NSTS: Day 3

The morning began with an interesting discussion with colleagues from Asia and Africa about the need for contextual awareness in biblical interpretation, and how that is often sorely lacking in American scholarhsip. For a long time we worked under the assumption that we do not have a context, and that scholars working in various sub-"studies" were the outliers. In reality, they saw more clearly than most that our location in a stable, wealthy, largely Christian nation has blinded us to the global context in which we should be working.

Robert Hodgson, "Translating Spectacle: Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ"

The morning began with a discussion of Mel Gibson's "translation" of the Bible in his movie, The Passion of the Christ. Bob Hodgson argued that the crucifixion was in its historical event a "spectacle," based on the term theoria used in Luke 23:48 to describe "all those who had come to see the spectacle" of Jesus's execution. As a public event, the crucifixion was centered on brutality, savagery, and cruelty. Over time, this spectacle was translated into literary, theological, and artistic forms. It was placed into a serialized set of events in 1 Cor 15 (Christ was dead, buried, resurrection, and appeared); it was narrativized in the gospels and ideologized within theologies of the atonement; it has been re-presented in artwork since the 3rd century, and is a staple of popular culture. Bob argued that Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ, has unraveled this traditional beautification of the crucifixion, presenting the event in its original brutal spectacle.

The Rabbula Gospel, 6th century

I wasn't totally convinced by his interpretation of the film, because I would argue that the film presents a certain kind of stark beautification (even eroticism or pornography) of Jesus's torture. He did not explore theological obections to the film, though he did acknowledge that there are many. My central theological problem with the film is that it places emphasis on Jesus's suffering rather than his identification with suffering humanity or even his sacrifice for others. There is a huge difference between saying to those who suffer that "Jesus suffered for you" and saying "Jesus suffered more than you."

Timothy Beal, "Making Space: Translation as Hospitality"

In this lecture, Tim considered how the translation process can become a place of hospitality for the Other in the text, the Other within the translator, and the Other within the readers. We must make visible the process of translation and empower readers to participate in that process. In opening up this question, he proposed three concepts related to translation as hospitality.

First, he explored the practical identification of Bible, Media, and Translation, arguing that the Bible is media and translation, and that media and translation are the Bible. Different forms of Bible media/translation are more or less hospitable, as one can see when they look at the history of biblical media from scroll and codex to commercial books, movies, and websites.
Second, he proposed the concept of "transpaces" to indicate those places that are opened up for hospitable interpretation, whether they be physical, printed, or virtual. Levinas in "The Strings and the Wood," for instance, argues that the scriptural tradition is "a 'place' wherein all the harmonics of the Said resonate... calling for a new Saying, an interpretation." Translation in this sense may be seen as a place of hosting in which plural Others dialogue, play, emerge, deconstruct, and contest with one another.

The third idea that Tim presented was drawn from the work of Marshall McLuha, that of "cold" and "hot" media. A "hot" medium is one with high definition and low participation (such as a photograph, a lightbulb, and a lecture), while a "cold" medium is one with low definition and high participation (such as a cartoon, a candle, and a seminar). Print media are hot, geared toward closing things up, erasing linguistic remainders that would disturb readers.

In thinking about how a biblical translation might generate "cool" hospitality, he discussed the London Polyglot Bible (1657) and the 19th century Vilna Talmud. These complex printing projects were interactive, non-linear, visually participatory, polyvocal, multilingual, and contestatory. As such, they open up the interpretation process rather than closing it down: "In these complex pages, the harmonics of the Said resonate, rendering impossibly and resolution to the interpretive process." This experience has been recreated online, with an extra "social" element in the Sefaria project.

Walton's London Polyglot Bible Vilna Talmud