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

6 Responses

  1. I read Avalos’ “End of Biblical Studies”. In it, he doesn’t say that Biblical studies per se should end, he says that Biblical studies as it is currently practiced (which he says the vast majority still promotes a “religionist agenda”) should end. He says that the Bible should be studied the same way that Homer and many of the Classics are studied.

  2. Yes, you’re quite correct. The article by NP does cover that distinction, from what I read.

  3. I have been arguing for a while that theology and religion departments should be closed, and the folks currently in them should choose to either enter history departments if they want to do history, or become priests if they want to promote the specific religion.

    Cheers! RichGriese@gmail.com

  4. I agree with Quinton, he does seem to misrepresent Avalos:

    “4) But what would happen if Avalos’ program is followed and critical biblical studies became a thing of the past?”

    Surely Avalos doesn’t want this.

  5. Rich, you and I will continue to disagree on that. I believe Biblical Studies (i.e. Theology and religion departments) serve an important educational role in secular institutions. We do need them.

    Hjalti, I have not yet read his article in Boer’s volume; I am waiting for that volume to arrive in the mail and once I have it I’ll be able to comment more thoroughly about Avalos’ positions. However from his book (cf. p 28), I would say that Lemche is spot on with analyzing Avalos’ perspective on Biblical studies.

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