Two Theology and Religious Studies members of staff appear on BBC radio

Professor Johanna Stiebert spoke on Prime Minister Netanyahu's use of Scripture, while Dr Aled Thomas spoke on the topic of Scientology.

Professor Johanna Stiebert, Professor of Hebrew Bible (PRHS), joined BBC’s William Crawley for a discussion in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's use of Scripture on BBC Radio 4.

Netanyahu, justifying Israel’s position in the ongoing war in Gaza, made reference to the Amalekites of the Hebrew Bible. 

The Amalekites are a people characterised as sinful and as sworn enemies of Israel. In several passages Israel is urged to wipe out the Amalekites and their memory. Here is one verse that makes this very clear: 

“Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (1 Samuel 15:3)

It is in this context of justifying collective punishment in war that Johanna speaks to the use and potential abuse of Scripture. Johanna points out that referencing the Amalekites in the current distressing context is particularly inflammatory. Such mention implies a sense of destiny and inevitability to the realities of today's Gaza.

We are living through a terrible time of suffering. Thousands are dead, injured and displaced and Judeophobic and Islamophobic tensions are on the rise, including in UK communities. Using inflammatory language from a powerful, sacred text at a time like this is dangerous.

In response to how contemporary readers of biblical texts can do justice to those texts and stand up against their abusive use, Johanna maintains that there is a lack of sufficient information about how the texts were written and transmitted.

Listen to the interview on BBC Radio 4.

Thomas’ interview

Dr Aled Thomas, on the other hand, in light of the recent anti-Scientology protest in East Grinstead, was interviewed by BBC Scotland’s Connie McLaughlin on the topic of Scientology.

Dr Aled Thomas is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Leeds and a specialist in the scholarly study of Scientology.

Scientology, the minority religion founded in the 1950s, is in the news once again due to protests held on 3-5 November 2023 at the Church of Scientology’s UK Headquarters in East Grinstead, during the Church’s annual International Association of Scientologists celebration.

The protest group, ‘United Against Scientology’, gathered ‘to send Scientology a clear message: the abuse must stop’; voicing concerns surrounding controversial issues in the church, such as ‘disconnection’, in which members are believed to cease contact with friends or family critical of Scientology.

Joining for a discussion of the movement – including what it is, why people join, and its controversies, Thomas drew from his research, covering the origin of Scientology, its practice of ‘auditing’, and the controversial ‘Fair Game’ issue – a point of contention between Scientology and its critics.

For more on contemporary Scientology, Aled’s book ‘Free Zone Scientology: Contesting the Boundaries of a New Religion’, is published by Bloomsbury Academic Press (2021).