Public Lecture: Denys Turner on Atheism

Denys Turner was Head of the Department of Theology at the University of Bristol when I started undergraduate studies in 1986 and he tried, in vain I fear, to teach me philosophy and some theology. I still remember with much fondness his arrival in an introduction to philosophy class armed with only a dog-eared copy of the Penguin Classics edition of Descartes’ Meditations or Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ and teaching without notes in a manner that I now recognise as charmingly distracted. I then vaguely remember jokes about Pseudo-Denys, and a story about a Roman emperor who used to have slaves executed on the lawn because he received aesthetic satisfaction from the combination of red blood and green grass (I think we were studying Hobbes, Leviathan). His class in Christian Mysticism was legendary (although I never took it) and am I dreaming about rumours that in one of the classes he encouraged the students to levitate?

Later, in 1999 when he was Head of Department at Birmingham he (along with Mark Goodacre) signed me up to teach some NT courses while David Parker was on research leave. It was my first University teaching role, post doctorate, and I am grateful to them both for the opportunity.

All of which is an introit to the news that Denys will be in Melbourne next week and will be giving a public lecture on the new atheism and its alternatives. It will be a good event. Poster and details below.

IRCI4434- Turner Lecture Flyer _A4_Flyer_V2

Research Leave Curiosity: Wright, Whiteley and German Philippians Scholarship

I am slowly easing myself into a sustained period of research leave that will run from July–December 2016. The main task, other than a couple of essays due for edited volumes and an SBL paper, is to complete work on a manuscript provisionally entitled Philippians and Friendship: The Relational and Rhetorical Dynamics of a Pauline Letter.

My hope is to post more information about the research as it progresses over the coming weeks. But colleagues in New Testament Studies may be interested in a scholarly curiosity thrown up by my getting my Philippians books (of which there are many) into come kind of order.

When I started doctoral studies with N. T. Wright at Oxford in 1990, Tom had recently been asked to take on responsibility for preparing a new International Critical Commentary on Philippians (still to be completed!). He inherited the project following the death of Dennis Whiteley, author of what is still a quite useful if outdated study of Paul’s theology and known as a rather eccentric Don at Jesus College. My research was on the nature of the ‘opposition’ in Philippians 3 and, in an act of generosity Tom handed over to me three or four German books from Whiteley’s own library. As the research went on I actually returned most of them back to Tom (having procured my own copies of Gnilka and Schenck). But I discovered again today that one volume stayed in my collection: Berthold Mengel’s elegantly titled Studien zum Philipperbrief: Untersuchungen zum situativen Kontext unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Frage nach der Ganzheitlichkeit oder Einheitlichkeit eines paulinischen Briefes (WUNT 2/8; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siecbeck], 1982). You will see that such is the brilliance of Mengel’s title that I have pinched the last three words for my own.

Below you will see two pictures of the volume in question (click on them to go through to larger images), and you will note two extraordinary things. First, Whiteley not only paid for the book but then paid to have the binding broken, blank leaves of paper inserted in between each leaf of the original. and the binding reset. Secondly (and explaining the first oddity), Whiteley was evidently working through the volume page by page, hand writing English translations of the German at relevant points. The same was true of the other commentaries I have mentioned. For those who are thinking that the handwriting may be Tom Wright’s I can assure you that it isn’t!

Not only is it fascinating to know that Whiteley didn’t know that ‘jedoch’ means ‘however’ or ‘yet’, it also beggars belief that he actually thought that this was a viable way of engaging in research in the German scholarship. I wish my German was better than it is, but if I tried to work in this way over the next 6 months, I might just get through the German commentaries up to Philippians 1:5.

University of Divinity Research Day:

Next Wednesday will see the annual University of Divinity Research Day, hosted here at Pilgrim Theological College /Centre for Theology and Ministry.

The full programme can be seen here, but readers of this blog might be especially interested in the papers being offered in biblical studies, long a strength of the University’s research profile. The following papers may be of interest:

Mark Brett, ‘Roger Williams, Freedom of Religion and Biblical Hermeneutics’ (plenary)

Brendan Byrne, ‘“And so both are preserved” (Matt 9:17c): A Fresh Look at Matthew’s New Wine and New Wineskins’

Grant Buchanan, ‘Blessing, Promise and Spirit in Galatians 3:14: In Dialogue with Difference’

Rosemary Canavan, ‘Investigating the Contribution of Colour to the Rhetography of the Mockery Scenes of the Passion Narratives’

Keith Dyer, ‘Basileia: Kingdom or Empire?’

David Starling, ‘‘A Pathway into the Holy Scripture’: The Psalter as liturgical hermeneutic’

Merry Blair, ‘Was the ‘Order of Melchizedek’ ecumenical? Reading Hebrews 7 as Hebrew poetics’

Kris Sonek, ‘Reading Gen 15:1 with Ancient and Modern Interpreters: Questions of Terminology and Chronology Revisited’

Anne Elvey, ‘Feminist Ecologies in Biblical Interpretation: Elaine Wainwright and the Development of a Multidimensional Hermeneutics’


Dorothy Lee, ‘John, Ethics and Creation’

Chris Monaghan, ‘Whose voice prevails? Jesus’ last words and Lukan Christology’

Oh-Young Kwon, ‘1 Corinthians 8.4-6: An Intercultural Reading from the Political Context of North Korea Today’

Stephen Curkpatrick, ‘Less is more: An phonic responses to parables’




Francis Watson in Melbourne

Colleagues at the Australian Catholic University have been working hard this year to bring a range of New Testament scholars to Melbourne. Ruben Zimmermann was here earlier in the year, and John Barclay will be heading over in August. Next week Francis Watson will be in town, and as well as some seminars to the Centre for Biblical and Early Christian Studies (next Thursday’s on the Epistula Apostolorum) he will be giving a public lecture on Wednesday 8th June. Details below.


2016 Conference Presentations

The Easter break has brought welcome news in relation to my participation in two major conferences later this year.

In July I will give a paper at the 2016 ANZATS Conference here in Melbourne entitled “Carrying the Crucified One: Embodied Atonement in 2 Corinthians 4:1–15”. Here is the abstract:

Taking its cue from Paul’s remarkable reference to τὴν νέκρωσιν τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἐν τῷ σώματι περιφέροντες ‘carrying the death of Jesus in the body’ (2 Cor 4:10), this paper considers the nature of Paul’s rhetoric in 2 Corinthians 4:1–15 with specific reference to the notion of ‘embodied atonement’. I will argue that, just as Christ’s death brings life to Paul and the Corinthians (4:10, 14), so Paul’s apostolic suffering mediates Christ’s atoning work to the Corinthians (4:11–12). Furthermore, and by extension, Paul encourages the Corinthians to see that their participation in apostolic suffering mediates Christ’s atoning work to the world (4:15). Thus the atonement pattern ‘Christ and his benefits’ is, for Paul, embodied both in his ministry to the Corinthians and also in the Corinthians’ mission in the world.

In November I will be participating in the work of the SBL Seminar on “Second Corinthians: Pauline Theology in the Making”, giving a paper entitled “Paul in loco dei: Divine Jealousy, Marriage Imagery, and Apostolic Authority in 2 Corinthians 11:1–6″. Again, the abstract is as follows:

This paper argues that the phrase zēlō gar humas theou zēlō in 2 Corinthians 11:1 provides us with a key to understanding the nature of Paul’s rhetorical struggle to preserve his apostolic authority in Corinth. In contrast to readings of the text that see Paul moving from the image of betrothal in 11:2 to the unrelated ‘deceiving’ of Eve in 11:3, I argue that these verses evoke a coherent scene in which the marriage between Christ/Adam and Eve/Corinthians is threatened by the sexual advances of the serpent/Satan/super-apostles. This interpretation is supported by accepting the longer reading of 2 Cor 11:3, understanding the nature of Paul’s claim to ‘divine jealousy’, and tracing the broader deliberative themes of the Fool’s Speech and the whole of 2 Cor 10–13. This use of biblical imagery is understandable on the basis of Paul’s own framing of his argument, though consideration will also be given to Jewish traditions of interpretation relating to betrothal imagery and the Genesis account of Eve and the serpent. Within this proposed framework, Paul construes his own role in loco dei, as the mediator of the marriage covenant; a claim that undergirds Paul’s subsequent self-presentation as a fool, and overall quest to secure the Corinthians’ adherence to his gospel and authority.