Interview: Brandon Hurlbert

School/Institution:

Durham University

Areas of Interest/Research:

Hebrew Bible / Old Testament, Hermeneutics, Bible and Violence, Bible and Pop-culture, Bible & Film

What is it about your field that you love researching?

I just love the Bible. Some of its stories (and poetry!) continue to captivate me even though I grew up hearing them as a kid. While I am interested in understanding how we can best make sense of the Old Testament narratives for today, I also love researching about reception history. There’s a particular feeling of joy I get, when I find in the sea of references an alternative reading that changed things. The Bible is open to being read in many ways, and learning more about how others have received and interpreted these texts can be both a humbling and illuminating task. 

What is one “big idea” in your scholarship?

That sometimes, to read ‘with the grain’ of the text is to critique the very actions depicted in it. 

What is your current research about?

(CW: violence toward women, rape, and graphic imagery) My PhD thesis is about reading the book of Judges as Christian Scripture. For some time now, I have been curious how such troubling texts might continue to function today as Scripture––I can imagine faithful congregants replying weakly, or perhaps, inquisitively, “Thanks be to God?” after reading stories like Jephthah sacrificing his daughter or the rape and dismemberment of the Woman in Judges 19. Hopefully my research can produce new ways of reading that constructively turn that very warranted question into a confession, even if it must be made in faith.

Part of my research is about Christian non-violence and exploring how, if at all, this ethical posture might shape our reading of violent texts in an effort to produce an irenic interpretation. Though I am interested in the entire book of Judges, my research has led me to focus on the Ehud narrative (3:12-30), the Samson narrative(s) (Chs. 13-16), and the ending of the book (Chs. 17-21). 

Who is one of your academic heroes and why do you admire them?

Hands down, it’s Phyllis Trible. Her scholarship has been so important for biblical studies, but she’s also the reason that I came to study the book of Judges. What I admire most about Trible is that she is such a careful and charitable reader of the text. With deep convictions about faith and feminism, she describes her efforts as like Jacob wrestling with God at the Jabbok––she will leave with both a limp and a blessing. Her honesty concerning the patriarchy and her care for the neglected voices of Scripture inspire and challenge my research.  

What books have been formative for you in your study? Why were they so important? How did they shape you?

Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror is the reason I study Judges. During my undergraduate studies, I became intrigued by the story of Jephthah. Nothing impacted me or helped me understand that story like Trible’s chapter on it. More than anything, this book showed me the importance of being a careful reader of Scripture. Her chapter on Judges 19 in that same book is what prompted the research that led to my master’s thesis. 

Do you have any publications we can showcase?

Yes, a very reworked version of my master’s thesis was just published in Biblical Interpretation. In it, I discuss a ‘grammatical-cinematic’ approach which utilizes film and the filmmaking process to interpret the biblical narrative. Using examples from Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, I argue that this approach can recover the agency and dignity of the woman and better visualize the brutality of violence. 

Cut & Splice: Reading Judges 19 Cinematically, Biblical Interpretation, 1-25. doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/15685152-00284P20

Where can we follow you online?

Twitter: @brandonhurlber1

Email: Brandon.m.hurlbert@durham.ac.uk

Blog/podcast: The Two Cities (thetwocities.com) (@thetwocities on twitter)

Blog: The Centre for the Study of Bible & Violence (https://www.csbvbristol.org.uk/)  (@CSbibleviolence on twitter)

If we ran into you at a conference and you didn’t want to talk about your field what would you want to talk about?

The best movie you saw in the past year.

What research/writing project are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

I recently presented at a conference called In the Cross-Hairs: Bible and Violence put on by the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence. The paper used Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood to help make sense of the book of Esther’s violent ending. The proceedings will be published by Sheffield Phoenix Press.

I’m also finishing up a chapter in an edited volume on Black Mirror and Theology (Theology & Pop Culture Series). My essay is about reading the Samson narrative alongside the perspective shifting technique found in a few different episodes.

>> Thank you so much, Brandon, for taking the time to share a bit about yourself and your work.


Are you a PhD student or Early Career Researcher working in Religion or Biblical Studies? If so, we’d like to hear from you. This website is dedicated solely to interviewing PhD students and ECRs on who they are, what they love about their work, and what has inspired them. If you’d like to be interviewed, head over to the Contact page and fill out the form. There’s no catch. Don’t be shy. Self-promotion is a virtue.

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