A Hebrew Bible/Old Testament scholar looks at the Bible and culture…

Are Biblical Scholars Working Against Their Own Interests?

I’ve just had an article published in the on-line journal The Bible and Interpretation.  It calls for biblical scholars to start talking more about why people should care about the Bible, not relying on the fact that they historically have.

Click here to give it a read.


5 Responses to Are Biblical Scholars Working Against Their Own Interests?

  • A really interesting article. I wonder if all the attempts to show how irrelevent the Bible is to modern society (e.g., Hector Avalos The End of Biblical Studies or some of Bart Ehrman’s popular works) has ended up damaging general interest in academic biblical studies?

  • In your article you said,

    “What I don’t find is any popular treatment of what most interests me about the Bible: how it shares with other literature the ability to invite reflection on the human conditions.”

    I’d like to point you to a project by a friend of mine, John Darnielle. He is a musical artist (and would probably not describe himself as a Christian). However, he grew up within a Christian setting because he is very literate about the content of the Bible. His band (The Mountain Goats) just released an album in which all of the songs are titled with Biblical references.
    You can read a comprehensive review of this album, The Life of the World to Come, at my husband’s blog (http://foolishsage.com/2009/10/08/the-mountain-goats-the-life-of-the-world-to-come/). One snip of that review:

    Though The Life of the World to Come’s songs all have Bible passage titles, this is not an album about the Bible, nor is it particularly religious–but in my view it is very much about faith. There is a meta-narrative that runs through Darnielle’s mega-prolific songwriting over the years. His songs are often about people at the end of their ropes–scratch that, people who have set fire to the very rope they dangle from over the precipice. And yet, it is at that bottoming out that his characters find a strange, inexplicable hope.

    How does he do this?

    The new album uses the titular Bible passages as the merest inspiration, a canvas upon which Darnielle paints very contemporary–yet timeless–portraits of grief, despair, resignation…and inexplicable faith, hope, and love. An example of this is the bouncy “Genesis 3:23″ in which the original verse (”therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken”) provides a proper motif for a more contemporary exile story of a man who breaks into the house where he grew up to confront the ghosts he has carried with him since he left.

  • Julia, while I usually find myself simply nodding or smiling agreement to your posts, your B & I article leaves me cold. The concluding sentence provides a focus: “For my part, I’ll be attempting to help people see that the Bible matters as literature and as a window into the particularities of human living.” Yawn, if the Bible is merely a particularly good example of ancient literature (and I think it is that) then why bother? The only reason for the Bible to get a much much bigger market share than [insert the names of a few of your favourite ancient authors/works] is that it comes to me as (in some sense) the Word of God*. Unless I hear that voice in with and under the human voices of thee texts then frankly the work required to read such an ancient text can be left to the specialists and SBL can become a huddle of a couple of dozen in a bar in Boston.

    * Please, dear reader, notice the “in some sense” parenthesis. I am not suggesting biblical scholars need huge numbers of fundamentalists to keep us in the manner to which we have become accustomed, but we do need religious people (or religion-haunted post-religious people) to provide our larger “market”. The problem is most scholarship has studiously turned its back on this fact!

  • Tim, I see this differently, mainly because “literature” is never “mere literature” for me. Literature is powerful, meaningful, significant. For a lot of folks, to treat the Bible as least as seriously as they treat literature would be a vast improvement. I see folks making lots of claims about the Bible but not very many taking seriously the power of its narrative to engage questions about what it means to be human–including what experiences of the divine look and feel like.

  • All literature may be powerful, but some literature is more equal than others. Your approach to this project of Bible studies as literary criticism retains the strength of its relevance for me because the Bible is the bestselling novel of all time (after “Twilight”). Why did this particular literary take on the human condition out-influence all others?
    Much like Twilight, it ain’t the quality of the prose (at least after being translated, mangled, and retranslated again).
    I’m excited by your endeavor, even though I suspect the strength of Christianity will continue to determine the reach of Biblical studies as a field.

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