Society of Biblical Literature

2007 San Diego

Psychology and Biblical Studies

SBL Annual Meeting
November 2007 (San Diego)

S18-128 The Aha! of a Ha!:
Psychological Insights into Biblical Humor

Matthew Goff, Florida State University, Presiding

  • Howard R. Macy, George Fox University
    “Psychological Roots of the Bible’s Humor”

    This paper will explore the Bible’s use of humor through the lenses of psychological understandings of the roots and uses of humor. The roots of humor include relieving tension, expressing hostility or superiority, recognizing incongruity and absurdity, and showing love. Humor functions to maintain psychological health, bond people to one another, to express joy, to critique and effect social change, and to create the disequilibrium that can lead to new insight. Acknowledging and correlating with these common ideas, the paper will illustrate how the Bible uses humor, from Abraham and Sarah to the teaching of Jesus.
  • Jesper Svartvik, Lund University
    “’Those Who Passed by Derided Him’:
    Scornful Laughter as a Moral Criterion”
    Students of the Bible are introduced not before long to the Deuteronomistic understanding of history as a system of rewards and punishment. However, this theology, in its strictest sense, is – rightfully – questioned for a number of reasons: (a) the idea is relativized, problematized and questioned already within the covers of the Bible, the book of Job being the premier example. (b) Everyone with experience of spiritual guidance knows that this theoology lays heavy burdens on the shoulders of lonely and fragile people. (c) But there is also a third reason: the handbook teaching of the Deuteronomistic understanding of history tends to draw our attention away from an influential idea which could be described as an inverted Deuteronomism. The credo of this understanding is: “I suffer, therefore I am right”, “I am persecuted, therefore God is on my side”, “the surrounding scorns me, therefore I am happy”, “I cry, therefore I laugh”, “they mock me, therefore I will one day mock them.” In other words, it is the other person’s scornful laughter which legitimized my theology. After all, did not Paul write in 1 Cor. 4.9 that Christians are made a théatron (“we have become a spectacle to the world”)? Whereas the motif of lacrymosa has been carefully explored in both Jewish and Christian traditions, what is being suggested in this paper is that a careful study of the role of laughter in the Bible and in the interpretation of the biblical texts furthers our understanding of the history of yester years and the challenges of the morrow.
  • Adrien J. Bledstein, Independent Scholar
    “Laughter in the Book of Job?”

    The tragedy of an innocent person suffering is no laughing matter. But dramatic treatment of a horrific subject which concludes with the sufferer laughing out loud could be cathartic for an audience. This paper treats the book of Job as a whole work of art. After traumas of losing his children, servants, animals, physical well-being, and community, Job maintains his integrity. While his friends condemn him, he questions the belief that anyone who suffers must have done something wrong. Job anticipates he will be vindicated by God. But Divine revelation ignores Job’s question of justice and challenges Job to respond to a grand-eloquent description of powers quite beyond human experience. Translators and commentators have interpreted Job’s response (42:6) in three ways by filling in the ellipsis. Job repents, that is humbly acknowledges he is wrong about something, even though YHWH states Job is innocent. Job rebels, that is rejects God. Or Job despises his lost wealth and comforts himself for loss of his children. Reading Job as tragicomedy offers an alternative. I propose that Job’s response to Divine revelation is just what YHWH intended for a favorite who is tested, laughter at the incongruity between what Job expected and Divine prodding. Appreciation of ancient Hebrew wit allows us to view heaven and earth, to identify with the anguish of an uncorrupted person, to explore arguments without an answer as to why innocent people suffer. Job’s community gathers to comfort him “for all the misfortune that YHWH had brought upon him” (42:11), so Job, more prosperous than at the beginning of the tale, dies “old and full of days.” (42:17) Acknowledging misery, this paper will show how the book of Job is intended to evoke relief. Cathartic laughter is healing.
  • Michael Willett Newheart, Howard University
    “Cleaning the Lepered Skins:
    A Pun-filled Perspective on Luke 17:11-19”

    Another opening, another show! Another annual meeting, another Newheart soul reading! As previous P&BS-ers (Psychology and Biblical Studies folks, of course; what were you thinking?) know, these readings always present a preponderance of puns, leading to much smirking, chortling, headshaking, eye-rolling, groaning — and perhaps even a new understanding! This year the title features a pun (lepered skins, leopard skins–Get it?), and the subtitle predicts plenty of puns. Don’t say that you weren’t warned! So, what’s going to happen in this paper? Absolutely nothing . . . but fun (I hope!). First, I will discuss the role of puns in my soul reading. Second, I will soul-read the story of Jesus cleansing the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19, offering a translation of the episode and then presenting a soul reading of it, which is playful, poetic, personal, political, and of course “punny.” Come along; bring your smirk!

Respondent: J. Harold Ellens, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

S19-29 From Anger to Atonement, Inadequacy to Grace: Emotional Transference and Transformation in the Bible

Dereck Daschke, Truman State University, Presiding

  • Deena Grant, New York University/Hofstra University
    “Human Anger in Biblical Literature”
    Cognitive theory maintains that an emotional response is not a reaction to a pre-determined set of behaviors, but rather, derives from the meaning an individual ascribes to behaviors. Therefore, in order to understand the nature of biblical anger, one must explore its social contexts, triggers, and consequences. Biblical anger is predominantly displayed by people with high ranking degrees of authority who direct their anger at dependents. Anger’s primary triggers are rebellion, theft and illicit relations with a superior’s family member. Texts such as Genesis 39 and 44, Numbers 16, Judges 9 and Esther 7 suggest that these triggers are perceived to be a rejection of or trespass upon a superior’s domain of authority. The consequent anger compels a superior to display his power. In light of this recurrent context, this paper suggests that the primary goal of anger in the Bible is to reclaim threatened or compromised authority. This paper additionally observes that when directed at a foreigner, anger incites irrevocably damaging retribution (e.g. Gen 34, Jud 14). In contrast, when directed at a family member anger usually carries no consequence (e.g. Gen 27, 1 Sam 20, 2 Sam 13). These disparate outcomes can be linked to the value placed by the offended on his relationship with his provoker. When an angered party values the relationship between him and his provoker less than the social position, object, or third party the provoker violates, anger compels the offended to protect his authority through murder or banishment. In contrast, when an angered party values the relationship highly, he either silently bears the assault on his domain or searches for a non-destructive means of re-asserting his authority. This paper is part of a larger work in progress wherein it serves as the framework to explain the nature of divine anger.
  • Robin Gallaher Branch, Crichton College
    “The Power of Anger: Tiptoeing Around Xerxes”

    King Xerxes governs Persia and Media, the known world from Iran to India. But anger governs him. His mercurial anger flares (Est. 1:12; 7:7) and subsides (2:1; 7:10). He burns with rage at Vashti, his queen, when she disobeys his command. He deposes her. Aides tiptoe fearfully around him. When his anger cools, they suggest an empire-wide beauty pageant for Vashti’s replacement. This pleases the king (1:21). Esther, a lovely Jewish maiden, wins the favor of all who see her—including the king (2:9, 15, 17). Learning from her predecessor’s mistakes, she acts and speaks wisely. Key to her survival strategy amid deadly court intrigue is this phrase, “If it pleases the king” (5:4, 8; 7:3; 8:5; 9:13). Using a literary approach, this paper examines the extremes of anger and favor in the Book of Esther. It argues that Xerxes’ mood swings cease when Esther and her uncle, Mordecai, become his chief advisors (8:1-2). This ruler of 127 provinces begins to conquer his anger by learning simple tools of anger management. He listens to advice (8:3-10), finds that logic defeats anger, and redirects his angry energy toward something positive: working for the good of his kingdom (10:1-2a). Within the court of Xerxes, Esther the queen emerges as one who walks gracefully yet forcefully before the king. With quiet boldness she confronts anger, neutralizes it, and finds ways constructively to channel its powerful energy.
  • Angela Son, Drew University
    “Inadequate Innocence, Audacious Inadequacy”

    Utilizing Heinz Kohut’s self psychology as an interpretive tool in identifying God as the Selfobject of Job allows us to re-vision the concept of God’s omnipotence and theology of atonement. Re-visioning the understanding of God’s omnipotence, we may add the dimension of “audacious inadequacy,” which I define as an ability to audaciously embrace the undesirable “not-self” as a part of the self for the benefit of others. Specifically, God embraces even violence as a part of Godself in spite of its opposing or negating force to God’s nature as love. This re-visioned understanding of the theology of atonement addresses the experiences of guilt and shame in restoring the human relationship to God. Job’s main struggle was not about reasons for his suffering, i.e., innocence or guilt, but rather about his sense of inadequacy. Innocence alone thus is inadequate in addressing one’s connectedness to God and inadequacy or sense of shame has as much, if not deeper, bearing on the restoration of one’s relationship to God. Heinz Kohut’s concept of selfobject will bring the utmost significance to the discussion and Carol Newsom’s treatment of the book of Job as polyphonic text provides the framework of the discussion at hand. Other psychological interpretations and commentaries on the book of Job will be dialogue partners brought in as needed to unfold the discussion. This project will contribute to the discourses on evil, suffering, and kenosis as well.
  • Dan Merkur, University of Toronto
    “The Transference onto God”

    Magical religious practices, which may be defined as instrumental uses of the divine, are devoted to gods and God, in Winnicott’s terms, as “subjectively perceived objects,” whose behavior is appreciated only in relation to the devotee; whereas the comparatively rare phenomenon of non-magical religion is devoted to “objective objects” who are conceptualized as independent agents. In a “bargain with fate,” divine behavior is felt to be predictable because it is responsive to, and therefore contingent on, devotees’ behavior; and cultic behavior is implicitly or explicitly magical, in that religious practices are means by which to control fate. Numbers 16-17 provides a paradigmatic illustration both of a bargain with fate and of a transferential conception of God. The Priestly narrative portrays God as a narcissistic personality, whose cult must either cater to the arbitrary demands of his narcissism or suffer his wrath. The therapeutic goal, at both clinical and religious levels of discourse, is to facilitate advance, in Winnicott’s terms, from “object-relating” to “object-usage.” When analysis of the transference discloses the transference onto God as a projection of interpersonal expectations that have their basis in early object relations, the divine can be conceptualized as a free agent–and as radically transcendent. The intervention, which is simultaneously psychotherapeutic and theological, replaces the concept of divinely ordained fate with a concept of divine grace, moves beyond the righteousness-reward syndrome into the possibility of gratuitous virtue, and interrupts the compulsively repetitive character of the cult.

Respondent: Benjamin Abelow

S19-77 Psychology and the Bible in Practice:
Clinic & Classroom

Wayne Rollins, Hartford Seminary, Presiding

  • J. Harold Ellens, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
    “Grace Theology in Psychotherapy”
    This paper describes the theological theme of God’s radical, unconditional, and universal grace, as it is intimated in the Hebrew Bible and Christian Scriptures, and develops an operational design for its application in clinical psychotherapy. The emphasis is upon the arbitrarily and imputed nature of God’s grace toward humans, as reflections of the Imago Dei and as God’s compatriots in fashioning the reign of God’s grace and love in the human community. The applied contours of grace in psychotherapy assumes that human healers are the incarnation of divine grace as we carry out our professional tasks in clinical work. God is the analogue redeemer expressed in the human analogy of healing practice. This paper describes three hinges for this model: a psychotheology of health, a psychotheology of illness, a psychotheology of healing. It then develops a model for psychotherapy with eight principles: biblical theologies of personhood, alienation, grace, dysfunction (sin or sickness), discipline (discipleship), wounded healers, mortality, and celebration. There follows the identification of ten factors at play in effective application of grace theology in psychotherapy, and eight concrete results for psychotherapy and pastoral care.
  • Ronald R. Clark, Jr., George Fox Evangelical Seminary
    “Many Psychologists Can Bring Victory. Really!”

    Proverbs 15:22 suggests that counsel and advice help the young Biblical scholar become an effective resource in their community. Some Christian counselors and pastors, however, have suggested that psychology destroys faith and Biblical interpretation. Intimate partner violence prevention specialists, counselors, and psychologists, on the other hand, have suggested that the Biblical texts enable intimate partner violence and abuse to continue in our homes and culture. While these professionals are accurate in their description of some interpretations of texts, they are not actually in the texts themselves. The roots of this form of oppression lie in attitudes about women and the powerless in society. Religious counselors have an opportunity to gain the respect of prevention specialists through using the Biblical narratives to address male violence, the nature of masculinity, oppression, social justice, and human induced trauma. Those who approach the Biblical texts from a psychological perspective that acknowledges oppression and violence as a problem, also have an opportunity to better interpret texts that can be used to heal clients who are both victims and oppressors. The Biblical narratives concerning these issues also provide a strong tool for therapeutic healing and creating empathy in oppressors and violent individuals.
  • Susan Harris Howell, Campbellsville University
    “Students’ Perceptions of Jesus’ Personality”

    My research explores college students’ perceptions of the personality of Jesus Christ. Along with an overall exploration of students’ perceptions, I focus on whether students are likely to make self-based attributions in their perceptions of Jesus’ personality. Perceptions are assessed with two Jungian-type inventories: the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Myers, 1998) and the Keirsey Temperament Sorter II (Keirsey, 1998), which categorize personality along 4 dimensions: Extraversion/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, Judgment/Perception. Results indicate that students perceive Jesus to be an Extravert Feeler and make self-based attributions along the Sensing/Intuitive dimension. Application is made for the risks involved in perceiving Jesus’ personality as a reflection of our own and steps which can be taken to minimize such a perceptual bias. This study has been published in the Journal of Psychology and Theology, Vol. 32, No. 1, Spring 2004, pp 50-58.
  • Barbara Mei Leung Lai, Tyndale Seminary
    “Fostering a ‘Whole-Brained’ Scholastic Experience
    in Classroom Teaching”

    As a seminary professor who has journeyed through the difficult passage from modernity to postmodernity, this paper is an I-discourse, an appropriated personal journey. Speaking from my own experience of stepping outside my comfortable methodological locations and venturing into a foreign land (the interface of psychology and biblical studies) some time ago, I seek to spell out the different stages of this enriching experience, and the ways that it in turn transforms my classroom teaching. Drawing worked-out examples from my current writing project (on uncovering the internal profile of Hebrew personalities); publications and SBL/ISBL presentations in the past few years; and intentional course developments (“The First-Person Texts of the Old Testament”), I shall further demonstrate that new angles of vision in reading biblical literature and in character portrayal are often created through the employment of a psychological lens. Since the Bible is a soul book, engaging one’s intellect, will, emotion/feeling and imagination in the task of interpretation is an invigorating necessity. Fostering a “whole-brained” educational experience is therefore, a mandate for teaching the Bible.

S19-118 Psychology and the Bible in Practice:
Congregation & Community

Jill McNish, Presiding

  • D. Andrew Kille, Interfaith Space
    “Four Springs That Ground an Experience of the Sacred”

    Around the turn of the 20th century, Henry Burton Sharman, graduate of the University of Chicago, developed a unique seminar method for studying the Gospels. In 1917, he published Records of the Life of Jesus, a parallel version of the Gospels, followed by a number of other books including Jesus in the Records (1918) and Jesus as Teacher (1935). Sharman’s approach involved “scientific inquiry with frank and relentless group discussion” focused on the historical Jesus during the course of six-week seminars held in Canada and the U.S. Elizabeth Boyden Howes and her colleagues fused Sharman’s seminar approach with psychological concepts from Fritz Kunkel and Carl Jung. Together, they established the Guild for Psychological Studies, and held their own Records of the Life of Jesus seminars, beginning in Southern California and then, from 1956 forward, at Four Springs in Middletown, California. The seventeen-day Records seminars, and other seminars brought together Sharman’s Socratic seminar method with the synoptic Gospels and additional material from art, music, drama, myth, movement and insights from other religious traditions. The Guild process has been influential on several subsequent developments. Walter Wink was profoundly influenced by Records seminars at Four Springs, and much of his work reflects the influence of the Guild process. Transforming Bible Study (1990) represented an effort to make the Guild process more accessible to a general audience. William Dols also attended Records seminars and brought together the educational process developed at The Educational Center in St. Louis, MO with the perspectives of the Guild to create the approach of The Bible Workbench, a bible study resource published by the Educational Center for the past fifteen years. This paper will trace the developments of the Sharman/Guild process and how it has continued in Transforming Bible Study and The Bible Workbench.
  • Kamden Strunk, Evangel University
    “Spirit Baptism and Empowerment: Self- and Peer-Perceived Performance and Community Expectations”

    The relationship between the Holy Spirit Baptism, Christian character and empowerment, and other demographic factors was investigated. The measures used were the Evangelism Effectiveness scale, which was developed for this study, and the Spiritual Assessment Inventory, which has 6 subscales. These measures were taken both by self-report and by peer-report. The results indicated significant correlation with gender, college classification, and with Holy Spirit Baptism and the measures used. The results also indicated significant interaction effects in 2 x 2 ANOVA’s. A multiple regression analysis also found that all three variables significantly contributed to the model. The findings partially supported the hypothesis that those who have received the Holy Spirit Baptism would score significantly higher on the measures than would those who have not. In a second study, community expectations were examined using participants from the same university as the original study. Participants were placed in one of three experimental groups to determine the difference in expectations of Spirit-baptized Christians, Christians, and non-Spirit-baptized Christians. The results showed significant differences on all measures in a MANOVA. The findings show that community expectations were significantly higher for Spirit-baptized Christian than non-Spirit-baptized Christians. The largest difference in expectations was on Evangelism effectiveness, though all differences were statistically significant. Expectations were then compared with perceived performance data from the first study. Expectations on Evangelism effectiveness were much higher than actual performance. Implications for church ministry and individual psychology are discussed.
  • Beth Bidlack, University of Chicago
    “Differentiating Elijah: A Study of 1 Kings 19”

    As a Unitarian Universalist trained in biblical studies, I became very interested in “psychological” approaches to the Bible while completing a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. During CPE, I found that members of my peer group did not share the same assumptions about the Bible. Using psychological approaches I was able to talk about the biblical texts not only with my CPE peer group, but also with hospital patients, nursing home residents, and members of my denomination. In this paper I will illustrate one example of such an approach by discussing the biblical character Elijah in 1 Kings 19 and the concept of differentiation. Within the Elijah cycle, at times Elijah embraces the Mosaic prophetic traditions, whereas at other times, he differentiates himself from it.
  • Denise Dombkowski Hopkins, Wesley Theological Seminary
    and Michael S. Koppel,
    Wesley Theological Seminary
    “Reading with Rahab: Liminality and Interpathy in Joshua 2”

    This paper investigates the intersections between the human text and the biblical text in the story of Rahab and the Israelite spies in Joshua 2. A sustained conversation between the two presenters and their respective disciplines (Hebrew Bible and pastoral care), will surface the psychological and political issues at stake in the interpretive process, not only for Rahab, but for interpreters of Joshua 2. Foremost is the issue of identity and boundaries – who is the outsider and who is the insider (R.Coote, D. Rowlett)? Who determines, based on what criteria? What kind of “double consciousness” (WEB DuBois) must Rahab deal with, and how? With whom do we identify in this text, and why? A second issue is liminality, the fertile yet fragile imaginative terrain in which the human and divine narratives meet (Anderson/Foley). What happens to identity and self-esteem in liminal situations? The location of Rahab’s house in the city wall, the geographical position of Jericho and the Israelites separated by the river Jordan, the cover of night, the crimson cord, all suggest liminality and the possibility of new self-understandings for Rahab, for the Israelites, and for us. Ironies and power reversals abound in these liminal spaces, inviting us to read with “interruption” (D. Fewell), a strategy for rejecting a passive or hegemonic interpretation of the text in favor of an imaginative questioning and retelling. This retelling, supported by the narrative predominance of Rahab’s dialogue, helps us to reconfigure what is at stake in the text. Rahab is the catalyst for such ‘interruption’. We fill in the gaps of the text by encountering Rahab with interpathy (Augsburger, Lartey) and relational sensitivity (Lartey) as opposed to culturally-located stereotypes. Such textual reframing (Capps) invites new possibilities for intercultural care (Ramsay).

Respondent: Donna Lindsey, United Church of Christ


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