Teaching, speaking and research

The Quadrangle, University of Sydney

I teach several Biblical Studies units at the University of Sydney and each one has opened up new research interests for me. Many of them seem to interconnect at some level, and readers of my blog will be aware of the diversity in my current interests. My primary interests are in the following areas, although I am always open to opportunities to explore other related fields.

My PhD thesis was on reading the book of Jonah as satire, and before that my Honours thesis was about humour in the same book. During that time I have to admit that I read almost everything through a Jonah-lens and somehow every conversation turned at some point to Jonah. Yes, I know I was boring! However, that intensive research did open my eyes to the possibility of discovering humour in unexpected places. My subsequent research has tended to focus on satire as a particular form of humour in the Hebrew Bible.

Humour, Satire and Parody in the Bible (or, Three men walked into a bar [mitzvah]: how to spot a joke in the Bible.)

It has been said that the Bible is the largest book in which there is absolutely no humour. However, some of the difficult or puzzling texts in the Bible make a great deal more sense once we allow for the possibility that the writers were using various forms of humour to make their points. My current research is focussing on the purpose of humour in the Bible, and what it tells us about the politics, theology and primary concerns of its writers.

Jonah: when is a prophet not a prophet? 

The biblical book of Jonah (which is, strictly speaking, not a ‘book’ at all but part of a collection of writings known as ‘The Twelve Prophets’) has attracted the attention of scholars for centuries. This short work is important for Jews, who read it during the holiest day of the year (Yom Kippur) and for Christians because it was quoted by Jesus.  However, opinions are divided as to the meaning and purpose of this enigmatic work. It’s a strange book, different to any other ‘prophetic’ book, and its key character is the opposite of what we’d expect of a biblical prophet. I argue that Job is one of the earliest known theatrical works. It is a courtroom drama with God as the defendant as well as the judge. 

Comedy, tragedy and the problem of theodicy

‘Theodicy’ deals with the question of why a good God allows innocent people to suffer. One way writers, performers and artists have explored the key issues is through humour and from ancient Greek theatre through to modern entertainment, comedy has been used both as a distraction from the harsh realities of life but also as an avenue for challenging traditional points of view and confronting taboo subjects. Biblical writers also used humour in similar ways.

  • God on trial. Why does God allow his people to suffer? Key theological issues in the aftermath of the exile and the Holocaust.
  • The ‘dark humour’ of Job. The biblical book of Job is mostly poetry and is often ranked in polls as a favourite part  of the Bible. Yet few people could explain what it’s really about. A major part of the book is a debate between Job and three friends regarding the causes of human suffering and the theological connection between sin and sickness. The book moves on to a challenge by Job to God to answer his questions, yet, after a lengthy reply by God (containing some superb poetry!) the reader is left as puzzled as when they began. I argue that Job is one of the earliest known theatrical works. It is a courtroom drama with God as the defendant as well as the judge. 
  • Biblical theatre. Is Job an ancient tragedy, akin to Macbeth? Were Daniel, Esther, Judith and Jonah meant to entertain as much as to inform?

Jesus’ teaching methods

  • Jesus’ use of humour
  • Jesus the poet
  • Jesus the storyteller
  • Rabbi Jesus (or, Jesus the Jew)
  • The difficult sayings of Jesus

Conference papers

I have recently presented the following papers at academic conferences:

  •  “The prophet Yonah and God’s concern for plants and animals.” Australian Association of Jewish Studies National Conference, Griffith University, Brisbane, February 2016
  • “Should not I pity Nineveh?” – questions and conundrums in the book of Jonah. Fellowship for Biblical Studies National Conference, University of Divinity, Melbourne, September 2016
  • “Should not I pity Nineveh?” – the concluding conundrum in the book of Jonah. Society of Biblical Literature, International Meeting, Berlin Germany, August 2017
  • Memory and emotion in the shaping and interpretation of the story of Jonah. Australian Association of Jewish Studies National Conference, Curtin University, Perth, February 2018
  • Jonah’s Route to Tarshish. Fellowship for Biblical Studies National Conference, Sydney, September 2018.
  • Jonah, parody and satire: the Bible in conversation with itself. Fellowship for Biblical Studies, Sydney, March 2020.

To book me for teaching or speaking appointments please use my contact page.

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