A panel discussion of Colm Tóibín's novel, 'The Testament of Mary'
Those attending are encouraged to read the novel, and Tóibín's short article on the genesis of the play/novel:
Bible, Politics and the 2017 General Election
Shared paper with the 2017 Jesus seminar group.
This lecture will look at some of the developments in the use of ‘the Bible’ in English political discourse over the past couple of years and up to the General Election, though contextualised in the political developments over the past 50 years. It will summarise issues relating to religion and national identity, the true meaning of Christmas, how politicians and far-right groups view Islam, media representations of politicians, the fate of socialist constructions of Christianity to parliamentary politics, and reactions to political uses of the Bible in the aftermath of the Brexit result. There will be some consideration of what the new dominant understandings of the Bible are in English political discourse and how likely they are to remain.
The Moving Text: Pasolini’s re-writing of Matthew
Since the birth of cinema, film artists have imagined the Jesus story in divergent ways, each shaped by the multiple contexts within which that story is consumed and re-appropriated. By the same token, the art challenges the stability of sacred texts. Does it alter, denigrate, or obscure their integrity and meaning? Or can the medium offer viewers more than the mimetic (and sometimes reductive) representation of biblical themes or stories? Against this contested backdrop, I explore Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (1964) as a seminal moment in the dialogue between the New Testament and film culture. Through a conversation between Louis-Marie Chauvet’s understanding of the relationship between the text and the social body and Pasolini’s film style and theory, this paper reflects hermeneutically on cinema as a medium of the gospel story. For Chauvet, the meaning of the text arises from the encounter between the work itself and its reader(s). Its meaning and status, then, arise ‘in the hand of a community.’ Conscious, perhaps, of this dynamic, Pasolini described his film as ‘the life of Christ after two thousand years of stories on the life of Christ.’ His film style mingles the past with the present through a concoction of styles and media. Marxist realism fuses with eclectic music, anachronistic settings, and the re-imagining of scenes from the art of El Greco and della Francesca. The meaning of Matthew’s story rests not in the literary text alone but in its interpretation and re-presentation through a variety of contexts and, indeed, media. Taking this as its cue, this paper argues that cinema neither effaces nor replaces the Christian story but functions as a possible expansion and extension of its influence.
What Jesus Did, Does, and Will Do: Gospel Miracles and the Ethical Problem of Human Augmentation
Studies of Gospel miracles have concentrated on questions of historicity or, more recently, of meaning in relation to Jesus’ ministry. Both approaches have created typologies: cures, exorcism, resurrection, nature. Beginning with the Jesus Seminar view’s of the ‘psychosomatic’ healing of Bartimaeus by the historical Jesus (Mark 10.46-52), the paper begins by problematising the idea that his sight was ‘restored’, arguing that he could easily be understood as ‘receiving’ it for the first time, a miracle explicitly related in John 9.1-41. Miracles in which the blind from birth are made to see are not restorative but involve a new body coming into being. Molyneaux’s problem, first set out in1688, asks “would a person blind from birth recognise a shape they had only previously touched?” Surgery on children blinded from birth by cataracts has answered “no”, making it clear that Bartimaeus, if blind from birth and healed as described, could not have immediately followed Jesus as the Gospel narrates without the addition of a ‘fast processing element’, an augmentation absent from everyday humanity. (Such an argument may convince the Jesus Seminar to remove Bartimaeus from its list of six pink cures or it may rebound on my argument about Bartimaeus’s blindness, but nevertheless the seeing blind man of John 9, whether historical or not, remains!) Jesus’ role in so-augmenting such blind men foreshadows his ideological availability to those pursuing technological augmentation for humanity today. Jesus’s willingness to add a new thing to the man in John 9 without permission gives warrant to those who see our future as a cyborg utopia, with individuals being conformed by diverse forms of augmentation towards a single ideal format by those endowed with transformative powers. In contrast, however, Jesus’ question to Bartimaeus—“What do you want me to do for you?”—leaves open the possibility of refusing any proffered augmentation. These alternatives, the Jesus who would destroy biodiversity and the Jesus who would celebrate it, offer to us two ways to think about our possible futures in an technological age of human transformation.