Yale professor gives lecture at MC

Maryville College was privileged to welcome Dr. Dale Martin of Yale University to speak as part of the MC Bible Grant speaker series on Oct. 18, 2011.

Dr. Margaret Cowan, division chair of humanities department at MC, commented on Martin’s invitation to speak as part of the series.

“The original grant that supported this lecture series was designed to enhance the teaching of the Bible by bringing to campus guest speakers to address its relevance for contemporary concerns and issues,” Cowan said. “Martin has published several notable works about the New Testament and such social issues as homosexuality and the family.”

Martin is a well-recognized New Testament scholar and the Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University. He is the author of many works that touch on issues of idolatry and sexuality in the New Testament world, including “Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation” and “The Corinthian Body,” among others.

The Yale University Press will publish Dr. Martin’s latest book, “Introduction to New Testament History and Literature,” as a part of the Yale Open Courses book series.

Martin’s lecture was entitled “The American Idolatry of Family and Nation: Misuse of the Bible in American Public Life.” In it, Martin argued that patriotism and the nuclear family are idolized in American culture and that the religious community frequently misuses biblical texts to support its idolatry.

Martin stated that the nuclear family is upheld in American society as a higher form of living than being single. He pointed out how this view is not congruous with New Testament ideology towards family, quoting passages such as Luke 14:26, in which Jesus instructs his followers to “hate [their] father and mother” and Pauline texts that uphold single, celibate life as the ideal Christian lifestyle. Pauline texts are not concerned with procreation, as Paul and early Christians believed that Jesus would return within their lifetime.

Martin addressed the facts that, in every passage in the New Testament in which family life is engaged, these passages demand the suppression of women and include slaves within the household and the few passages that mention women in the New Testament have a generally negative tone.

Next, Martin addressed how the manner in which contemporary American society upholds the state has more similarities with the way in which New Testament-era Romans viewed the Roman state than with the ideology towards the state that is expressed in the New Testament itself. Roma, the goddess of the Roman state, was idolized in a way that resembles the way in which contemporary American society venerates the state.

Martin pointed to passages in biblical texts such as Romans 13, which suggest that Christians merely “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” (i.e. taxes) and nothing beyond that point. He also touched on passages such as 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 and Luke 1:52-53, which condemn leaders of the government as “doomed to perish” and “brought down…from their thrones.”

Martin’s lecture was, in general, received well by those in attendance.

“I thought he did a very good job of precisely what we wanted, and that was putting forth an argument that was carefully articulated on the basis of biblical text and what we know about ancient culture,” said Cowan.

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