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Esteban Vázquez

Bravo, John! Someone ought to give you an award for this post.

Gary Simmons

In other words, people like me are now welcome and he doesn't like that fact.

Well, I think it's pretty lacking in the reason department to handle biblical literature at all and somehow think you won't interact with people who accept its truth claims and seek to act on them.

I don't know how to say it politely, but if you can't stand the heat, then get out of the forge.

G. Kyle Essary

Imagine if a respected member of the ETS were to "let his membership lapse" because he was opposed to women like Marianne Meye Thompson teaching men at the meetings, or because he felt they were too inclusive in allowing Pentecostals, Reformed and everyone else who agrees to the very minimal ETS doctrinal statement instead of only allowing those who hold to...say the Chicago Statement...or some random specific confession (let's say the New Hampshire Baptist Confession).

This person would be mocked by secularists and most Christians alike for his exclusivism. This person would be scorned as a fundamentalist...yet when a secularist brings the exact same mindset to the table in the name of "critical scholarship" and "reason," then he's championed. As if there is an objective definition of reason or critical scholarship.

No, the SBL isn't the best place for a Jews for Jesus outreach, but there are just as many evangelicalistic secularists as evangelistic Christians at the meetings I've attended and neither are all that common. Most of us are happy that various perspectives are presented. If I go to a session on John's gospel, I want to hear Casey as much as I want to hear Carson. Genesis? Give me Hendel, Clifford...heck bring Van Seters in to critique everyone, but also give me Wenham and Walton. Reason is not neutral, and none of these individuals are more or less ideological or subjective in their interpretations. Some just are more open about their biases.

Instead of saying, "If you don't hold my view I won't play with you anymore," maybe we should try to understand each other and learn from each others' scholarship, even if we greatly disagree. I hope that Milgrom's passing doesn't mean that his spirit of scholarship passes from the scene as well.

As a sidenote, it is somewhat ironic though that Milgrom could play his cards openly saying that he traces P back to a Shilonite priesthood whose founder was Aaron and we call it great scholarship, but if Waltke says the same thing (based on the same arguments) we write him off as a confessional scholar since he's so open about his faith commitments, haha.

Simon Holloway

First off, I must say how impressed I am with so well thought-out a response less than an hour after receiving news of this, from (I am assuming) the same source that I did! I am very appreciative of you voicing so clear a counter-argument, but while I'm unlikely to let my own membership lapse, I agree with the essence of Ron Hendel's sentiment.

While the removal of "critical investigation" may have been more symptomatic than causative, and while the shifting demographics of membership may be a development most natural, I am dismayed at the fact that this is where Biblical Studies seems evidently heading. Were it not the case that so many "Bible-thumping Christians" think that accepting the truth claims of the text and acting on them necessitates a rabid disbelief in evolution and a mistrust of scientific investigation, then I might agree with Mr Gary Simmons' sentiment above.

I am not suggesting that Gary, nor you, nor even anybody within your respective churches falls into that category (nor into the ugly realm of proselytising that Ron Hendel laments), but the institutionalised presence of such people at SBL, if they truly are there in force, is lamentable.

G. Kyle Essary

Simon,
Have you ever been to a session at SBL that mentioned evolution in a negative tone? Have you ever heard a paper presented that discussed ID, YEC or any of that other stuff? What in the world does that have to do with SBL where the vast majority of even confessing scholars openly hold to both evolution and their Christian/Jewish/other beliefs?

I just don't think it's really a problem at SBL, and that Hendel is obviously exagerrating. I'm not up in arms about queer readings, feminist readings or various other things that I disagree with that are as common as evangelistic Christian members. I applaud the diversity of views allowed to present.

BTW, did anyone else think it's funny that Hendel makes this argument in BAR? It's not like they haven't pandered to confessional scholarship in the past or anything...(and I subscribe, so that criticism comes from a confessional subscriber to BAR).

Gary Simmons

Thanks for the honorable mention, Simon. I'm 24 years old, trained in exegesis and Greek. My Hebrew's not worth mentioning. Anyway, I hold an agnostic approach about evolution (I'm not convinced it's that important), I enjoy scientific inquiry, and I would proselytize if I got to know someone as a close friend.

Thank you for the honorable mention and not painting with a broad brush! I wouldn't appreciate someone painting me with any size brush without my permission.

It seems to me that any presentation in biblical studies, as with any experiment in science, will fail more often than it will succeed. Sometimes only time will tell. But that doesn't make either sort of inquiry worthless. If I went to SBL meetings, I'm sure I'd run across things that grate on my nerves, but that's the way of things. Better to just see what can be gained from discussion than concentrate on what one cannot change.

Simon Holloway

Actually, I've only ever been to two SBL conferences (Auckland, 2008 and New Orleans, 2009), and I must confess to having limited myself to papers that struck me as critical and investigative - so no. I have, however, spoken to people at SBL who have somewhat surprised me with their defence of such opinions, and I've seen the publications that the conference was selling and promoting. I must take your word for it over Hendel's that the majority do not feel this way: I didn't get the impression that John was denying that shift in demographics, and it was to that shift that I was responding.

Does it offend me that there are people who take the Bible as literal truth? I think they're wrongheaded (sometimes wilfully so), but they don't offend me. Should they be excluded from presenting at SBL? Absolutely not. I do think it's disappointing if the general constituency of SBL is moving in that direction, and I do think that proselytism should be forbidden, but beyond that it's an organisation run by people who are not me, and my vote as to what they should promote means nothing.

By the way, I'm quite enamoured of both queer and feminist hermeneutics. I didn't agree with all of Hendel's indictments; only his general sentiment.

JohnFH

Hi everyone,

Great discussion. I don't have much time to interact online at the moment, since I'm in the midst of packing books for the move. It is a psychologically draining event for a bookworm like me.

One thing I will say is that I'm looking forward to AAR and SBL having their national meetings together again. I will renew my AAR membership at that time, which I have let lapse (only because I have other priorities).

Why do I like attending AAR sessions?

To take up a point made by Simon, I may be a little bit unlike him in that I seek out presenters of, say, Buddhism or Judaism who are not only critical and investigative in approach, but deeply in love with the religion and texts they study, texts they get worked up about because they address them in some sense and furnish a metanarrative which gives shape to their lives and intellectual pursuits. I like to see how other people's oil and water mix as it were.

I remember hearing an AAR presentation by Norbert Samuelson that was riveting. He began by describing what he termed the central trope of Jewish existence, that of sharing a meal together with G*d as participant, gifter and gifted. You could not listen to Samuelson without thinking that Judaism is this splendid and precious thing, which, I'm convinced, is why the room was packed, inclusive of a number of Jewish Bible scholars I recognized.

Most of us were sitting on the floor or standing in the back. The discussion was hot and heavy. I may have been the only goy in the room. It felt like it. The person next to me was talking to himself, saying, "there is no bat-qol. There wasn't for Buber or Heschel either. We have to get over this." But others in the room - Jewish fundies, I guess - argued otherwise.

I still want to be shown that for Heschel, there is no bat-qol nor prophecy before that. Be that as it may, I would think that, in this day and age, a scholar who describes a thick line of continuity that stretches from the religion of ancient Israel to the religion of the Sages to a robustly traditional and robustly modern version of Judaism, is intellectually within her rights. Such a scholar is doing something of great interest to believer and unbeliever alike.

I admit that the average Pentecostal, 7th Day Adventist, or Mormon is not very adept at this point as delineating lines of continuity in an intellectually convincing fashion. Give them time, and they will become adept.

First they have to be enfranchised, "assimilated" in some sense, even as they learn the fine art of adapting and being adapted by the tools of critical investigation. Still, enfranchisement and assimilation are double-edged swords. Who aggrandizes whom in the process? There is more than one point of view from which one might be legitimately disquieted.

I refuse to think of this debate as one between those who argue from a point of view of acquired privilege and those who want to be allowed to join the club without checking their cultural loyalties at the door. The debate deserves to be reframed, and I'm happy to see it reframed in terms of the need for scholarship to be critical and investigative.

That is my beef with RBL right now. It allows puff reviews. That is unconscionable. Non-conservatives notice conservatives writing uncritical adulatory reviews of conservative scholarship. Non-liberals notice liberals writing uncritical adulatory reviews of liberal scholarship (excuse the hackneyed use of the terms "conservative" and "liberal"). Both kinds of reviews are a waste of time and effort to read.

If the policy doesn't change, maybe I will just go ahead and rate reviews as they come out with a phrases like "this review was written by a hack [in the British sense of that term]"; "any book as perfect as this one supposedly is, is bound to be a crock."

I look forward, BTW, to attending a session of queer or feminist hermeneutics if in fact one can be found whose spirit is critical and investigative rather than clubbish and resentful toward "others." The capacity for self-criticism within one's paradigm is a sine qua non of an excellent intellect. A little bit of humor however wry also goes a long way. Given that life is short, anything less is not worth my time or yours.

Theophrastus

Your buddy, Jacques Berlinerblau, has made rather similar complaints about SBL. See also here. And for that matter, your former mentor Michael Fox has some sharp remarks too.

Do you know anyone who thinks SBL has gotten better over the last decade? As you correctly point out, RBL has become of such marginal quality that it is now a joke.

Sadly, Biblical studies in secular universities is at best arrested in terms of jobs (and according to many, actually in decline). Berlinerblau, in the above-linked Chronicle of Higher Education piece, argues that "On the level of serious scholarship, I find it quite telling that some of the most influential studies — the ones that get reviewed in the major journals of opinion such as The New York Review of Books, The Nation, Commentary, The Times Literary Supplement, what have you — are written by professors of English and comparative literature. To give a recent example, Harold Bloom has released a quirky, unforgivable, but deliciously provocative book entitled Jesus and Y***: The Names Divine. In 2006, as far as I can tell, it has generated more media commentary than any other work of scholarship focused on the Bible in the past year." One could instantly add Robert Alter and Frank Kermode. (Who is the best known Bible professor in America today? Perhaps Bart Ehrman.)

Berlinerblau also claims "something like 95 percent of jobs advertised on the SBL site's 'Openings' list are placed there by nonsecular institutions." But seminaries and divinity schools cannot replace the role of secular institutions in Bible study: the experience of Evangelical facutly such as Bruce Waltke and Peter Enns and the experience of faculty during the purges at SBTS and other SBC seminaries show that academic freedom of inquiry is not held in high regard at some confessional institutions.

Finally, if Hendel's complaints are true about some SBL attendees using meetings for Evangelical proselytizing, then I am certainly in sympathy. I find proselytizing so distasteful that I will go out of my way to avoid it. Furthermore, it is absurd -- I am fairly certain that almost all SBL attendees are fairly well informed about Christianity. I propose the following punishment for the those who proselytize at academic meetings: that they be forced to spend an hour listening to Mormon missionaries.

JohnFH

Hi Theophrastus,

Don't give me any ideas. If I run across you at SBL-Atlanta, I will show my collection of Jack Chick tracts to you, but only if you return the favor by showing me your signed copy of Robert Crumb's Genesis.

I am beginning to wonder if the power of suggestion is kicking in. It's not that anyone to my knowledge has ever read the "Four Spiritual Laws" to anyone else at SBL. It's the mere thought that someone in attendance might do so under the right circumstances.

"People who have sex with horses or corpses I can handle," I hear someone saying, statistically speaking, there is good reason to believe that one will rub shoulders with one or the other at a meeting with thousands of attendees, "whatever gets you through your day, but the notion that someone thinks that my eternal destiny hangs on my response to the gospel as they understand it and cares enough about me to make me a pitch, that crosses a red line."

Let's face it, the world is a dangerous place for the religiously uncommitted, or the religiously committed who don't want to be hassled by those otherwise committed.

If you are easily offended and have strong beliefs of any kind, or no particular beliefs at all, SBL cannot be recommended. You will almost certainly hear something at an SBL meeting that is "quirky, unforgivable," and "provocative" though not necessarily delicious - from some academic at a secular institution who is a wannabe Harold Bloom. Great gobs of scholars pander as best they can to the tastes of "the major journals of opinion such as The New York Review of Books, The Nation, Commentary, The Times Literary Supplement." They have their reward.

Think of all the gullible middle-brow people who read Bloom and think they understand the Hebrew Bible; Ehrman and think they have a clue about early Christianity, Pagels and think they have a clue about Gnosticism.

The main difference between this literature and that of the low brow kind, such as "The Shack," "The Da Vinci Code," and the "Left Behind" series, is the academic pretentiousness of the former.

But the idea that SBL is anything more or anything less than a huge menagerie of people each of whom is up on his or her soapbox throwing pearls before swine is absurd.

The amount of scholarship that is wedded to a project of liberation of some kind is enormous - out of secular institutions, the projects are queer, feminist, Marxist, what have you - out of religious institutions, if the presenters choose to discuss theology and practice in a normative sense based on exegesis - yes, this happens regularly at SBL, it really is an equal opportunity offender - the projects tend to follow a good, old-time religion of some kind.

And I am supposed to be bothered by any of this? Only if the old-time religion is of the Evangelical or Mormon kind? That would be a form of bigotry.

I would certainly like the study of biblical literature to occupy a place of privilege in the Humanities and for the study of the Humanities to be restored to its former honors within the university. For that to happen, however, those who teach in secular institutions would have to rediscover the role of "loyal critic" over against the unwashed masses of colleagues and students who contextualize their intellectual interests within a confessional or ideological paradigm different from their own. They might even have to be a little more self-aware about their own unconfessed confessional proclivities.

Berlinerblau, Fox, and Hendel are scholars, it seems to me, of the "loyal critic" sort. That is, as a student of biblical literature with cultural loyalties on the "Dark Side" of the spectrum - not only evangelical, but reformed, not only reformed, but Calvinist - I find much to agree with in terms of approach and conclusions and where I can't agree, much worth arguing about. It's not about creating a neutral space but it is about choosing to write in a certain register. Even then, I know they are trying to convince me of a lot more than just the best understanding they can come up with of the "first sense" of biblical literature in their scholarship. But I'm a big boy; I can handle it.

To use an example Hendel would appreciate, if I want I can try to keep separate in my mind Mary Douglas the anthropologist, the biblical exegete, the theologian, and the social critic, but to what end? Talk about a pedantic enterprise.

To return to the mission of SBL. Yes, I am unhappy with the warmed-over gooey sticky mission statement of SBL circumscribed to "fostering biblical scholarship." I desire a return to SBL's first foundations. Those foundations were sunk deep into the murky waters of the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment. The critical appropriation of watchwords like "ad fontes," "question authority," and a Maimonidean faith-commitment (my diction) to the intelligibility of life and history characterized the SBL from the beginning. I have a commitment to all of these things as do Berlinerblau, Fox, and Hendel. I have much more in common with old-fashioned scholars of their type and with people like Gary Simmons, Kyle Essary, Simon Holloway, Duane Smith, Alan Lenzi, and Seth Sanders, to name a few people who like to comment on these threads, than I do with more trendy people like Harold Bloom when he cross-dresses as a biblical critic and Bart Ehrman who likes to play the New Age (anti-)theologian. On the other hand, I know I can converse with Ehrman on matters of text criticism according to a common methodology. Whereas I don't know what methodology I share with Bloom, though I am happy to concede that he is a very gifted mis-reader of the biblical text.

Seth Sanders

Hey John,

Been holding back here because I trusted you'd say something to complicate my initial total agreement with Hendel--which you have done. But one of the questions his piece raises that's still hanging in the air for me is whether the changes in the SBL's mission and the kind of scholarly discourse the RBL facilitates were actually driven by principle. The principle of welcoming a variety of metaphysical presuppositions and religious commitments is the only viable one for democracy and the republic of letters--and as Locke famously argued, it's the only healthy one for religion too.

Hendel seems to be suggesting that this change in the SBL was more a matter of logistics than principle, and he ties it to a loss of both rigor and openness. But as you point out, secularism is no guarantee of either. Other people, including Belinerblau, may also be projecting a combination of problems--some related, some not-- onto religious commitment. Could we be dealing with a case of overdetermination, with a whole set of factors at work that we should at least try to disentangle first? I think first not of religious commitment itself but certain ways of arguing (such as the argument from tradition that Waltke used here) that can accompany certain types of religious commitment. As you suggested, these may be like the speeches of Job's friends in more than one way.

G. Kyle Essary

John, Seth, etc.,
But isn't this mainly a problem with RBL? I think we are all in agreement that the diversity of options for presentation are a good thing (or at least it seems like most are happy about that). The problem seems to be that RBL has degenerated greatly and people are using that to project onto SBL as a whole.

There is no doubt that Waltke's argument from tradition should have been edited out (the review was long enough as it stood without those sections). Some of the worst examples of puff piece reviews have come from bloggers.

Two examples come from bloggers that I highly respect usually, but couldn't believe the lack of critical interaction in their reviews would be Claude Mariotinni and Art Boulet. In Mariottinni's review of Oswalt's The Bible Among the Myths he gives this winner of a quote, "Those who believe that the Bible is the literary product of divine revelation will agree that Oswalt has shown that the Bible is different from the other religious writings from the ancient Near East. Those who reject the notion that God has revealed himself in the history of Israel will remain unpersuaded that the Bible is a unique book containing divine revelation and that the religion of Israel is different from the other religions in the ancient Near East." The problem with Art's review (much of which I agree with in its content) is that it was also lacking in critical interaction with the book being reviewed and only seemed to use the book as a stepping stone to making his personal arguments against the lack of interaction between evangelicalism and critical scholarship that were in line with Sparks. Agree or disagree with Gibbs' review of the same book, but it was a critical interaction that discussed the goods and bads of the work, and why the bads were bad. This latter type of review should be commended.

So isn't the real issue with RBL? After all, much of Hendel's critique (and Lenzi's similar critiques) have centered on what RBL has published, right?

Jill Hotmail

John,

Please explain why you will or will not be attending a session of the "Feminist Hermenuetics and the Bible" with Exum, Eskenaski, Yoder and others on the panel on 11-22-10 at 4:00. Please explain why we should assume that such scholars will not be critical or investigative. If you were unaware of this session when you wrote "I look forward, BTW, to attending a session of queer or feminist hermeneutics if in fact one can be found whose spirit is critical and investigative rather than clubbish and resentful toward 'others'," then we should assume that either: 1. you assume that these scholars will not be critical and investigative or 2. you did not actually read the offerings by the feminist hermenuetics group for the 2010 session. If assumption 2 is correct, your comment hardly models even the most basic research skills (e.g. the ability to read a text closely to support ones claims)that we should all demand of any biblical scholar worth his or her salt (queer, feminist, or otherwise.)

JohnFH

Excellent conversation. Sorry to be so inconsistent at the computer. Packing away files and books for a move is psychological torture for me. The downside is that my books and papers will never be organized in the same disorder I have been used to for the last five years. The upside is that I have already discovered things while excavating my files that I now see in a new light since I filed them away eons ago.

Alan Lenzi

I've been trying to resist spending a ton of time on blogs. I have work to do. But since my name is being brought up.... I'm going to say this: RBL, the publication with the least and loosest editorial oversight, is reflective, I think, of what is happening in the SBL generally on the ground. Hendel is right: More people with overtly religious presuppositions have joined the organization and they use these presuppositions as a basis for their scholarship. One can talk all they want about diversity and cultural loyalties, etc. among members of the SBL. We all have our loyalties and commitments. That's not a problem. The problem is when these loyalties invoke transcendental claims that go beyond the normal practice of modern scholarship---that removes the basis of study from human beings and places it with god or some nebulous idea like "faith," e.g. That is a methodological problem of the first rank.

Waltke's statement, I think, is a hallmark of this kind of scholarship. Let's just recall what he said:

"By their faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, [evangelical scholars] … hear the voice of higher biblical criticism, which replaces faith in God’s revelation with faith in the sufficiency of human reason, as the grating of an old scratched record."

This is not only problematic, it's absurd! Who knows the mind of "god"? How does faith make an argument? Does Waltke really believe he is NOT depending solely on his own reason when he writes his ideas up? If not from him alone, where else might his ideas come? If the Holy Spirit, then how is one to argue with what he writes? How could/can he be wrong, especially when he IS demonstrably so!? And if he humbly admits that he might be wrong, then why even invoke the idea that he is writing under a higher, better standard of "faith," which is so fundamentally a different standard from us secular scholars (who foolishly follow the Greeks and use reason), but which gives him no more secure intellectual basis? Why not just admit that we all do the same thing: We ALL are responsible for our ultimate commitments and we ALL depend on our own intellectual skills---our reason, period, for our scholarship. To say otherwise is not only disingenuous, it is patently absurd and does nothing to advance scholarship. . . . Kind of like your idea, JohnFH, of inerrancy. . . . (Had to give that a jab.) If "faith" merely sets the agenda (i.e., is a divinely granted presupposition), then how is one to argue with these scholars at all about the nature of the biblical text (as a product of human beings) when one knows that their fundamental basis for scholarship comes from something non-rational? Why do they even want to argue with us secular folks? Why even belong to the SBL? Why does Waltke belong to the SBL when he knows it has operated on critical principals since the beginning and has been populated by scholars I was taught to discount at my conservative seminary---with which Waltke was associated? These are the kinds of questions that gets one to worrying. (Caveat: plenty of people have a religious "faith" but don't allow it to man-handle the biblical data. They, as Lincoln would say, have a minimal kind of religion--let's call it Liberal Protestantism--with regard to their scholarship and have positioned reason above most of their faith claims. That's commendable, in my opinion. Waltke and Evangelicals, on the other hand, exercise a maximal kind of religion with regard to scholarship and therefore are very difficult at times to deal with.)

This is all I'm going to say. I can't spend so much time defending a position that would be common sense in any other field of academic inquiry.

If you haven't already, join the Facebook group The-SBL-should-put-the-word-critical-back-into-their-purpose-statement.

JohnFH

Hi Alan,

Thanks for pointing out the Facebook group. You may have noticed I already joined.

Here's the difficulty nonetheless. It's really not possible to be so agnostic about the mind of God - though I like your metalepsis of Job 28, perhaps unintentional - and, at the same time, to speak about reason as if it were some sort of hypostasis which was from the beginning, which we have have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes . . .

Either one grounds reason in a theistic perspective as did for example Maimonides and Aquinas or one is agnostic/postmodernist about God and reason or one must be up front about the sources of revelation which vouchsafe to us the particular contents of reason. Cogito ergo sum or some such. Spinoza also wrestled with this. Since in fact the condition noted (an epistemology of reason as if it were some kind of universal without being a universal) has not been satisfactorily met, who is to say if (A) reason is to be practiced within the bounds of religion or (B) religion within the bounds of reason?

You seem to think it is self-evidently true that (B) is the way to go. I would argue long and hard to the contrary, but not for (A) sic et simpliciter. I was taught a third way. It will be fun to work through that some day, and if time permits you to do so on that occasion, you would make a delightful and formidable conversation partner.

I also think you would be blown away by the argument of Steven D. Smith's "The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse." The long and the short of it: it isn't possible to say much of substance in the realm of philosophy, ethics, and public policy without accessing a cosmology and a metaphysics which touch on all three of Aristotle's triad - the true, the good, and the beautiful. It is useful to pretend otherwise, Smith also says, but it also pays to be self-aware about the pretense. Unless of course the famous dictum "know thyself" is taken to apply to others but not to ourselves.

As I see it, the other problem with your argument is that there is a mismatch between premise and conclusion. If you want to take on the despisers of reason, sign me up but on one condition: that you be willing to stand up for reason over against colleagues who wed their scholarship to a project of liberation of whatever shape and size such that reason is limited to the role of rhetorical strategy within the bounds of that project. Otherwise it might appear that you are not committed to reason (still to be defined with care, BTW) as much as you are committed to thinking of reason and faith as polar opposites, a thesis you may have picked up at Westminster for all I know, but one I cannot agree with.

JohnFH

Dear Jill,

I am happy to have provoked a response. No need to arch your back like that by making assumptions about my assumptions. Feel free to *ask* what my assumptions are. I have nothing to hide.

The session of which you speak is entitled "The Politics and Practices of Commentary Writing." The list of respondents in the session reads like a who's who of established and up-and-coming scholars who write from a spectrum of points of view informed, but not always defined, by a commitment to a project of liberation related to a feminist understanding of right and wrong ways to construct sexuality "horizontally" and "vertically."

The session sounds quite interesting, and I may well follow Cheryl Exum over from the session immediately beforehand in which she is also a respondent and I have the privilege of introducing her to hear her again and others on the politics of what they are doing qua feminists.

It is not too much to say that feminism poses key questions and immense challenges to those who treat the Bible as a primary resource, a sort of constitution if you will, for faith and practice. It is also not too much say that feminism has, within Western culture, a history such that we are all feminists in some sense, and we are all in a position to look back critically and not just sympathetically on that history.

I would think the time has come for feminist hermeneuts to invite responses to their politics and practice of commentary writing from those outside of their paradigm. Instead what the session offers is a round-table discussion among women scholars noted not only for their excellent scholarship, but for their commitment to one flavor or another of feminist hermeneutics.

It is this insularity that I question. It is short-sighted politically speaking. It is also unnecessary, since the time is ripe for open-ended dialogue with people committed to non-feminist paradigms of scholarship some of whom wish for their scholarship to be informed if not defined by feminist perspectives and some of whom wish for their scholarship to be defined over against feminist perspectives. Is it possible to model this sort of dialogue in an SBL context? Could not feminist hermeneuts initiate the dialogue from a position of strength? Would it be a fruitful discussion? Yes, yes, and yes, in my view.

The last time I attended a similar session (at a Midwest SBL meeting), impatience if not resentment filled the air when a traditionalist Catholic biblical scholar in a spasm of courage sought to make a civil but nonetheless critical remark in response to the highly critical remarks a presenter had directed toward commitments and traditions he held dear. What could have been a moment of bridge-building from a position of strength ended up doing little more than evidencing an impulse to circle the wagons.

JohnFH

Kyle,

You would make a very good editor for RBL. It's hard work and taxing on the psyche to do what you do in your comment - point out things that are missing (in Art's case) and things that need to go missing (in Claude's case). A book review editor who is hands-on is virtually asking to become an object of spite but there it is.

But this is a larger issue. I just don't see it as a faith versus reason issue. It's about too much of what happens in the guild being the equivalent of preaching to the choir in church. To put it positively, as you have already done, the best SBL sessions are the ones in which a variety of closely argued and competing approaches are taken to the same subject matter.

JohnFH

Seth,

There is a lot to disentangle here. I appreciate the appeal to Locke. On a related note, Locke argued for the principle of the freedom of religion, but not for all religions. The Catholic church did not accept the principle of religious freedom, and thus should not according to Locke be granted freedom it denied to others wherever political circumstance allowed. A coherent philosophical position, however difficult to put into practice.

I find it easier to address the issues by focusing, not on what is wrong with the discipline of biblical studies, but what is right about it. There is a discrete amount of excellent work that is being done.

I'm happy for example for Alan Lenzi to make fun of my commitment of inerrancy from dawn to dusk, so long as he keeps churning out excellent editions of things like Ludlul bel Nemeqi. A small price to pay. Finally, I would like to see him do justice to the Lord of which that poem speaks. Is that Lord as nebulous as he opines? Maybe not. I would approach the matter along the lines Mark Smith has suggested.

Your own work is a model of interdisciplinary courage. People's eyes glaze over when I tell them that I have my daughter Elisabetta enrolled in a philosophy course at the UW-Oshkosh this Fall though she is a junior in high school and that she will be taking Latin through distance learning. But you understand why. 16 years old is a great age to be introduced to Plato and Aristotle, Kant and Hegel, Hume and Locke, Kierkegaard and Camus, Russell and Wittgenstein.

And if you weren't introduced to philosophy and critical theory in high school, it's never too late to learn.

What am I getting at? As soon as one's critical investigation of biblical literature is cross-fertilized by insights drawn from cognate disciplines and cross-cultural and cross-temporal comparisons, worlds of discourse are created in which anyone can participate on an equal footing. Then it becomes a matter, not of appealing to tradition or against tradition, but of understanding tradition with a view to cultivating humanity, to borrow a term popularized by Martha Nussbaum.

For example, according to my tradition, man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. For someone with sufficient training in the history of philosophy, that teleological anthropology is extraordinarily resonant. Someone without that kind of training on the other hand is likely to construe the terms in a banal religious sense. Better than nothing, perhaps, but the loss is nonetheless immense.

G. Kyle Essary

I don't see it as a faith versus reason issue, but I understand the rhetorical value in tying it to that discussion. If anything I see it as various types of "reason" and "criticism" that are stepping on each others toes.

Take these two quotes from Hendel:
1. "That is to say, facts are facts, and faith has no business dealing in the world of facts. Faith resides in the heart and in one’s way of living in the world"
2. "While the cultured despisers of reason may rejoice—including some postmodernists, feminists and eco-theologians—I find it dispiriting."

What if facts play into faith, or are founded on faith? Why is faith not a fact in and of itself? (I'm thinking Wolterstorff here). Let's ignore the discussion of faith and reason though, because I think the problem actually lies beneath what Hendel has said in his own understanding of reason.

Hendel has a monolitic understanding of rationality, common to many post-Enlightenment thinkers in the West. The first problem is that in a post-colonial context, we know that our enforced standards of "reason" did not take hold in most of the world and that in many situations our Western shaped rationality has actually blinded us to more complete understandings of events. The problem only compounds whenever we realize that even in the post-Enlightenment West, no universal reason exists. This is actually something that confessional, queer, feminist, Asian and various other "readings" teach us. Their reasonings are (often) internally coherent, but reject the core presuppositions that define Enlightenment Western rationality. It's different types of "reasons" at work who simply can't understand each other adequately and instead of continuing dialogue, some retreat to more exclusive groups (I still struggle to see how Hendel's actions do not betray the very fundamentalist actions that he seeks to critique...fundamentalists pull away from society because they don't want everyone to have a voice at the table).

Alan Lenzi

John, I do not think faith and reason need be diametrically opposed. If you re-read my caveat, you'll see that. The central concern of my comment was something like Seth was getting at earlier: "certain ways of arguing . . . that can accompany certain types of religious commitment." I don't think I have to lay the epistemological foundation of Western scholarship again (you always seem to suggest that is what I must do) just to say that the proper basis of scholarship is 100% terrestrial. According to very productive rules for playing the (Post-Enlightenment) Western game of intellectual inquiry, reasons and evidence lie with us, here. Man is the measure of all things. If not us, then who? And who speaks for that being?

BTW, I was going to say something about other, strongly-driven ideological programs but decided against it.

Finally, why do you belittle Marduk? Just because he's been marginalized from public discourse for 2000 years doesn't mean he won't have his day of vengeance. I am going to argue in my Ludlul commentary that the poem is inerrant and ought to be the only rule of faith and practice for all those who want to flourish in this life and avoid his punishment. These ideas were revealed to me in a dream by Marduk himself. Laugh if you want. Marduk, apkal ili:, shar nishi:, ila kitta i nidlul.

Alan Lenzi

Oops, make that final phrase ila ki:na.

Jill Hotmail

John,

Thank you for your reply and I'm sorry if my comments seemed catty earlier. I find that its helps quite a bit to be specific about who or what works or panels we are taking about when we talk about when talking about when characterizing particular SBL sessions. I wonder if there is generational dynamic here? What I mean is that the groups like the theology of hebrew scriptues, run by junior people like Julia Classens and Esther Hamori, have done a lot of conversation between and feminist concerns and the more traditional biblical theology. The disability studies group, run by junior people as well I think, has featured people like Mark Smith, Ackerman, Olyan, Stackert, Joel Baden, Stephen L. Cook, and others. Olyan has written a book on disability, but the others are scholars with traditional interests. It seems that the more insularly groups are the groups with more traditional interests like the DtrH group, exile and forced migration, formation of Isaiah, etc., based on who they invite repeatedly. This is not a comment about the quality of the papers/panelists in those groups, but about how insular they are.

G. Kyle Essary

I guess I should probably assume that if you read this site and this comment thread that you got the email today from SBL, but just in case here it is:

http://www.sbl-site.org/membership/farewell.aspx

Alan,
The biblioblogging world is not the same without you. I'm glad you stopped by to share your views and I honestly laughed pretty hard at the Marduk paragraph. Nice retort.

Phil

I appreciate Hendel's commitment to allowing objective reality - both of the text and of the external world - to function as a constraint on the kind of interpretive construals presenters at a Biblical studies forum are allowed to make. I also appreciate his commitment to reason as a tool for interpreting that reality. However, not does his conception of what in fact constitutes a "fact" seem rather naive, he seems to contradict his own premise, namely that faith has nothing to do with responsible study of the Bible. He says:

"facts are facts, and faith has no business dealing in the world of facts."

Isn't this a deist position? Which is to say, hasn't Hendel taken a faith stance which then constrains the way he approaches the subject matter? He can be deist if he wants, but he can't then claim that by being so he has left his faith at the door of his academic office. The irony, of course, is that the God of the Bible is simply not deist - he is יהוה עשה השמים וארץ, the creator of ... facts, historical or natural. So even at the level of exegetical method one wonders whether his theological presuppositions are best suited to enabling him grasp the subject matter SBL has commited itself to studying.

I've not read anything by him, however, so I'm may be missing the point somewhere.

JohnFH

Jill,

Insularity is an all too common malaise across the board. Traditionalists, not just non-traditionalists, might take the initiative in the pursuit of building bridges between the islands (for conquering, of course!).

Kyle,

Thanks for the link to the SBL thread, which mirrrors this on a number of fronts.

Alan,

I would like to see polytheism presented all over again in all of its splendor and metaphysical fit with the world around us. Jan Assmann's theses are a point of departure, but I think Michael Fox's and Mark Smith's critiques of his conclusions are compelling. This leaves us with J. J. Finkelstein's classic article in Man (an anthropological journal off the radar screen of most Bible scholars) as the best point of departure on this topic. If you know of better, please 'fess.

Your apparent claim however that non-theists and non-theists alone are heirs to the Enlightenment cannot be sustained unless one re-writes history with the same degree of abandon as the Soviets used to do. Theism and deism both cannot be forced into your "terrestrial" reductionism. It is not even clear that that sort of reductionism stands up to critical scrutiny.

Kyle and Phil,

It would be interesting if Hendel unpacked what he meant by "reason" a little bit more, wouldn't it?

G. Kyle Essary

Phil,
Your comments in your post and in the comments responding to Michael were excellent.

John,
It would be extremely helpful since he seems to have a presupposition that we all agree upon the definition of reason...which we clearly don't as is evidenced by his faith/fact distinction.

Seth Sanders

John and Alan,

Ben Sommer's Bodies of God is a deeply thought attempt to intellectually (but not religiously!) revive polytheism and cast light on what Esther Hamori calls the Ish-Theophany and James Kugel called the God of Old: the human god. Apkal ili indeed: the good old-time apkal nishi is good enough for me.

Actually Alan's mention of apkallu reminds me that there's a specific way in which Mesopotamian verbal ritual is closer to the Christianity of John's Revelation than it is to the Hebrew Bible. This is that the human ashipu "exorcist, ritual expert" performatively both mirrors and *is* the apkallu "semi-divine sage" Adapa and at some points Marduk himself (salam Marduk in a mis pi ritual, the perfect mediator of Asalluhi/(sort-of=)Marduk's mediation of Ea in the historiola of many Sumerian incantations). Or as JC promises, "Just as I overcame and achieved a throne with my father, so whoever overcomes will achieve a throne with me."

Phil

Thanks John and Kyle,

I think if Hendel were to define what he meant by the term he'd be implicitly admitting that there is more than one way to conceive of it, which would jeopardize his entire piece, which is predicated upon his assumption that logical positivism (or whatever it's called, I'm not a philosopher) is the only legitimate form of reason there is. His paper is ultimately an expression of asserted religious dogma.

(Feel free to correct me, anyone, if I'm going too far here)

JohnFH

Seth,

Sommer's work sounds interesting. I'd love to hear a panel discussion on the topic with Assmann, Mark Smith, Hamori, and Sommer.

Michael Helfield

I will just mention that Hendel has made his arguments very lucidly, and they are extremely strong. I see nothing in all the above posts that undermine his claims, nothing at all.

Critical scholarship is based on various criteria which many groups do not abide by. They cannot be considered to be critical scholars, that's all. I love to learn, and I would love to pick all of your brains.

Whether Hendel should leave is to me another issue.

JohnFH

Hi Michael,

There is a chance that SBL will move a couple steps in the direction Hendel suggests. But it will not be enough to add a phrase like "critical scholarship."

You are right to say that critical scholarship is based on various criteria, but what are they? You say that many groups do not abide by these criteria: Hendel mentions "evangelicals and fundamentalists," but also feminists, postmodernists, and eco-theologians. Do you agree with this list? Would you add others, like queer hermeneutics? If not, why not? If you wish to answer that a critical scholar in the best sense of the word is someone like Steve Mason, I understand: variations on that answer are what come most naturally to me as well.

But, with respect to SBL, I would point out that the discussion runs the risk of taking an anti-historical turn, in which case the thing comes down to huffing and puffing and trying to blow someone else's house down.

These are the facts: SBL since its inception has been characterized by "a thickly entwined model of scholarship and practice." I owe this phrase to a scholar of Buddhism, Charles Muller. Once this is recognized, it will be seen that Alan Cooper's remarks on the SBL thread are just as perceptive as those of Hendel, but far more comfortable with scholarship at the intersection of faith and reason.

The issues we are talking about are absolutely not unique to the field of biblical studies. For further reading, go here:

http://www.acmuller.net/articles/zen_and_scholarship-bulgyohak.html

Alan Lenzi

"I would like to see polytheism presented all over again in all of its splendor and metaphysical fit with the world around us." I really don't know what that means.

BTW, I just finished Assmann's book tonight Of God and Gods. I have to say that the book is a bit opaque to me. I stopped at about page 60 and left it for a week, then started over and read the whole thing in a couple of evenings. I'm still sort of puzzled. There were some really great insights here and there. And I see SOME threads of continuity. But the overall picture is not presented very clearly. You know there are problems when the author sort of apologizes about the chapters' continuity (page 8). I probably should have started with his Moses the Egyptian, which I've been meaning to read for a while.

OK, enough niceties. I never apparently claimed that "non-theists and non-theists alone are heirs to the Enlightenment." If anything, I would insist that ALL OF US are heirs of the Enlightenment and that ALL OF US have been affected by its epistemological ramifications. There's no escaping that. That movement changed the Western world in many ways and we now live in that changed world. Where do you think Fundamentalism and inerrancy came from? I wouldn't be the first to point out the ironic scientism that can be found in literalist readings of the Bible. Does anyone (i.e., among scholars) really read scripture like Paul or Origen anymore? Of course not. We are all Enlightenment-affected Moderns, even the Postmodernists among us. For as some have pointed out, Postmodernism is clearly a Modernist project.

The real issue for all biblical scholars is the extent to which they allow Enlightenment principles to steer their interpretive activity. Evangelicals have a redline on their gauge, when they go over it, they apostasize. (Non-theists have a redline, too, but it's not so predictable what they do when they hit it.) I've talked about all of this on a blog a while back. Here's what I said there, which is apropos, given the astronomy/astrology invoked by William Propp in the comments on the SBL site:

Astrology is “faith-based” and astronomy is not. The two fields ask different questions of the heavens, questions that are often mutually exclusive; the two fields have different ultimate expectations from their data. This is true in many, many ways of faith-based biblical scholarship vs. humanistic biblical scholarship. Granted, the analogy is imperfect without a little nuance, something I was going to talk more about but it got long-winded so I decided against it. The reason it is imperfect w/o nuance is because it sets up a very strict divide between what everyone would consider an empirical science and what almost everyone would consider nonsense. This dichotomy ignores the historical development of the fields; there was a time when astronomy and astrology could be practiced by one and the same (intelligent) person. The two methods mixed.

I think we’re in a similar situation (though it’s not necessarily just a historical stage we will pass through) in which a lot of people want to practice both faith-based AND humanistic based biblical scholarship. The humanistic ideals come straight out of the Renaissance (back to the sources) and Enlightenment (criticize everything, man is the measure of all things). These ideals changed the scholarly expectations for EVERYONE in scholarship, including believers, and not just for biblical scholars—ALL fields were changed irrevocably, I think. We in the Humanities are all interested in history and literature, society and politics. We’re all interested in human production of cultural artifacts. But believers, a good many biblical scholars, are also interested in how these things affect normative theological ideas (confessional theology)—again, not just in biblical studies, but it comes out quite a bit in that field. The latter concern is similar to how astrologists wanted the stars to tell them about normative issues. It doesn’t make sense to astronomers to ask such questions. Likewise humanistic (biblical) scholars.

To the extent that believers exercise an Enlightenment-informed mentality, the form of inquiry that is standard throughout the academy, in their attempt to understand their ancient normative texts (scripture), their investigations often overlap significantly (still) with those of a more humanistic bent. It seems to me that the believing scholar who is informed about the intellectual history of the West would realize their biblical-scholarly agenda is dancing to the tune of the Enlightenment. The problem is an issue of how to deal with the theological ramifications of the new historical methods. I see (at least) three possible options for the believer: one’s theology becomes either more and more disconnected from history (witness a large portion of Liberal Protestantism) OR more and more reactionary to the critical claims of mainstream historical scholarship, taking refuge in a claim to different presuppositions and disconnecting itself from a reasonable view of history, as defined by the post-Enlightenment West (thus the antithesis that we see articulated by some Evangelicals) OR one changes one’s expectations of the Bible and thinks of it in an ahistorical manner, choosing to treat it almost exclusively as literature, which is often studied nowadays with ahistorical methods (thus the Bible as literature movement that swept through Evangelical scholarship in the last 20 years). One needn’t lose one’s faith after seeing the value of the Enlightenment-based, humanistic scholarly approach. But one’s faith will either be changed due to the demands of historical method or one will change one’s expectations of scripture (seeing it as literature rather than history).

For those who feel they must take the antithetical path described above (a strict confessionalism, an a priori presuppositional-based approach that is not shared by other forms of scholarship), they really ought to dismiss themselves from the Enlightenment-based scholarly endeavor of academic biblical studies and do their work in the churches and seminaries. In fact, I think that’s what most Evangelicals who held to inerrancy used to do. As for the other believers who adopt the historical methods of mainstream scholarship or who want to talk about the Bible as literature, I don’t see any reason they can’t take part in mainstream academic scholarship. Their views of how the Bible connects to their faith can be held at a more personal level or discussed in the seminaries/churches, like a believing biologist who thinks god was behind the evolution of life on the planet.

I realize this makes one form of scholarship hegemonic over the other and asks one form of scholarship to retreat to a personal space. This has been one of the issues with the secularization (not atheization but secularization) of the academy and public sphere. But requiring people “in terms of method, when doing biblical studies, . . . to support their claims with public, verifiable warrants,” as Brooke said, has proven very fruitful for our understanding of a great many fields. Academic biblical studies should aspire to the same.

G. Kyle Essary

Alan,
What a wonderful response. Thanks for it. I'm not going to try to parse it, because honestly I'm a little tired of the discussion already, haha and just poured through the SBL thread.

There is one thing that struck me as odd. You say, "To the extent that believers exercise an Enlightenment-informed mentality, the form of inquiry that is standard throughout the academy, in their attempt to understand their ancient normative texts (scripture), their investigations often overlap significantly (still) with those of a more humanistic bent."

Do you think this is true outside of biblical studies and other fields which require such a move for utilitarian purposes (like the hard sciences)? I would actually think that other fields in the humanities are actually much more progressed away from the Enlightenment. Since our field does interact with a wide array of fields (like archaeology, history and like it or not theology), it seems like we are caught between two worlds.

But in the world of literary criticism at large, isn't it difficult to find a modernist in the sense you mention here? It just seems in the post-Derrida, post-Foucault world such critics only exist in the field of biblical studies, and largely because of the theological discussions at stake in our studies.

It seems to me like you will not find a Melville critic asking the same questions that you want SBL to be asking...few could care about Melville's historical setting outside of deconstructing it to find his power plays in the text. Most are more concerned with how Moby Dick is read among the oppressed classes of society and what we can learn from these various readings. Is this critical scholarship? Obviously, Hendel doesn't think groups like this should be allowed at SBL (whether queer, feminist or evangelical). Instead, he seems to insist on an Enlightenment hermeneutic. But, of course, to post-critical scholars, this is simply another hermeneutic among many, and if the only argument for its validity is utility (as is commonly suggested), then they could claim that there is utilitarian value in their readings, right?

I want you to shoot straight with me though. Do you agree that his move seems somewhat fundamentalist? It's like the old, "Things were better in the good ole' days, so I'm just gonna pull out and play by myself." I much prefer people like yourself who are very vocal about changing things back...but are doing so as a reformer on the inside.

Alan Lenzi

Thanks, Kyle. I'll briefly respond to a couple of points:

"I would actually think that other fields in the humanities are actually much more progressed away from the Enlightenment." Nope. They're not. I'm very sensitive about this issue and often ask scholars in other depts. about their take on Post-modernism and the role of reason, etc. Even the lit. professors come down where I am for the most part. I work in a small school where humanities profs. bump into each other every day in the copy room. For all the hub-bub of Post-modernism, I don't see it causing anyone to abandon reasoned, evidential argumentation. I don't see anyone saying, "Well, anything goes. It's just all about hegemony and oppression." Quite to the contrary, for the most part. I think I know one exception, but I rarely talk to her, so I don't know for sure.

"in the world of literary criticism at large, isn't it difficult to find a modernist in the sense you mention here?" In all of my conversations with our English faculty, I am always struck by their lack of consistency with regard to Post-Modernism. None take it seriously enough to wonder whether or not the light switch will work when they flip it. And few have patience for people who want to jump on the cart of Post-modernism in order to justify their really, really true religious meta-narrative. They are basically chastened Modernists like the philosophers and historians I talk to. I sat down with one of our historians to ask about the very issues that have come up recently in the SBL. I brought up Post-modernism, etc. He said that the worst thing they battle in his field is hard-line Chinese communist scholars who refuse to buck the party line. (Of all -isms, Marxism may be the closest definitionally to religion.) He said despite all the philosophy of history questions that have been raised (e.g., Hayden White), no one he knows has stopped looking at sources and writing history based on documentation and evidence. No one he knows has stopped believing that their work represents the (interpreted) past.

BTW, none of the philosophers at my university subscribe to Post-modernism. When I bring it up, they sort of snicker.

"It seems to me like you will not find a Melville critic asking the same questions that you want SBL to be asking...few could care about Melville's historical setting outside of deconstructing it to find his power plays in the text."

I think you overgeneralize.

"Most are more concerned with how Moby Dick is read among the oppressed classes of society and what we can learn from these various readings. Is this critical scholarship?"

Yes, it is. I don't care much for lit. crit. of the Bible untethered from the historical background. But I would say that such lit. crits. are often doing reception history. They are understanding how the Bible is interpreted in contemporary communities. This is fine, in my book, as long as it is descriptive. Sometimes these scholars get political. That bothers me some, but I understand why. But few would do their work IN ORDER TO justify or support transcendental claims like theologians do. And that's where the normal lit. crit. and the bib. lit. crit. OFTEN (not always) part company.

I'm not going to speak for Ron. I don't think "fundamentalism" is a useful term for what he wants for the SBL. Appropriating the term is just name-calling.

An Enlightenment hermeneutic can be and SHOULD BE judged on its utility. Not just social utility, though. These methods have shown over and over again how powerfully they can infer to the best explanation of the data. Chastened by Post-modernism, it's still the best thing standing.

But I have my eye on cogi-sci. A brain revolution is coming that will make the linguistic turn blush.

G. Kyle Essary

Alan,
Thanks again, that's very helpful. It's interesting what you say about your schools English dept, because that's completely opposite to what I experienced at my liberal arts school ten years ago. It's also different from the post-Marxist university setting in China that was moving this way. As I said above, even though I don't agree with much of it, I'm glad it has a voice.

By the way, what you say about philosophy rings true, because Pomo is clearly a literary movement that intersects philosophy at points, but is ultimately literary.It's also not surprising that your philosophy dept. is univocal because philosophy departments nationwide seem split between those that are fiercely Analytic and those that are fiercely Continental.

I think you are actually more moderate, because I know you have no problem with evangelicals (and you are knowledgable to not group actual fundamentalist and evangelicals together) as long as they don't cut corners in their arguments. I would just hope the same is true of non-confessional scholars who cannot write off evangelical scholars simply because their unproven convictions about ultimate reality differ, and realize their own biases. I'm pretty sure you prefer a pluralistic discussion between Bauckham, Neusner and Casey over a group of all nontheists like Casey, Crossley and Ehrman, right? I think we gain more from a robust pluralism where everyone lays their cards on the table over a secularism where professional poker players (nontheists), bridge players (Christians) and hearts players (Jews) have to play chess. :)

G. Kyle Essary

Alan,
By the way, as someone likewise interested in brain science Im interested to know what you have in mind. This is once again another reason you should be blogging, because you bring a knowledgable and interesting perspective that evangelicals like John, me, Phil and Gary can learn from!

JohnFH

Hi Alan and Kyle,

As I pointed out to Michael Helfield, the contribution of Alan Cooper needs to be taken into consideration. But I don't think Cooper explained himself very well on the SBL thread. For a summary of the model of scholarship both critical and confessional which Jacob Milgrom upheld and Cooper lauds, see:

http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2009/08/jacob-milgroms-contribution-to-biblical-and-jewish-studies.html

That would be my question to scholars like Hendel, my teacher Michael Fox, Propp, and now Alan Lenzi and Michael Helfield: what makes the scholarship of people like Moshe Greenberg, Jacob Milgrom, and Jon Levenson critical in the best sense of the word but also confessional in the best sense of the word? And if their scholarship isn't critical enough - we're not talking about conclusions, of course, but methodology - please explain.

Faith and reason do not relate like oil and water in Greenberg, Milgrom, and Levenson. They don't in Mary Douglas either. But if that is the case, the argument from reason falls apart, and the "Enlightenment" evoked for the occasion is shown to be an emperor without clothes.

As I see it, the fatal weaknesses to the view of faith and reason that Hendel assumes are three:

(1) It overlooks the ubiquitous tendency of scholars in all fields of the humanities - not to mention applied sciences like climatology - to combine critical scholarship with advocacy for a project of liberation of some sort. Nor is there any getting around the fact that projects of liberation are faith-based projects even and especially when they present themselves as the opposite. The intertwined history of Marxism and capitalism, both of which have been and continue to be touted as saving faiths, may exemplify.

It's all well and good for someone to say that he is enamored by feminist and queer hermeneutics and by that of the Sages without taking any of them with existential seriousness except on the aesthetic plane (they are beautiful without necessarily being windows on to the true and the good). That same person may also be repulsed by evangelical hermeneutics of the OT and by that of the Christian Fathers. Even if they are not certain about what is true and what is good, almost everyone I know seems to know what is not true and what is not good, which makes them agnostics falsely so-called. All well and good.

However, all of that is not about critical versus non-critical scholarship but preferences for one set of liberation and "world-making" projects over against another set. Which brings us to:

(2) All the necessary heavy lifting remains to be done: what does one mean by defining critical scholarship in terms of - let's say - public, verifiable warrants? The discussion is apparently a pretext for something else unless across-the-board exemplification is offered.

A useful way to proceed would be to give examples of insufficiently critical scholarship among colleagues with whom one shares the same cultural loyalties. Otherwise the argument quickly mutates into an ethical debate in which what is really determinative are competing inputs on the level of empathy and disgust with roots in competing cosmologies. The argument reduces itself to one more demonstration of the human gift for pimping out reason for whatever purposes suits the heart.

If we are all heirs of the Enlightenment, how much more so are we heirs of Pascal.

(3) It is anti-historical. SBL was founded by people and continues to be dominated by people who work within a thickly entwined model of life, confessional loyalties, and scholarship, the Korean model to use Muller's terminology:

http://www.acmuller.net/articles/zen_and_scholarship-bulgyohak.html

Nor is that going to change. It's a work in progress and it will never be done. Have we already forgotten Kugel's lecture at the 100th anniversary of the PIB:

http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2009/08/james-kugel-on-the-history-of-antipathy-to-modern-biblical-scholarship-among-catholics-and-orthodox-.html

Alan Lenzi

John, I've tried to distance myself from the slippery term "reason" here because it is so rhetorically loaded. I think every normal human exercises a reasonableness about most things. And I think that someone can be rational or reasonable, even when their presuppositions are freakin' out-there (e.g., the Azande chicken oracles are reasonable according to Evans-Pritchard). It's not about faith vs. reason really. It's about the right mixture of the two: X jiggers "inference to the best explanation", Y jigger(s) "faith/ultimate commitments(UC)", over ice, shake, and pour. Too much of the latter in the mix and one distorts (or at least, fails to understand at some level) reality.

What I want to see is genuine openness to the data (in principle, even when in practice it is very hard to do) and rigorous practice of "inference to the best explanation" kind of argumentation (words I've picked up from Paul Thagard. ) that doesn't allow explicit appeal to metaphysical claims. We all have metaphysical concepts, etc (UCs). But these rarely need to enter into our arguments about Solomonic authorship of Proverbs. We need to nip in the bud this exaggerated idea that reality or eternal life hangs in the balance every time someone interprets the Bible. It may! But that's no reason for scholars to shrink from the data (because it only "may" be that important and we have no way of really knowing, apart from lots of jiggers of faith/UCs that it does). Scholars used to be brave!

When I make a claim but can't support it, I want a colleague who says, "Alan, that doesn't work. It's a good idea. And I know where you're coming from on that. But you can't support that claim without a deus ex machina-kind of theological appeal. You want this to be true. And it may be true. But it is not warranted according to normal rules of scholarly discourse." Whether I throw the theory away or tuck it into the recesses of my heart for safekeeping is my business.

"what makes the scholarship of people like Moshe Greenberg, Jacob Milgrom, and Jon Levenson critical in the best sense of the word but also confessional in the best sense of the word?"

First, "confessional" hardly makes sense in modern Judaism. You ought to know that. Let's not try to lump the various kinds of Judaism(s) with the overly theological belief-oriented versions of Christianity. What Jewish school (that employs an SBL member) has a statement of faith that one must sign? Case closed.

With that caveat in place, I'd say these three scholars have/had generally a very good mix of the ingredients described above. But they occasionally allow(ed) their religion(UC) to steer them awry. And who hasn't taken a wrong turn here and there due to religion, personal background, political view, etc.? (Religion isn't the only personal baggage that can steer one awry. Any UC can, if we hold it too fervently and unself-consciously.---Thank you Post-modernism for your help in this regard.) I don't think I will produce a laundry list of these men's faults. I drafted up some examples but it looks overly negative. But I will give one example of religious background steering one of them in the wrong (though well-intentioned) direction: My problem with Greenberg was his over-willingness to defend the MT, esp. in his Ezekiel commentary. I know why he did it. And in some ways it was a useful corrective to the likes of a Zimmerli. But sometimes the MT is wrong and needs emended. He seemed loathe to do it. It was not surprising to see Evangelicals praise him for it when I was at WTS. But it really bothered me, at least by my first year in grad school. Even if he claimed it wasn't religiously motivated, it was hard to believe otherwise.

Alan Lenzi

On this: "A useful way to proceed would be to give examples of insufficiently critical scholarship among colleagues with whom one shares the same cultural loyalties."

I think there are atheist scholars who are too quick to throw the baby out with the bath water. They believe religion has distorted everything in biblical studies and nothing is really worthy of the name "scholarship." Some of these are also too quick to say, e.g., that Israel was NO different from other ancient peoples, or that Jesus was a total fabrication. I think both of these positions require a leap of faith that does not seem very reasonable (i.e., these positions have been distorted by a UC), even when only considered from the perspective of standard historical investigation. These theories are fringe, almost certainly motivated by a strong ideology.

Alan Lenzi

Kyle, on this: "I'm pretty sure you prefer a pluralistic discussion between Bauckham, Neusner and Casey over a group of all nontheists like Casey, Crossley and Ehrman, right? I think we gain more from a robust pluralism where everyone lays their cards on the table over a secularism where professional poker players (nontheists), bridge players (Christians) and hearts players (Jews) have to play chess."

They are all welcome at the table. But if they are all at the same table, I'd expect people to refrain from such things as "well, if you had faith in Christ, you'd see that this historical data makes total sense." But I would expect people to say, "But that presupposition is without warrant. Who else has risen from the dead? What other resurrection story outside of the Bible do you believe?" We dismiss all kinds of stuff as mythical nonsense but shield the Bible/faith because it is the Bible/faith. Not cool. It's not the best explanation to be drawn from inferences.

If we're all going to lay our cards on the table, we'd better be playing the same game. If not, then what are we doing at the same table? That's the whole point here. We have to have "rules," a common intellectual framework, or else the discussion is nonsense. Sociologists and historians have generally agreed upon methods. They don't invoke miracles to explain data. Why should we?

About cogi-sci. I don't know where it's going. But I'm seeing stuff about ritual, religion, and culture from the perspective of cogi-sci that will probably inject a certain empirical quality to the humanities.

G. Kyle Essary

Alan,
I think we're in agreement that Marriotinni's comment that I included above (which was basically equivalent with your "if you had faith in Christ..." statement) should have been cut out by RBL.

I also think we're in agreement that RBL should have removed this paragraph by Waltke:

"By their faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they hear God’s voice in his “lisping” spokesmen as a sweet sound and hear the voice of higher biblical criticism, which replaces faith in God’s revelation with faith in the sufficiency of human reason, as the grating of an old scratched record."

But when you consider the number of evangelicals that have chairs of sections, or the number of evangelicals that are contributing regularly to mainline scholarship, these examples by Waltke and Marriotinni are not the norm, and non-theist scholars are not justified in writing off their work simply because of their faith commitments. At the same time, you are more than justified in continuing your quest to limit such examples of veering from the path, but I don't think Hendel is justified in jumping ship altogether.

G. Kyle Essary

Alan,
One last thing and then I'm done with this discussion on each thread. From your perspective, can IBE ever be allowed to argue for the miraculous, or are such things excluded a priori in scholarly discussion? If a confessional scholar writes a paper suggesting that all the historical data from an event points to a miracle occurring, is this scholar being critical by suggesting that since all of the data points to a miracle, the IBE is that a miracle probably occurred? Or are confessional scholars bound to work under a methodological naturalism in your view and suggest only naturalistic probabilities even if they are much less probable based solely on the data available?

Alan Lenzi

Good question, but what do you mean by other thread?

Can someone present an argument that a miraculous event is the best explanation? Sure, but there'd better be NO other explanation that is even remotely possible and there'd better be an extraordinary amount of EVIDENCE to back it up or they will look quite foolish and gullible. A resurrection after three days is not ordinary, not common, not something that anyone I know has witnessed. If one wants to argue that seriously, OK. But I think the evidence has been combed over very thoroughly. If there was good evidence aside from simply trusting the NT or having faith, we'd have seen it by now, I think (though I could be wrong!). As of now, there does not seem to be any good historical reason to believe in it. That's not to say that it didn't happen. And scholars are free to believe what they want. And some want to hold to the resurrection as sort of a "best explanation" hypothesis. But if one believes Jesus resurrected, then by what criteria will one judge the patristic and rabbinic miracle accounts? How will one be consistent about the fabulous? People tend to isolate the NT (isolate and insulate it). But this isn't very consistent. I know believers who say "it is my presupposition that the NT is different than all other historical documents and I can trust it." Fine. But that's about like me saying "although I look human, I am actually something totally unique that doctors and psychiatrists can't understand." What kind of argument is that? It's silly. So apart from a confession of faith, I don't know how anyone would argue very convincingly. Yes, I am aware that some have said that the rise of Christianity is the best explanation of the veracity of the resurrection. If there wasn't a REAL resurrection that message would never have gotten out so quickly and so fervently. Several other mass movements would prove this wrong. And we could go on. . . . with arguments from church history or the authority of the church. (Laughter). The fact of the matter is, were the resurrection account NOT already in the NT and the NT NOT already taught as truth from the time we were infants, no scholar today would believe it REALLY took place in space and time. How many scholars do you know that believe in Nostradamus' prophecies?

People can believe what they want. But there's no good reason for scholars to take the resurrection seriously as a historical fact.

G. Kyle Essary

Alan,
Thanks. That's helpful. I would agree with your assessment of IBE and evangelicals being allowed to make their case without an a priori rejection of their claims beforehand.

I'll respectfully disagree with your assessment of the resurrection (that's expected of course) and your statements about being fed the NT as truth from infancy (something myself and plenty of others did not experience, not to mention the majority of Christians in China, SE Asia and other areas of the world who are currently first generation Christians).

Thanks again for the discussion. Your insights are often extremely helpful.

Alan Lenzi

Fair enough, Kyle. But I did say "no scholar" (i.e., no one trained as a historian or something related to our field of study) not "no one." The latter is clearly not the case. The point is most scholars believe the resurrection because they are predisposed to believe it for some reason or other. Nice chatting.

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