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Homeless Jesus

A major project analysing ideologies of homelessness as they relate to Jesus' itinerancy.

The research began as a PhD thesis undertaken at the University of Auckland in 2010-2013 and was fully funded by a University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarship. In 2014, the thesis won the prestigious Vice-Chancellor's Prize for Best Doctoral Thesis.


A revised version of the thesis was later published as a monograph by Sheffield Phoenix Press. While the focus of the thesis and monograph was on Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, I have also produced academic and popular articles that develop the findings of the research more broadly and as they relate to the study of the historical Jesus.

 
Homeless Jesus

The Homeless Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew

Monograph published by Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014

If homelessness typically entails a loss of social power and agency, then why do New Testament scholars so often envisage Jesus’ itinerancy as a chosen lifestyle devoid of hardship?

In this provocative new reading of the Gospel of Matthew, Robert J. Myles explores the disjuncture between Jesus and homelessness by exposing the political biases of modern Western readers. Drawing on the ideological politics of homelessness in contemporary society, Myles develops an interpretative lens informed by the Marxist critique of neoliberalism and, in particular, by the critical theory of Slavoj Žižek. Homelessness, from this perspective, is viewed not as an individual choice but rather as the by-product of wider economic, political and social forces. Myles argues that Jesus’ homelessness has become largely romanticized in recent biblical scholarship. Is the flight to Egypt, for instance, important primarily for its recasting of Jesus as the new Moses, or should the basic narrative of forced displacement take centre stage? The remedy, Myles contends, is to read directly against the grain of contemporary scholarship by interpreting Jesus’ homelessness through his wider economic, political and social context, as it is encoded in the biblical text.

To demonstrate how ideology is complicit in shaping the interpretation of a homeless Jesus, a selection of texts from the Gospel of Matthew is re-read to amplify the destitution, desperation and constraints on agency that are integral to a critical understanding of homelessness. What emerges is a refreshed appreciation for the deviancy of Matthew’s Jesus, in which his status as a displaced and expendable outsider is identified as contributing to the conflict and violence of the narrative, leading ultimately to his execution on the cross.

 
 

Myles offers a rich and provocative study that is a welcome addition to the studies of Matthew that take seriously the socioeconomic and political factors shaping the Gospel’s production and the homelessness it reinscribes.

 Warren Carter - Review of Biblical Literature

Other publications

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Probing the Homelessness of Jesus with Žižek's Sublime Object

2013

The Bible and Critical Theory

Echoes of Displacement in Matthew's Genealogy of Jesus

2013

Colloquium: The Australian and New Zealand Theological Review

Jesus' Itinerancy and Individual Exceptionalism

August 2019

Presented at the SBL Annual Meeting in 2018. Published in booklet on homelessness by the Anglican Social Responsibilities Commission.

 

Media interest

Jesus was a hobo, academic claims

Sunday Star Times, 6 April 2014

After the thesis won the Vice-Chancellor's Prize for Best Doctoral Thesis, a major New Zealand newspaper ran a sensationalist front-page article on the research.

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