Wednesday, December 23, 2009

NT Pod 20: When Was Jesus Born? Programme Notes

I uploaded the latest NT Pod last Friday night, just before beginning an epic journey through the snow to Washington DC to catch a flight. Those who follow me on Twitter or on Facebook know some of the grizzly details, but now we are now safe and sound Britain, first England, now Wales, and I am getting a chance to catch up while on the road.

I was pleased to see this morning that the previous episode of the NT Pod, "Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem?" is currently featured on the front page of the main iTunes U site, no doubt because of its seasonal content. I had looked at the stats and was wondering why they had gone through the roof.

The most recent episode of the NT Pod, 20, "When Was Jesus Born?", is also seasonal. The "when" here refers not to the time of year, which is impossible to know, but to the rough date of Jesus' birth. Was it in or around 6-4 CE, as Matthew suggests and Luke echoes and if so, why does Luke have the extraordinary note in Luke 2.2 about Quirinius, Governor of Syria?

The key texts are of course Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, with special references to the notes about Herod (Luke 1.5, Matthew 2:1; Matthew 2:19; Matthew 2:22; Luke 2:1-2; Luke 3.1-2; Luke 3:23). I will add references to Josephus later, but I've run out of time to update this post for now.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Some good news on Lloyd Pietersen

There is some good news on the Lloyd Pietersen situation at the University of Gloucestershire. The university has decided to keep him on on 0.6 contract until February with a view then. The hearing on Friday is cancelled. This is excellent news for the time being. Let's hope for more good news to come in February. (News via Facebook. Also spotted on Jim West's blog).

All NT Blog posts on this topic.

Cleopatra: Beauty or Brains?

This is a video for a new Open University course in the UK, "The Arts Past and Present"

Note: this is advertising content.

New Save University of Gloucestershire website

There is an helpful new campaigning website that gives details, links, contacts and calls for action on the situation at the University of Gloucestershire:

Previous posts on Lloyd Pietersen and the University of Gloucestershire are here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hugh Lloyd-Jones: The Independent Obituary

The Independent is often a bit later on its obituaries than the other broadsheets, but I rather like that. And usually its obituaries are excellent, as here:

Professor Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones
Classics scholar whose colourful style made him one of the leading Hellenists of his time

All posts on Hugh Lloyd-Jones here.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

NT Pod 19: Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem? Programme Notes

I released the latest episode of the NT Pod last night, NT Pod 19: Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem?. There will be another NT Pod along soon with another Christmas related theme.

I was shocked to see that it is over a month since the last episode of the NT Pod, but this is the reason that I never stated publicly my aspiration to make it a weekly podcast. I knew that sooner or later, I would get too busy to record as regularly as I would like.

The short clip of Tom Wright that you hear at the beginning of the podcast is taken from The Real Jesus Christ, first broadcast on BBC Radio Five Live on Christmas Day 2002, and repeated on Christmas Day 2003. (See NT Gateway: Historical Jesus Audio and Video for more). You can listen to the whole documentary via audio streaming from the BBC. I must admit that I have no memory at all of how my pieces were recorded, so my guess is that I was sitting in the cosy little studio cell at Pebble Mill (now demolished) in Birmingham, but I could be wrong.

This podcast is my reflection on the question of whether or not it is likely that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a question that is difficult given that it is a "with the grain" tradition. See the useful comments already from James McGrath and Doug Chaplin, each of whom comes down on a different side, Nazareth and Bethlehem respectively, though both, like me, are cautious.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Sign the University of Gloucestershire UCU Petition

Many of us have been concerned about the situation at the University of Gloucestershire, and especially the threat to Lloyd Pietersen's job. You can now sign the UCU petition to Save the University of Gloucestershire. 436 signatures and counting. (Thanks to Jim West for alerting).

All NT Blog posts on this topic here.

Monday, December 07, 2009

On spilling ink

Ever noticed how often "ink" gets "spilt" in academic discussions? I just noticed another example, in Ben Witherington III's BAR article on Luke's Nativity, and began to wonder whether we will still be talking about spilling ink in fifty or a hundred year's time. Will it be one of those expressions that will live on long after we have stopped using ink? Some of us, of course, still enjoy the use of a nice fountain pen, including digital pioneers like AKMA. But you can bet your life that they do not submit manuscripts to publishers in handwriting written with a fountain pen. If any ink got spilt, it was in jotting down notes and not in preparing the manuscript.

It might be that the image is thought to relate to publishers' ink, the ink of the printing press. But is that ink actually ever spilt? The "spilling" of "ink" evokes the image of the fountain pen, and a pot of Quink, but perhaps that is just me.

I must admit that it is not an image I like to use. It's a scholarly cliché that's used to express frustration at the extent of the literature on a topic that one feels obliged to deal with but wishes one did not. "Much ink has been spilt on . . ." means something like: "More has been written on this topic than I refuse to read".

Still, I wonder what will have replaced it in a century. "Many megabites have been wasted on . . . "? "Many keyboards have been worn out by . . ."? "Many a neural interface has malfunctioned on . . ."?

The Bible: A History, Channel 4 series

BBC News has a piece on a forthcoming Channel 4 series on the Bible, one episode of which, the one on Jesus, features Gerry Adams:

Gerry Adams "in search of Jesus"
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is to go on a journey "to discover the real Jesus" as part of a new television series for Channel 4.
Mr Adams will present one episode of the seven-part documentary series called The Bible: A History.

He is one of seven commentators from "very different backgrounds" who will explore the Bible "from their own, very personal, perspective". Mr Adams is to examine Jesus' teachings on "love, forgiveness, and repentance" . . .
There is more on the series here:

The Bible: A History

More content will be added there as time goes by, but it features an interview with Anne Widdecombe about her episode, on the Ten Commandments. Here's the series blurb:
A provocative seven-part series that presents personal explorations of the world's most important, widespread and revolutionary text comes to Channel 4 in early 2010. From the Bible's origins to the American presidential inauguration, from Hebrew and Greek to today's current 2,400 different translations: this is the story of most influential book ever written.

The Bible is a book of history, of poetry and of prophecy. The books within it cover an incredible range of subjects: from the story of Creation itself to the creation of the Jewish Promised Land, from the Gospels' biographies of Jesus to the epistles of St. Paul and the apocalyptic visions of Revelation. This series explores the origins, ideas and influence of seven sections of the Scriptures, tracing how they came into existence and how they have shaped the world we live in today.

Each film is presented by a prominent commentator and thinker. Howard Jacobson sets out to reclaim Creation from the creationists, Bettany Hughes demonstrates how the Bible continues to shape perceptions of gender; Rageh Omaar examines the Bible's political legacy in the Middle East; and Ann Widdecombe explores the Ten Commandments.

Each presenter draws on their own experiences, expertise and faith, making a compelling, personal case for the important role this ancient book still plays in guiding the lives of millions of believers across the globe.
The Bible: A History will be on Channel 4 in January and February 2010.

Oh, I should perhaps mention that I am consultant on the series and have been working with Pioneer TV on it since the summer. I will also be appearing in front of camera in one episode, the one on Revelation, presented by Robert Beckford. My piece was filmed in Duke Chapel last week.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Revisiting Reactions to The Passion of the Christ

Over on one of my favourite blogs, The Dunedin School, Eric Repphun has a fascinating post on the Top 11 Religiously Themed Films of the Decade. He concludes with some comments on The Passion of the Christ (dir. Mel Gibson, 2004) that recall many of the scholarly criticisms of the film made five years ago:
And the worst (and this one was easy): The Passion of the Christ (Mel Gibson, 2004): Gibson’s infamous film is riddled with problems. It is historically inaccurate (Jesus and Pilate conversing in Aramaic rather than Greek, nails being driven through the palms and not the wrists, etc., etc.), which is really only a problem given that the filmmakers made such a big noise about being historically accurate. It is brutally, cruelly sadistic and in its cruelty becomes deeply suspect on a theological level, given that it transforms the suffering of Jesus into an endurance test that no man (not even a white guy with digitally-altered brown eyes and a prosthetic hook nose) could have survived such torture for so long, essentially denying the messianic figure the divinity that has so long defined Christianity’s theological understanding of its own textual history. Despite removing the vaunted ‘blood libel’ from the Gospel of Matthew from the finished film (though they did shoot it), it is also rabidly anti-Semitic as well as being deeply misogynistic – Satan takes the form of a woman who we often see stalking unseen among the Jewish crowds. It makes the Roman authorities into enlightened and sympathetic humanists while at the same time transforming the occupied Semitic peoples of Jerusalem into a vacuous rabble that is violent, backwards, bloodthirsty and in need of some civilising. If this isn’t what a colleague here at Otago calls ‘a theology of empire’, and a thinly-veiled defence of the American occupation of Iraq, I don’t know what is. It is also guilty of the most grievous of all cinematic sins in that it is flat-out boring and at least an hour too long.
There are a few inaccuracies here. Pilate and Jesus converse in Latin rather than Aramaic; the nails been driven through the wrist could be accurate -- we simply don't know how Jesus was crucified. The primary source material for the idea that Jesus was crucified with nails going through the wrists is the Turin Shroud. Although it is a common motif in the publicity for Jesus films that they are "historically accurate", this claim was not part of the publicity for The Passion of the Christ. The remark that "no man (not even a white guy with digitally-altered brown eyes and a prosthetic hook nose) could have survived such torture for so long" is actually the point -- it's a story about someone being tortured to death. The same claim ("no one could have survived this") was often made in the scholarly reactions in 2004 and was one of the more puzzling reactions to the film.

The idea that the film is misogynistic because Satan is played by a woman confuses the gender of the actor with the androgyny of the character. More troubling from my perspective was the tired cliché of aligning Mary Magdalene with the Woman Taken in Adultery from John 8. The charge of "rabid anti-Semitism" is a difficult one to assess. There are profoundly troubling elements in the film and yet it is also clear that it made some effort to mitigate the anti-Semitism of its source material in Ann Emmerich's Dolorous Passion. But the "blood libel" line in fact did make it into the film; it is spoken by Caiphas in Aramaic, but there is no English subtitle.

For several of these points, see further my discussion of the scholars' reaction to the film in "The Power of The Passion of the Christ: Reactions and Overreactions to Gibson's Artistic Vision," Chapter 3 in Robert Webb and Kathleen Corley (eds.), Jesus and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ: The Film, the Gospels and the Claims of History (London & New York: Continuum, 2004) and later in my extended review of Zev Garber's Mel Gibson's Passion. One day I'd like to write another article on the film because the years have actually hardened my view about the film, and made me more inclined to be critical of its shortcomings. Working on the BBC / HBO The Passion (2008; ?2010) helped me to see quite starkly how many of the problems with The Passion of the Christ could have been avoided. Nevertheless, I am still convinced that scholarly criticism of The Passion of the Christ is stronger where it avoids inaccuracy and overstatement.

Update: Eric adjusts one of the comments (that Jesus and Pilate converse in Aramaic); and Loren Rosson comments on the whole post on The Busybody.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Biblioblog Top 50 Latest

Just when we thought it was all over, the Biblioblog Top 50 returned with the archives, search engines and lists all in tact, and then the threat of another quirky top 50 list, this time with the explanation that the list is "chosen according to the utterly subjective criteria of sexy style, stimulating content, timely dissemination, regularity, discernment, scholarly depth, innovation, and pazang." So I'm naturally delighted to see the NT Blog back where it belongs, at number 2. In the new AMC version of The Prisoner, the children in class are taught that there is no number 1 and that the leader of the village assumes the title "Two" because of his humility. In other words, Two really is One. And the new list sees Paleojudaica back where it belongs, in the top 10. Given the criteria, Jim Linville is probably a bit too low at 26. And I would not put the Dunedin School as low as 36, but there's no accounting for taste.

Lloyd Pietersen: the VC's response

Jim West carries a post on the Vice Chancellor's response to his email concerning Lloyd Pietersen. I received the same email this morning too. Although, naturally, she is reproducing the same email to those of us who have written to support Lloyd, it is nevertheless encouraging to see the tone of the email, which affirms Lloyd's academic calibre (hey, I used the word "calibre" in my email to her!) and concludes with the statement, "However we are, of course, continuing to seek ways of sustaining Dr Pietersen’s post as we recognise the value to the University of his significant academic reputation." Could there be a light at the end of the tunnel? Please consider writing to the Vice Chancellor to show your support for Lloyd if you have not already done so.

All NT Blog posts on this topic here.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

N T Wrong's second death?

Drat! I hope it wasn't something I said. As regular readers will know, I've always been a fan of the Biblioblog Top 50 and now it seems that its anonymous author has departed in similar fashion to his earlier pseudonymous incarnation. Jim West says that he was bored and suggests that there will be more to come. Well, the artist formerly known as N T Wrong is one of the giants, so I certainly hope that he will be back again soon. (See further The Busybody, Kata Ta Biblia, Hypotyposeis).

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Lloyd Pietersen and the University of Gloucestershire: Updates

Because I have been on the road, I haven't had the chance to post here on the latest developments at the University of Gloucestershire. But Jim West has the latest troubling news, that Lloyd has been given notice for 31 December, and has an appeal hearing next week, 10 December. I hear via Facebook that the appeal hearing is with a certain Paul Drake, Executive Director (External Relations). I have written again this morning to the Vice Chancellor, Patricia Broadfoot (, and have written also to the Chair of Council, Revd Canon Malcolm Herbert ( and I urge you strongly to do the same and to show your support for Lloyd.

Update: Express your concern to Paul Drake ( who will be chairing the appeal on 10 December.