Monday, October 12, 2009

Growing an Audience

"Growing an Audience" sounds like Aristotle's concern. And it really is if you read Julia Purdy's essay, "How to Write for an Audience: Use Aristotle’s Triangle to Connect With Your Reader." If you do read what Purdy wrote, then as part of her audience you read things from Aristotle's Poetics and become part of his audience.

But "Growing an Audience" is Julia O'Brien's essay. James F. McGrath had been posing a similar question to O'Brien's query about "the angles from which authors and scholars seek to connect the Bible to concerns and interests of modern readers," and so he (now part of the O'Brien audience) encourages his readers to become her readers. And Jim West (who's interested in size when it comes to his own biblioblog audience) says that "Julia O’Brien has a nice and useful essay" so he can also shout down atheists in Iowa (so as to keep out all poachers and encroachers on his territory).

O'Brien has more to say. She says more than the bit McGrath relays, and her issue is not just "nice and useful" as West would characterize her article. She notes that in pop scholarship on the Bible what she doesn't find:
What I don’t find is any popular treatment of what most interests me about the Bible: how it shares with other literature the ability to invite reflection on the human conditions. I use the plural of “conditions” because I’m not interested in resurrecting an old Bible as Literature approach in which intellectuals of a particular social class, gender, and sexual orientation claim to speak for all people. Rather, I’m interested in how the Bible, like novels, helps illumine the particularities of humans and their societies. On my website, I’ve launched Reading the Bible as an Adult as an attempt to do this kind of reading (
When we go to her website, we find titles of studies such as "Joseph: Queering Categories." And that reminds me of Rodney's recent post "a questionable interpretation of Matthew 8:5-13?" in which he looks at the Greek word pais, which really was used for boys (perhaps enslaved) in gay relationships with their teachers. Our English word pederasty comes from παῖς (pais) "boy-child" and ἐραστής (erastēs) "lover." Greek literature is full of this, which makes it very surprising that the Bible would be rid of it so easily.

So it's important to see the Bible (even Matthew) as literary, as we would read Aristophanes's "The Clouds" or Plato's "The Phaedrus" and "The Symposium." Then when we can see ourselves as part of Matthew's audience, we might come to see him as not only an author but also as a translator. And translation, like storytelling, is also rhetorical.

If we're uncomfortable with the Greeks, and their debates about rhetoric and story and translation, then we might turn to others. But we might see that the others haven't said much different than the Greeks said. Gorgias (as Plato tried to straighten him out) sounds like George Steiner, who sounds like Mark translating Jesus. Literature is difficult. The bible is too. It connects us to human conditions.


Jim said...

bitter, party of one. your table's ready.

are you serious in your allusion to size here? have you neither wit nor humor? or do you really only see things through your very narrow lens of ultra-feminist ideology so that even a passing mention of an essay by a woman without sufficient gurgling approval angers you?

if so, in the words of the woman whose name i choose not to remember in the last of the mohicans, as she speaks to her overbearing ex fiance- 'i see that i was wrong to think so highly of you'

J. K. Gayle said...

LOL and :) -- I prejudged you too soon. You will surely be the last comic standing!

Rod said...

Nice post, J.K.

Thank you for responding to my post on Matthew 8:5-13. Is there an particular reason why lexicons favor the Greek noun pais as a slave? And, if it is an enslaved boy-master relationship, the relationship is still problematic if Jesus is affirming the relationship--it is the master/slave relationship, which is far from the mutuality ideally held by all couples, straight or GLBTQ.

J. K. Gayle said...

Rod, I think this is all about categories and whose rigid canon is being used. The meanings of "pais" and "slave" and "relationship" and "mutuality" are constructed to some degree. Many get marginalized by the traditions. And what do you think?

Rod said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rod said...

I think, although I take a traditional Christian stance on marriage, I do not have a problem with reading scripture in light of our experiences. I think when the term "couple" is used, it come with values, such as mutuality. There is a failure I think to examine all power dynamics present in the Matthew passage if Matthew 8:5-13 is just about Jesus affirming a relationship.