Danger and Desire: New course offering for Theology at Auckland


Those of you who have visited the blog before will be aware that I have a bit of a thing for exploring the Bible in the visual arts (see our annual December Advent offerings, for example, or some previous posts here, here, and here). So I’m thrilled this year to be teaching  on this very topic. Titled Danger and Desire: The Bible and Visual Culture, this brand new course will introduce students to the concept of visual exegesis, showing them how visual images (including art, film, TV, and advertising) can be valuable tools for the biblical interpreter to use in their readings of biblical stories, themes and, characters. These pictorial presentations of the biblical material are rather like biblical commentaries or scholarly articles in visual form – the image maker is an interpreter of the text, not merely its illustrator. And, through their particular visual media, they gift to us fascinating retellings of the biblical stories, multicoloured afterlives of biblical characters, and reflections on biblical themes that can at times be thrilling, surprising, and even challenging.

Robert Lentz

Robert Lentz, David and Jonathan (c. 2005)


In case I’ve whetted your interest, I’ve listed the course description and lecture topics below, along with a very select bibliography of some resources we’ll be using. And, as the course progresses, I’ll share with you some of the insights that I get from each lecture, not to mention some of the wonderful images we’ll be looking at each week.


Franz von Stuck, Adam and Eve

Danger and Desire: The Bible and Visual Culture

An exploration of the ways that biblical characters, themes, and stories have been represented in the visual arts, including fine art, advertising, and film. Students will consider the interrelationship between biblical and cultural texts, learning various methods of biblical interpretation which utilise visual images as interpretive tools to make new sense of the biblical traditions and their history of interpretation.


  1. Introduction to visual exegesis and hermeneutical aesthetics
  2. Sin, sexuality, and selling power: Adam and Eve in art and advertising
  3. Don’t lose your head: Judith and Salome as biblical femmes fatales
  4. Querying masculinities: exploring biblical ambiguities in the visual arts (David and Jonathan; Jacob wrestling with the man at Jabbok)
  5. Querying femininities: exploring more biblical ambiguities in the visual arts (Ruth and Naomi)
  6. Highlighting or hiding the abject body? Hagar in art
  7. Bathing beauties and peeping toms: Bathsheba and Susanna in art
  8. Giving shape to suffering: the book of Job in art (focus on William Blake and Samuel Bak)
  9. Retelling familiar tales: the parable of the good Samaritan in art and on screen
  10. Visualizing the (masculine) holy: Jesus and messiah imagery in art, film, and advertising
Samuel Bak Journey

Samuel Bak, Journey (1991)

Select bibliography

Adams, Ann Jensen. Rembrandt’s Bathsheba Reading King David’s Letter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Allison, Dale C. Jr., Christine Helmer, Thomas Römer,  Choon-Leong Seow, Barry Dov Walfish,  and Eric Ziolkowski (eds.) Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2009-

Clines, David J. and J. Cheryl Exum (eds.). Biblical Reception (2012-2013).

Clanton, Dan. Daring, Disreputable, and Devout: Interpreting the Bible’s Women in the Arts and Music. New York: T&T Clark, 2009.

Edwards, Katie B.  Admen and Eve: The Bible in Contemporary Advertising. The Bible in the Modern World, 48. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2012.

Exum, J. Cheryl. The Bible in Film: The Bible and Film. Leiden: Brill, 2006.

Exum, J. Cheryl.  Plotted, Shot, and Painted: Cultural Representations of Biblical Women. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2012 (2nd edn).

Exum, J. Cheryl and Ela Nutu (eds.). Between the Text and the Canvas: The Bible and Art in Dialogue. The Bible in the Modern World, 13. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009

Harvey, John.  The Bible as Visual Culture: When Text Becomes Image. The Bible in the Modern World, 57. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2013.

Joynes, Christine E. (ed.). Perspectives on the Passion: Encountering the Bible through the Arts. London: T&T Clark, 2007.

O’Kane, Martin (ed.). Bible Art Gallery. The Bible in the Modern World, 21. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2011.

________ (ed.). Imaging the Bible: An Introduction to Biblical Art. London: SPCK, 2008.

________. Painting the Text: The Artist as Biblical Interpreter. The Bible in the Modern World, 8. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009.

Renan, Ernest. Christ in Art. New York: Parkstone International, 2010.

Rowland, Christopher. Blake and the Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

Terrien, Samuel. The Iconography of Job through the Centuries: Artists as Biblical Interpreters. University Park: PSU Press, 1996.

Salome and John the Baptist John Vassos 1927

John Vassos, Salome and John the Baptist (1927)

Adam and Eve Underwear Ad

Adam and Eve imagery in Bench/ undies ad


Banksy, Crucifixion

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Caveant lectores


For the last couple of years I’ve asked the stage 1 students for THEO104 to work on a library research assignment.

It’s meant to encourage them (a) to use the library – the longer I teach the more I realise that libraries are places of mystery and terror to many students – and (b) to use some common sense and a bit of discretion when they’re deciding whether or not a research resource is reliable, relevant and useful for their assignments.

Yesterday (in a moment of procrastinatory distraction) I came across an example that illustrates why it’s important to develop these skills and then use them both inside academia and outside.

A friend on Facebook posted a link to an article about a study in the February 2015 issue of the British Journal of Education, Society, and Behavioural ScienceThe article was billed: “New Research on Same-Sex Households Reveals Kids Do Best With Mom and Dad.” The article’s title is a bit more circumspect: “Emotional Problems among Children with Same-Sex Parents: Difference by Definition.”

I don’t want to discuss the content of the article here. I’m a historian, this paper’s by a sociologist so it’s obviously outside my field of competence.

What I do want to highlight is why it pays to exercise a bit of caution when your mates on Facebook and other internets outlets enthusiastically tout the results of a “peer reviewed study” that confirms their views about subject x.

It doesn’t take much googling to find this study picked up by various conservative websites in New Zealand and abroad, since it seems to provide “peer reviewed” academic support for their opposition to legislation in favour of same-sex marriage and adoption by same sex couples.

Peer review (as my stage 1 students will soon learn) is the process by which academics submit the work of other academics to critical scrutiny before it’s published. Books and articles are sent to two, three or more of the writer’s peers in the same academic field. The reviewers send back reports (usually anonymous) expressing an opinion on whether the book/article should be published, and usually what revisions should be made before it reaches the press.

Peer review isn’t infallible. Academics sometimes talk about it cynically. But like other things about which we express cynicism (e.g. parliament) it’s currently the best – or least bad – system we’ve got.

But in an era in which the number of your publications has become a criterion by which academics and universities are ranked, savvy publishers with access to the internet and the scent of academics’ desperation in their nostrils have spied an opportunity for providing all sorts of publications with a veneer of “peer-reviewed” respectability, but often without the rigorous scrutiny, and always at considerable expense to the author who wants his or her article published. This is known in the business as “predatory publishing” and plays on academics’ need to bag a long list of publications in order to advance through the university or, these days, even to get a job.

This brings us back to the article in the British Journal of Education, Society, and Behavioural Science mentioned above.

In a spirit of curiosity, I decided that I’d have a look at the article my friend had mentioned. What struck me first about the website of this “British Journal” was that none of its editorial team was British. Most reside in America, one in China. I googled the details of these academics. As far as I can see, they’re legitimate. Although the article in question doesn’t yet appear on the journal’s website, most of the articles seem to be by scholars from African universities. This is not to suggest that there has to be anything substandard about scholarship from Africa, but it’s odd, once again, that African articles should be represented so disproportionately in something that bills itself as the “British Journal…”

Another thing I noticed on the top level of the journal’s website was that the publisher had a “special offer” reducing by 80-90% the amount that authors had to pay to get their articles published in its journals. As mentioned above, this suggests predatory publishing: it’s flourishing because of academics are often so desperate to get articles listed on their CVs that they’ll pay the US$500 this publisher charges for this privilege. At least in the academic fields with which I’m familiar (History, Theology, Religious Studies) legitimate academic journals don’t charge academics either for peer review or publication. I believe that’s also true of the sciences.

These features raised my suspicions and I decided to do a bit more poking around to find out about the publisher Sciencedomains International. Here I’ll refer to a 2012 review article by Jeffrey Beall in The Charleston Advisor [1] (which to the best of my knowledge and prudential judgement is a legitimate peer-reviewed journal in the field of Library and Information science – trust me, I’m an ex-librarian). Beal identifies Sciencedomains International as a predatory publisher.

Confirming my suspicions about the “British” journal Beall notes the following:

The journal titles are notable for gratuitously using geographic terms in their titles, e.g., American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Public Health, British Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. The word “International” appears in three other titles. The publisher lists offices in the U.K, the U.S., and India but is really an Indian company that operates out of India. Thus the geographical terms in the titles are an attempt to deceive potential authors.

In other words, it seems that “British” is used to lend the journal a gravitas (think British Academy, British Museum, British Medical Journal) which it might otherwise lack. In fact there’s nothing British about it.

Beall also offers the following observation about the publisher:

This publisher is a good example of a startup that tries to promote itself by closely attaching its mission and values to those of the Open Access movement itself. The message is that if you publish with them, you are a noble and benevolent researcher, making you work available to all, especially those from developing countries.

Sciencedomains lays claim to the mantle of the Open Access Movement – a legitimate attempt by academics and academic libraries worldwide to make research freely available to the communities and governments that paid for it in the first place. But this isn’t the business in which Sciencedomains finds itself. It charges its authors €375  or US$500 for publication, though it offers discounts to authors from developing countries provided that their institutions pay it $1000-4000 per year “institutional membership.” This perhaps explains the large number of journals from Africa in the British Journal of etc.

There is a conflict of interest involved in this publishing model. In Beall’s words: “the more articles a publisher accepts, the more revenue it earns.” This conflict isn’t present in genuine Open Access publishing, and it’s present to a lesser degree in the traditional user-pays model where the supply of articles – especially for the most prestigious journals – usually outstrips the demand (i.e. the filter of peer review).

Perhaps surprisingly in light of this Beall comments that Sciencedomain’s journals include some good articles among the bad ones (it’s a bit unclear about how he reached that assessment) and they do seem to be subject to some kind of peer review (the quality of which remains moot in light of the conflict of interest noted above).

As I say, I’m not really competent to judge the content of the article I mentioned at the outset – I’ll leave that to those who have some expertise in this area. Even so, the circumstances of the article’s publication do leave me darkly suspicious about its reliability.

The great cataract of information that assaults us through the internet every day is exhilarating, and I now remember with something close to astonishment my undergraduate days poking through the card catalogue and pulling books off the shelves of a rather small university library. But the caution required in trying to make some sense of the new deluge rises almost in equal proportion to its size.

Be careful out there.


Beall, Jeffrey. “Five Scholarly Open Access Publishers.” The Charleston Advisor 13, no. 4 (April 2012): 5-10.


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New Year, New Book: Sexuality, Ideology, and the Bible


Over the past few months, Robert Myles and I have been working hard to finish our co-edited volume, Sexuality, Ideology and the Bible: Antipodean Engagements, which will be published by Sheffield Phoenix Press later this year. The volume will contain a series of essays written by biblical scholars located in Australia and New Zealand on themes relating to sexuality, gender, and queer theory within biblical traditions and interpretations. We were also very fortunate to get the marvellous Professor Hugh Pyper from the University of Sheffield to write a response to these essays and to offer his own thoughts on ‘antipodean engagements’ with sexuality, queer ideologies, and biblical scholarship.

As a taster/teaser, I’ve listed the titles of all the essays in the volume below. And we’ll post more details about the book as it progresses along its publication path.

Robert J. Myles

Deane Galbraith

Emily Colgan

Christina Petterson

Roland Boer

Alan H. Cadwallader

Gillian Townsley

Elaine M. Wainwright

Yael Klangwisan

Caroline Blyth and Teguh Wijaya Mulya

Hugh S. Pyper

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Highlights from Radical Interpretations of the Bible, Sheffield

Caroline Blyth:

Auckland Theology favourite, occasional contributor to this blog, and soon-to-be teaching staffer Dr Robert Myles recently organised a conference at Sheffield University, where he’s been visiting scholar for the past six months. Participants at the Radical Interpretations of the Bible conference considered a range of revolutionary methods in biblical interpretations, including critical theory, Marxist exegesis, anarchist exegesis, radical reception theory and other ideological and political readings. The conference sounds as though it was a cracking success and, as Robert’s post below indicates, we hope to follow on from it by hosting a similar conference later this year in Auckland. Can’t wait…

Originally posted on The Bible & Class Struggle:

Included below are some highlights from the academic seminar on Radical Interpretations of the Bible (#RIOTBIBLE) which gathered earlier today in Sheffield.

The day started with a friendly officer who kindly let us into the building.

Then I kicked things off with my deeply unsubversive paper “Opiate of Christ; or, John’s Gospel and the Spectre of Class”. Basically I argued that John’s Jesus is on the wrong side of the class struggle. If, as subversive anti-imperial readings suggest, Caesar is an imperialist dictator and Jesus is even “greater than Caesar”, then we ought to explore just how much of an imperialist dictator John’s Jesus really is.


Next up, Marika Rose discussed the “Holy Mothers of God” — the women who curiously rupture Matthew’s otherwise patrilineal genealogy. These women in some respects function as the obscene underside that sustains patriarchal inheritance. Their shady pasts are also predominantly interpreted in light of decency hermeneutics. Among other notable…

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Happy Christmas

Marsden cross memorial reserve

The Marsden Memorial Cross marks the approximate site from which Samuel Marsden preached a sermon on 25 December 1814 inaugurating the Church Missionary Society mission here. The land and protection for the missionary settlement were provided by Ruatara, a rangatira of the adjacent Rangihoua pa. Without this assurance of physical safety and support, the missionaries would never have left the UK and New South Wales. The photo above belies New Zealand’s terrifying reputation among Europeans of this period.

For this reason, today marks the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in Aotearoa (give or take – we’re not counting services celebrated by chaplains on visiting European or American ships).

I took this picture at the beginning of December when I visited Oihi for the first time. The cross and beach are now the centre-piece of the new Rangihoua Heritage Park. There are some good interpretative plaques on the way down to the beach, but even if they weren’t there, it’s a spot of outstanding beauty – especially if you have it to yourself at the end of a cloudless summer’s day, as I did.

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Advent offering 24 December

For our final advent offering, I thought I’d follow on from yesterday’s blog, where we looked at nativity images from around the world, with another contextual nativity scene that is flavoured with the artist’s own cultural location. This one has a special place in my heart, as it is a nativity with a bit of a Scottish flavour. It’s by Scots artist William Bell Scott and, when I was home in Edinburgh recently, I was fortunate enough to see it ‘in the flesh’ in the National Gallery of Scotland. Scott locates the nativity scene, not in Bethlehem, but in Penkill, Ayrshire, where he was staying at the time of this composition. Some of the traditional nativity iconography is present – they byre, the animals, the holy family, and the angels (who are sitting rather nonchalantly with the birds in the rafters of the byre). A procession of shepherds make their way towards a rather nervous looking Mary (Joseph meanwhile appears rather disinterested in events, his nose stuck in a book). You’ll see they are followed up at the rear by a piper playing the bagpipes, another wee dash of Scottishness added by Bell to this traditional nativity scene. In the distance, the magi make their decorous way towards the byre,  It looks as though a a rather jolly celebration will soon be in full swing.

ng 2396-2

William Bell Scott, The Nativity (1872)

And so we reach the end of our advent calendar for 2014. I do hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we’ve enjoy doing it. From all of us in Theology at Auckland, we wish you and yours a happy festive time and hope to see you for more bloggings in 2015.

Caroline x

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Advent offering 23 December

It’s our penultimate advent offering today, so I thought I’d share a few more images than usual with you. On my search for nativity scenes in art, I’ve been struck by how different and yet how familiar all the different artistic renderings of this iconic image are. The artists’ personal styles, their geographical and historical context, and, sometimes, their personal spirituality all play a part in how they depict this Christian narrative. So, here’s a few images that have caught my eye – you can see which one you like best.

First off, we have Dutch artist Jan Joest’s Adoration of the Christ Child (1515). I find this nativity scene very atmospheric (the sky outside the window is beautiful), but also a little bit eerie. The figures (both human and angelic) stand around the tiny infant, their faces either in shadow or illuminated by a strange light that seems to emanate from the cradle. The two male figures at the rear of the painting just look plain sinister, while the angelic bodies hanging mid air like a tangled chandelier near the ceiling look a bit too unruly and at odds with the calm of the scene below.


Jan Joest, Adoration of the Christ Child (1515)

Next up, a beautiful Baroque image from French artist Charles Le Brun, titled Adoration of the Shepherds. This nativity scene positively bustles with movement and life – angels hover, swoop, and make music while the crowd below (a mixture of adults and infants) simply can’t sit still, but move excitedly around the mother and child who sit illuminated at the centre of the action. Only the infant Jesus seems to be motionless – a tiny oasis of calm amidst the restless delight that is carrying on around him.


Charles Le Brun, Adoration of the Shepherds (1689)

In total contrast, a lovely nativity by Moravian artist Adolf Hölzel, simply titled Adoration. Compared to Le Brun’s nativity, there is an intense stillness about this scene, the cool colours and quiet patience of the figures allowing the viewer to exhale and relax after our Baroque excitement. I particularly like the posture of Mary in this painting – the way she curls in towards her child, exuding a sense of maternal care and love.


Adolf Hölzel, Anbetung (Adoration), 1912

Moving beyond Europe, we can also enjoy other nativities that likewise take on the geographical and cultural locations of their artists. For example, in Korean artist Woonbo Kim Ki-chang’s work, The Birth of Jesus Christ, Mary is wearing a hanbok (a traditional Korean dress) while Joseph dons a Korean gat, or hat. This painting is very similar to nativity scenes we often see in Western art (the byre, the farm animals, the onlookers), yet interestingly the characters that participate in the adoration are all female – some may be midwives perhaps, or women working on the farm where this byre is located.


Woonbo Kim Ki-chang, The Birth of Jesus Christ (1952-53)

Here is a positively lovely artwork, by Chinese artist He-Qi – the multiple hues of blue are glorious and again, bring a sense of real peace to the nativity scene. Again, the traditional iconography of the nativity is here – the star, the angelic presence (I love this swooping angel who seems to be spreading a blessing over all present), the shepherds and the animals. Mary stands out in her pretty pink, while the infant Jesus is very fetching too, with his rosy cheeks and white and lilac striped swaddling. Gorgeous!

nativity_he-qi 1998

He-Qi, Nativity (1998)

Another beautifully peaceful nativity is by Ugandan artist Francis Musango, and is titled Christ in the Manger. I love the wee baby’s head peeking out of the covers, resting on his mother’s lap. Various figures gather round Mary, but she has eyes only for her sleeping son. Her beautiful face is both serene and serious and those who look upon her seem a little in awe.

nativity_francis-musango-uganda nd

Francis Musango, Christ in the Manger, n.d.

I also love this modern take on the nativity by US artist James B. Janknegt. It has a jazzy, party feel to it. The magi approach the door and are welcomed by a friendly cat – they all look intent on having a gay old time. They’re carrying some exciting looking gifts, including a teddy, a high chair, and flowers for mum. More practical, I guess, than gold, frankincense and myrrh? Meanwhile, poor Joseph’s consigned to the garden, doing a bit of hard labour himself, while Mary rests up in a comfy looking bed – I wonder if she’ll join the celebrations when these excited party-goers burst through the door?

nativity_james-b-janknegt 1995

James B. Janknegt, Nativity, 1995

There’s also a fabulous air of anticipation and celebration in Louisiana-born African-American artist, Clementine Hunter. Joseph is nowhere in sight, but one of the angels is leading a very pregnant Mary towards the place where she will give birth, while the magi (in their stetsons) make their gift-laden way there too. The hovering angels look very excited about the coming events as they swoop through a candy pink sky, waiting to welcome their very special guests.

Clementine Hunter

Clementine Hunter, Nativity with Virgin Mary, Three Wise Men and Angels (c. 1950)

Australian artist Greg Weatherby uses indigenous iconography in his fabulous nativity scene, titled Dreamtime Birth. No angels this time, but a pair of what perhaps are divine hands, hovering protectively over the holy family, casting a golden light over them. The magi approach reverentially, while in the background, kangaroos, emus, and lizards make their way to pay homage too.

nativity_greg-weatherby-australia c1990

Greg Weatherby, Dreamtime Birth, 1990s

Finally, a very striking nativity image from Indonesian artist Erland Sibuea, who wraps (quite literally) the birth of Jesus in a glorious mantle of flora and fauna. Often, the natural world gets neglected in nativity scenes (with the exception of human and domestic animal life) – here, it becomes an intrinsic part of the event. All creation is celebrating this extraordinary cosmic event.


Erland Sibuea, Nativity, 2008

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s global tour of nativities in art. I’m aware I’ve only scratched the surface, but if you are interested in finding more nativity scenes and images from around the world, check out these websites here and here. And I’ll see you tomorrow for our final advent offering.

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