Society of Biblical Literature

2001 Denver

Psychology and Biblical Studies Section
Society of Biblical Literature

Annual Meeting, Denver
November 17-20, 2001

Psychological Models for Biblical Criticism

D. Andrew Kille, Diocese of San Jose/ Santa Clara University, Presiding

Brent Strawn, Emory University,
and Brad Strawn, Point Loma Nazarene University
From Petition to Praise: An Intrapsychic Phenomenon

With the exception of Psalm 88, the lament psalms invariably move “from petition to praise” (C. Westermann). This surprising and unexpected movement has been variously explained in biblical scholarship. While these explanations are many and not uniform, they typically depend on some sort of hypothetical reconstruction — historical, redactional, or liturgical. Despite the widespread acceptance of some of these explanations, most notably that of J. Begrich, the reconstructive and ab extra nature of these theories renders them somewhat unsatisfactory.

The present paper utilizes contemporary psychoanalytic depth psychology — namely, insights from object-relations and self-psychology (e.g., D. W. Winnicott, H. Guntrip, H. Kohut, and others) — to understand the shift from petition to praise in the lament psalms. This material suggests that the psychological process of grieving (the subtractive action of therapy) may best explain this shift for, in grieving, those who grieve are freed from the power of their previous internalized representations of self and other (parent/God or enemy), thus permitting them a new perspective. If this is so, it would make “the costly loss of lament” (W. Brueggemann) that much more costly, as the loss of lament would eliminate a primary mechanism for grief and healing — or, to use categories from the psalms, a primary mechanism for lament and praise. In short, the movement from petition to praise may, in the final analysis, be an intrapsychic movement.

Jeffrey H. Boyd, Waterbury Hospital, Waterbury CT
The Sermon on the Mount in Cognitive Therapy Perspective

This paper will employ a Cognitive Therapy hermeneutic applied to the Sermon on the Mount. We will attempt to show the affective and behavioral consequences of the cognitive constructs in Jesus sermon and suggests some applied operational illustrations.

Aaron Beck speaks of “automatic thoughts” that are a running commentary on ourselves and our experience. The thought, “they think I’m an idiot,” causes an increase in depressed feelings. That thought reveals an underlying belief that “I am incompetent at everything.” Beck then asks the client to test whether reality supports or contradicts that belief. “You see,” says Beck, “this experience indicates that you are not incompetent at absolutely everything.” As the deep-seated beliefs change, so do the automatic thoughts, emotions, behaviors, etc. There is a paradigm shift.

The meaning that people find in their experience is reflected in their “automatic thoughts.” If the person’s understanding of meaning changes, so do the person’s responses, emotions, and thoughts. To bring about this change one must help the client discover exactly how he/she makes meaning, then empirically test that paradigm to discover whether it is flawed.

Similarly, the Sermon on the Mount could be read as implying that people’s beliefs are of central importance. Instead of the automatic thought, “I am a fool to be merciful,” one should think, “blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Instead of thinking “If I am abused then I deserve it,” one should think, “Blessed am I when people revile me and persecute me and utter all kinds of evil against me falsely… for my reward is great in heaven.” If one’s way of understanding everyday life experiences were based on the Sermon on the Mount, that in turn would effect one’s emotions, thoughts, and behavior.

Douglas Geyer, University of Chicago
Disavowing the Gospel while Believing It

Objects that form in the mind of any New Testament reader are only partially convertible into understanding or articulation through explanation. The reader of the New Testament may experience impulses, partially formed objects, unfulfilled desires, strivings for completion, suppressions of negative affect, aggrandizements of guilt-reducing mechanisms, or a whole host (i.e. probably, an infinite host) of non-articulated or disavowed emotions. Such a reader will have these experiences likely in proportion to the foce of his or her investment in the New Testament as something befitting of time, energy and attachment.

The goal of my paper is to discover what may not be translatable into words while reading portions of the New Testament, and to discover what may, frankly, perhaps have never been intended to be so translated. I accomplish this with a psychological model and not merely with a literary model (i.e. a tropology about prolepsis). I use ideas narrowly chosen from Object Relations Theory, in particular as developed by Melanie Klein (projective identification), Wilfred Bion (?-screen, Ps <–> D) and Joyce McDougall (alexithymia). I focus on three particular texts in the Gospel of Mark to elaborate my general observations about texts which invoke experiences or mental objects of which we are not generally able to speak. The Markan texts chosen present (1) parables as occluding, (2) discipleship as saving destruction, and (3) crucifixion as a staining anomaly never to be washed away. I want to show how a good-enough reading of central texts in the Gospel will always be creating in the invested reader a disposition of partial objects and undigested facts.

Kamila Blessing, Christian Board of Publication
Differentiation vs. Fusion in the Community of Faith:
Paul’s `Definitions’ in Galatians 1-2

This paper uses Murray Bowen’s family systems model to interpret Gal 1:10-2:16. Here, Paul sharply distinguishes between his own truthfulness to God’s call – submitting to no “family” pressure – and Peter’s hypocritical abandonment of his freedom to eat with Gentiles, under pressure from a part of his family-of-faith. Paul’s description accurately represents the entire Bowenian spectrum from highly differentiated (Paul) to “fused” (Peter) – the major variable in Bowen’s family systems model. Paul thus effectively defines “differentiation of self” as it is manifest in the faith community.

In light of Bowen’s model, in Galatians the faithful believer is known not by Law observance (or lack thereof, cf. 6:15), but by the primary source of the observance – the call of God (faithful), or pressure from the family of faith (hypocritical). With this understanding, Paul (though a Jew) presents himself as the model of faith for the (Gentile) Galatians. Since they were called into faith in Christ (3:1-5) apart from Law, to be differentiated, they must remain that way. This interpretation implies that Paul’s purpose is not to condemn Judaism per se, but to redefine “observant” (supporting J. Louis Martyn, Galatians, 1998; contra H. D. Betz, Galatians, 1979).

This work shows that, in contrast to the considerable expertise required to apply psychodynamic theory, nearly any Bible scholar can apply Bowen’s theory well. According to Bowen, it operates on set of facts so simple and obvious that everyone has always known them (Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, 1985). Using examples such as Gal 1-2, therefore, the Bible scholar can readily gain facility with this model as a hermeneutic; and can contribute to Bible scholarship with new variations upon interpretation of a given passage. Use of Bowen’s systems theory also augments intrapsychic type interpretations by taking account of the effect of interpersonal interactions, not accessible through Freudian or Jungian methods.

Review of D.Andrew Kille,
Psychological Biblical Criticism
, (Fortress, 2001)

Wayne G. Rollins, Hartford Seminary, Presiding

  • D. Andrew Kille, Diocese of San Jose/ Santa Clara University
  • Norman K. Gottwald, Pacific School of Religion
  • Joel B. Green, Asbury Theological Seminary
  • Donald Capps, Princeton Theological Seminary

Lyn Bechtel, Drew Theological School
The Psychological Value of Disobedience in Human Maturation (Genesis 3)

Using the psychological principles of Erikson and others, Genesis 2-3 can be viewed as an explanation of the maturation process. An assumption of the “sin and fall” interpretation is that disobedience is always evil and worthy of severe punishment. This assumption is grounded in a dualistic worldview which Derrida considers the primary fallacy and pathology of Western thinking because it falsely imagines reality. The genius of the story lies in the fact that in deuteronomic theology maturation and the capacity to “know good and bad” are essential. First, people acquire the capacity to “know,” then choose “the good,” deuteronomic theology, and are absolutely obedient to its law.

But in Genesis 2-3, which reflects a different theology (non-deuteronomic theology), obedience would eliminate attaining the capacity to “know.” To “mature and know” requires disobedience. After receiving potential and limitation, the child is intitially obedient. But as children grow and learn from their experiences, their potentials and limitation change. Reality is constantly changing, so a static command and static obedience are incongruent with reality. Humanity is not intended to remain static with an immature perspective on life. When the psychological and physical maturity of adolescence is reached, eating of the tree of discernment is critical preparation for adult life. Mature discernment demands change, so upon eating fromt he tree the adolescents go through a rite of passage. According to Jung, a rite of passage entails a symbolic death to old immature perceptions of life, in order to begin a more mature, more complex level of understanding. Disobedience creates the break that is necessary for change. Without disobedience, adult maturation is impossible and they remain immature. YHWH drives them as adults out of the immaturity of the childhood world and definitively blocks the way to the tree of life (immature thinking).

Ilona N. Rashkow, State University of New York
“And God Said. . .” God, Language, and Lacan

The Hebrew Bible relates two primeval episodes in which humankind tries to transcend mortal limits: the tree of life saga and the Tower of Babel narrative. In both, humans are punished for attempting to be too God-like. This paper examines these related stories in light of two major elements of Lacan’s work: the Phallus as the symbol of power; and second, language as the pivotal concept linking self and society. What ties Eve and the builders of the Tower together is words. Just as Eve’s speech was a critique of monotheistic principles, the unified language of Bable was a critique of monotheistic power.


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