Rolad Boer: ‘The Unbearable Idealism of Biblical Scholarship’

Roland raises some very important concerns about idealism in the Academy in a new article on Bible and Interpretation.  I have to admit, I’m an idealist (and an optimist–a deadly combination!), and I often find myself self-reflecting on the value of my own research.  This part of his op-ed struck me as important:

The problem is that idealism seems such a natural position, especially for intellectuals like biblical scholars. Indeed, biblical scholars are by default idealists. Why? We work with texts and opinions and arguments all the time. We read, teach, write, speak, and persuade. We have been trained long and hard to believe that what we think and say and write will change people, or at least change the accepted opinion concerning the understanding of a text. We hold that the interpretation, say, of Aaron’s rod, or of the daughters of Zelophehad, or of Elisha’s floating axe, or of Ezekiel’s smelly loin-cloth, or of Paul’s remarkable ability to resist snakebite, or whether Paul communed in the seventh heaven with Philo or the Stoics, or of the advisability of a little wine with our dinner, is absolutely vital. And we spend inordinate amounts of time analyzing the texts themselves, checking what others have written about these texts, and arguing endlessly about them. Ideas are our stock and trade, so we assume that the world operates in the same way.

We also like to think that we are far more important than we really are.

via The Bible and Interpretation – The Unbearable Idealism of Biblical Scholarship.

A lot of scholarship is about the scholar presenting the past.  In other words it is egocentric.  The presenter portrays the past as they understand it, as they interpret the data.  But that doesn’t mean that they are wrong; simply that a lot of the author or the lecturer will inevitably be interconnected with the past they are presenting.   And this sort of interconnection is dangerous indeed; when that history is challenged, how can the historian or Biblical scholar not feel immediately attacked?  After all, an attack on their presentation will also be an attack upon themselves.

Roland has a great way of getting his reader to challenge their own preconceptions about themselves.  Here, too, he has accomplished this.  Please read the whole thing.


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