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 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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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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Fish – Day 27 of 30 Days [Biblically] Wild

Fish – דָּגָה (dagah); דָּג (dag); ἰχθύς (ichthus); ὀψάριον (opsarion)

Brown Trout (Salmo trutta). Image: Eric Engbretson. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Salmo_trutta.jpg

Another image that can capture the delights being outside on a slow summer’s day is sitting beside a flowing stream and catching the flash of light and plop of water as the surface is disturbed by flick of a fish’s tail. It is a great reminder of those completely different, almost alien, and often hidden, habitats populated by life and character that can lie just feet away from us.

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Pig – Day 14 of 30 Days [Biblically] Wild

Pig חֲזִיר  chazir

The Tamworth pig, one of the oldest breeds in Britain. Image taken from https://www.countryfile.com/wildlife/mammals/native-british-pig-breeds-and-how-to-recognise-them

I am really grateful to one of our current second year Theology BA students, Amy Williams (nee Bowes – congratulations also on your recent marriage!), for writing this wonderful post.

As recently as 2013, research has suggested that pigs were brought from Greece to Canaan. A study of pig bones found in Israel (along the southern Levantine coast) suggests that the Philistines migrated from Greece to the lowlands of the Levant in the Iron Age (around 3000 years ago) and European pigs took over the wild boar population in Canaan (modern Israel) around 900BCE [see https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/MAGAZINE-philistines-brought-their-pigs-with-them-to-ancient-israel-1.5469130]

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Getting started – Day 1 of 30 Days [Biblically] Wild

June 1st sees the launch of the Wildlife Trust’s ‘30 Days Wild Challenge that encourages everyone to get outside, reconnect with the natural world and to “do something wild every day throughout June”. To celebrate this initiative and to take up their challenge, I have decided to attempt to post a blog every day relating to an animal or plant that is familiar to us, and perhaps we might encounter on our own ‘30 Days Wild Challenge‘, but that can also be found in the Bible.

The natural world and the Bible

The natural world permeates the writings of the Bible. Its imagery and language are informed by the landscape, the weather patterns, the pulse of the seasons, the flora and the fauna, of the land in which the texts were produced.1 Jewish scholar and botanist, Nogah Hareuveni, goes so far as to argue that an intimate knowledge of (particularly ancient) Israel’s nature and landscape is essential to a proper understanding of the Biblical writings (Hareuveni, 1974, 1991). Continue reading

The death of the Apostle Paul

How, where and when did the Apostle Paul die?
The short answer is, we are not really sure. Although the Apostle Paul is a hugely significant figure within Christianity, we actually don’t know a great deal about his life. Texts books (with a greater or lesser sense of certainty) will inform us that Paul was born in the town of Tarsus (now in modern Turkey) sometime around 5 C.E.. However, this is purely conjecture. Paul doesn’t ever mention his birthplace or make any reference to Tarsus! On the other hand, Luke, who features Paul heavily in his Acts of the Apostle mentions Tarsus three times (9:11, 21:39 and 22:3) and records Paul as stating to his opponents in 22:3 that he is “a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia”. Luke is the main source for biographical details of Paul. It is he, not Paul, who tells us of Paul’s status as a Roman citizen (and he may have good reason for emphasising this, but that must be the topic for a different post). However, unfortunately, he is silent on the matter of Paul’s death.

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