2010 New Testament: Use and Influence

Session 1

James Crossley (University of Sheffield)

His Own Personal Judas: The Rehabilitation of Jeffrey Archer

In 2007 the notorious British politician, novelist and prison diarist, Jeffrey Archer, published the fictional The Gospel according to Judas by Benjamin Iscariot (with the assistance of the New Testament scholar, Francis J. Maloney). In this fictional gospel (complete with mock-leather Bible cover, red-letters for Jesus' words, chapters and verses, gold-coloured page edges, and attached tassel book-mark), Judas' son, Benjamin, recounts his father's story because Judas' name has been horrendously blackened and so it is up to Benjamin to set the record straight. The immediate reaction to Archer's publication in the mainstream media and blogs was that this would be more about Jeffrey Archer than Judas, a conclusion reached even though numerous commentators openly admitting to not actually reading the fictional gospel. Through a close reading of Archer's fictional gospel and an analysis of the real life Archer scandals, including Archer's own take on them, the conclusion reached by careless speculation and knee-jerk reaction is unfortunately correct. While reception history really ought to be looking at broader cultural and historical influences on interpretation and while Archer's Judas stands in the tradition of fictional Judases and/or the reception of fictional Judases, there is absolutely no doubt that Archer's bloody minded insistence on his own innocence in almost all the high profile allegations levelled at him was the direct inspiration for the writing of this fictional gospel. With typical Archer chutzpah and great fanfare, the publicity Archer spun, and the ecclesiastical support Archer gained, for his fictional gospel further contributes to Jeffrey Archer's public rehabilitation of Jeffrey Archer.

Session 2

Amanda Russell-Jones (University of Birmingham)

The Return of the Prodigal – 'Behold I have set before thee an open door' or 'Dead hands on the Threshold'

Working to accept and restore 'outcast women' in the 19th Century, Josephine Butler produced original and powerful interpretations of well-known biblical passages. For Butler the Prodigal Son was also a Prodigal Daughter seeking to be reconciled with her Father/father. Butler's interpretation of this parable will be examined against the background of other interpretations past and present and illustrated with paintings and written material from Butler's time. The question for Butler was how this parable was being applied in Victorian Society. Would the door be barred to the outcast woman's return as in the story of the Levite's concubine – addressed by Butler in her powerful article 'Dead hands on the Threshold'? Or would she find an open door, a welcome on the threshold and inclusion in the family? These passages and themes were central to Butler's thought as she campaigned against the Contagious Diseases Acts and the trafficking of girls and women into European brothels. Butler expounded these passages as she stood outside the St. Lazare prison in Paris banging on the door for admission before she entered and found out the full horror of the incarceration of young women who had no hope of being freed from this tomb. She and her husband applied these passages in their own lives as Josephine walked through the docks of Liverpool inviting prostitutes into her own home and as George met them on the threshold and escorted them to their rooms. 'This woman who calls herself a lady,' as an MP said, found the doors of Victorian society closed to her. What was it about her interpretation of these passages that compelled her to step outside and actively look for the Prodigal's return?

Session 3

Atsuhiro Asano

Use and Influence of the New Testament in Maruchiru-no-Michi: How the New Testament Prepared the Martyrs-to-be in Medieval Japan

This study is part of a larger one investigating how the New Testament text is received in Asian cultures and used by recipient communities to resist the oppressive force of dominant societies. The paper's particular scope of investigation on 'Reception and Resistance' is limited to a martyrdom literature, called Maruchiru-no-Michi (The Way of Martyrs). This is one of the representative martyrdom literature produced under Catholic missions in medieval Japan as a part of a three-volumeMartyrologium, called Maruchiriyo-no-Shiori (Handbook of Martyrdom). The paper introduces and discusses how the literature uses the New Testament text and its themes as sources of resistance (and perhaps subversion) to prepare Christian believers for the inevitable threats of persecution, actual persecution and eventual martyrdom. In order to further an understanding of the reception of the New Testament for purposes of resistance in said literature, the paper analogically compares how the pattern of its use and other forms of theological persuasion resemble or differ from the earliest Christian teachings on martyrdom; namely, Ignatius' Letter to the Romans and especially The Martyrdom of Polycarp, written for believers in nascent Christian communities in order to prepare them for persecutory threat.