Home Academia From the Dilettante Files: Prismatic Theology

From the Dilettante Files: Prismatic Theology

A couple years ago, I attended my very first meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in New Orleans. As I was meandering through the hallways in search of interesting sessions, my attention was drawn by a colorful poster placed upon a board which was in use for the poster sessions. It took about .002 nanoseconds to figure out that some whack-job had hijacked the poster session board. I meant to blog on it then, but I forgot
about it until some particularly ridiculous bit of dilettantish behavior mentioned on Scotteriology reminded me of it. Anyway, I bring to your attention ladies and gentlemen: Prismatic Theology. What is Prismatic Theology you might ask, and the answer is about what you’d expect. From the about page:

[W]hile my husband and I drove from Tulsa, OK to Eureka Springs, AR the unexpected happened! It was a beautiful Fall day and the foliage in the Ozark Mountains was particularly brilliant …yellow, orange, red, purple and green leaves dotted the hillsides! But something other than the colorful leaves caught my attention. An image appeared between the windshield of our car and my mind’s eye. The vision that I saw was an organizational structure for ministry. It was in the shape of a square and it looked like a fishing net which had the colors of the rainbow woven into its structure.

The vision came to me from beyond myself and I have no rational explanation for it. The only thing that I can say for certain is that the vision came with a complete understanding of how ‘The Net’ was to function. Moreover the new knowledge was instantaneous and could not be un-learned…During the next four years,1996 – 2000, I experienced a continuous supernatural influx of instruction. At times the intensity of the teaching and the amount of information was beyond what I thought I could handle. I begged for a respite but no rest came until Oct, 2000. By the end of the four year period of time however I had an awareness of three tools for ministry here on earth: A Clock, a Key, and a Net![emphasis original].

Ok, so she had a vision, but what on earth does prismatic theology even mean? From what I can tell, she seems to have haphazardly applied her vision to a variety of random things in the Bible. For example: The creation story in Genesis 1 should not be understood as linear, but rather as circular…because color wheels are round…or something. Unexplained prophetic vision? Color wheels to the rescue! Her application of the color wheel often breaks down into incoherent rambling:

It is unlikely that the wheel was successfully used in ancient times as a means of measuring time relative to the 24-hour measurement. However through the gift of hindsight, a synchronization of ‘bible-time’ and ‘earth-time’ becomes possible. The entire wheel accounts for the counter-clock-wise passage of 8,400 years of which 6,000+ years have elapsed and 2,100+ remain.

What? At least there are plenty of nifty colorful pictures. If you think the climax of absurdity has been reached, get ready to be blown away. She has presented this crap at SBL!

When my research was complete, I joined the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion in order to present my research. I wanted the scholarly community to listen to the information and either tell me that I was crazy; laugh me off of the planet; or help me understand why the insights couldn’t possibly be accurate. But no one laughed. And after several years of presenting academic papers I’m still on the planet. A few scholars commented on the ‘unconventional nature of the wisdom’ saying, “I’ve never thought about this” or “I’ve never seen anything like this.”  But no one told me that the conclusions I offer cannot possibly be accurate.

I’m all about sunshine and kindness, but for the love of Pete why didn’t anyone say, “Yes madam, you are indeed crazy.” The fact that no one did so is allowing her to trade on the name of the SBL. Her website lists her “academic papers presented within the Society of Biblical Literature” including three regional meetings and a national meeting. I’m no fan of censorship, but who is letting this woman into their sessions? Do her abstracts sound distinctly less crazy or something?

Carol, if you are reading this, I have no desire to hurt your feelings, but what you are doing is not scholarship. It does not belong at SBL, and you shouldn’t be hawking DVDs about it on the internet. If you are really interested in Biblical Studies, I suggest that you seek training from an accredited institution of higher learning or contact someone who has had such training and ask for a list of books to read.

8 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing your opinions. Are you the person who stole my poster? I’m genuinely sorry that my critique of Nahum Sarna’s scholarly offering of literary structure and balance in the priestly account of Genesis , first published in 1979, was not able to coincide with the display of the poster. But perhaps if you had heard any of my papers your view of my work would not be quite so negative. Is it out of the box thinking? Yes! And for that I make no apologies.

    • No, I did not take down your poster. I’m guessing someone who was likewise unimpressed with its content removed it, that or an official with the SBL removed it because it didn’t belong there. If you want your work to get a more adequate hearing, I would be happy to review one of your papers. Or if you prefer someone whose scholarship is focused on the OT, I could refer you to a colleague who will evaluate your work. Please don’t think that this is ivory tower snobbery. It is not. I know people with very little formal training who make substantive interactions with the biblical texts. However, your “optics” based hermeneutic is simply untenable and outside the bounds of scholarship. Neither is my complaint born of some prejudice against people of faith. I and many of my peers are people of faith who participate at SBL, and some even do so from a specifically faith-based perspective. Though that is rare, it is practiced in the session on Theological Hermeneutics.Nonetheless, no one considers it appropriate to base their scholarship on their private revelation. To do so is to effectively silence all criticism, and consequently stifle the dialogue for which SBL is intended.

  2. I have had my work reviewed by several professors whose scholarship is focused on OT. And never … not once … have I ever presented an academic paper within the SBL as a work based on ‘personal revelation.’ It simply would not be allowed in the SBL and I respect that! You have assumed much having never heard my papers. And what you have assumed is sadly erroneous.

    Due to the sarcastic nature of your original blog, I don’t sense ivory tower snobbery. I sense ignorance. But I cannot do anything about it.

    The professors who have thus far examined my work have all done so with a spirit of humility. That is the only spirit through which anything outside of the box could possibly be learned. I would never trust you to review my work because you have already formed an opinion. Therefore you would be a biased reviewer at the onset.

    One professor who did review my work is an Egyptologist who served as the moderator of the Hebrew Bible Session at the Mid-Atlantic Region. His questions following my presentation were especially intelligent and insightful. Several Jewish professors in OT were also in attendance at that session. All engaged in an interesting dialogue based on what I presented. In fact every SBL session at which I presented my research has resulted in intelligent questions and insightful feedback. And much to my surprise several people lingered after most of the sessions concluded to speak personally with me and ask additional questions. They weren’t just being polite. These were people who truly wanted to understand.

    LIkewise I have also had those who said, “I don’t get it.” And that’s fair. I can appreciate that. Left brain thinkers are not going to ‘get it’ as readily as right brain thinkers. Hermenuetics aside – if my work was presented with the lack of scholarship that you suggest it was – people would have walked out of the session because that’s what people do when bad papers are presented! Never did anyone walk out while I was speaking!

    What isn’t fair is for you to suggest that the SBL censor people who present perspectives that challenge present scholarship or employ anything other than traditional hermeneutics. But the SBL will never do that. The bottom line is this: I conducted the necessary research to support my arguments and I wrote intelligent abstracts. I went through the process that weeds crazy people out. As a result, I was invited to deliver my papers – not once but five times! I was also invited to place a poster in the poster session by a professor who was quite familiar with my work!

    If you did not attend any of my presentations; if you did not attend the poster session to discuss the poster with me, then you are not qualified to speak for or against anything related to my field of study. You simply don’t have the adequate information to form an intelligent judgment, pro or con. And doing so in a public forum such as an internet blog is quite unprofessional.

    But thank you for directing people to prismatictheology.com. My page has just moved up in the Google line! Negative press works wonders! I haven’t made any attempts to draw attention to my web site because I’m not ready to drive traffic to it. I’ll be ready when my book is released.

    • Well, if you won’t put any of your work out there, then I am left with two possible conclusions: 1) People in a Society that already gets itself in a huff over things like Theological Hermeneutics are suddenly ok with a dilettantish and unreasonable idea like interpreting an ancient Hebrew text through the lens of the modern science of optics, or 2) What you presented has nothing to do with your theory about how to interpret the Bible and consequently your discussion of SBL presentations on your website is disingenuous. I frankly do not believe that you presented your theories in the manner portrayed on your website and received positive feedback. Would you care to share the name of any of these professors? I know that since we have never met, it probably seems like I’m just some jerk on a witch hunt. However, my goal is not in any way to discourage you from pursuit of scholarship. Rather, I’d like to see you engage in scholarship in an appropriate manner.

  3. Jeremy: Here’s the problem! You are assuming that the content of my Prismatic Theology website reflects the content of my academic papers! Once again, your assumptions are incorrect. My website is home to an entire realm of theological thought that has little to do with the academic study of biblical text. It is a sight designed for those of us who are theologians – not scholars! Isn’t that obvious?

    My academic papers addressed one issue that is central to the prismatic perspective of Scripture. I argued that the literary structure and balance of the P account of Creation, as first published by Nahum Sarna; JPS Commentary on Genesis, 1979; is flawed for at least four reasons. I stated the problems with Sarna’s perspective and flushed them out. I then offered a different/better perspective of the literary structure and balance of P’s account. I’m not publishing the academic aspect of my work on my website. It’s part of the introductory DVD for anyone who wants to delve into it.

    As for interpreting an ancient Hebrew text through the lens of the modern science of optics, are you seriously thinking that the ancient Hebrews had no awareness of the rainbow – the color order of the visible spectrum of light? Wasn’t it P who inserted the rainbow covenant into the flood account? Why did the P account of the first covering over the tabernacle include the weaving together of blue, purple and scarlet threads? Are you truly unaware of the ancient use of color in biblical text? Optics is not a modern science. It’s one of the oldest sciences on earth. The human eye captured images long before the human tongue could speak.

    So you can stop being a jerk on a witch hunt. I went to the scholarly community with my argument and I was met with respect whether you want to believe that or not. I stand by my academic work in the SBL and I stand by a prismatic view of Genesis I. You aren’t obligated to like it but you are obligated to treat a fellow member of the SBL with the same level of professionalism as you would want to be treated. Where is it written in stone that a new hermeneutic cannot be established by those of us who are on the cutting edge of scholarship? You don’t know what you are talking about in your attempts to whip me into conformity so that I can engage in scholarship in an appropriate manner. I’ve already been there and I’ve already done that.

    With that … I’ve said all I intend to say on the matter.

  4. Carrie,

    It is not an assumption when you imply as much on your website. If you admit that you did not present your unique hermeneutic at SBL meetings, then your comments on the about page are disingenuous. You imply that the sort of ideas quoted in the above blog were what you put to the test before scholars. Challenging one scholars interpretation of a passage in Genesis is a far cry from shelling out some baloney about a private revelation about color. I’ll leave your points about optics and your claims to be on the cutting edge of scholarship to stand for themselves. The silliness of them is essentially axiomatic.

  5. One more time! Every professor who attended the SBL sessions in which my papers were delivered watched a power point presentation along with the reading of literary strucutre and balance in Genesis I. Every professor saw 8 wheels with 7 colors and 14 images. Every professor saw the timeclock and every professor saw the ‘Sabbath Day’ wheel and the ‘Eighth Day’ wheel. Every professor saw 15,000 years of human history just as it is presented on my website. Every professor saw exactly what my poster displayed at the annual SBL convention in New Orleans. My work was exposed to nearly 70 professors whose expertise is in Hebrew Bible or OT Studies. The professors who attended my presentations did not share your narrow mindedness when it comes to hermeneutics. If they did … they remained silent! Those who spoke out congratulated me on a coherent argument and a well researched paper. Some even suggested other works that I might want to read. Our present knowledge of the science of light, color, and optics is obviously advanced in comparison with the ancient Hebrews but no one thinks that they were ignorant of the relationship between light, color, optics, and time. They may have had a different perspective of cosmology but their cosmological perspective did not impact the manner in which the priestly tradition composed the story of creation. Genesis I is an amazing text when viewed through the prismatic lens. And one more time – I’m not hiding anything. It’s all on the DVD!

  6. Jer,

    It appears said person actually did present at SBL.

    Carol,

    Simply put: you really need some mentors, hermeneutics, history, and humility classes. Any ‘lone wolf’ who thinks they have suddenly ‘figured it out’ what everybody is missing is always wrong. You simply lack the understanding, genre familiarity, historical understanding, and social training to understand why no one else has ever proposed this ‘radical’.. er, I meant, ludicrous idea.

    Tell me: what do you know of Hebrew? What do you know of the social and historical contexts that the books of Genesis and Ezekiel were authored/redacted in? Bronze age? Persian period? Is Ezekiel really the interpretive lens for Genesis? Historically: why? Linguistically (Hebrew): why? Socially: why? Redactionally: why?

    You may think it is some sort of brilliant interpretive move to divorce the book from its historical, literary, and social context to interpret it via a modern mistake: it’s not.

    Also: just because kind professors do not poke the crazy bear, it does not logically follow that the bear is not crazy.

    How do I know? The rainbow told me. And not just any rainbow: full on double rainbow across the sky!

    Now, do a word soup of red herrings and unnamed professors and pretend that it makes sense. Go!

© Jeremiah and Ashleigh Bailey 2012