Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Under the Influence? the Bible, Culture and Nick Cave

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

Under the Influence? the Bible, Culture and Nick Cave

Article excerpt

Roland Boer, Monash University


Debates on the relation between culture and the Bible are locked into two restrictive models: either the Bible is a source for subsequent appropriations, or it is the goal that one must attain through the thicket of those appropriations. In order to trouble this two-way street, I explore the words and music of Nick Cave, focusing on the way he controls interpretation of his work and where that control breaks down. At this moment Cave provides an unwitting insight into another way to view the relation of the Bible and culture, one that operates in terms of "strategies of containment."


[1] How might we understand the relationship between the Bible and culture? The question is of course not new, but I want to come at it from a particular angle–the tension between seeing the Bible as the source from which its interpretations and appropriations follow, or taking it as the destination that must be attained through those subsequent appropriations. On the one hand, the Bible is the original text that influences a host of subsequent cultural products. Our task is then to interpret how it does influence those products. On the other hand, we cannot read the Bible without two or three millennia of interpretation and appropriation. It is always already read, and we can only access the text by wading through those interpretations first. If we look at the problem from the perspective of culture, cultural interpretations thereby become either the result of the Bible's influence or the gateway through which we approach the Bible. I should point out here that by "culture" I mean in this paper the various appropriations–turned over, twisted and spat out again–of common readers, artists, poets, novelists and, of course, song writers like Nick Cave.

[2] This, then, is the problem this essay considers for a while. And it will do so in three stages: first the essay situates this problem within the context of method. At this level I explore a certain hunch concerning biblical interpretation. Secondly the essay considers the problem in light of some recent key positions on the Bible and culture, and finally it engages with the music of Nick Cave in order to explore the methodological question of the influence of the Bible on culture.


[3] Firstly, then, let me lay out a tentative proposal concerning biblical interpretation within which we might reconsider the question of the Bible and culture. It seems to me that biblical interpretation involves three moments or levels: text, afterlives and metacommentary. The level of text involves all of the textual, literary, historical, social scientific, archaeological, theoretical and whatever other questions we have become accustomed to throw at this ancient text. These questions are of course myriad, but the underlying drive has been and remains the need to understand an ancient text in its various contexts. There is nothing particularly outrageous by suggesting that this remains the dominant understanding of biblical studies. While I would defend the need for this focus on the text–after all, I have spent a good deal of time acquiring and exercising the linguistic and methodological skills required to work with the text in such a way–I also find it a peculiarly truncated understanding of biblical studies. Questions such as whether King David actually lived, whether Paul was gay, the literary structure of the book of Ruth or locating the subversive voice of the books of Samuel are all vitally important, but remain somewhat limited. You may have noted that I have in fact lumped together what is often taken to be the major divide in biblical studies, between what very roughly may be called historical critical and literary approaches. It seems to me that this is a false distinction and that many efforts to understand, say, the text of Genesis 1-3 from historical, archaeological, social-scientific or literary perspectives are largely involved in the same task. …

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