2015 New Testament: Use and Influence

Session 1

Picasso’s Salomé

Ela Nutu 

University of Sheffield

Salome, the daughter of Herodias who asks for the head of John the Baptist on a platter, has played the muse to many artists through the centuries. Amongst them is Pablo Picasso, who, intriguingly, chose to depict Salome in the midst of itinerant acrobats, musicians and clowns; or saltimbanques. Between the autumn of 1904 and the spring of 1905, Picasso found inspiration for his work in the world of travelling circus performers. His Suite de Saltimbanques was first shown in 1905 as a collection of prints, though Picasso created these works in etching and drypoint. The two Picasso works that are the focus of this paper are Salomé and The Barbaric Dance (Before Salomé and Herod). The first etching depicts Salomé dancing in front of Herod; her complete nakedness is exposed to him, her left leg kicking the air, while behind her the decapitated head of John the Baptist rests in the arms of a seated female servant, on a platter. The second etching focuses on a dance performed by saltimbanques for the entertainment of the ruling family, the performers naked and facing Herod and Salome and also the viewer. This act is a group dance, with three central figures participating, two men either side of a woman, the one of the left running a violin bow over the naked buttocks of a child resting on his shoulder. The gestures of these saltimbanques seem disconnected, their dance far from a collective performance. While Picasso depicts Salome’s body somewhat reverentially (in as much as she is beautiful in a conventional sense), the bodies of the saltimbanques are portrayed as grotesque. They are caricatures, lacking any grace or elegance. Their identity markers are those of excess, and their nudity repels rather than attracts. Picasso’s choice to depict Salomé amongst the saltimbanques is an intriguing one, for it appears somewhat out-of-synch with the Salomé tradition contemporary to Picasso. Associations between Salome’s dance and acrobatic performances akin to those belonging at the circus were present in medieval traditions. However, by the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century – and thus the immediate context of Picasso’s Saltimbanques series – the emerging Salomé is very different. Many fin de siècle European artists were enthralled with Salomé, and she emerged at that time as the femme fatale par excellence. This paper explores some of the influences on the artist and his subject.

'Golden words' in the household code: Analyzing the positive emotions expressed by 'ordinary' women readers of Ephesians 5:21-33

Jo Logan 

Durham University

'Golden words,' 'amazing' and 'beautiful' were all expressions used of all or parts of Ephesians 5:21-33 in a research project designed to hear the views of 'ordinary' women readers on this passage.  By 'ordinary' women, I mean women who are not academics in the fields of theology or biblical studies.  The project was qualitative and involved 57 women in the area of Hertford in South East England, who participated in 12 group discussions on this text (using a methodology based on Contextual Bible Study).  A total of 42 of those volunteers subsequently offered to be interviewed.  This paper uses data from both group discussions and individual interviews and analyzes the positive emotions towards the passage which descriptions like 'golden words,' 'amazing' and 'beautiful' indicate.  Although many women in this study spoke instead of a negative response to the text, this paper is limited to a consideration of positive emotion in order to provide some depth of analysis within the time allowed.  Taking a view of emotions as cognitive, the paper will look at what participants' comments suggest about the values underlying their emotions and why this passage is important for them. The findings illustrate a sometimes complicated interplay between cultural norms, theological convictions and personal experience, all involved in the reception of this biblical text.

Session 2

“He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”: A panel review of Joan Taylor (ed), Jesus and Brian: Exploring the Historical Jesus and his Times via Monty Python's Life of Brian (Bloomsbury, 2015).

John Lyons 

University of Bristol

Philippa Townsend 

University of Edinburgh

Bridget Gilfillan Upton 

Heythrop College, University of London

Joan Taylor 

King's College London


Joint panel session between Jesus Seminar & New Testament: Use and Influence Seminar

Session 3

George Orwell, the New Testament and the Fate of the Radical Bible

James Crossley 

University of Sheffield

The long established tradition of reading the Bible and the New Testament as radically political documents has been increasingly pushed outside parliament since 1968. While 1968 is, of course, a major date for the Left, it was also for the Right who took up the rhetoric of freedom and individualism and reapplied them to the emerging economic liberalism. Similar tendencies can also be found in political readings of the Bible and the New Testament and George Orwell became an unlikely carrier of radical and nationalistic biblical interpretation which would be taken up in mainstream party politics but drained of anything smacking of socialism. This paper will look at examples from across Orwell’s works and their place in the reception of the Bible in specially English political discourse.

Jesus on the Left: The Radical Jesus and Contemporary British Politics

Michael Sandford 

University of Sheffield

This paper examines the re-emergence of the ‘radical Jesus’ in contemporary British political discourse. The paper analyses a range of sources and media including articles and speeches by prominent public figures, politicians, celebrities, activists, and Christian ministers, as well as biblical scholars. It is argued that although there is evidence of a reclamation of a ‘radical Jesus’ in the British left today, this Jesus differs in several significant respects from the radical Jesus of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The paper begins with a survey of instances where Jesus has been invoked by public and political figures in the last decade (or the last two terms of government). Based on this survey, I argue that the ‘cleansing of the temple’ narrative emerges as the most frequently cited narrative in contemporary political interpretations of Jesus. I examine similarities between biblical scholarship on Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, and contemporary political interpretations, highlighting that a significant body of biblical scholarship, which, whilst from the perspective of reception history can be read simply as ‘data’, can also be understood as ‘supporting’ or bolstering contemporary interpretations of the radical Jesus. Recent research on earlier radical Jesuses, however, shows that previous radical readings of the gospels from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century drew on a far broader range of biblical narratives and interpretations. Having argued that recent interpretations of the radical Jesus in the public sphere suffer from focusing only on the cleansing of the temple narrative, the latter part of this paper foregrounds select recent arguments from biblical scholarship, where, I argue, the radical Jesus emerges with more clarity than ever.