Two new Auckland Theology and Religious Studies publications

We are delighted to announce the imminent publication of two volumes that have been co-edited by Auckland TheoRel staff.

First up, Sexuality, Ideology, and the Bible: Antipodean Engagements, co-edited by Robert Myles and Caroline Blyth, which will be published shortly by Sheffield Phoenix Press as part of their Bible in the Modern World series. More details can be found here. To get a taster, see below for a brief description of the volume and its contributors:

What happens when explorations of sexuality, gender and the Bible go down under? This fascinating collection of essays, written by scholars located in the Antipodes, traverses the highly contested landscapes of sexuality, gender and biblical studies, revealing a myriad of sexual discourses voiced within both the biblical texts and their interpretative traditions. Recognizing that textual meaning is always shaped by the cultural and contextual baggage the reader brings to the interpretative task, contributors raise provocative questions about the meanings, identities and ideologies that surround biblical discourses of sexuality and gender, exploring how these have been and can be reshaped and reconceived.

Robert J. Myles
The Antipodean Underside of Sexuality, Ideology and the Bible
Deane Galbraith
The Perfect Penis of Eden and Queer Time in Augustine’s Reading of Paul
Emily Colgan
‘Come Upon Her’: Land as Raped in Jeremiah 6.1-8
Christina Petterson
Imaging the Body of Christ
Roland Boer
The Matriarch’s Muff
Alan H. Cadwallader
Paul Speaks like a Girl: When Phoebe Reads Romans
Gillian Townsley
‘We’re here, we’re queer – get used to it!’: Exclamations in the Margins (Euodia and Syntyche in Phillipians 4.2)
Elaine M. Wainwright
Queer[y]ing the Sermon on the Mount
Yael Klangwisan
Promethea’s Song of Songs
Caroline Blyth and Teguh Wijaya Mulya
The Delilah Monologues
Hugh S. Pyper
Response: Queering the Antipodes

And secondly, Caroline Blyth and Tim Meadowcroft (who is Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology, Laidlaw College) have co-edited a book called Spirituality and Cancer: Christian Encounters, which will be published in November by Accent Publications. The book is a collection of papers delivered at a ‘Spirituality, Theology and Cancer’ symposium held at the University of Auckland in February 2014. Details below:

Cancer disturbs most lives at some point. The contributors to this book all seek to find meaning within that experience, as carers, sufferers, medical professionals, pastors, theologians, and scientists. They offer no easy answers, but speak with an honesty that reveals the anguish and hope that arises from the presence of cancer in our world. The result is a rich reflection on the spiritual and theological meaning of cancer.


Caroline Blyth

Part I: Personal Responses

Catriona Gorton
Public Faith and Private Pain: A Quest for Authenticity
Alistair McBride
Dancing with Cancer: A Different Metaphor
Brian Brandon
A Healer in Need of Healing

Part II: Practical and Public Responses

David Nuualiitia
The Practice of Presence in a Hospice Context
Hannah Walker
Soul Nursing in Palliative Care: Spiritual Care of the Dying
Caroline Blyth
A Pilgrim’s Progress: Learning to Journey with the Dying Patient
Briar Peat
The Physician, Cancer, and Spirituality
Stephen Garner
Jesus Heals? Faith Claims in the Public Square

Part III:Theological and Theoretical Responses

Jeffery Tallon
Physics, Free Will, and Cancer
Tim Meadowcroft
Eternity and Dust? Considering Humanity, Cancer, and God
T. Mark McConnell
The Disruptive Power of Christian Hope: Suffering, Cancer, and Theological Meaning
Sue Patterson
Fruitful Dominion or Hubris? Creation, Vocation, and Cancer
Nicola Hoggard Creegan
A Whole New Life: Hope in the Face of Evil
Bob Robinson
“Cancer is Not a Disease. It is a Phenomenon”: Finding God in a Cancer-Strewn World


Richard Egan
Spirituality and Cancer: “Not a Saccharine Additive”
Tim Meadowcroft
Finding Hope and Yearning for Love

For those in the Auckland area, this Spirituality and Cancer volume will have it’s official launch on 13 November. The invitation is below and consider yourselves all warmly welcomed. RSVP to Accent Publications (e-mail included below)

Book Launch Invite


Solomon as political leader?

With the media in New Zealand currently preoccupied with the imminent General Election, it is perhaps apposite to leave aside for the moment all thoughts of teapots, taping devices, and tactical voting and turn our attention to some biblical politics – First Testament style. One particular biblical figure that has always come under his share of political scrutiny is King Solomon, who took over the throne of the united kingdom of Israel after his father David’s death. Over the years, biblical scholars have attributed Solomon with an array of soubriquets that range from ideal ‘gold-plated’ king to selfish dictator; there seems to be as many opinions about his political acumen and leadership style as there were subjects in his kingdom: ‘as many as the sand by the sea’ (1 Kings 4.20). These widely conflicting views all stem from the Solomonic traditions in 1 Kings 3-11 themselves, which chart both the dizzying heights and humiliating lows of this character’s monarchical career. So, it is to these traditions to which our attention will now turn, as we consider a few of Solomon’s political strengths and weaknesses.

Domestic Policies

According to 1 Kings 4, Solomon’s new and expanded temple-state bureaucracy, which he set up in his new capital Jerusalem, was highly successful; Israel and Judah ‘ate and drank and were happy’, each person living in safety under his [and her?] own vine and fig tree. However, this centralized Jerusalem-based administration did appear to come at a cost – to some of Solomon’s subjects at least. The king imposed a new structure of territorial organization on the kingdom, dividing ‘all Israel’ into 12 fiscal districts for tax collection purposes (1 Kings 4.17-19a), with each district providing food for ‘the king and his household’ one month per year. This structure of organization replaced the more traditional division and naming of the land according to tribal boundaries, thereby seriously undermining time-honoured tribal authority, identity, and power networks, which David had tolerated when he was king. While around half of the twelve districts did retain the original tribal boundaries and place names, tribal autonomy was still essentially lost, as all 12 districts were now under direct supervision by crown-appointed prefects. One wonders just how popular this loss of customary and age-old tribal authority and individuality was, given the obvious importance of tribal affiliation for group and community identity in Israel at the time.

Moreover, Solomon’s taxation of ‘all Israel’ starts to look decidedly dodgy when we note that he appeared to be taxing only the northern territory of the kingdom, whilst giving the southern area of Judah a generous tax ‘break’ (1 Kings 4.19b). Given the huge extent of provisions each territory was supposed to supply for the royal larder, one can imagine that the exemption of Solomon’s own southern homeland from this burden would have caused a considerable amount of resentful mutterings among his northern subjects. [A rather similar scenario took place in Scotland in the 1980s.]

A further cause of north-south unrest likewise comes to the fore when we consider Solomon’s ethically dubious decision to keep unemployment figures down by using conscripted labour. In 1 Kings 9.15-25, we are told that he utilized slave labour from among the indigenous Canaanite people still living in the land to complete his many massive building projects. While the writers of this narrative may have expected readers to laud Solomon’s policy of exempting Israelites from such slave labour (1 Kings 9.20-22 – cold comfort for the indigenous slaves, surely), it is less clear what they intended their audience to make of the king’s decision to conscript ad hoc temporary forced labour from among the Israelites in order to complete the building of the new temple-palace complex in Jerusalem (1 Kings 5.13-17). Even more dubiously, this conscripted labour was pulled only from the northern territory of Israel; as with his system of taxation, Solomon felt inclined to let his fellow southerners have an easier time of it than their northern cousins. Again, this surely makes us wonders if everyone in Solomon’s kingdom really did ‘eat and drink and be happy’ under their own fig tree or vine.

International Policies

At first glance, Solomon appears to have posessed some fairly decent diplomatic skills that allowed him to ensure a time of peace and security for his kingdom. He participated in a number of diplomatic marriages to foreign women (1 Kings 3.1, 11.1), which enabled him to formalize peace treaties and diplomatic entente with potentially rival ancient Near Eastern polities. He also formed political alliances with other international powers through trade agreements and some impressive diplomatic hospitality; who, for example, can forget his famous schmooze-fest with the Queen of

Solomon meets the Queen of Sheba

Sheba (sadly for us, sans teapot and tape recorder), where Solomon’s status and wisdom so bedazzled the queen that she bestowed upon him a huge gift of gold, spices, and precious stones?

On closer inspection, however, it appears that Solomon’s diplomatic relationships with other ancient Near Eastern rulers were sometimes less impressive than first imagined. Take, for example, his affiliation with King Hiram of Tyre, where Solomon’s status vis-à-vis this king is more akin to that of servant or vassal subject than political counterpart. Hiram, we are told, supplied Solomon with timber for the construction of his temple in exchange for an annual payment from Solomon of extravagant quantities of wheat and hand-pressed oil for Tyre’s royal household (1 Kings 5.9-11). This treaty essentially put Solomon in the same submissive and subordinate position in relation to Hiram as his northern subjects were with him – providing food for the royal table.

Economic Policies

As we’ve already seen, Solomon took full advantage of trading opportunities with other foreign powers that at times appeared financially beneficial; in 1 Kings 9-10, there are various descriptions of his new commercial ventures, including maritime and land trade, which seem to have been fairly successful, given the dazzling display of luxury goods and wealth he is reported to have accrued through these new business enterprises. However, there are also hints in the text that strongly allude to some glaring inadequacies in Solomon’s economic expertise. For example, 1 Kings 9.11 mentions Solomon ceding 20 cities in Galilee to King Hiram as payment for timber and gold imported from Tyre. Such a payment method implies that Solomon’s state treasury had a serious fiscal deficit, despite all the alleged wealth accrued through international trade and tribute. Moreover, his policy of importing skilled foreign labour and luxury goods (ivory throne or peacock, anyone?) in exchange for exports of staple products such as wheat and oil would surely put any treasury minister into a tailspin.


So, what conclusions can we reach about Solomon’s political performance? If he were standing as a NZ parliamentary candidate for the Theocrat Party on the 26th November, would we be likely to put a cross in his box? Well, in his favour, he did manage to maintain the Damoclean unity of the very fragile kingdom that he inherited from his father David and that in itself was no mean feat. However, he achieved this at an indefensible cost to his subjects, particularly those Israelites in the north and the indigenous Canaanites who remained in the land. Unjust systems of taxation, conscripted and slave labour, and questionable economic policies all serve to make Solomon’s political portrait look distinctly unattractive. Furthermore, there is some irony in the fact that a number of these policies that he used to hold his kingdom together seem to have ignited a tinderbox of resentment in the northern kingdom of Israel, which ultimately led to its secession from its southern neighbour Judah immediately following Solomon’s death. While 1 Kings 11.1-4 blames Solomon’s apostasy against God for this breakup of the united kingdom, we could hypothesise that there may have been other, more secular political reasons for the split.

Cultural representations of Delilah… a whore or more?

In recent years, there has been a growing interest within biblical studies in the interplay between the Bible and popular culture, particularly, the representations of biblical themes and characters within cultural texts such as film, literature, music, and art. One biblical character that has had her fair share of cultural portrayals is Delilah, the woman who, in Judges 16, played her part in the Philistine capture and imprisonment of Israelite judge and strongman Samson the Nazarite. Yet, as a number of scholars, including Dan Clanton, J. Cheryl Exum, and Bruce Herzberg, have noted, Delilah’s various cultural ‘afterlives’ often bear little resemblance to the rather ambiguous figure that we are presented with in the biblical narrative.

Hedy Lamarr

For example, in Cecil B. DeMille’s classic movie, Samson and Delilah [Paramount, 1949], Delilah, played by Hedy Lamarr, is a pathologically jealous and emotionally volatile femme fatale, while in David Maine’s 2006 novel, The Book of Samson, she takes on the persona of a sociopathic, conniving whore. Meanwhile, in Camille Saint-Saëns’ operatic retelling of the narrative, Samson et Dalila, Delilah
appears as a scornful and vindictive harpy, who seeks to wrest the priest-like Samson away from his loyalty to God.

Common to all these colourful and at times shocking cultural representations of Delilah is the fact that they play fast and loose with the biblical depiction of this character, whose persona, emotions, and motivations within the text itself actually remain tantalizingly obscure. Despite such textual ambiguity, Delilah, as character, is wont to inspire a strongly disapproving response from those she encounters within her ‘cultural afterlives’, often emerging from these encounters as a thoroughly ‘wicked woman’, whose treatment of Samson is steeped in a cruel, unfeeling treachery. Even her very name is enough to conjure in the minds of many readers a portrait that is tinted (or tainted) by feminine guile, betrayal, and dangerous sexuality.

According to Dan Clanton, such cultural renderings of biblical personas that twist and reshape the biblical text arise as the result of the authors’ desire to produce a characterization that is more ‘identifiable’ to the particular audience for whom the renderings are intended. That is, the authors of these cultural texts portray biblical characters in such a way that they become more familiar and make sense to their audience, displaying them in light of the recognizable, the comprehensible, the comfortably proverbial. These portrayals can therefore serve as a valuable mode of insight into the cultural contexts, worldviews, and ideological presumptions held by their authors and by the audiences who receive them. Delilah’s frequently uncomplimentary depiction as both a highly sexualized and lethally disloyal woman whose perfidy brings even the strongest warrior to his knees might therefore be regarded as wholly at home in those cultural contexts where physical potency, aggression, and sexual prowess are lauded as markers of idealized masculinity and where the potential for women to use their femininity and sexuality to threaten and undermine these markers is a source of male anxiety. Her very negative cultural representations may thus attempt to ‘explain’ her within the cultural milieus in which she is paraded, soothing the audiences’ disquiet regarding her ambivalent biblical characterization and reinforcing their presuppositions surrounding gender roles and relationships.

One particular way in which popular culture texts often ‘negativize’ Delilah’s characterization is by their suggestion that she did (initially, at least) reciprocate the love that Samson felt for her. While the biblical text itself leaves Samson’s love for Delilah in no doubt (Judges 16.4), it remains silent on the issue of whether Delilah had any reciprocal feelings of love towards Samson, either sexual or platonic. However, within a number of cultural representations of Delilah, her love for Samson is assumed, at the beginning of their relationship at any rate. Such love on her part does not evoke the audience’s sympathy, however; rather, she becomes even more disparaged given her capricious and shocking ‘betrayal’ of the man she was supposed to care so much about. It is bad enough, after all, to do the dirty on someone you don’t like; but, to turn over the man you love to his enemies in return for hard cash…well, that’s really scandalous!


This shocking mix of love and betrayal presented within cultural representations of Delilah’s response to Samson is illustrated nicely in the painting Samson and Delilah by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). As in other pictorial representations of Delilah, Rubens presents her bare breasted here, thus symbolizing both her overt sexuality and her maternity vis-à-vis a somewhat vulnerable-looking Samson. That Delilah is intended to be regarded as a faithless harlot within this painting is confirmed by the presence of the elderly crone peering over her shoulder; this character appeared frequently in 17th Century Dutch art as an embodiment of sexuality that has been sullied for financial gain. Meanwhile, the maternal element of Delilah’s character within this picture is likewise confirmed by the very gentle way she rests her hand upon Samson’s back and by the way in which she gazes down at him with a placid and rather sleepy affection. As nursing mother, Delilah holds great sway over the giant who is dozing in her lap – she can nourish and strengthen him and sustain his life, providing persuasive guidance to this creature who is ultimately dependent on her. On the other hand, the calculated withdrawal of her care will ultimately lead to his demise. In one sense, the viewer of this painting may therefore stand appalled at Delilah’s willingness to betray Samson here, given the clear sexual and maternal bonds depicted therein; nevertheless, both her dangerousness and his vulnerability, as depicted in this painting, may also confirm an already-present male cultural anxiety regarding the destructive power of those women who are able to defeat a strength even as great as Samson’s.