or from a participant in the latest Facebook/Twitter argument. I do, however, accept that this practice has a long heritage and, like it or not, has a place within the community of faith. It is the trend towards clobber-texting that I find very concerning. Whereas proof-texting seeks to advance a scripture that neatly encapsulates a particular viewpoint (albeit in an often simplified shorthand form), clobber texts are often grabbed texts that are used to support an existing ideological view (in other words to argue that that viewpoint is ‘biblical’) and they are employed to shut down the debate. Anyone encountering an argument between two Christian positions will be familiar with this tactic.

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London Crucifixion – bringing the past to life or locking it in the past?

The iconic London location of Trafalgar Square was host to another set of iconic symbols yesterday (14th April) as the Wintershall Players performed a 90 minute ‘re-enactment’ of the crucifixion of Jesus. The two performances included a hundred actors, as well as live donkeys, horses and even doves.

LONDON, ENGLAND – APRIL 22 (2011): Actors perform The Passion of Jesus to crowds in Trafalgar Square, London. (photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Wintershall presents a number of these types of events, including the nativity (in a barn) and the Acts of the Apostles and reflects the vision of its founders, Peter and Alison Hutley to: Continue reading

No room for the 3 ‘kings’: Refugees, the nativity and the social media

Last year I posted a short piece reflecting on the use of the Bible in the debate concerning the refugee crisis: Migrants, Refugees and the search for a Biblical Perspective. Tragically, fourteen months later, the crisis shows no signs of abating and political solutions remain (largely) incoherent and confused. In the light of this, I have become increasingly aware of the application of a relatively new narrative to the traditional nativity story. This has been particularly pronounced in the use of memes on social networking sites and exemplifies the plasticity of this story and the way that it can be adapted to provide powerful messages that address specific issues and needs.

CBC News (December 2015)
CBC News (December 2015)

As part of the CCRS programme I regularly take a couple of sessions where we compare and contrast the canonical birth narratives and students almost overwhelming state that they prefer Luke’s account because they find it more applicable to them and to contemporary society. When asked to explain further, they generally point to the ‘humble setting’ of Jesus’ birth, and the identification with the poor and socially disadvantaged. There appears to be little room for the ‘kings’ (or more accurately, magi) in our modern day nativities! Continue reading

End of semester news round-up

The sun is at last shining. Most of the undergraduates have dispersed leaving the library and atrium feeling strangely empty and rather lonely. However, the campus is far from quiet. Major building work is underway; buildings are cordoned off, the chapel stands gutted and open to the elements, and the sound of heavy plant machinery fills the hot summer air. All this tells us that the spring/summer semester has now drawn to a close and this affords me a brief respite in time to give you a round up of news about the centre for the year so far – and a very busy year it has been!

Atrium Starbucks
Newman Atrium Starbucks

In case you missed anything, here is the centre’s news of 2016 (to date)… Continue reading

Rewriting the Exodus – Susan Docherty

Rewriting the Exodus

Susan Docherty

Inaugural Professorial Lecture

Newman University, Birmingham, UK

23 May 2016

It was wonderful to celebrate with Sue her appointment as Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism here at Newman, and to recognise the quality of her scholarship and field of research. The theme of Sue’s inaugural professorial lecture was an often overlooked and little known 2nd century BCE text attributed to Ezekiel the Tragedian: The Exagoge. Written in iambic trimeter, it is a retelling in dramatic form of the biblical story of the exodus from Egypt. Sue’s presentation demonstrated how this text is a highly instructive example of the ways in which a text can be appropriated and adapted for different audiences and/or contexts. The lessons we can learn from the Exagoge can shed light on the reception and re-use of Hebrew and Christian biblical traditions throughout history.

Rewriting Exodus Panopto
Click on image to view Panopto recording of Sue’s lecture

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Lloyd Pietersen on the lessons from Münster (1534)

It was wonderful to have Lloyd Pietersen with us for a couple of days last week. Lloyd thumbnailWhile he was here, he took a couple of sessions with our undergraduates discussing Anabaptist hermeneutics and the Schleitheim Confession (1527). On Monday evening he presented an illustrated paper on the lessons that can be learnt from Münster 1534-1535.  In it, he explored how a marginal group, who espoused pacifism, could give rise to an event that ended in so much bloodshed and violence… and what might its lessons be for us today?

Anabaptist Apocalypticism, Sex and Violence:          Lessons from Münster

Dr. Lloyd Pietersen

Newman Research Centre for the Bible and its Reception
25th April 2016

(Full text of paper available to download below)
Deutschlands letztere drei Jahrhunderte, oder: des deutschen Volkes Gedenk-Buch an seiner Väter Schicksale und Leiden seit drei Jahrhunderten, etc, by LUBOJATZKY, Franz. Original held and digitised by the British Library
By Franz Lubojatzky. Original held and digitised by the British Library

In this lecture I shall briefly rehearse the origins of sixteenth century Anabaptism before turning to a summary of the events leading up to Münster. After describing the events at Münster between 1534-1535 I shall examine the role of apocalypticism on the movement and finally reflect on some more contemporary examples of apocalypticism, sex and violence and ending with some cautionary comments on Donald Trump.

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New date – Lloyd Pietersen: Anabaptist Apocalypticism, Sex and Violence: Lessons from Münster

We are really pleased to announce that we have a new date for Lloyd’s public lecture that, unfortunately, had to be cancelled in March.


One of the most demanding and perplexing questions that we face today is why a group or community can begin to adopt certain actions and behaviours that appear to diametrically oppose their core values? How can some religious groups commit acts of atrocities whilst apparently advocating a theology based upon love and peace?

This is not a new phenomenon and important lessons that could guide us to possible answers can be found in studying examples from history.


Anabaptist Apocalypticism, Sex and Violence: Lessons from Münster

Dr Lloyd Pietersen

Monday 25th April

17.00 – 18.00

Room – CH116

We are delighted to have with us at Newman Dr Lloyd Pietersen (Visiting Research Fellow and specialist in Anabaptist Studies) who will be giving an open lecture on the time of the ‘New Jerusalem’ established in Münster, 1534, and discussing the lessons that can be learned from this dark period.

Deutschlands letztere drei Jahrhunderte, oder: des deutschen Volkes Gedenk-Buch an seiner Väter Schicksale und Leiden seit drei Jahrhunderten, etc, by LUBOJATZKY, Franz. Original held and digitised by the British Library
Original held and digitised by the British Library

“In the election for city councillors in February 1534, Anabaptists gained control of the city of Münster. Shortly afterwards the city was declared ‘the New Jerusalem’ and Christ’s second coming was expected by Easter 1534. The city was besieged by the local prince-bishop for 16 months and eventually fell in June 1535. During this 16 month period Münster was ruled by a new ‘King David’ and polygamy was instituted. Resistance to his rule was violently crushed. This lecture examines the role of apocalypticism in transforming peaceful Anabaptism into the violence of Münster and reflects briefly on apocalypticism and violence today.”

Everyone is welcome to attend.

For more details please contact: r.goode@staff.newman.ac.uk
or Lee Lawrence: L.Lawrence@staff.newman.ac.uk

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No Vacancies: Is there still no room for Jesus at the inn? – Stephanie O’Connor

No Vacancies: Is there still no room for Jesus at the inn?

OpEd Guest post by Stephanie O’Connor

Image of Stephanie O'Connor
Stephanie O’Connor

Popular culture is simply a way of saying the culture of, ‘the average Joe’ in a more politically correct form, rather than culture that is defined by a more educated élite. So does the Bible actually still have influence in mainstream society? This question alone arguably creates even more questions; is that influence positive or negative? Why, after so long, is it still an influential text? How has its influence changed in the last two thousand years or so?

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Uncovering hidden texts (Palimpsests)

Codex Zacynthius (Luke 3:7-8 undertext and Matthew 26:39-51 overtext) Image: Public Domain


Recently Cambridge University Library announced their  success in securing Codex Zacynthius from the British and Foreign Bible Society. Codex Zacynthius (so called because it was ‘found’ on the Greek island of Zakynthos) was brought to Britain in the early 19th century and has been kept at the University of Cambridge since 1985. Ostensibly, the codex is a 13th century Gospel lectionary written on 176 leaves of vellum (treated calf skin) and has been accorded the lectionary number l299. A lectionary is a book containing portions of the Bible to be read at specific times in the Christian calendar. Ancient lectionaries, like Zacynthius, are helpful in biblical and textual studies as they provide evidence of any changes occurring in the text and the way in which those texts were used. This helps us to build a clearer picture of the way in which the Bible was transmitted and the texts used.


However, what makes Zacynthius even more interesting is that it is also a palimpsest and contains a far older text. A ‘palimpsest’ is a manuscript that has been re-used (or recycled!). Parchment was an expensive commodity and therefore, even though a text was no longer useful or had become badly worn (the ink could fade, begin to cracked or simply be worn away through use), the parchment was often still viable. Therefore, the writing would have been erased (usually be scraping away the remaining ink) and re-used.  This is the case with Codex Zacynthius. If you look at the image below you will be able to make out the original text (referred as the ‘undertext’) that runs sideways on.

Codex Zacynthius: at the end of a chapter of the Evangeliarium, the undertext is clearly legible. Credit: Cambridge University Library


The undertext contains significant portions of Luke’s Gospel that include:  1:1-9,19-23,27-28,30-32,36-60,77; 2:19,21-22,33-3; 3:5-8,11-20; 4:1-2,6-20,32-43; 5:17-36; 6:21; 7:6,11-37,39-47; 8:4-21,25-35,43-50; 9:1-28,32-33,35; 9:41; 10:18,21-40; 11:1-4,24-33 running over 86 full leaves and 3 partial leaves. Although it is listed in the NA 27 as dating from the 6th century, David Parker (University of Birmingham) has more recently argued that the squarer and more compressed formations of some of the letters suggest a later date (possibly 7th century).

This text has been allotted the letter Ξ and the number 040 and both its under and over texts are cited as witnesses to the critical edition of the Nestle-Aland New Testament Greek text (Novum Testamentum Graece). This is the Greek text used by most modern translators for producing new editions of the New Testament.


Palimpsests like Zacynthius can tell us a lot about how texts are transmitted (or reproduced) and we can see what types of text are being used in one particular place (for example, how different is the earlier text to the later one?) By studying how different families (or groups) of texts circulated we can build a clearer picture of their relationships to one another. Alongside its value as a relatively early witness to the text of Luke’s Gospel, the use of palimpsests within Christian tradition can reveal to us information about the reception of the Bible within different Christian communities. A pragmatic re-use of existing manuscripts (even those containing the text of the Gospels) appears to have been accepted and permitted. In fact, leaves from the wonderful and lavishly produced Codex Sinaiticus have been found being used to create bindings for later books. There also does not appear to have been a corresponding development of the Jewish tradition of Genizah – the prohibition of the destruction of objects viewed as holy (particularly sacred writings containing the name of God); for example, see Babylonian Talmud: Shabbat 115a.