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Education in times of crisis: Reading Australian history through the Torah


  • Australian Jewish History Lecture Series Sydney Jewish Museum


Education in times of crisis: Reading Australian history through the Torah


Education in times of crisis: Reading Australian history through the Torah


Wednesday 28 April

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This lecture is one of a series of ten lectures that will focus on education in times of national disasters and calamity in Jewish History. These online lectures are held in conjunction with Sydney University’s Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies and Mandelbaum House.

This week’s lecture will focus on education after Mabo and reading Australian history through the Torah.

After the Mabo decision of the High Court in 1992, Australian national identity was thrown into a crisis from which it has not recovered. Understanding the history of our predicament necessarily includes studies of the Bible, a branch of education that has also fallen on hard times. This lecture attempts to show how the reception of the biblical literature plays an important role in the history of Christian colonialism. The doctrine of colonial discovery grew from a panoply of biblical sources–so much so that a recent essay begins with the arresting sentence: “Abraham and Joshua conquered America.” One could add that Moses and Isaiah played supporting roles as well. Whatever the favoured classical sources, colonial assertions of sovereignty appeared to be amply supported by biblical warrants, notwithstanding a notable line of dissenting opinions. This discussion begins by examining the invocations of the Pentateuch in Spanish colonial discourses, and then outlines key elements in the subsequent legal history right up to the present, including the distinctive mutations in North America and Australasia, along with some dissenting views. I will show how Deuteronomy, in particular, eventually proved to be a double-edged sword in debates about sovereignty, while the book of Genesis was woven into competing concepts of property and natural rights.

Prof Mark Brett teaches Hebrew Bible and ethics at Whitley College in Melbourne, within the University of Divinity. He is the General Editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature, and his research has focused on ethnicity and postcolonial studies. Among many other works, he is the author of Political Trauma and Healing: Biblical Ethics for a Postcolonial World (Eerdmans, 2016), and Locations of God: Political Theology in the Hebrew Bible (Oxford University Press, 2019). During 2005–2008, he also worked as a secretary for the Victorian Traditional Owner Land Justice Group and as a policy officer in the native title system.

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