Student showcase 1: The Devil’s in the Detail

As in previous years, we are taking time throughout December to showcase some of the wonderful work done by our students in Auckland TheoRel. Starting us off today is Brittany Jacobsen, who took our most popular course, The Bible in Popular Culture (THEOREL 101G).  Brittany hails from Auckland and is working towards a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Classics and Anthropology. Her future plans include studying Classics at postgraduate level, hopefully at a University in either Athens or London. She took THEOREL 101G because it sounded so interesting and reassures me that it has been one of the best courses that she has taken so far in her degree (we aim to please). So read on and enjoy Brittany’s essay, which looks at the biblical figure of Satan, as represented in that most charismatic of TV anti-heroes, Lucifer Morningstar.

lucifer 1

Is Lucifer Really Satan? Satan in Popular Culture

By Brittany Jacobsen

Throughout history, Satan  has traditionally been portrayed in theological and cultural discourses as the embodiment of all evil (De La Torre & Hernández, 2011, p.11). This portrayal has its roots in the Bible’s characterisation of Satan (Wray & Mobley, 2005, p.xiii). Yet Satan’s biblical portrayal is vague and contradictory (Wyman, 2016, p.4). And, when Lucifer Morningstar appears in FOX’s Lucifer (Kapinos, 2016-present) claiming that he is Satan, he subverts the Bible’s various depictions of this character in a number of ways. For, this popular culture afterlife presents a humanized portrayal of Satan – a Satan for the 21st-century. To do this, Lucifer fills in the gaps in biblical depictions of Satan – specifically, who Satan is and what he is like, his relationship with God, and his thoughts about his reputation as a tempter and a symbol of evil. Thus, Lucifer’s portrayal, although biblical in origin, extends well beyond the biblical traditions.

This essay will therefore compare the biblical portrayal of Satan with Lucifer’s using two methods for studying popular culture – the ‘world in the text’ and the ‘world behind the text’.  The ‘world in the text’ will involve discussing how Lucifer fills said biblical gaps, highlighting any similarities and differences between these portrayals. I suggest that there is a connection between the TV programme’s altered portrayal of Satan in Lucifer Morningstar and its 21st-century context – the ‘world behind the text’. That is, this particular biblical afterlife reflects 21st-century understandings of Satan, and highlights the rise of the anti-hero as a cultural trope.

In the world of Lucifer, Satan (aka Lucifer Morningstar) is the main character of the TV series, and so, he gains a personality, which contributes to his humanization. The show’s premise is that Lucifer is a fallen angel condemned by God to rule over Hell. The part is played by British actor Tom Ellis, who brings a great deal of charisma to this role. This is seen, for example, when Lucifer draws out other characters’ hidden desires; as we watch him do this, there is always a close-up of his face. The audience is thus compelled to look at Ellis’ ruggedly handsome face, his  cheeky smile, and sparkling eyes. We cannot look away. With individuals in the show paralleling our reaction, we understand this is the intended effect. With this face then, Satan becomes irresistible.

Lucy horns
Lucifer Morningstar, played by actor Tom Ellis

This idea of Satan having irresistible charm is not voiced in the Bible. Indeed, biblical passages mention little about who Satan is (Wray & Mobley, 2005, p.1), let alone giving him a charismatic personality (Wyman, 2016, pp.3-4). This has led to later Christian traditions creating afterlives for Satan, which are not necessarily evoked explicitly in the Bible itself (De La Torre & Hernández, 2011, pp.81-82).

The TV show Lucifer also creates a new afterlife for Satan, one which locates this figure within a 21st-century context. Satan, as Lucifer Morningstar, is humanized by a vibrant personality, and thus fits the contemporary definition of an anti-hero – “a clearly – or even, severely – morally flawed main character whom the spectator is nonetheless encouraged to feel with, like and root for” (Vaage, 2016, p.xvi). Traditional assumptions made about Satan being the embodiment of all evil (De La Torre & Hernández, 2011, p.11) shape the world behind Lucifer, identifying our anti-hero as ‘morally flawed’. This is captured in the show when Lucifer is told by another character to “stop caring, you’re the Devil”. Compassion, or ‘caring’, is considered a moral virtue, and so does not fit with the traditional portrayal of Satan/Lucifer as evil. Yet in the TV show, we are offered a much more human, and relatable Satan, which ‘encourage[s] [us] to feel with, like and root for’ him (Vaage, 2016, p.xvi). With his charisma, the audience is drawn to Lucifer, and so in almost every scene he appears, he remains in the frame. This emphasizes that he is the focus of our attention, and so we become increasingly invested in him – he becomes our ‘anti-hero’, an increasingly popular figure within contemporary pop culture (Vaage, 2016, p.90).

Lucy gif

The Bible also does not offer a clear explanation of Satan’s relationship with God. Satan is depicted in the Old Testament as being employed by God to test human faith (Job 1-2). However, in contrast to the New Testament (see (Luke 10:18; cf. Revelation 12:1-6;  Acts 5:3), there is no mention of Satan being God’s rival (Telford, 2014, p.91), or an explicit embodiment of evil. Thus, while one can agree that in the Bible God and Satan have a relationship, this relationship is not consistent across the two testaments (Wray & Mobley, 2005, p.1). Such inconsistency therefore offers us a biblical ‘gap’ around Satan’s character.

Lucifer fills this gap by making it explicit that the relationship between God and Satan is that of father and son. Lucifer repeatedly refers to God as “Dad” or “Father”, leaving us with no doubt about this. That this is their chosen relationship is significant in the show’s world. It implies that Satan’s biblical fall from heaven (Luke 10:18; cf. Revelation 12:1-6), and later adversarial role (Acts 5:3), were the result of childhood rebellion. This contributes to Lucifer’s humanized portrayal of Satan. His fall is said to be the result of “one of [God’s] children … act[ing] out”. The choice of describing this fall as “act[ing] out” against a parent implies that Satan is a rebellious child. This makes him appear more human because the audience can relate to this, perhaps having gone through similar stages of rebellion themselves. Therefore, because of this gap-filling, we gain a humanized portrayal of Satan.

Lucy 2

Satan is also a tempter. He is portrayed like this in both the Bible (Wyman, 2016, p.4) and Lucifer. In the Bible, this is fundamental to his character (cf. Job 1-2; Matthew 4:1-11). An important story about Satan, the temptation of Jesus, shows this most clearly (Wray & Mobley, 2005, p.120). Here, Jesus is taken “to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). Such an explicit statement linking Satan with performing temptation leaves no doubt that this is his role.

Hans Memling der Hölle
Hans Memling, Die Hölle (c. 1485)

Furthermore, this role has also contributed to Satan being presented as the embodiment of all evil (Wray & Mobley, 2005, p.1). However, the connotations of the word ‘evil’ suggest someone who enjoys their depraved actions, similar to what we see in medieval depictions of the ‘evil’ Satan (De La Torre & Hernández, 2011, p.17). Yet, the Bible does not tell us about Satan’s thoughts or motivations about his role as tempter – sometimes it appears as though he is just doing his job, and with divine approval (Job 1-2). Thus, we see another biblical gap around Satan’s character.

Lucifer, in comparison, tells us Satan’s thoughts about being a tempter. The show acknowledges that Satan has this previous biblical role (Telford, 2014, p.90), however, it is presented as humanity’s excuse for human wrongdoing: as Lucifer complains, humans blame their own badness on him, claiming ‘the devil made me do it’. In a number of episodes, we are given insights into Lucifer’s thoughts on being a tempter. He sees himself as ‘vilified’, asking, ‘Why do they blame me for all their little failings as if I’d spent my days sitting on their shoulder forcing them to commit acts they’d otherwise find repulsive?’ Lucifer’s emotional response here is important because it again makes him appear more human, more relatable.

Lucy gif cheers

By filling the various biblical gaps in ways that humanize Satan, the TV character of Lucifer is influenced by 21st-century understandings of Satan as a figure of evil (Telford, 2014, p.103). In the 21st-century, Satan is no longer “the ultimate source of evil” (Wyman, 2016, p.14). The secularization of modern society has replaced him with secular figures of evil, human satanic figures (See Porter, 2017) – corrupt politicians and world leaders, war criminals, terrorists, unethical multinational companies . As a result, Satan has lost his mystical “power” in the minds of his 21st-century audience (Wyman, 2016, p. 15). Humanizing Satan in Lucifer reflects this loss because it suggests that he is now understood as one of us, rather than a supernatural entity. If evil is to be found, then it is to be found among the human community here on earth, rather than in a fallen angel or supernatural being. There is thus a connection between Lucifer’s altered portrayal and the world behind the text, our 21st-century context.

It is clear then, that Lucifer provides an altered portrayal of the biblical character Satan. In filling the specific biblical gaps of who Satan is and what he is like, his relationship with God, and his thoughts on being a tempter, Satan’s portrayal goes from vague to humanized. Therefore, Lucifer has “reflect[ed] the culture in which [it was] produced” (Telford, 2014, p.89). As we have seen, the humanization of Satan is the product of the 21st-century understandings of this figure, his relationship with evil, and the rise of the anti-hero.

Lucy flames

Reference list

All biblical citations are taken from the NRSV

De La Torre, M. A., & Hernández, A. (2011). The Quest for the Historical Satan. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Kapinos, Tom (Creator). (2016-present). Lucifer, [Television show]. United States: FOX.

Porter, A. L. (2017). Satanic Humans: Using Satanic Tropes To Guide And Misguide The Audience. Journal of Religion & Film, 21(1), 1-33.

Telford, W. R. (2014). “Speak of the Devil”: The Portrayal of Satan in the Christ Film. In E. S. Christianson & C. H. Partridge (Eds), The Lure of the Darkside: Satan and Western Demonology in Popular Culture (pp. 89-104).

Vaage, M. B. (2016). The Antihero in American Television. New York and London: Routledge.

Wray, T. J., & Mobley, G. (2005). The Birth of Satan: Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots. New York and Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wyman, K. J. (2016). The Devil We Already Know: Medieval Representations of a Powerless Satan in Modern American Cinema. Journal of Religion & Film, 8(3), Article 7, 1-19.

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Danger and Desire: Student Work on the Book of Ruth (part 1)

In a previous blog post, I indicated that I would be sharing student work from our course Danger and Desire: The Bible in Visual Culture. Today, I’d like to present the first of two student essays that look at images based on the Hebrew Bible’s book of Ruth. The author of this essay is Kesaia Tapueluelu, one of our star students taking her Bachelor of Theology here at the University of Auckland. Kesaia focuses on two artists who present scenes from Ruth, considering in particular the way that the gender and sexuality of the characters in this narrative are explored within these visual interpretations of the text.

Ruth and Naomi

by

Kesaia Tapueluelu

Every time I would read or have the story of Ruth read to me, I always thought about how Naomi must have been the best mother-in-law for Ruth not to leave her. The mother and daughter in-law duo tells an intriguing story of the journey that they embark on in order to survive their tragic circumstances. Loyalty is a recurring theme in this biblical text which highlights a personality trait of Ruth; however, any loyalty from Naomi is not clearly evident. For this essay I have chosen two pieces of art that I believe highlight the relationship between the women (especially the aspect of love and loyalty) and the roles that they played throughout their story for their survival; Philip Hermogenes Calderon’s Ruth and Naomi painting and Nicolas Poussin’s Summer (Ruth and Boaz). Both art works will offer a depiction of Naomi and Ruth’s relationship and further allow for an interpretation of the biblical story.

Philip_Calderon_Ruth_Naomi
Philip Hermogenes Calderon, Ruth and Naomi (1920)

In the cultural context of the time in which the book was authored women who were widowed held the lowest socio-economic status. They had nothing and could not get anything because all odds were against them because there was no male figure present to look after them. Philip Hermogenes Calderon’s Ruth and Naomi offer a visual interpretation of the text that raises many questions on first glance: who are the two embracing, Ruth and Naomi, or Ruth and Boaz? Might it be romantic or even erotic? (Exum, 1996, 129) What is Calderon suggesting with this picture? The picture is not clear about who are embracing, whether it is Boaz and Ruth or Ruth and Naomi. A clue in Calderon’s painting is the presence of the third character looking on from the two embracing. To unravel an understanding of this piece we need to comparae the biblical text to the painting to give possible clarity. When we apply a scene which includes a third party there are two possibilities. The first possibility is that this scene could be an embrace between Ruth and Boaz with Naomi looking on and the second possibility is that the two embracing are Ruth and Naomi and Orpah is the one looking on. The biblical text shows no evidence of Ruth and Boaz embracing where Naomi is present; as a matter fact, there is no scene in which all three characters are together at the same time. The second possibility is more favourable because the third character is carrying some form of luggage which suggests traveling. (Koosed 2011, 53). This then suggests that the scene is a depiction of when Naomi told her daughters-in-law to return to their homes (Ruth 1.8-14). In the biblical text it is noted that Ruth clings onto Naomi as Orpah leaves (1.14), this is probably the moment that Calderon is trying to capture in his painting, which depicts his interpretation of the biblical story. Yet, the picture is ambivalent, obscure and very confusing. Naomi is masculine looking and the embrace between her and Ruth is very passionate, romantic and even erotic. J. Cheryl Exum wrote about this painting, asking the question, is this really Naomi? (1996, 129). Exum’s question echoes the questions from those posed by the women in Bethlehem when they could not recognise Naomi (Ruth 1:19). This question can play on the idea Calderon may have wanted his audience to question in the picture; the questions about gender and his use of an androgynous figure (ibid, 132). Calderon’s painting can be seen as the artist’s way of delegating, in this sense, the male responsibilities of the relationship onto Naomi and by doing so he blurs a definitive gender on Naomi. The role in which Naomi takes on is the role of carer and provider for Ruth – the masculine role, hence her androgyny. Calderon was a part of a group called the St Johns Wood Clique (a group of Victorian artists) and he specialised in romantic and dramatic scenes from the Bible (Elkan). It is also said that Calderon’s paintings were never straightforward and many were sexually ambivalent. This is very fitting considering the romantic gesture that is portrayed in Naomi and Ruth’s embrace. In a blog post by Caroline Blyth on Auckland Theology and Religious Studies (19 December 2014), she writes about her thoughts on this piece, and her concluding thoughts are what interested me. Blyth states that rather than dampening the picture by stating that Ruth is embracing Boaz, she would rather leave the two women unambiguously enjoying their embrace, which in turn celebrates their intense love for each other; Blyth then concludes by quoting Ruth’s remarks to Naomi (Ruth 1.16-17). When Blyth concluded with Ruth’s remarks it evoked a sense of marriage vows, highlighting the intensity of love that she mentions. Maybe it is this great love that Calderon is trying to express through his painting, an intense love where Ruth vows loyalty to Naomi like the vows of a marriage. To further clarify, I do not believe Calderon’s picture highlights a bond of homosexuality nor of heterosexuality; however it is about the intense love that both characters mutually express as seen in his picture (Exum 1996, 135).

the-summer-ruth-and-boaz-1664
Nicholas Poussin, The Summer (Ruth and Boaz), 1664

The second piece of art that amply applies a stimulating depiction of the biblical text is from Nicolas Poussin, Summer (Ruth and Boaz). The beauty in this art is seen in the vast landscape of the outdoors. It is said that the landscape is a depiction of the divine presence amongst human activity (Encyclopedia of Art). Poussin may have painted this scene to imply the presence of God as the conductor of both Ruth’s life and the events that are going to happen. This picture shows Ruth kneeling before Boaz amongst the field of workers. What is intriguing about this picture is that it shows Ruth as a rather masculine figure. Is Poussin trying to implement the same or a similar idea to Calderon? Although Poussin’s picture of Ruth and Boaz was painted before Calderon’s painting of Ruth and Naomi, the masculinity that Ruth takes on may also denote here an aspect of her role in her relationship with Naomi. In this scene, Ruth seems to take from Naomi the masculine role and places it on herself to care for Naomi; by doing so she goes to the fields to glean after the harvesters to provide food for both of them. In the words of Boaz (when he replies to Ruth about his favouritism on her), “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband” (2.11a). These words, specifically “what you have done,” highlight the care for Naomi implying Ruth’s responsibility towards Naomi. Although I have mentioned earlier that Naomi took on the masculine role in the relationship in her initial care of Ruth, it is here in this scene that Ruth takes on this role in place of Naomi. Depicting Ruth as a masculine figure before Boaz in this painting suggests that Ruth came before Boaz in her role as carer and provider. Then further in the biblical story, Boaz takes this role in the relationship from Ruth by making her his wife. It is then that Boaz becomes the ultimate carer for both women, taking from them the role as provider. The women’s search for survival is now over in Ruth’s acceptance to be the bride of Boaz; the women then rest in Boaz’s care. In conclusion, Calderon’s painting depicted the intense love that both Naomi and Ruth portrayed as women. The androgyny in the picture allowed for different and various interpretations of the figures embracing. Poussin seems to have done the same in his painting of Ruth before Boaz, depicting Ruth as a rather masculine figure. Both images describe the loyalty and the love that Naomi and Ruth have. Their relationship as widowed mother and daughter in-law describes a prolonged journey for survival as women with nothing. Boaz’s entry into the story cast him as the refuge through which these women were saved. These women struggled alone (or perhaps with the implicit providence of God) through a journey that ended with a beautiful outcome; a famous lineage (Ruth 4.18-22). The relationship between Ruth and Naomi as depicted by these artists offer an understanding of the biblical story that is both challenging and stimulating. Bibliography Blyth, Caroline. “Advent offering 19 December.” Auckland Theology and Religious Studies, Accessed April 26, 2015. https://aucklandtheology.wordpress.com/tag/philip-hermogenes-calderon/. Elkan, Jenny. “Philip Hermogenes Calderon 1833-1898: Artist Biography.” TATE Accessed April 26, 2015. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/philip-hermogenes-calderon-77. Exum, J. Cheryl. Plotted, Shot, and Painted: Cultural Representations of Biblical Women. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996. Koosed, Jennifer. Gleaning Ruth: A Biblical Heroine and her Afterlives. University of South Carolina Press, 2011. I’ll be back in a day or two with the second student work on visual exegesis in the book of Ruth.

Danger and Desire: New course offering for Theology at Auckland

crowd

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)

Exodus-Gods-and-Kings-Poster-7

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
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.

Lectures:

  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-graffiti-street-art-8
Banksy, Crucifixion


Getting to grips with Genesis

roelant savery Noah's Ark
Roelant Savery, Noah’s Ark
Karoly Patko Adam and Eve
Karoly Patko Adam and Eve

The start of semester 1 is fast approaching here at Auckland University and teaching staff everywhere are getting busy preparing their lectures. The past few days, I’ve been getting organized for one of my undergraduate courses, which focuses on the book of Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Bible. Genesis is a fantastic biblical book to look at in depth with students and one of my favourite to teach – using the tools of literary criticism, I read the text together with the class, pausing at particular narrative scenes to allow us to focus on them in more detail, discussing what we think of the plot, the characters, and the possible origins and purpose of these stories. The students are never bored, in my experience, and thoroughly enjoy probing and pondering what’s going on in this rollercoaster of a narrative. There’s more sex, action and drama than even the raciest soap opera; we read about the miraculous, the unbelievable, the cataclysmic, and the plain old bizarre. We encounter loads of marvellous characters, who come across as so very human – who express emotions that we can recognize, who react in ways that we can at least understand, if not explicitly condone. There are no absolute saints in Genesis – rather, the characters are shown to us flaws and all. Even that most venerated figure Noah gets into a bit of bother after, quite understandably, drinking rather a lot of wine following all the stress of that flood. Meanwhile, Abraham and Jacob – the founding fathers of the Israelite people – are depicted as far from perfect, acting rashly, treating others harshly, being deceitful and underhand, and manipulating kith and kin to further their own ends.

Chagall cain et abel
Marc Chagall, Cain et Abel

Genesis is a book that I think explores the human condition in all its fullness and frailty; in particular, its ancient authors seem at pains to articulate the complex and at times incomprehensible relationship that exists  between humanity and the divine. In my opinion, they do this incredibly well.

Course name: Theology 210/310 Genesis

Course textbook: Robert Alter, Genesis: Translation and Commentary. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1996.

Upholding Christian Standards of Marriage

Tonight we’ll be looking church opposition to a 1920 amendment of the Divorce Act in THEO104: Christianity in Aotearoa-NZ.

I didn’t time this choice of topic to coincide with the third and final reading of the 2013 Marriage Amendment Bill.

However, in terms of church rhetoric, the similarities are instructive.

The following extracts are from an account of discussions of the latest threat to Christian marriage from the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Wellington in the Evening Post, 13 July 1921.

Mr Stent said he brought forward the motion [against an amendment in the Divorce Act] with a great sense of responsibility. He would, first of all, ask the Synod to consider what the Christian standard of marriage was […] First of all: the marriage contract was a lifelong one; secondly, no marriage should be recognised as marriage that came within certain degrees of relationship. The amended marriage laws of last year permitted a divorce to take place within three years of separation, no matter whether the contracting parties had lived chastely or not. It seemed to him that the standard of marriage laid down in the Word of God was in very, very grave peril, and, if that was so, it behoved every Christian priest and every Christian layman, with one voice and with one determination, to pass the resolution, to do his best to bring about a return to the paths of righteousness for the sake of Him who gave them life and powers of procreation of life […]

Bishop Sprott [of Wellington] said [he] did not think they realised the revolution that had taken place; the Christian ideal was now not necessary. The ideal recognised by the community was such that Christian people were now in the position of being tolerated. There was a sign last session [of Parliament] that even tolerance might go. They had been allowed to hold up before their own people the Christian ideal of marriage, but, as they knew, that was very nearly ended, and, indeed, if they took the strict letter of the law, that right had gone…. Bishop Sprott went on to say that he believed that ultimately tolerance would go, and a few Christians would have to endure persecution. No community, of course, would tolerate any individuals casting discredit on its laws.

Exploring spirituality in the medical humanities

House MD (Fox Broadcasting)

Being great fans of the US medical drama, ‘House’, staff at Auckland’s School of Theology have been especially excited to accept an invitation from the University’s School of Medicine to take part in this year’s Medical Humanities programme. This multidisciplinary programme offers stage three medical students a range of courses that allow them to study medical issues from the perspective of Arts disciplines, including history, law, music, art, comparative literature, philosophy, and theology.

This year, the School of Theology are offering a course entitled, ‘Exploring the Spirituality of Healing’, which will consider some of the beliefs and practices of spirituality within religious traditions and the different ways that these have been associated with healing in medical and mental health contexts. Taking into account such factors as gender, sexuality, cultural context, and religious diversity, the course will focus on a range of topics, including medical ethics and spirituality, models of research into spirituality and healing, the role of personal spirituality for the clinical practitioner, the psychology of healing and forgiveness, and cross-disciplinary collaboration within the healing/clinical environment.

The significance of spirituality and religion for health and healing has been both increasingly well researched and hotly debated over the past decade by both theologians and those working in the medical professions. It is hoped that ‘Exploring the Spirituality of Healing’ will engage the interest of Auckland’s medical students in this fascinating subject and keep the current debate alive and kicking.