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This post is so fantastic that I think I just died a little inside--not least of all because of the burning shame produced by my blatant disregard for what the God-awful Bible actually teaches. Duly linked to it, of course.



I have read many online comments about Hector and have not commented myself. I know him personally and know the many amazing things he does for folks who are often overlooked. He would never call attention to such acts and I'll respect his choice to keep it private, but trust me it puts most of us who have any resources at all to shame. I think his writing needs to be engaged critically and one may feel that it is "full of it" but to say that about Hector himself is unfortunate and should be corrected.



I thank you for your comment. Your remarks suggest that Hector is the kind of caring person I have him pegged to be. You would think then he might have a little more respect for the ideas that motivate many religious people to be caring persons.

I want to believe that he believes that secularization is not an unalloyed good and that religion is not (only) a form of cosmic evil. But you'd never know it from some of the things he writes.

It is possible to be very clear-eyed about the evils of religion and still be a religious person. Examples: Dostoevsky, who wrote the "Grand Inquisitor," Kierkegaard, and Bonhoeffer.

I am, of course, speaking loosely when I argue that Avalos is full of it. I'm referring to his argument as exemplified in the quote I reproduce, not his person. If I weren't, I'd be full of it. In ways I may not discern, I suspect I am, but I would rather stand corrected than be politely ignored.


Thanks John. I do appeciate your willingness to engage Hector's work and I certainly agree that its better to stand corrected than be politely ignored. By the way, I read and very much enjoy your blog on a fairly regular basis.

Peter Nathan

Thanks John: Have referenced your excellent post here.


You have just proven Hector Avalos' point. Your two passages show the bible and mishnah endorsing slavery and misogyny. Compassion for the poor is not exclusive to the bible. The fact that it is written by an ancient alien culture is shown by how such compassion is mixed with primitive institutions like slavery and the oppression of women. People like you gloss over such obvious references while only looking at the good things.


Frank, so what's the scoop?

Because Plato and Aristotle and the authors of the Bible and the Mishnah were slave-holders and misogynists, are you unable to learn anything from them?

Are you suggesting that their writings should not interest us, and we should rid our wonderfully advanced culture of their influence?

If so, I pity you, and am thankful that opinions like yours have not yet gained the upper hand.

Hector  Avalos

It is unfortunate that Mr. Hobbins chooses such uncivil comments without addressing the argumentation in The End of Biblical Studies, which includes a chapter on aesthetics and a discussion of Hebrew poetry.

If I may ask, has Mr. Hobbins read The End
of Biblical Studies, or is he relying on quotes
from secondary sources?


Prof. Avalos,

you opened the door by making uncivil remarks in your book about the Bible. "Our purpose," as you call it in your book, which is to "eliminate the potential use of any sacred scripture in the modern world," is not my purpose. I am in complete and absolute disagreement with you on this point.

But I am happy to review your chapter on aesthetics and Hebrew poetry, if you are inviting me to do so.

A fellow blogger, Chris Heard (Higgaion), has some choice remarks on other chapters of your book, to which I link in the post. I refer interested readers to them.

Hector  Avalos

I think you better look at that supposed quote of mine again, as it is far more nuanced than you represent it.

Besides, making any supposed argument against the use of Bible in the modern world should not qualify someone as "uncivil." After all, there are many books in previous "Bibles" that have been removed from the canon, and I don't hear any complaints from you that this was "uncivil" on the part of those who argued for their removal.

Finally, you are either not answering my previous question or evading it. A more direct and rephrased question to you is this: Did you read the entire book, The End of Biblical Studies, at the time you first posted this thread? YES OR NO?


No, I have not yet read your entire book. It's obviously very important to you that I do.

I'm happy to gratify you, and I may even report back to my readers on this blog.

If you wish to gratify me and my readers, you might begin by replying to Chris Heard's careful critique of chapters 1 and 2 of your book, linked to above, in which he refers to "self-defeating" arguments you make, and to the "untenable implications" you draw from the data in hand.

Hector  Avalos

Hello, Mr. Hobbins,
In scholarly discussions, it is not just important to me that my book be read. I think it is not fair or intellectually honest to issue such broad-brush uncivil judgments such as yours without doing at least the proper homework.

I hope you afford the same courtesy to any one else you decide to criticize in such a manner. It is an issue of fairness rather than a matter of just gratifying me. I hope other scholars also allow you the same courtesy. I think it might fall under the Golden Rule if you believe in it.

I have already notified Dr. Heard that I would comment on his comments once he is finished reviewing the whole book. He had been doing a chapter by chapter analysis.

Dr. Heard is also scheduled to give his critique at the upcoming meeting of the Institute for Ancient Near Eastern and Afro-Asiatic Cultural Research in San Diego. I invited him, despite the fact that I disagree with him on some issues. That only shows that I am willing to listen to critiques, as long as those persons are willing to read the book and be civil and respectful in their dialogue.

I should add that the types passages you quoted from the Bible and Mishna are best addressed by my previous book, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (2005), which is a detailed analysis of how modern scholars address biblical violence.

That book also explains why the types of passages you cite really do not help overcome the problems I see with some of the ethics outlined by biblical authors.


The Golden Rule? Where does that come from?

Prof. Avalos, I thank you for taking the time to interact with me. My intention was not to present your point of view in a de-nuanced manner.

In fact, I suspected all along that at least one of the two great commandments rang true to you. How that jibes with statements like "the Bible has no intrinsic merit" remains, however, a mystery to me.

Hector  Avalos

I cover the pre-NT origin of the Golden
Rule on pp. 226-228 of Fighting Words. We don't
need the Bible to teach us this. Second,
the notion of "intrinsic value" is complex. Rather than recapitulating the philosophical
underpinnings of this idea here, I invite you to read the relevant sections in The End of Biblical Studies.
I will be happy to discuss why I think "intrinsic
value" is a problematic concept after your evaluation.


I think the sense in which you understand the Bible and Shakespeare to have "no intrinsic merit" follows seamlessly from your stated goal, which is to establish a "secular humanist hegemony" over the world.

If that is your goal, then the Bible and Shakespeare not only have no intrinsic merit, they are inimical to your purpose. You say as much over and over again.

The "philosophical underpinnings" of which you speak are window dressing to your basic stance as a militant atheist. Insofar as the philosophy you appeal to is not a restatement of the particular brand of secular humanism you espouse, it is superfluous to your argument.

The superfluous philosophy you bring in is your way of evangelizing the masses. The method is perfectly understandable, but I'm not going to take the bait.

Hector  Avalos

I think you have my argument reversed again.
I do not say the Bible has no intrinsic merit
because I am, as you call me, "a militant atheist."

And I am a pacifist, not a "militant," if that means
advocating some violent promotion of my cause.

Being an atheist is irrelevant to the argument
of "intinsic merit." My argument is that intrisic
merit is an undefinable and meaningless concept.

I simply do not know what people mean by
"intrinsic" other than superimposing some social
or culturally constructed value.

So if "intrinsic" refers to a value that is not
dependent on culturally or socially relative
values, then I think that the Bible or Shakespeare
have no intrinsic merit in that sense.

I could hold that view regardless of whether I be
a theist or an atheist.

Otherwise, could you define "intrinsic" for me,
and tell me how Shakespeare has "intrinsic"

If you want another sense of how I view biblical
texts, you might be interested in the article, "The Letter Killeth: A Plea for Decanonizing
Violent Biblical Texts" in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Religion,Conflict. ane Peace.


There is nothing unusual about a phrase like "intrinsic merit" making sense only in relation to a context, i.e., "relative" to it. You are not discovering America here.

Your own use of the phrase, in which you claim that the Bible and Shakespeare have "no intrinsic merit" is also dependent on culturally and socially relative values. The claim follows seamlessly from your militant atheism, as I said before.

You are a faux pacifist. Anyone whose stated goal is to establish a "secular humanist hegemony" over the world is not a pacifist.

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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