A new online journal just hit the electronic newsstand. The articles of the first issue are available in an easy-to-read, Kindle-like format (click on the cover page of the “current issue” here). The same articles and an excellent set of book reviews are also available in PDF format. What does the Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament, JESOT for short, offer that other academic journals in biblical studies do not?
Since I am a member of the editorial board and have a review essay published in the first issue, I answer the question from an insider’s point of view.
JESOT is a forum for scholars, evangelical and non-evangelical, who wish to make a positive contribution to the evangelical study of the Old Testament. It is not dissimilar in its proof of concept from well-established and highly respected periodicals such as the Jewish Quarterly Review and the Catholic Biblical Quarterly as well as lesser known journals such as Feminist Studies in Religion, Jahrbuch für evangelikale Theologie, and Protestantesimo. That is, JESOT is a scholarly venue designed for and by scholars with a recognizable set of cultural loyalties.
For that very reason JESOT runs the risk of seeming to be a tea party to which birds of a different feather are not invited. The opposite is the case. JESOT is open to contributions from scholars whose commitment to an honest quest for truth is on a par with that of scholars of like mind who belong to the global community of hundreds of millions of people commonly characterized by the adjective “evangelical.” Furthermore, as the first issue proves, JESOT is hardly a tea party populated by gentle spirits in their golden years. It is more like a bar scene from the first installment of the Star Wars series. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Douglas Stuart’s feisty review of Victor Hamilton’s Exodus commentary.
JESOT, with an editorial staff and board populated by numerous bloggers - William R. Osborne (College of the Ozarks); Matthieu Richelle (Faculté Libre de Théologie Évangélique, France); John Hobbins (University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh); Cristian Rata (Torch Trinity Graduate University, South Korea); George Athas (Moore Theological College, Australia); and Charles Halton (Houston Baptist University) - is a quintessential example of open access scholarship. It is available online free of charge. It will also appear in print thanks to the good offices of Wipf & Stock. As it comes out of the gate, the closest competitors to JESOT are the Jahrbuch für evangelikale Theologie (but most of the articles and reviews are in German, and only the TOCS are available online) and Hiphil (available online, but it has stopped publishing). Here’s hoping that JESOT will take things to the next level, and become a journal that reflects the depth and breadth of evangelical scholarship on the Old Testament, the diversity and unity of that scholarship, on all six continents.
Evangelicals have an almost insatiable appetite for scholarship which contributes to a better understanding of the literature which serves them as an intellectual and spiritual resource of the first order. Evangelical or not, if you hope to be widely read and see your books purchased, it makes sense to publish in what promises to be a widely read, first rate evangelical journal in biblical studies.
Not long ago, Ronald Hendel let his membership to the Society of Biblical Literature lapse (the BAR editorial in which Hendel announced the move is behind a subscriber firewall at BAR’s site, but is also available on Hendel’s website here and also here; discussion and links here and here). The decision was based on a perception that SBL had lost its commitment to critical inquiry and succumbed to a takeover by “cultural despisers of reason” by which he meant not only “some postmodernists, feminists, and eco-theologians,” but, first and foremost, some evangelicals.
"The SBL has a commitment to the standards and practices of academic inquiry. The best of the evangelical scholars understand this," Hendel later told Christianity Today. That is true. In particular, it is true of the burgeoning number of evangelicals who are members of SBL. It is also true of the members of the editorial board of JESOT. We get the need for standards and practices of academic inquiry shared by scholars of diverse cultural loyalties.
Note how Hendel, despite himself, ends up speaking to CT as if he were a spokesman for SBL, an SBL he claimed no longer existed not many months before. Welcome back to the fold, Ron! (He has in fact renewed his SBL membership.) It’s a big tent. There is room for just about everyone.
JESOT peer reviews submissions in double blind fashion. Should you wish to submit to JESOT, your submission will be evaluated on its merits: (1) the quality of its engagement with a topic of interest to academic biblical scholars; (2) the quality of its interaction with previous work by biblical scholars on the same topic; and (3) the contribution it makes to ongoing debates which invest the world of evangelical biblical scholarship. Not on whether you have a Ph.D. or teach at this or that institution.
A few comments on the first issue. The articles are diverse in terms of the methodologies they deploy. A strength of two articles, Does Divine Plurality in the Hebrew Bible Demonstrate an Evolution From Polytheism to Monotheism in Israelite Religion? by Michael S. Heiser and Deuteronomy and de Wette: A Fresh Look at a Fallacious Premise by Eugene H. Merrill, is a willingness to take on entrenched viewpoints in the guild. To do so is always a worthy venture.
On the other hand, I was struck by a lack of engagement in Heiser’s article with a number of relevant contributions. In particular, I was left wondering whether Michael found himself in agreement with the central theses of Jan Assmann’s seminal studies, and what he thought about the engagement of Michael V. Fox and Benjamin D. Sommer with Assmann’s contributions. Assmann, Fox, and Sommer, after all, see monotheism as a revolution rather than as an evolution from polytheism.1
I was similarly struck by the lack of engagement in Merrill’s article with the field of comparative law, as if a date for Deuteronomy could be offered without attempting a historical explanation for the differences between comparable laws in the Covenant Code, the Holiness Code, and the Deuteronomic legislation. It makes sense to start with de Wette, and to see him quoted in Latin as Merrill does is a singular satisfaction to this linguist, but it would have been rewarding to go on from there and engage more recent scholars who subscribe, as Merrill would have it, to a fallacious premise. A short list: on the other side of the Atlantic: Georg Braulik; Norbert Lohfink; Lothar Perlitt; Eckart Otto; and Alexander Rofé; on this side of the Atlantic: Bernard Levinson; Jeffrey Tigay; and Moshe Weinfeld.2
As for the book reviews, they are, with one or two exceptions, incisive and to the point. Puff reviews are a snore. It’s great to see them outnumbered in JESOT by cranky reviews. It is heartwarming to read reviews of a great variety of contributions to academic biblical studies. The reviewed works reflect a wide range of points of view, more often non-evangelical than evangelical in approach.
JESOT is not a ghetto journal. Nor is the journal about tiptoeing through the tulips. I try to smash a few pieces of furniture myself in the review essay I offer.
1 A Sommer quote from a review of one of Assmann’s books: “Assmann distinguishes between ‘inclusive monotheism,’ which evolves from polytheism as polytheists recognize all the gods to be manifestations of the one God, and ‘exclusive monotheism,’ which rejects the plurality of gods as false and seeks truth in the one God. The former is an evolutionary development within polytheism, while the latter is a revolutionary rejection of polytheism. Assmann asserts that both are evident in Egyptian religion, the former in New Kingdom texts focusing on Amun-Re, the latter in the religion of Akhenaten. Assmann assumes, with considerable justiﬁcation, that the religion of the Hebrew Bible and classical Judaism displays the exclusivist/revolutionary sort of monotheism. He does not explore the extent to which the inclusivist model is also present in Hebrew scripture and later Judaism (for example, in Jewish mysticism, and in some pre-priestly and pre-Deuteronomic streams of biblical thought).” Fox’s discussion of Assmann is full of insights, but is virtually unknown. Here is a link.
2 It is also striking that Merrill fails to at least mention the best recent attempts to situate the origin of Pentateuchal content in the late Bronze Age. No mention, for example, of the studies of Joshua Berman.