Monday, September 06, 2004

BNTC 2004 comments concluded

The setting for the conference was ideal. With the exception of the Friday evening excursion to New College, everything was on the one site at Pollock Halls, overlooking a mountain which one could see from most of the locations and watch people climbing steadily to the top. The accommodation, the food, the main papers, the short simultaneous papers and the seminars, all on the same site (I wonder what my running frantically around the site would have been like if everything was more spread out -- I dread to think). The book display was well positioned too, right in the area where we had coffee and tea breaks. This is always a good idea and the publishers definitely appreciate being in a central location where delegates can browse books as they congregate, chat and drink. And the weather was lovely -- sunny throughout.

I can't comment on the Simultaneous Short Papers because society administration and organisation took me away at this point. One real oddity, though, was that one of the speakers, John Dennis, simply did not turn up to the conference at all. So those sitting in that session had an extra 30 minutes to do what they wanted with (we waited 15 to see if he would arrive). This was a new one on me -- had never had a speaker simply not turn up. Incidentally, there was some anxiety on the Thursday evening when Tom Wright arrived much later than expected, and only just before he was due to give the first plenary session.

That leaves just one thing, I think, a session on the Saturday morning on The Passion of the Christ. This was a joint session of two seminars, Hermeneutics: Theory and Practice and New Testament: Use and Influence. It was a well attended and lively seminar, a panel discussion featuring Richard Burridge, Helenann Hartley and me. Typically, and when will I learn?, I took it upon myself to try to find an electrical extension lead so that the data projector's very short wire could be extended and we could have something on screen that was bigger than the postage stamp sized image that was being projected. I ran around the site asking dozens of people and one finally arrived half way through the session, after the first clip had been shown. So all my dashing around achieved was to make me sweaty and rushed rather than calm and collected.

The three panelists took ten minutes each to give their reactions to the film, Richard Burridge first, a typically lively presentation focusing largely on his own experiences at a preview screening in Leicester Square and his arguments afterwards with The Sun newspaper who wanted to turn all their coverage, including Burridge, into comments solely on the anti-Semitism. Helenann developed her thoughts from her review reproduced here. I summarised my article found in Jesus and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, taking each of six headings for my reflections on the way in which the community of Biblical scholars has reacted and over-reacted to the film.

I found it an enjoyable session on the whole, well attended, and with some who had seen the film and some who had not. I had just one point of criticism of Richard Burridge's presentation; I disputed that the depiction of Herod Antipas in the film was "straight out of Jesus Christ Superstar", arguing that like so much of The Passion of the Christ it came straight out of Anne Catherine Emmerich's The Dolorous Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ (see blog entry Herod Antipas in The Passion of the Christ).

Tom Wright's wife Maggie was in attendance and commented on her own experience of watching the film, aimed mainly at my comments on the film's violence. She and the bishop apparently had an advanced screening in Auckland Castle (the Bishop of Durham's residence) and she said that the very term that came to mind during the scourging scene was pornography. She made clear that she did watch a lot of films, though Tom did not, but that she did not like the violence at all.

One of the main discussion points in the session was over who the implied audience of the film was. Martin Kitchen and Bridget Gilfillan Upton pressed me in particular on this point, annoyed in part that I attempted to answer it in relation to an anecdote of an experience I had on one of my viewings of the film. The story goes like this. As I was buying my nachos, the lady selling them to me asked if I knew anything about the Bible. "A bit", I replied. She said that that was a good thing because when she had watched the film the previous evening, she did not have much idea of who was who, what was going on and why. What this made me realize was the extent to which the film takes for granted the viewer's knowledge of the identity of characters like John, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Judas and so on. It requires the viewer to provide some context. Or, in other words, the implied viewer already knows who these characters are and why these things are happening. Anyway, the panelists all agreed that the implied audience was best conceived as the devout Christian with knowledge of the Bible and Catholic tradition. It's a question I do want to think a little more about, though. My article does deal with genre, and with those who attempt to read the film against the grain, but it would be profitable to talk about the implied audience.

I could continue on about this panel discussion, but I'll leave it there, at least for now. A profitable session, anyway, and I was grateful for the opportunity to take part. I am still not quite finished with this film yet. I will be blogging a review of the recent book Perspectives on the Passion of the Christ later this week, I hope. (I thought it was pretty grim).

One thing I meant to blog earlier: on Friday we took our usual collection just after the business meeting; the purpose of this is to provide money for financial assistance for post graduates travelling to the conference. This year we had the smallest collection I can remember from the largest number of delegates I can remember (under £300). And we had the most applications to the travel fund since I've been secretary (over £1000). Of course I was only able to help a little, therefore, with post graduates' travel expenses, which I thought a shame. Of course a large part of the reason for this is that the increased numbers at the conference are largely made up of more post graduates. The situation is something the society needs to continue thinking about in the future.

Finally, another word of huge appreciation to the organisers of the conference at the University of Edinburgh, with thanks to Larry Hurtado, Helen Bond and Paul Foster, with a special mention for Paul Middleton, for an excellent and memorable conference.

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