THE BIBLE IN/AND POPULAR CULTURE: A CREATIVE ENCOUNTER.
Edited by Philip Culbertson and Elaine M Wainwright. Leiden: Brill, 2011. 210 pp.
This collection of essays emerged out of an awareness that biblical scholars have moved beyond exploring the intersection of the Bible and art and film to considerations of a host of other media, including music, literature, graphic novels, comics, and television. The editors note that, despite the growing breadth of scholarship, there is as yet no systematic study of the theoretical engagement of the Bible and popular culture. To that end, the essays in this volume give attention not only to a wide range of media and to a plethora of places (United States, New Zealand, Britain, Jamaica), but also to the ways in which important theorists provide crucial analytical lenses (Michel de Certeau, Pierre Bourdieu, Mikhail Bakhtin, Judith Butler, and James Scott)--though the book does not attempt to establish a comprehensive theoretical framework for the nexus of the Bible and pop culture.
Michael J. Gilmour's opening essay reads in an intertextual mode, drawing on Salman Rushdie's image of all the stories of the world being an ocean or sea of narratives swirling around in countless intersecting currents. He then dips into the waters by examining the way that the figure of Satan changes from Milton's Paradise Lost to Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. Mark McEntire draws parallels between the withdrawal of God as a character throughout the Hebrew Bible with the increasingly distant and absent God invoked by Emmylou Harris in her album Red Dirt Girl. Harris helps her audience learn to cope with God's silence and to embrace the loneliness of human existence. Dan W. Clanton explores a litany of depictions of Jesus in a variety of media, from Henry Ward Beecher through Cecil B. DeMille and Mel Gibson to graphic novels and the animated South Park. His reception history analysis concludes that Jesus functions as a malleable mythic figure in American culture, an empty container into which many different meanings can be poured. Philip Culbertson's essay examines the image of Mary Magdalene as a whore across a broad range of song lyrics. Drawing on Freud and Jung, he suggests that students be steered away from dichotomous thinking--Mary as either sinner or saint--and to appreciate her as a complex figure.
Jim Perkinson writes in a hip-hop style with a rhythm and beat to his prose that reflects the music he is analyzing. His refracting the Bible and the music into one another ultimately serves to express a revolt against racism and poverty. Likewise, Noel Leo Erskine shows how the biblical story can shape an alternative identity by studying Bob Marley's album Exodus. Rastafarians equate Jamaica with Babylon and Ethiopia with Zion. However, Marley's lyrics reflect the continued subjugation, rather than liberation, of women. Thus, Babylon is not left totally behind.
Tex Sample considers the enduring popularity among working-class Americans of two country songs by Kris Kristofferson, "Help Me Make It Through the Night" and "Me and Bobby McGee." Both songs express a loss of dignity, which is then connected to Paul's theology in Galatians where enslavement to the "elemental spirits of the universe" is overcome by a new freedom in Christ. Roland Boer traces the development of Nick Cave's rock music as it gradually becomes more subdued, reflecting the artist's turn to Jesus. Cave's Christology, however, is heretical as it is entirely individualistic.
In a different vein, Terry Ray Clark assays the prophetic voice in two graphic novels, Kingdom Come and Watchmen. Despite their comic mode, both address the apocalyptic question of humanity's survival in the face of potential nuclear self-destruction. Steve Taylor considers how the New Zealand cartoon series bro'Town reflects the concerns of minority second-generation Pacific Island migrants. The TV show functions as a form of resistance discourse which critiques the dominant readings of the Bible. In the final paper, Tina Pippin explains how Philip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials, opens up another way to understand fantasy and apocalyptic as fantasy. Specifically, in contrast to the book of Revelation or the modern day Left Behind series, it presents the reader with an avenue to pursue self-maturation rather than waiting for divine intervention. Two short responses which assess the collection as a whole round out the book.
This is a compelling set of essays which has much to offer biblical scholars as they explore further the intersection of the Bible and popular culture. As with any collection of articles, there are minor concerns. For example, while the "global" nature of the essays should certainly be appreciated, it does make for a rather eclectic book, maybe too eclectic. A number of readers, for instance, may not be sufficiently familiar with, or interested in, cartoons in New Zealand or graphic novels to appreciate the analyses presented. One always wonders, too, about how quickly such scholarship can be become dated: Where will the genre of graphic novels be in a decade or two? The New Zealand cartoon already no longer runs on primetime TV. I also am puzzled a bit by the "in/and" in the title. Given its awkwardness, one is surprised that it is barely commented on by the editors, especially since the two prepositions may suggest different theoretical foci. Finally, the volume concentrates more heavily on the New Testament, as only three of the eleven papers deal substantially with Hebrew Bible texts (McEntire, Perkinson, Erskine). These comments notwithstanding, the book is an enjoyable--"fun" in the editors' oft-used term--and informative exploration of the Bible's engagement with a variety of elements from various popular cultures today.