Upcoming conference



Postgraduate Conference, 2018

31 August, 2018, 9am-4pm

The University of Auckland

Arts 1 building, 14A Symonds Street, room 203

Arts 1

The inaugural postgraduate conference of ANZABS takes place on 31 August, 2018. The conference will be held at the University of Auckland, Arts 1, 14A Symonds Street, room 203 (you’ll find Arts 1 on the City campus map). As you will see below, we have a fabulous line-up of PG students from Aotearoa NZ and beyond whose research spans biblical studies, religious studies, cultural studies, and theology.

The conference is free and open to everyone. We will provide tea and coffee for morning and afternoon tea (and some cookies, although you are welcome to contribute too!). Lunch will be a ‘get-your-own’ affair, and there are lots of food vendors around campus, as well as a kitchen in Arts 1 (in case anyone brings their own).

If you are keen to come along to listen to our speakers, please drop a note to Caroline Blyth. And please share this invitation widely among your networks.


9.00 Mihi

9.10 – Ben Hudson, Otago: Ephesians’ Jewish Readers

9.40 – Karen Taylor, University of Chester: Cutting judgment in pieces: a judgment parable through a lens of relational faithfulness.

10.10 – Marina Pasichnik, University of Auckland: Descent into Hell in Russian Iconography

10.40 – Morning Tea

11.00 – Anne Aalbers, University of Auckland: The Ascetic Couple

11.30 – Paul Mosley, Laidlaw College: Paul and Adversity

12.00 – Therese Kiely, University of Auckland: Young Pasifika women’s images of God and mental wellbeing.

12.30 – (Get your own) lunch

1.30 – Lyndon Drake, Oxford University: Economic Capital in the Hebrew Bible.

2.00 – Taryn Dryfhout, Laidaw College: Kaumātua ahi kā; Kaumātua ahi tere: Considering a theology of adoption and how it relates to the Māori practice of whāngai.

2.30 – Tekweni Chataira, Laidlaw College: Motive and Intent in the Book of Ruth: A Narrative Critical  Interrogation of Naomi.

3.00 – afternoon tea

3.30 – Caroline Blyth, University of Auckland: Reflections and Q&A on the PhD journey

4.00 – Farewells


Ben Hudson, University of Otago: Ephesians’ Jewish Readers

Ephesians presents its interpreters with numerous puzzles, not only over questions of authorship, but also audience, setting, and purpose. In a number of places, Ephesians identifies its addressees as Gentiles (2:11, 3:1, 4:17), and for this reason most interpreters assume that the intended audience of the letter are essentially Gentile believers. This paper will argue, however, that Ephesians was intended to be read as well by Jewish believers, and that this has implications for discerning its purpose and setting.

A number of features of the letter point to this conclusion, including: prominent Jewish literary characteristics; the reciprocal manner in which unity between Jews and Gentiles in the church is promoted; the use of οἱ ἅγιοι (‘the Saints’) as a designation; the way Paul himself is portrayed; and Ephesians’ distinctive ethical material.

These elements suggest a rhetorical strategy in which Jews are addressed in Ephesians, not as Paul speaks to them directly, but in hearing Paul speak as a Jew and on behalf of Jews to Gentiles. Furthermore, they point to a Sitz im Leben and purpose in which the letter aims to bring Jewish believers into the orbit of pauline churches.

Karen Davinia Taylor, St John’s College Nottingham & University of Chester: Cutting judgment in pieces: a judgment parable through a lens of relational faithfulness

David Ford has argued for a wisdom hermeneutic as “engagement with scripture whose primary desire is for the wisdom of God in life now,” nurturing wisdom’s childlike openness to surprise (Ford, 2007, 52). The desire to grow such wisdom within a multi-ethnic congregation motivates this fresh interpretation of Matthew 24:45-51.

Scholarship situates this parable of the faithful or unfaithful slave in an eschatological discourse. Within that, the phrases “cut in pieces” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v. 51) are heard as guilty sentences, meted metaphorically or literally, resulting in torment, even repentance (Erdey & Smith, 2013; Sim, 2002; Snodgrass, 2008). In dialogue with scripture, experience and biblical scholarship, including 1 Samuel 24: 5-8 (Gordon, 1990), I argue for a lens of relational accountability where Jesus describes daily social dynamics. And while this shapes eternal life, the focus of this wisdom hermeneutic is on human flourishing in life now. This paper reads the parable as teaching how to live well while we wait for Christ’s return. Such a voice aims to be gentle, robustly curious and respectful of multiple conversation partners in its 21st century context.

Marina Pasichnik, University of Auckland:  Descent into Hell in Russian Iconography

 This presentation will examine features of change in the depiction of Eve in medieval Russian Descent into Hell icons.  Eve’s physical characteristics and her proximity to Christ’s mandorla in these icons carry symbolic and eschatological meaning because Eve was the prototype of women.  The changes in the icons will be discussed in relation to the Neoplatonic and Hesychastic spirituality that underpinned Russian Orthodoxy at this time.  The increased reverence that the Hesychasts had for the Virgin Mary raised the status of Eve too as a prefiguration of Mary.  The salvation message of these icons extends beyond their time with implications for both the role of Eve and Mary at the end of time when humanity is judged.

Annie Aalbers, University of Auckland: The Ascetic Couple

 There is little we know about Mary Magdalene from the New Testament. Although she was a very significant woman – mentioned in all four Gospels at the significant points in Jesus’ life and central as a witness to the resurrection – she only features there as the woman in Jesus’ entourage healed of seven demons and in the post-resurrection encounter in John 20:11-18. In the Nag Hammadi Library and apocryphal works in general, however, she plays a role as a counterpart to Jesus as a leading ascetic. This paper will examine Mary’s role in several of these texts and, based on that, suggest some implications for understanding her role in John 20:17. There, the prohibition to touch directed by the resurrected Jesus to her, has puzzled many a scholar, but gains some clarity in the context of such asceticism.

Paul Mosley, Laidlaw: Paul and Adversity

This study investigates Paul’s understandings of adversity, to answer the question: does Paul provide practical theodicies that might help modern-day Christians deal with adversity? The study considers nearly sixty passages from eleven of Paul’s letters; it is a broad and exploratory survey.

Paul does not provide explicit teaching on adversity, but most of his references to it are intended to inform, encourage, and guide the reader. His wide-ranging understandings of the nature of adversity can be expressed as a set of theodicies (both practical and explanatory), which I have called Primordial Sin, Normal Christian Life, Christian Ministry, Gift of God, Spiritual Opposition, “Bad Choice,” Eschatological Recompense, Retribution, and Educative and Discipling Theodicies. There are some commonalities with Jewish/OT and Hellenistic thought, but Paul develops his own understandings. Thus, the Pauline Retribution Theodicy is similar to the Jewish equivalent, but Paul sees retribution as applying to non-believers (who have rejected the gospel of Christ), rather than the people of God (who have received Christ and are assured of eternal salvation, although they may continue to do wrong).

Paul’s responses to adversity also are wide-ranging: trust and depend on God, draw on the Holy Spirit’s resources, be disciplined, learn from adversity, maintain unity, make right choices, pray, rejoice, do not take revenge, actively confront adversaries, and seek the progress of the gospel.

Modern “popular” Christian literature on adversity shows both similarities with and significant differences from Paul’s understandings. There is emphasis on the educative and discipling benefits of adversity, and on the concept of God’s “perfect plan” for the believer’s life. The first is very Pauline. The second seems to conceive God as directing every detail of one’s life, which differs from Paul’s certainty that God is engaged in the believer’s life, can turn any circumstance to good, but does not plan and direct every eventuality nor set aside human ability to make choices. On the other hand, there is little reference in modern “popular” literature to Paul’s belief that Christians experience adversity simply because as Christians they threaten non-Christian society, or to his foundational expectation of an eternal reward on the day of Christ.

A particular concern of modern western Christians is illness, about which Paul has remarkably little to say. He never mentions it as a hardship that validates his apostolic ministry; Epaphroditus’s illness caused him great anguish; and he regarded the illness and death of some Corinthians as regrettable but necessary discipline. On the other hand, he recognizes healing as a spiritual gift that he himself uses. We may conclude that Paul sees no benefit in illness (the case of the Corinthians is an explicable exception). It should be confronted by prayer and the gift of healing, in the confidence that God, too, does not favour illness.

There are differences between the circumstances in which Paul wrote his letters and in which modern western Christians live. Nevertheless, the divergences between Paul’s understandings of adversity and those of modern western writers suggest that reflection on the influence of modern and postmodern worldviews on our understandings of adversity is warranted.

Therese Kiely, University of Auckland“But who do you say I am?” Images of God and NZ-Pacific Mental Wellbeing

My research investigates the significance of Christianity for the spiritual and mental wellbeing of young Christian, multi-ethnic Pacific women. It focuses on this cohort’s individual images of God, what influences these images of God and how these images can impact an individual’s mental wellbeing. Roman Catholicism, mixed ethnic cultural backgrounds, family life and social media all intersect in discerning who God is for these young women and how they see themselves in the world. Using the Praxis Model and an Intersectionality hermeneutic, I aim to weave strands together and contribute to community suicide prevention strategies.

Lyndon Drake, Oxford University: Economic Capital in the Hebrew Bible

Abstract to follow.

Taryn Dryfhout, Laidlaw: Kaumātua ahi kā; Kaumātua ahi tere: Considering a theology of adoption and how it relates to the Māori practice of whāngai

Tikanga plays a significant role in the Māori world, and in New Zealand society, due to the unique status of Māori as tangata whenua, and as partners of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. In particular, Māori cultural ideas about whanau (family), whanaungatanga (relationships), and whakapapa (genealogy), have come to shape many Māori practices, including the long-established institution of whāngai. The purpose of this research was to gain insight into the practice of whāngai, and how this might relate to a theology of adoption. This began by exploring Māori understandings of the practice of whāngai, looking at how both whāngai and adoption has been, and currently is, practiced in Aotearoa, and comparing how whāngai differs from western understandings of adoption. This revealed that whāngai operates out of the principle of whanaungatanga – relationship, kinship, family connections. This kinship principle is what shapes the beliefs, attitudes and motivations for whāngai. Biblical investigation into Pauline adoption revealed a similar thread. Paul’s adoption metaphor draws on the kinship language that is pervasive throughout Ancient Israel and the Old Testament to shape and express the way in which believers are adopted into God’s family, locating a theology of adoption within the wider ideas of family, and kinship. As a result, several connections can be drawn between a theology of adoption, and contemporary whāngai practice including the shared concern and reverence for genealogies and whakapapa, the emphasis on family and community, and the shared language of kinship. Paul draws on ideas of kinship from the Old Testament in order to construct his metaphor for adoption. In the same way, whāngai is deeply bound up with the kinship framework and the wider principal of whanaungatanga which places value on family processes, kinship obligations and the concern for the collective, over the individual. It within this rich kinship framework that whāngai can be understood as a practice, and theologically.

Tekweni Chataira, Laidlaw: Motive and Intent in the Book of Ruth: A Narrative Critical Interrogation of Naomi

There has been recent debate amongst Book of Ruth scholars concerning Naomi’s relationship with Ruth. Phylis Trible, in God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, holds a majority view that Naomi was a grieving widow and had only the best of intentions for her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. Fewell and Gunn hold a provocative view contrary to Trible. In their article “A Son is born to Naomi,” contra Trible, they assert that Naomi displays mixed motives and that her concern for her daughters-in-law is superficial, and further, that her later interaction with Ruth is opportunistic rather than altruistic. Fewell and Gunn’s views are, in part, based on their reading of the gaps and ambiguities (silences) as well as literary allusions in the narrative with regards to Naomi’s underlying agenda. Since the publication of the Fewell and Gunn article, there has been a great deal of interest in this conversation.

This study is an exploration of motive in Naomi’s relationship with her Moabite daughters-in-law, especially Ruth. Through a detailed narrative analysis of key scenes involving both Naomi and Ruth, this study explores Naomi’s and Ruth’s relationship keeping the scholarly debate in mind. Narrative analysis provides a further evaluation of the text in this light and contributes to the scholarly discussion concerning Naomi’s intentions towards Ruth. Engaging in this conversation is a chance not only to acknowledge and understand the presence of different views about the characters in the text but also to evaluate them.

ANZABS Facebook Group

Announcement over on my new blog ‘The Bible & Class Struggle‘.

I should point out that, in my newly appointed capacity as secretary of the Aotearoa-New Zealand Association for Biblical Studies (ANZABS), I created a Facebook group a couple of months back where members can discuss the latest and exciting happenings in New Zealand biblical scholarship. There is also a related email list that passes on important announcements, particularly around the time of the annual conference.

The ANZABS Facebook group takes pride of place as #1 on the Biblioblog Top 50 ‘Complete List of Facebook Biblical Studies Pages‘ thanks to its high ranking in alphabetical listings.

ANZABS, STAANZ, and other acronyms

The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Biblical Studies (ANZABS) and the Systematic Theology Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (STAANZ) held their annual conferences conjointly on 10-11 November this year at Laidlaw College, Auckland. Attendees of both conferences were treated to a plethora of fascinating papers from speakers who had travelled from near (Laidlaw College, Carey Baptist College, University of Auckland, Good Shepherd Theological College, St John’s Theological College), a little farther (Otago University), and further still (Newcastle University, University of Lund).

A number of staff and doctoral students from our own School of Theology at the University of Auckland were in attendance, and presented papers that not only thrilled their audiences, but also gave an impressive display of the School’s breadth and depth of research interests. Here are their abstracts:

Divine Demons and Demonic Angels: Biblical Afterlives and the Inversion of Good and Evil in Contemporary Popular Culture.
Lecturer in Practical Theology
Biblical texts are not the sole property of religious and scholarly communities, but also exist, as Yvonne Sherwood (2000) contends, as memories or ‘afterlives’ within contemporary culture. Where the original texts may have now been ‘lost’ to the wider community, new visions and interpretations of those texts continue to shape their legacy. This is particularly apparent in the narratives surrounding demonic (e.g. the vampire) and angelic beings within contemporary popular culture. Starting with biblical ‘echoes’ of these figures, popular culture commonly inverts their basic definitions, redeeming the demonic and demonizing the angelic. The paper explores examples of these inversions, with particular emphasis on their use to challenge traditional religious narratives and institutions.
“A contextual reading of Woman Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9 and the totimi kuchou (true women) concept of womanhood in Sümi Naga tribe of India”.
Jekheli Kibami Singh 
Doctoral student (biblical studies)
It is intriguing that in the context of the book of Proverbs, where the wise were held with high esteem, wisdom is personified as a woman. This paper will attempt to look at the elevation of Woman Wisdom in Proverbs 1-9 as more than a literary construct. It recognizes the gendering of the passages, which will be read from a Sümi Naga woman’s perspective. It will also aim to deconstruct totimi kuchou (true woman) concept of womanhood in Sümi tribe of Nagaland, India. Totimi kuchouconcept is presumably the elevation of femininity within the patriarchal social construct. It is a tangible concept, it pertains to real women; yet elusive as it is a concept.
Entering an Old Text from a New Critical Direction: Matt 26:6-13
Head of School of Theology, Lecturer in New Testament
The words of Adrienne Rich–“Revision–the act of looking back,
of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical
direction” are as applicable today as when she penned them in 1972.
Biblical studies has seen such revisions over the subsequent decades. In
this paper I will explore in dialogue with other revisionists some of my
own revisioning/s of Matt 26:6-13.
“Coconut Juice in a Coca-Cola Bottle.” In search of anIdentity: A New Zealand-born Samoan Christian in a Globalized World
Terry Pouono
Doctoral student (Practical Theology)
Coconut juice in a Coca Cola bottle symbolizes a human reality, that is, the search for identity of a New Zealand-born Samoan Christian in the Congregational Christian Church Samoa (CCCS). The context of my investigation is Auckland. My research project addresses the effects of globalization on Samoan Christian identity. Utilising the tool of intercultural hermeneutics, it critically examines the impact of globalisation in enforcing global concepts of culture on local cultures and contextual theologies. My contention is that identities associated with local theologies are becoming increasingly ambiguous, as a result of intensified intercultural interactions with the global world. This paper is an initial exploration of the question, “Should the coconut juice, which symbolises the Samoan Christian identity, be preserved?” This connects to other questions, such as, “Should the CCCS in New Zealand adopt a new perspective in order really to be an ecumenical church?” “How will the culture of the Samoan people fare under the dynamics of globalisation?” Answers to these lead into critical conversations for the Christian mission of the CCCS as she strives to make the gospel message a living reality in an increasingly hybrid world.
The term oligopistos (“little faith”) in Matthew: Narrative and Thematic Connections and Semantic Purpose
Carlos Olivares 
Doctoral student (Biblical Studies)
The term oligopistos (“little faith”), which is characteristic to Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8), is mentioned in different contexts.  However, despite these differences, it seems that the word displays analogous functions in each one of these occurrences, offering interesting literary insights. It is my intention to engage with such similarities with the objective of seeing narrative and thematic connections and semantic purpose.  Moreover, I will also discuss whether the Matthean Jesus uses ὀλιγόπιστος (“little faith”) as a harsh critique or a sympathetic expression of forbearing.
The Foreshore and Seabed Debate and Jesus’ honour (doxa) in John’s Gospel: a perspective from Aotearoa New Zealand
St John’s College and University of Auckland
Lecturer in New Testament
This paper examines the character and tenor of the Foreshore and Seabed debate in Aotearoa New Zealand through a comparative inter-cultural and contextual analysis of the character, tenor, rhetoric and narrative dynamics of the presentation of Jesus’ honour in John’s Gospel. The Foreshore and Seabed debate, sparked in 2003 by a court ruling in favour of Maori customary land rights in respect of the foreshore and seabed, led to a “backlash” from Pakeha (non-Maori, mainly European New Zealanders) and Government legislation to retain ownership in Crown hands (regarded as “confiscation” of rights by many Maori).
The Maori concept of mana  may be understood analogically with the concept of doxa in John’s Gospel. Hence, Maori attitudes to land ownership resonate with the portrayal of Jesus’ doxa. Furthermore, the dynamics by which the concept of doxa informs the presentation of Jesus’ status and honour in the Gospel may illumine Pakeha attitudes and approaches to resolving this issue (at one level, the tenor of the debate bears resemblance to the stand-off between Jesus and “the Jews” over his honour).
The paper will briefly describe the debate, in particular focusing on the attitudes and reactions of many Pakeha, and the perceptions of some Maori of Pakeha reactions. Does the manner in which the honour and status of Jesus in John’s Gospel is portrayed and developed hold any implications for Pakeha relations with Maori in the resolution of issues surrounding this debate? I will suggest that the character and presentation of Jesus’ doxa in the Gospel has implications for the way in which Pakeha should view Maori aspirations, and how Pakeha attitudes may be informed and shaped by an understanding of the nature of Jesus’ doxa. However, the paper will also necessarily explore the appropriateness and pitfalls of such an approach, as well as examine the promise it holds.
Lisbeth and Leviticus: Biblical Literacy and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Lecturer in Biblical Studies
In his bestselling novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson invites his readers into a complex drama set against a backdrop of sexual violence, family dysfunction, and female disempowerment. In one of the multiple strands of the narrative, protagonists Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander uncover a series of brutal ritualistic murders committed against women that appear to be related thematically to particular laws in the biblical book of Leviticus.  I wish to explore the literary function that these allusions to Levitical law are intended to serve within this novel. How are readers being invited to make sense of this biblical material within the wider narrative concerns relating to gendered aggression and, in particular, within the context of the personal and institutionalized sexual aggression and abuse suffered by the character of Lisbeth? Moreover, given its interweaving of biblical traditions within such an explicit context of gender violence, does Larsson’s novel seek to act as a hermeneutical lens on these Levitical laws, inviting a cultural critique from the reader of the seeming endorsement and justification of violence against women that is voiced within these biblical texts?
Next year, ANZABS and STAANZ are meeting up with another acronym to hold a joint conference with ANZATS (Australia and New Zealand Association of Theological Schools). Proposals for papers in all fields of theological study are invited; titles and abstracts should be submitted by 31 March 2013. More details will soon be available on the ANZATS website.