Why Biblical Studies Are Necessary – NP Lemche

Article by Niels Peter Lemche discussing Hector Avalos’ opinion that Biblical Studies should end.  I agree whole-heartedly with NP’s conclusions.  I also agree that things should not be ignored in scholarship; if we don’t like it, the correct way to handle it is to discuss it.

It is obvious that Avalos’ mistake is a fundamental one. It is absolutely clear that he writes for members of the academy. Avalos’ world is the academy which long ago emerged from the dark jungle of biblical superstition. It is the world of Wissenschaft, including both science and humanities as is normal in universities formed according to the European “universitas” tradition which speaks of a unity of sciences. At the moment, Avalos identifies his world as the world of the Bible today; he is severely mistaken. He represents a minority, indeed a very small one, consisting of university people, scientists, and scholars in humanistic disciplines — in short Wissenschaftler. And he is correct when he argues that this group has many reservations when it comes to the mechanics of biblical studies (not to mention theology which to most is a discipline that has little affinity with the ideals of the academy). However, this minority represents only a small group within western society (and here it is not necessary to speak of other competing societies).

The overwhelming majority has never left the “jungle” of superstition. The Bible is important to this majority, not because it is intellectually obsolete, but because for them it represents a defense against modernity (not to mention what followed after modernity). In recent times, the jungle has even tried to overgrow the academy in order to stifle any critical occupation with the Bible. While we, on the one hand, have always had the sensational discoveries of Noah’s ark, the grave of Jesus, or splinters from the holy cross or the different endeavors to promote alternatives to modern science as it developed after Darwin, on the other hand, we find the intrusion from so-called conservative scholarship a pretension that it is a kind of critical scholarship, which it certainly is not. I dealt with that subject some years ago on this site4 and at length in an article in The Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament.5 An answer was later published here by V. Philip Long,6 probably the leading spokesperson of a group of conservative scholars attempting to gain acceptance by critical scholars.7 Long’s answer demonstrates precisely the tactics conservatives employed to gain credibility (which I reviewed in my article in the Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament). There is no reason to repeat that argument here. Creationism and various forms of dispensationalism do not gain credibility because of the support of conservative scholars. On this Avalos and I are in total agreement. The academy does not need this type of scholarship.

3) However, because of its continuing popularity among the religiously-inspired laity, we cannot dispense with biblical studies. On the contrary, the present situation calls for a truly critical engagement with the Bible, bringing the study of the Bible back to the beginning of critical biblical scholarship, and sifting from it all those directions which have no really critical basis but are still solidly embedded within the jungle of pre-scientific theory. So far I do not think that one Nobel laureate has ever spoken in favor of creationism.

Read on here: http://bibleinterp.com/opeds/mistake35920.shtml

Defining Mythicism: My Struggle with the Question of the Historicity of the Figure of Jesus

Over the last four years, I have called myself a mythicist.  However, according to the current, if not outmoded, accepted vernacular definition of the term, I have not really been a mythicist for the last two of those four years at least.  I do not ascribe to any of the current popular mythicist theories.  I think the movie Zeitgeist is a work akin to shows where aliens are portrayed as the builders of the pyramids, I think authors like Acharya S are shoddy in their scholarship and often make hyperbolic or indefensible arguments, and, perhaps only with the exception of Earl Doherty (but I have not read his new book, so I am not certain how much his arguments have improved since his last book), there is no suitable book on the position that I find remotely accurate enough to support.  And here is my dilemma.

At a recent lecture a few weeks ago when someone brought books out during the Q&A session by Freke and Gandy I immediately denounced them and expressed caution and concern towards trusting anything in them without extensive further investigation and research. One member at the lecture informed me that by distancing myself from these books, I was committing character-suicide within the freethought and humanist communities because there are so many individuals who accept these books and media as fact, to which I responded that my concern was not my image so much as it has been fighting misinformation.  If anything, I would add now in retrospect, books like these and movies like Zeitgeist continue to earn negative reception in the academic community and with good reason.  If anything, accepting the current mythicist media is really akin to committing career suicide, especially if you work (or have plans to one day work) in any field of Biblical studies or religious studies.

That is my point.  I have given up mythicism as it is currently defended and defined; to be blunt, I find myself wondering if it is not time that we reexamine the definition currently in use and come up with more acceptable definitions that conform to the modern state of academia.  However I stress that I don’t want to work against modern scholarship to achieve this end.  Instead, I would like to work with them, including one of the main detractors of mythicism, James McGrath (indeed, I have an open invitation to him requesting a new bloggersation about this very issue).  The goal is to come to an understanding with historicists, to come up with an adequate definition which will, for better or for worse, be acceptable to the Academe.  James has already suggested we establish a definition that differentiates those positions which are better expressed by Jesus agnosticism and minimalism.  After some consideration, I agree, and the best way to distinguish between these elements is to first have a better grasp of ‘Mythicism proper’.  And the first order of business, in my opinion, is to break it down and start with clearly defining what ‘myth’ means.  So my next blog on this subject will follow with how I feel myth is currently defined, how it relates to New Testament, and what implications it has towards redefining and understanding mythicism in a new and more useful way.


UPDATE: James McGrath posted a few remarks here: http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2010/10/defining-mythicism.html

Who Pays the Piper? Tim Bulkeley on Academic Journals and Secrecy

What a great article.  I am uncertain if I completely agree with it yet; this is not the first time such a conversation has come up, however.  Here is a brief excerpt from the piece:

This form of “publication,” the norm and gold standard of scholarship, has ensured that fewer people read and interact with the ideas expressed in the articles. The word “publication” therefore can only be used ironically in this context, for in fact it suggests rather keeping private than making public!

There is a further irony: One might ask who paid for this writing? Who employed the scholars who composed these articles? Who paid the scholars who did most of the editorial work? In both cases the answer is: “Not the publisher.” Often the answer is taxpayers and/or church members, usually assisted by a contribution (known as fees) from students. In short, and for want of a more specific general term, the public. This public, who have borne most of the costs involved in the production of the articles may only read them if they pay again!…

…The “Gold Standard” of twentieth-century scholarship is in conflict with the aims and goals of scholarship in the twenty-first. It is time we changed the rules of the academic game!

via The Bible and Interpretation.  Read on here: http://www.bibleinterp.com/opeds/bulk357912.shtml

This comes back to accreditation and the debate over the old elitism of the Academe.  The debate is, clearly, still hot and pressing.

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