BOOK REVIEW Published in Volume 52, 2004
Roland Boer and Edgar W. Conrad (eds), Redirected Travel: Alternative Journeys and Places in Biblical Studies (JSOTSup 382; London: T. & T. Clark, 2003). Pp. Viii+225. £65.00.
Roland Boer and Edgar W. Conrad have brought together contributors from Australia, North America, New Zealand, and South Africa—many of them participants in the Bible and Critical Theory Seminar (BCT), which has been meeting regularly in Australia since 1998. Boer and Conrad, two of the driving forces behind this Seminar, describe its objective as being “to provide a forum in Australia for the exploration of the implications of critical theory for biblical studies … [and] to engage in dialogue with specialists in literary theory and philosophy outside biblical
scholarship” (“Introduction: The Bible and Critical Theory,” p. 1). Their edited volume makes this emerging dialogue more widely available, as the following essay titles would suggest: George Aichele, “Electronic Culture and the Future of the Canon of Scripture or: The Hyperreal Bible”; James Smith, “O Paul Where Art Thou?”; Conrad, “Semiotics, Scribes and Prophetic Books”; David Jobling, “The Salvation of Israel in ‘The Book of the Divided Kingdoms,’ or, Was There any ‘Fall of the Northern Kingdom’?”; Bernadette Kiley, “Reading Mark Backwards: Establishing an Interpretive Lens for a Feminist-Liberationist Reading of the Gospel of Mark”; Julie Kelso, “Reading the Silence of Women in Genesis 34”; Anne Taylor, “Lost in Place: Some Perplexities of Intertextual Entanglement”; Judith E. McKinlay, “Who’s/Whose Sarah: Journeying with Sarah in a Chorus of Voices”; Anne Elvey, “Generativity and Place: The Genealogies of Genesis 1–11 and Negotiating a Sense of Place in Australia”; Boer, “Sanctuary and Womb: Henri Lefebvre and the Production of Ancient Space”; Michael Cardin, “It’s Lonely at the Top: Patriarchal Models, Homophobic Vilification and the Heterosexual Household in Luther’s Commentaries”; and, eponymously, Gerald West, “Redirecting the Direction of Travel: Discerning Signs of a Neo-Indigenous Southern African Biblical Hermeneutics.”
The extent to which the volume’s title is apposite to its content varies across this range of offerings. The “roads less travelled” that Boer and Conrad celebrate in print here have in common a shift away from those followed in organisations such as The Fellowship for Biblical Studies (FBS, alluded to but not named in the editors’ introduction) whose “tendency is very much for a certain status quo that has as its dual poles the context of the church and the tenacious hold of more traditional ways of doing biblical criticism in that context” (“Introduction,” p. 1). As the contributors to Redirections would concede, however, such delineations are not so easily made or maintained. Several of their pieces (Conrad’s own, Jobling’s, and Kiley’s, for example) would be equally at home in more ‘traditional’ biblical studies journals, such as ABR—journals which, it must be said, are no strangers to the methodologies of “postcolonialism, feminism, Marxism, gay theory, semiotics, political theory or poststructuralism” (“Introduction,” p. 3). And, as one of those who went “to Monash [University] in Melbourne in order to take up doctoral studies in the intersections between the Bible and critical theory under the supervision of Roland Boer,” (“Introduction,” 2) this reviewer is as glad of the complementary and often overlapping “intellectual environment[s]” (ibid.) that BCT and FBS offer between them. Both certainly achieve the other sense of the work’s title: providing an antipodal focus for the international community—professional and postgraduate—of biblical scholars.
The essays gathered by Boer and Conrad do, however, build up a picture of the innovative work being done locally in biblical studies, and are each of scholarly merit and interest in their own right. There is space to consider just two of many possible examples.
Aichele’s opening piece shows how the rise of an electronic culture—more so even than the innovation of printing—radically exposes the ancient “canonical problem” (or scandal?), arguing that the notion of the “Christian Bible” “has always been a simulation, and perhaps ‘this linkage of things as if they had a meaning’ is even the archetype of all simulation” (“Hyperreal Bible,” p. 21). By thwarting attempts to use the canon as a means “to secure biblical texts against the threat of loss, and especially to control their meaning by severely limiting … the intertextual play between them”
(“Hyperreal Bible,” p. 22), the ‘hyperreal’ Bible unleashed by digital technology properly undermines this oppressive aspect of a canonical reception of Scripture, setting biblical texts free to “sink or float on their own in the secular, cultural currents of the times, just like non-canonical texts do” (“Hyperreal Bible,” p. 23).
One of two contributions which uses as intertext Homer’s Odyssey and some of its more recent midrashim (Smith’s title has in view the Cohen brothers’ retelling in O Brother Where Art Thou, as well as Stanley Kubrick’s film version of Arthur C. Clarke’s, 2001: A Space Odyssey), Taylor’s “Lost in Place” illustrates both the interdisciplinary scope of this volume and the extra-ecclesial context of the Seminar which has launched it. Her eight “theses”—a work in progress—on the relationship between writer-text-reader (“Lost in Place,” pp. 118–21), replete with helpful examples drawn from both Scripture and other sources, are an especially welcome addition
to current studies on intertextuality. Demonstrating this very phenomenon, Aichele’s essay calls her eighth thesis regarding the “fixity” of the written text into question. Conversely, Taylor’s presentation of the juxtaposition of liturgical readings in lectionaries as a highly manipulable form of canonical hermeneutics (“Lost in Place,” pp. 122—28) bears out Aichele’s concern over the persistent and insidious canonical stranglehold exerted on biblical texts.
In addition to such felicitous internal echoes, a comprehensive bibliography compiling the references used throughout (pp. 226–46), together with an index of biblical and classical sources and an index of modern authors help this polished, but wide-ranging volume, to cohere and make it a useful resource for further journeys into the borderlands of biblical studies and critical theory.
Whilst not perhaps entirely new or unfamiliar, then, the directions marked out by Boer and Conrad in this selection of essays are ones that promise to be fruitful for any approach to biblical studies which rejoices in the possibility that the Bible is not (only), after all, the Church’’ book.
Trinity College Theological School
The University of Melbourne VIC 3010, Australia