Society of Biblical Literature

2006 Washington DC

Psychology and Biblical Studies

Annual Meeting, Society of Biblical Literature
November 2006 (Washington, DC)

S18-21 Psychology and the Bible:
A Panel Review of the Praeger Series,
Wayne Rollins and J. Harold Ellens, editors

D. Andrew Kille, Interfaith Space, Presiding

Panel:

  • William Hathaway, Regent University
  • Don Browning, University of Chicago
  • Adela Collins, Yale University
  • Mark Powell, Trinity Lutheran Seminary

Response:

  • Wayne Rollins, Hartford Seminary
  • J. Harold Ellens, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

S18-124 Psychology, the Bible, and Politics

Paul Anderson, George Fox University, Presiding

  • Stuart Lasine, Wichita State University
    “Marrying Methods: Integrating Psychological and Literary Approaches to Characterization in Biblical Political Narrative”

    Biblical characters sometimes act in ways which readers find surprising, inconsistent or even contradictory. Many scholars believe that there is no need to explain such behavior in psychological or literary terms because many biblical narratives are heavily redacted. Ironically, it is largely on the basis of unexamined psychological judgments about what constitutes behavioral incoherence that these scholars reject psychological explanations. In this paper I will argue that one should make a rigorous and sustained attempt to analyze surprising character behavior in psychological and literary terms before deciding that the portrayal is psychologically or narratively incoherent. The psychological approach is based on recent work in attribution and trait theory, as well as other branches of social psychology. The literary approach makes use of research on the long-neglected problem of character in narrative conducted during the recent “post-Theory” period of literary criticism. The paper also acknowledges an historical dimension to the problem by taking into account cases in which editorial changes were rhetorically designed to alter a character’s psychological traits for ideological purposes. The final sections of the paper give brief examples of integrated character analysis and evaluation in narratives dealing with political leadership, two focusing on kings (Jeroboam and Zedekiah) and two on prophets (Moses and Elijah).
  • Michael Willett Newheart, Howard University
    “‘Power to the People!’:
    Poetics and Politics in the Gospel Miracle Stories, A Soul Reading”

    This “soul” reading will poetically play with power in the Gospel miracle stories. Power! Who’s got it? Who wants it? Who gets it? (Jesus? The religious authorities? The people who participate or witness the miracle? The Romans? God?) How would a first-century audience under Roman occupation have heard these stories? How would they have been empowered and disempowered by them? How do twenty-first century audiences hear them? How are they empowered or disempowered? How might these stories be heard for personal and social transformation? These questions and more (or less) will be addressed. All the usual suspects will be rounded up: Freud, Fanon, Lacan, Winnecott, Klein. Come and play with us in the miracle fields!
  • Ronald R. Clark, Jr., Cascade College
    “Sent Ahead or Left Behind? War and Peace in the Apocalypse, Eschatology, and the Left Behind Series”
    The 12 volume Left Behind series, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins has not only sold over 12 million copies, it has impacted the way most Americans understand Revelation, Apocalyptic Literature, and world politics. The books and popular movies are accepted as popular commentaries on a controversial book. While LaHaye and Jenkins do not represent the most common scholarly approach to Revelation and Eschatology, they represent an ever-growing mindset in Evangelical America. While the series has some value in calling people to repentance, morality, and an awareness of world events, it is damaging to those of us who teach Apocalyptic Literature. This series uses a form of projective identification stemming from the cold war and days of the Red Scare. This form of transference can promote a sense of paranoia and distrust for attempts at world peace, Eastern-Europeans, Jews, and those who are not American. The writers also ignore the true historical setting of Revelation and the attempts of apocalyptic writers to provide hope in times of crisis. While Apocalyptic Literature uses projective identification to respond to a perceived threat and crisis, the authors of the Left Behind Series imagine and create a threat and crisis.
  • Amy Frykholm, Colorado Mountain College
    “Social Atomization and Community Identification
    in Readers of the Left Behind Series”

    Drawing on a qualitative study of readers of the Left Behind series, this paper argues that readers use the books for three purposes:1) to form social bonds and develop a distinct communal identity 2) to raise and answer fears of social isolation and separation 3) to develop a vivid relationship with Biblical texts. The first part of the paper looks at the ways that readers read the Left Behind series in communities and networks. I argue that community identification formed a stronger passion for reading the series than the narrative found in the books themselves. Next I look at fears of social isolation that readers expressed in their interactions with the series. I examine the psychological effect of the phrase “left behind” on readers. Finally, I look at how reading fiction in social networks and raising fears of being “left behind” work to create a vivid and dynamic relationship with Biblical texts. I examine what readers mean when they say that the Left Behind series brought Revelation “to life.”

Stacy Davis, Saint Mary’s College, Respondent

S19-27 In the Valley of the Shadow:
Despair, Depression, and Trauma in the Bible

Dereck Daschke, Truman State University, Presiding

  • Adrien J. Bledstein, Chicago, IL
    “David’s Rupture with God, Depression, and Recovery”

    Reading only narrative, commentators have not appreciated King David’s depression following his crimes. When Psalms are integrated with narrative at every phase of his life, several insights emerge. From youth David’s passion was to serve YHWH. He knew the covenant, tried to live accordingly, and despised the wicked. After he was anointed he envisioned a temple where he would serve his Beloved. As king he brought the Ark to Jerusalem, the most ecstatic day of his life. His kingdom established, the country in relative peace, David determined to fulfill his dream. Instead, YHWH made him founder of a dynasty. A son of his would build the Temple. The latter news conflicted with David’s high expectations as a king in the ancient Near East. Sometime after this David fumbled in battle and stayed at the palace while his heroes went to war. He took Bathsheba. When his efforts to cover her pregnancy failed he arranged the death of Uriah. From David’s prayers and lack thereof it becomes clear he was deeply dispirited. In contrast to his hypergraphic anguish at the cave of Adullam when unjust circumstances drove him to despair, David was depressed following the rape of Tamar, death of Amnon, and exile of Absalom. This paper traces evidence of his depression and his recovery as he anticipated his penance was nearing an end.
  • J. Dwayne Howell and Susan C. Howell, Campbellsville University
    “Journey to Mount Horeb:
    Cognitive Theory and 1 Kings 19:1-18”
    Elijah’s jouney to Mt. Horeb in 1 Kings 19:1-18 portrays the struggles of a man who displays hopelessness. In 1 Kings 18:14-16 he had defeated the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel. Instead of bringing about national repentance, Elijah is threatened by the queen of Israel, Jezebel. Fleeing for his life, Elijah journeys 40 days to Mt. Horeb where he is confronted with the reality of the situation and is directed by God to return to Israel. Using Cognitive Theory as a base, the paper explores Elijah’s experiences and God’s response as described by the writer of the text. Beck’s Negative Cognitive Triad (Beck 1997, 1987, 1967), which consists of a negative view of one’s self, one’s world, and one’s future, provides the framework for understanding Elijah’s sense of despair. God’s directive response to Elijah is also consistent with the approach advocated by Cognitive Theory.
  • Benjamin Abelow, Independent Scholar
    “Culturally Endemic Patterns of Childhood Trauma Reflected in New Testament Narrative and Theology: Implications for New Testament Origins”

    The patriarchal corporal punishment and abandonment of children has been historically widespread. These patterns of painful childhood experience form striking parallels with narrative and theological themes in the New Testament. For example, images of an innocent Son obediently suffering according to his Father’s will, and concepts of religious sin as punishable disobedience to a divine Father, closely parallel ordinary experiences of childhood punishment. Similar parallels pertain to childhood abandonment, most strikingly in the Matthean cry of dereliction, which represents the dramatic insertion of a psalmistic lament of abandonment into the context of a Father-Son relationship. Some of these parallels are extensive and precise, suggesting that they did not arise by chance. In this paper, I explore the radical implications of these parallels for our understanding of New Testament origins. Specifically, I argue that central canonical traditions were shaped, without intention or conscious awareness, as a reflection of endemic childhood punishment and abandonment in the highly patriarchal world of the early Roman Empire. This shaping could have occurred through the “revelation” of internally produced symbolic images arising from childhood; through a social-evolutionary process occurring during oral transmission; or by other means. Psychologically, symbolization could have occurred through trauma-specific mechanisms such as dissociation; through distortions of early memory associated with childhood “amnesia”; or through normal processes of metaphorical thought such as those evident in dreams and linguistic metaphors. (In a complementary paper for the Bible and Cultural Studies unit, I discuss the implications of trauma-associated canonical parallels for later generations of believers.)

Jill McNish, Respondent

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