Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Back from the Areopagus Lectures

The Areopagus Lectures turned out to be a bit of a chore for me, because I lost my voice. Believe it or not, Orlando was both cooler and less humid than Alabama, and the sudden change in humidity coupled with me exchanging anecdotes for a few hours with an old friend resulted in me croaking my way through the papers.

The first paper, "Why Myth Matters," was exactly what needed to be said first. I was a little trepidatious about giving a paper about the Bible as myth at a Christian college, and wondered if I might have to make the first five minutes caveats and a basic lecture on the difference between the word "myth" as the Discovery Channel uses it, and as literary scholars use it. Greg Hartley took care of all that, however, and threw in some CS Lewis for good measure.

My first paper, "Lies I Tell My Daughter," was basically about martyrdom myths in the Bible, late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, contrasting them with prosperity gospels of the 20th and early 21st Centuries. If anyone got cheesed off at what I said, it was probably from this lecture.

The second paper was Brian D. Smith on "Mythology and Neo-Paganism." Essentially, it discussed various strains of neo-paganism and their mythological underpinnings. I suppose this paper is the reason my earlier post of the schedule at the Areopagus lectures got batted around some pagan/wiccan websites, but so far as I can tell no one commented beyond the initial linkage. Frankly, other than the expected discussion of how neo-paganism is dangerous to Christianity, I doubt most neo-pagans would find much to disagree with in his paper. It was a learned and fair-handed portrayal. This is not to say that anyone could have walked away thinking Prof. Smith is a fan of paganism (neo or otherwise), but simply to say that he was careful not to offer a Chick-tract version of neo-paganism.

The third paper way by my old friend Dr. Les Hardin. Besides being a really awesome guy, Les is a really awesome scholar, and laid out a carefully structured reading of Revelation that tied it into emperor-worship in the first century. I've heard him speak on Revelation as part of the apocalyptic genre before, and he was just as good as ever. Unfortunately, he stole my anecdote about the first time we met*, so I'll have to take revenge at a later date.

The last paper, mine, was not meant to be nearly so controversial as the first, though it got a lot more questions, mostly about cultural mythologies of masculinity and femininity. Perhaps this is a reflection on the fact that the first paper I gave was a real downer.

In any case, Florida Christian College was very gracious. They put me up in a lovely apartment, offered a generous honorarium, and had a good spread of papers. Not only did the students show up, but folks from the surrounding churches came as well. I was expecting the questions to be about on the level I get when I present at scifi/fantasy conventions, but the Areopagus crowd was more sophisticated, and had a solid knowledge of the Bible, allowing for a bit more subtlety in argumentation and allusion. If I'm ever invited back, I'll go enthusiastically.

One last thing: FCC videotaped the lectures to put them online. Unfortunately, one of the lectures had serious technical problems, another wasn't geared for video, and mine has me croaking hoarsely. The papers were planned for oral presentation before a popular crowd, so they would need serious re-tooling for print publication. When I left, the compromise solution they were talking about was re-recording the missing parts from the technical problems, then posting them as downloadable audio files. By the time I left, nothing had yet been decided. I'll try to let Wordhoarders know how/when/where the lectures will be available.

*When Les and I first met, he was talking about a particular parable (I can't remember which one). I disagreed with his reading, and felt that the NIV's editing of the parable made it seem like it was stand-alone, when in fact it should have been combined thematically with some other parables. I based my argument on a verbal "cue" in the text that suggested that the parable should be linked to the rest. Les misunderstood me, and heard "cue" as "Q," and thought I was talking about the "Q Gospel." He argued vigorously against the existence of Q, furthermore arguing that even if we accepted the existence of Q, it wouldn't help us to understand the question at hand ... to which I replied, "No, I meant verbal cues..." That's when I knew I liked him.


  1. Synchronicity can be a strange phenomenon. I read this post and then read John Granger's post entitled, "Recovering the Medieval Imagination" and I believe that the two of these posts have some intersecting commonalities.

    Last December, I forwarded a link to your "Reading Medieval Allegory" and John loved it.

    Perhaps you might find his post of interest as well:

    FYI, John's a Latin instructor and has written extensively on literary alchemy especially in regards to the Harry Potter series.

    Oh, and next time you are doing a series of lectures, bring along a bag of lemon drops. It helps soothes sore vocal chords. I used them constantly during my competitive public speaking days in high school.


  2. Frankly, other than the expected discussion of how neo-paganism is dangerous to Christianity, I doubt most neo-pagans would find much to disagree with in his paper.

    LOL -- yes, other than that. That's all right. Neo-pagans often find Christianity dangerous, too.

  3. Actually, as I typed that, I thought, "I suppose certain types of neo-pagans would not only agree with Smith, but would cheer on!"

    Kate -- return my e-mail!