Society of Biblical Literature

International SBL July 20-24, 2015

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The International Society of Biblical Literature meets in Buenos Aires this coming July 20-24. For more information and registration, see the SBL website.

One of the program units that has offered sessions each year is Psychological Hermeneutics of Biblical Themes and Texts. This years sessions include:

Theme: More Widely Applicable Interpretive Approaches

Tuesday, July 21, 4:00 – 5:30 pm

Heather McKay, Edge Hill University, Presiding

Hendrik Viviers, University of Johannesburg
Natural Retreats and Human Well-being:
Reading the Song of Songs through the Lens of Attention Restoration Theory

Working within the field of environmental psychology, Rachel and Stephen Kaplan developed their Attention Restoration Theory to address the problem of directed attention fatigue. ‘Involuntary’ attention can put the voluntary or directed attention mechanism at rest. This happens markedly (but not solely) within natural settings that are both wild (e.g. reserves) and domesticated (e.g. gardens). Cognitive depletion becomes substituted with cognitive restoration and leads to a replenished state of mind so as to function effectively. Notions such as ‘being away,’ ‘“soft” fascination,’ ‘extent’ and ‘compatibility’ aptly describe the human:nature relationship, and function as descriptive properties that natural settings require to enhance the restorative experience. Shining the light of these insights onto the Song of Songs, it will be determined if this ancient book had an (intuitive) appreciation for nature’s healing/restorative powers. The focus will especially be on the natural retreats that the two young lovers more than often avail themselves of (e.g. 1:15-17; 2:8 ff.; 6:2; 6:11-12; 7:11-13; 8:5; 8:13-14). Do these retreats (unknowingly) comply with the requirements of restoration? Do the wild places, open and cultivated fields, gardens, etc., pictured in the Song, meet the properties of being away, fascination, extent and compatibility?


Pieter van der Zwan, University of Pretoria
Possible Symbolism of the Skin in the Hebrew Bible

In the current context of racism and xenophobia in many parts of the world, the perspectives of the French psychoanalyst, Didier Anzieu, on the skin shows potential about the possible psychological meanings of this body part in the Hebrew Bible where it functions not only as identity boundary but also as site of social contact on the on hand and that of social exclusion on the other. This paper will explore an overview of the texts where some of these psychological and social functions of the skin manifest themselves with a view to present contextual applications. The majority of texts referring directly to the skin occur in Leviticus and more specifically with regard to “leprosy” or rather a variety of skin diseases where purity rather than physical health and hygiene was the main issue at stake. The skin is therefore mostly problematized as the site where conflict is managed. The British anthropologist, Mary Douglas, has already suggested that the human physical body represents the society to which it belongs. The skin would then symbolise the territorial, religious and other aspects of collective identity. When these theories are linked to those of Didier Anzieu (who also worked on group dynamics) about the skin as individual, personal sense of ego-boundary, new insights on the symbolic role of the skin in many of the texts in the Hebrew Bible could be gained. Various “second skins”, defence mechanisms such as protective rules, clothes and fetishes can then also be better understood. The skin as physical and sublimated forms therefore functions as “containing envelope” to keep and hold the self together when it feels threatened by disintegration.
Business Meeting

Theme: Psychological Readings of Biblical Characters and Relationships

Wednesday, July 22, 2015, 9:00 – 10:30 am

Heather McKay, Edge Hill University, Presiding

Cecilie Skupinska-Løvset, Jevnaker municipality Psychiatric clinic
“Entreat me not to leave you” – attachment and interaction in the book of Ruth

The story of Ruth tells us of a great bond between Ruth as the protagonist and the people she meets along her way. It shows us a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space. This is the basis of attachment theory. Attachment is often characterized by specific behaviors, such as seeking proximity with the attachment figure when upset or threatened. It does not have to be reciprocal and one person may have an attachment with an individual which is not shared. In this paper I wish to look at the relationships depicted in the book of Ruth through the lens of attachment theory.


Eben Scheffler, UNISA
Reflecting on Jesus’ teaching on humility from a positive psychological perspective

In its quest for a non-medical, pro-health approach to psychotherapy, positive psychology focuses on concepts that are also biblical and specifically present in the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. In this paper, the concept of “humility” in the teaching of Jesus as represented in the synoptic tradition will be compared to recent positive psychological approaches (e g Tangney). Attention will be given to (1) a definition of humility, (2) empirical psychological research on humility, (3) humility in the Old Testament, Jewish and other religious and philosophical traditions, (4) Jesus of Nazareth’s special focus on humility, (5) the (dis)advantages of humility in the quest for a better world, and (6) interventions to promote humility.


Joseph Kim Paxton, Claremont School of Theology
Defensive Attributions in the Story of Job:
Retribution Theology and a Belief in a Just World

The story of Job is particularly interesting when evaluated from a social psychological lens. Deuteronomy 28 sets the backdrop of a retribution theology through which Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz engage Job in and throughout his suffering. From their perspective, Job must have sinned because their theological schema could not sustain the idea of a righteous man suffering. Looking to the field of social psychology, this is typical of a defensive attribution. A defensive attribution suggests that individuals will engage in meaning-making attributions to avoid vulnerability and mortality. The story of Job directly implicates vulnerability and mortality vicariously through the story of Job. There are two cognitions that are at odds which produce a natural and logical conclusion that produces an unbearable vulnerability – a righteous wo/man can and does suffer! To defend against the psychological discomfort produced by this awareness, Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz engage in a defensive attribution called a belief in a just world – which perfectly mirrors the theology of Deuteronomy 28. A belief in a just world presupposes good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. Theologically, defensive attributions are particularly salient because they reveal the way in which individuals who have a religious or spiritual background make sense of theodicy. This knowledge and awareness is particularly useful in cultivating hermeneutics, teaching, and preaching that avoids a blame-the-victim mentality by successfully accounting for defensive attributions.



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