Pages From Dr. Hector Avalos' Book, The End of Biblical Studies

The following pages are used with permission from Dr. Avalos, the author of The End of Biblical Studies. I scanned them in so there may be some scanning errors I haven't yet caught. If you want to read the footnotes, get the book...Cheers.











From the Introduction, Pages 15-25:

The only mission of biblical studies should be to end biblical studies as we know it. This book will explain why I have come to such a conclusion. In the process, it will review the history of academic biblical studies as primarily a religionist apologetic enterprise, despite its partial integration of secularist epistemologies. The majority of biblical scholars in academia are primarily concerned with maintaining the value of the Bible despite the fact that the important questions about its origin have either been answered or cannot be answered. More importantly, we will show how academia, despite claims to independence, is still part of an ecclesial-academic complex that collaborates with a competitive media industry.

Most standard histories will grant that biblical studies began as an apologetic enterprise. Few biblical scholars will admit that it is still just that. The largest organization of professional biblical scholars, the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), began as the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis in New York City in 1880, and its chief members included Philip Schaff, Charles A. Briggs, and Francis Brown. Some of these men represented the more liberal streams of scholarship. A few were friendly toward the then emerging "higher criticism," which dared to question the authorship and historicity of many biblical events. Yet all were religious in some way. They all believed the Bible was worth keeping in the modem world.

Today, the Society of Biblical Literature is larger and more pluralistic in representation. One will find Jews represented, whereas there were none at the first meeting of the SBL. Secular humanists, such as myself, have participated in reading many papers. Although still heavily dominated by men, the SBL has more women members than even twenty years ago. The SBL is no longer centered in the northeast, and its members come to its massive annual meetings, usually in the United States, from countries all over the globe.

But important features have remained constant. The main bond is bibliolatry, which entails the conviction that the Bible is valuable and should remain the subject of academic study. Equally important, the Society of Biblical Literature, while now relatively more free of denominationalist agendas, is still religionist in orientation. Scholars still are either part of faith communities, or see their work as assisting faith communities directly or indirectly. One of the most prominent Jewish biblical scholars today, Jon D. Levenson, comments: "(T]he motivations of most historical critics of the Hebrew Bible continues to be religious in character. It is a rare scholar in the field whose past does not include an intense Christian or Jewish commitment." Atheists may read papers at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, but usually only when such papers do not challenge the relevance of biblical studies itself.

BRIEF STATEMENT OF OUR THESIS

For our purposes, we can summarize our plea to end biblical studies as we know it with two main premises:
1. Modern biblical scholarship has demonstrated that the Bible is the product of cultures whose values and beliefs about the origin, nature, and purpose of our world are no longer held to be relevant, even by most Christians and Jews.
2. Paradoxically, despite the recognition of such irrelevance, the profession of academic biblical studies still centers on maintaining the illusion of relevance by:

A. A variety of scholarly disciplines whose methods and conclusions are often philosophically flawed (e.g., translation, textual criticism, archaeology, history, and biblical theology).
B. An infrastructure that supports biblical studies (e.g., universities, a media-publishing complex, churches, and professional organizations).

The first premise acknowledges that we have indeed discovered much new information about the Bible. The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) and the enormous archaeological treasures found in the ancient Near East in the last one hundred fifty years or so have set the Bible more firmly in its original cultural context. However, it is those very discoveries that show that the Bible is irrelevant, insofar as it is part of a world radically dissimilar to ours in its conception of the cosmos, the supernatural, and the human sense of morality. In fact, in a 1975 report published by the American Academy of Religion, one scholar frankly admitted that "[i]ndeed, one of the enduring contributions of biblical studies in this century has been the discovery of the strangeness of the thought-forms of the biblical literature of the 'western' tradition to US." In short, scholars of religion themselves, not just secular humanists, admit that the Bible is a product of an ancient and very different culture.

IRRELEVANCE DEFINED

"Irrelevant" here refers to a biblical concept or practice that is no longer viewed as valuable, applicable, and/or ethical. Thus, whereas most Americans today regard genocide as contemptible, that was not the case in many biblical texts. In fact, Michael Coogan, a widely respected biblical scholar, admits that some biblical practices are so objectionable today that churches try to hide parts of the Bible from their members. As Coogan phrases it, "Conspicuously absent from lectionaries are most or all of such books as Joshua, with its violent extermination of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan at divine command, or Judges, with its horrifying narratives of patriarchy and sexual assault in chapters 11 and 19-to say nothing of the Song of Solomon, with its charged eroticism, or of Job, with its radical challenge to the dominant biblical view of a just and caring God."

Likewise, our modern medical establishment has discarded the supernatural explanations for illness found in the Bible, rendering such explanations irrelevant. Here are some more examples of scientific and scholarly "discoveries" that provide further evidence of the Bible's irrelevance:

• Though modern science has demonstrated otherwise, some biblical authors held that the universe was created in only six days.
• Despite the weight that theologians place on the words and deeds of the great figures in the Bible (Abraham, Moses, and David), research indicates that these figures are not as "historical" as once thought. There is no independent evidence for the life or teachings of Jesus in the first century CE, which means that most modern Christians are not even following Jesus' teachings.
• Biblical authors generally believed that women were subordinate to men.
As we shall argue, even when many persons in the modern world still hold to biblical ideas (e.g., creationism), it is partly because academic biblical scholars are not sufficiently vocal about undermining outdated biblical beliefs. Instead, such scholars concentrate on maintaining the value of the biblical text in modern society.

IRRELEVANCE BY THE NUMBERS

The idea that the Bible is irrelevant, even among those who regard themselves as Christian, can be demonstrated empirically very easily. For decades, the Gallup organization has conducted surveys on biblical literacy. Such surveys have repeatedly demonstrated that despite professed adherence to the Bible, most Christians are either ignorant of the Bible or their appeal to the Bible is very limited. In fact, a 1942 survey showed that about 41 percent of Americans had not read from the Bible in the previous twelve months.

In a detailed survey of American faith in the 1990s, Gallup polls found that "eight in ten Americans say they are Christians, but only four in ten know that Jesus, according to the Bible, delivered the Sermon on the Mount."7 That is not a great improvement over the 34 percent of respondents who knew that fact in 1954.8 Thus, a majority of self-professed Christians did not know the basic facts of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), which outlines what most scholars consider a fundamental message of Christianity. A 2005 Gallup poll showed that "[f]ewer than half of Americans can name the first book of the Bible."

Despite apparent improvements in some aspects of biblical literacy, biblical literacy advocates judge recent strides to be inadequate. One such advocate is the Bible Literacy Project, which works closely with the Gallup organization. In a 2005 report, the Bible Literacy Project noted that while a majority of American teens have a rudimentary knowledge of the Bible, "substantial minorities lack even the most basic working knowledge of the Bible."!! If we return to the benchmark question about the Sermon on the Mount, most teenagers surveyed "either responded that they did not know (27%) or incorrectly (36%) believed some other quotation presented to them was from the Sermon on the Mount."

Leonard Greenspoon, a keen observer of the use of the Bible in the media, argues that such surveys leave much to be desired: "I'm not convinced that any of this really tells us about the overall state of biblical (il)literacy ... much of this strikes me as just slightly above the level of biblical trivia." However, the most recent comprehensive survey only confirms the dire state of biblical literacy. In September 2006, Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion published a comprehensive survey on American religion, which showed that 21.9 percent of mainline Protestants and 33.1 percent of Catholics "never" read Scripture. Michael Coogan's observation is pertinent here: "[A]lthough the Bible is acknowledged in theory as an authority, much of it has simply been ignored."

Such dire statistics apply not only to average laypersons but to those who aspire to be scholars of religion as well. Ian Markham has drawn on statistical data to reevaluate the nature of biblical studies in England. In October of 1990, some sixty-five first-year students in theology at Exeter University and King's College in London replied to a questionnaire. In one of the questions, students were asked to place five biblical events in chronological order, the correct sequence being: flood, exodus, reign of King David, reign of King Solomon, and exile. Only 27 percent of these students could place all events in the correct sequence, and 20 percent failed altogether. In short, even those who are expected to have an interest in the Bible exhibited poor results.

Yet for Markham "both church and university need to find a modern, academic way to impart the elementary knowledge on which all theological reflection ultimately depends." So whether in the United States or in Britain biblical studies is still viewed as an instrument for religious reflection rather than for helping students move beyond the use of the Bible as any sort of authority in theological or any other kind of reflection.

More importantly, we repeatedly demonstrate that it is biblical scholars and educated ministers themselves who say that a lot of biblical materials are irrelevant. Such scholars are not all liberal. A case in point is an article written by Daniel J. Estes in Bibliotheca Sacra, a prestigious evangelical Christian journal. Estes, too, is worried about irrelevancy; he has even developed a "scale" to measure the relevance (his term is "degree of transfer") of biblical teachings. The scale is as follows: [This part did not scan in well at all - John]

For Estes, "degree of transfer" and "continuity" refer to how obliged a modern audience is to follow what is addressed to an "original audience" in the Bible. Something close to the zero side would be considered obsolete whereas something at 10 would be considered a directive that Christians must still follow.

He then provides the example of the law of first fruits in Deuteronomy 26: 1-11, which commands Israelites to go to a location chosen by Yahweh to provide the priest with the first yields of their agricultural season. Estes would rank this close to the zero side of the scale (obsolete precepts) because, among other things, most modern Christians no longer are farmers, nor do they recognize a central location that Yahweh has chosen.

Estes recognizes that "[n]one of these specific items has a precise equivalent in the identity and experience of Christian believers today .... Many of the Old Testament legal prescriptions are in this category, including, for example, the dietary regulations." When pressed to find examples of "total continuity" between the original biblical audience and today's Christian audience, he admits that "[i]ndisputable examples of total continuity between the two audiences are relatively rare...

John Bright, regarded as one of the most outstanding American biblical scholars of the last century, reflected a similar sentiment regarding the sabbatical and jubilee years in Leviticus 25, when he remarked that "the regulations described therein are obviously so little applicable to the modern situation that a preacher might be pardoned if he told himself that the passage contains no relevant message for his people whatever." In fact, if we were to go verse by verse, I suspect that 99 percent of the Bible would not even be missed, as it reflects many practices, injunctions, and ideas not much more applicable than Leviticus 25.

THE PARADOX OF BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP

Our second major premise is that despite this admission of irrelevance the profession of academic biblical scholarship paradoxically and self-servingly promotes the illusion of relevance. The maintenance of this illusion is intended to make believers think that they have "the Bible" when all they really have is a book constructed by modern elite scholars. So even if 99.9 percent of modern Christians said that the Bible was relevant to them, such relevance is based on their illusory assumption that modern versions do reflect the original "Bible" to some extent. Promoting the illusion of relevance serves to justify the very existence of the profession of biblical scholarship, and not much more.

I, of course, cannot claim to be the first to raise the question of the relevance of biblical studies. In fact, we can find similar conclusions at least by the beginning of the twentieth century in the work of Friedrich Delitzsch, a professor at Berlin University. In the period from 1902 to 1904 he delivered three lectures that ignited the so-called Babel-Bible debate. In these lectures Delitzsch began to outline how the new discoveries in Mesopotamia were forcing biblical scholars to rethink the whole idea that the Bible, especially the Old Testament, was superior to any other ancient document.

In the early 1920s, Delitzsch took his ideas to their logical conclusion in The Great Deception (Die Grosse Tiiuschung), an inflammatory two-volume work that mounted a full-scale assault on the place of the Old Testament in modern life. He wrote that "insofar as religion is concerned, all these Old Testament books, from Genesis to Daniel, have absolutely no meaning for us today, and especially as Christians." In addition, he said that "the so-called 'Old Testament' is completely disposable for the Christian Church and for the Christian community." Unfortunately, his anti-Judaism clouded some of the more legitimate questions he had raised about the reasons Western society continued to privilege this set of books.

In his 2005 essay titled "Do We Need Biblical Scholars?" Philip Davies, the British biblical scholar notorious for emphasizing the lack of historicity of many biblical accounts, asked the questions, "Can biblical scholars persuade others that they conduct a legitimate academic discipline? Until they do, can they convince anyone that they have something to offer to the intellectual life of the modem world? Indeed, I think many of us have to convince ourselves first!"

Despite his lack of religious belief pertaining to the Bible, Davies concluded that he would still advocate on behalf of the relevance of biblical scholarship in the modern world. Similarly, Jacques Berlinerblau, a secularist, believes that although biblical scholars have failed to see the dire implications of their own discoveries secularists must still seek to be biblically literate.

And, of course, throughout Jewish and Christian history there has been discussion about the relevance of certain passages, books, or even large sections of the Bible. One need only remember the notorious proposal of Marcion, the Gnostic writer of the second century: he advocated for the ejection of the entire Old Testament from Christian life. Martin Luther relegated the book of James to a sort of subordinate status. Thomas Jefferson deleted all the material he deemed unnecessary and irrelevant in order to create the "Jefferson Bible." Nonetheless, each of these individuals thought that some parts of scripture were worth keeping.

Our argument is that there is really nothing in the entire book Christians call "the Bible" that is any more relevant than anything else written in the ancient world. Similar sentiments have been expressed in regard to religious studies as a whole. In 1997, Russell McCutcheon wrote Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia. He argued that the concept of religion as being sui generisi, "self-generated," and not a phenomenon that can be reduced to psychology, sociology, or any other natural aspect of human experience-is fundamentally flawed, and serves to maintain the relevance of the profession of religious studies. By saying that religion is unique and self-generated one can argue for its continued existence and relevance.

Timothy Fitzgerald, another prominent scholar of religion, argues that "[a]t one level the so-called study of religion (also called the science of religion, religious studies, comparative religion and phenomenology of religion) is a disguised form of liberal ecumenical theology." He also observes that "even in the work of scholars who are explicitly non-theological, half disguised theological presuppositions persistently distort the analytical pitch." Although we ultimately disagree with Timothy Fitzgerald's notion that religion does not really exist, we agree that what passes for religious studies today is permeated by theological assumptions.

The place of biblical and religious studies in academia is being questioned even by Christian historians and theologians, though for reasons different from ours. One case in point is Darryl G. Hart, a Christian historian who argues that religion has actually suffered when integrated into academic study. As he phrases it, "religion does better without the blessing of the university." Hart concludes: "It may be time for faithful academics to stop trying to secure a religion-friendly university while paying deference to the academic standards of the modern university."

CANONS AND PROFESSIONALISM

Parallel critiques have been launched in other fields of study. English and literature studies, in particular, have come under sharp attack as professions concerned primarily with the promotion and maintenance of their own power. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu's concept of "cultural capital," the literary critic John Guillory provides an incisive analysis of how the idea of "expanding" the traditional Eurocentric canon or allowing that canon to be more "multicultural" constitutes window dressing for a much deeper and more fundamental feature of literary studies. Guillory characterizes cultural capital thus: "If there exists a form of capital which is specifically symbolic or cultural, the production, exchange, distribution, and consumption of this capital presupposes the division of society into groups that can be called classes."

Guillory argues that the problem of constructing a canon, the general name for a privileged set of books, is a problem in "cultural capital," because mastering a particular set of books is a way to distribute power in a society. According to Guillory, canon construction and maintenance has little to do with literary quality, which is itself a social construct. Shakespeare is read not because it has any higher literary value than other works, but because "knowing Shakespeare" might function as a credential in elite circles. Furthermore, the individuals in control of canon formation are not the authors, since a "far larger role belongs to the school itself, which regulates access to literary production by regulating access to literacy, to the practices of reading and writing."

On a broader scale, these sorts of studies are a critique of "professionalism," by which power is invested in knowledge specialists. In his classic study of this social phenomenon, Burton J. Bledstein sees professionalism in America as emerging with the middle class, particularly after the Civil War, when there was a surge in the number of professional organizations. Fully consistent with this trend is the Society of Biblical Literature (and Exegesis), which was born in 1880.

One can, of course, detect Marxist theory behind such piquant critiques of professionalism and literary studies. But one need not be a Marxist to make these observations, and Guillory grants that Marx "under theorized" the concept of class. Instead, Guillory and like-minded critics argue that relevant knowledge must be grounded in an awareness of how knowledge is used to create class distinctions and power differentials. Biblical scholars, for example, are almost solely devoted to maintaining the cultural significance of the Bible not because any knowledge it provides is relevant to our world but because of the self-serving drive to protect the power position of the biblical studies profession.

ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM AND OUR THESIS

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Richard Hofstadter acutely demonstrated that anti-intellectualism has a long history in America. In general, Hofstadter argued that American anti-intellectualism has been a response to the power that professionals have accumulated at the expense of the working class. Accordingly, readers might rightly wonder if we are simply engaging in another version of anti-intellectualism in challenging the existence of biblical academic studies. After all, why not extend our thesis to all ancient literature?

But we see false intellectualism and intellectual dishonesty in most efforts to maintain the relevance of the Bible. One example will suffice for now. In 1998, Howard Clark Kee, a widely respected New Testament scholar, coedited a volume with Irvin J. Borowsky titled Removing the Anti-Judaism from the New Testament. Anti-Jewish statements in the New Testament, indeed, have led to violence against Jews. But one solution proposed by Borowsky was this: "The solution to erasing this hatred is for bible societies and religious publishers to produce two editions, one for the public similar to the Contemporary English Version which reduces significantly this anti-Judaic potential, and the other edition for scholars taken from the Greek text."

What is being proposed here is nothing short of paternalistic deception. Borowsky and like-minded scholars know that parts of the Bible endorse and promote hateful and violent speech against Jews, but instead of urging the world to move beyond dependence on the biblical text at all, they simply want to preserve it in sanitized form. The masses will get the sanitized Bible constructed for them by scholars, and only scholars will have the version that best corresponds to the original meaning.
Fixation on the Bible also diverts attention from the thousands of texts of other cultures that still lie untranslated. If we succeed, the Bible would become simply one of many ancient texts, no more or less worthy of attention for its historical, moral, or aesthetic value. Study would be centered on how alien the Bible is rather than on how compatible it is with modem society. While we can extend our critique to all ancient literature, we focus on what we perceive to be the most egregious and historically important example.

Another potential challenge to my thesis is that I myself would be hypocritical to continue in biblical studies. However, while I concede that this would be true if I were pursuing biblical studies for the sake of keeping the field alive, I have instead used my work in biblical studies to persuade people to abandon reliance on this book. I see my goal as no different from physicians, whose goal of ending human illness would lead to their eventual unemployment. The same holds true for me. I would be hypocritical only if I sought to maintain the relevance of my profession despite my belief that the profession is irrelevant. If I work to inform people of the irrelevance of the Bible for modem life, then I am fully consistent with my beliefs.


From pages 111-113:

IS POSTMODERNISM THE PROBLEM?

At the heart of the entire debate about whether one can write a history of ancient Israel is an epistemological problem that is besetting all of archaeology and history. Historians and archaeologists have lost confidence in examining the past objectively. Some have attributed this decline in confidence to the rise of postmodernism, which is itself a complex phenomenon. However, in the case of biblical history, we begin with the remarks of JeanFranois Lyotard, the man credited with pioneering the movement: "[S]implifying to the extreme, I define 'postmodern' as incredulity toward metanarratives."

By "metanarratives," postmodernists refer to virtually any narrative that purports to describe the world, whether scientifically or historically. Such metanarratives are considered to be more the result of ideology and mechanisms to legitimize a favored version of a story than they are objective descriptions of reality. As it relates more specifically to history, Hayden White's Metahistory (1973) is usually considered a pioneering exposition of postmodernism. White believed that all historical narratives were basically discourses that could be studied on purely formal grounds. The reason to choose one type of discourse over another is ultimately aesthetic or moral. White also concluded that "there is no agreement over what will count as a specifically 'historical' datum."

MINIMALISTS AND MAXIMALISTS

In current debates about biblical archaeology, the supposed postmodernists are labeled "minimalists," "revisionists," or "nihilists" by Dever.J7 These scholars include Philip Davies and Keith Whitelam of the University of Sheffield, England, and Niels Peter Lemche and Thomas L. Thompson of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. They are known for their outspoken challenges to the existence of such biblical icons as David and Solomon. As Lemche and Thompson express it: "In the history of Palestine that we have presented, there is no room for a historical United Monarchy, or for such kings as those presented in the biblical stories of Saul, David, and Solomon."

So what does "minimalism/postmodernism" mean for Dever? Dever summarizes the position thusly: "[T]here are no facts, only interpretations." In another publication he offers this description: "The fundamental assumption of postmodernism is that no objective knowledge is possible, especially of a past that is only attested by texts." As we demonstrate below, the problem actually centers on an inconsistent categorization of what counts as a "fact," and we shall argue that many of Dever's objective "facts" quickly dissolve into interpretations, thus confirming Hayden White's assertion that there is no agreement on what constitutes a specifically historical "datum."

As is often the case in such polemics, each side does not necessarily accept the terms by which it is characterized. Philip Davies has written extensively on how the term "minimalist" is being misused by his opponents, and especially by Dever and Baruch Halpern, another vocal antiminimalist. In actuality, the nomenclature itself is flawed when describing the work of a T. L. Thompson or a W. G. Dever. For all the supposed differences between the "maximalists" and "minimalists," the irony is that even the maximalists are not so maximalist. In discussing which books can be utilized as witnesses for Israel's history, Dever states: "With most scholars, I would exclude much of the Pentateuch, specifically the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. These materials obviously constitute a sort of "pre-history" that has been attached to the main epic of ancient Israel by late editors. All this may be distilled from long oral traditions, and I suspect that some of the stories-such as parts of the Patriarchal narratives-may once have had a real historical setting. These traditions, however, are overlaid with legendary and even fantastic materials that the modem reader may enjoy as "story," but which can scarcely be taken seriously as history .... Much of what is called in the English Bible "poetry," "wisdom," and "devotional literature" must also be eliminated from historical consideration .... Ruth, Esther, Job, and Daniel, historical novellas with contrived "real-life settings," the latter dating as late as the 2nd century B.C."

In fact, this eliminates many important books in the Hebrew Bible. In essence, Dever believes that any history lies within the so-called Deuteronomistic History (henceforth, DtrH) , which stretches from Deuteronomy through 2 Kings (except Ruth) in Protestant Bibles. More specifically, it is 1 Kings and 2 Kings that, by Dever's own reckoning, provide "the best test case" for establishing the most historically firm data.

Certainly, this position, even as Dever himself concedes, should not be described as "maximalist." Indeed, if we used "maximalist" for the position of Dever, we would have no word to describe a scholar who accepts more of the Bible as historical, and there is a lot of literature that is still regarded as historical by academic scholars with more conservative views. Such scholars include Ian Provan and Kenneth Kitchen, among many others. Thus, we have chosen to use the word "quasiminimalist" for Dever, Halpern, and other scholars who do not accept much more history than the "minimalists," but who, nevertheless, see the DtrH as having the core of the historical materials.


From pages 186-190:

RESURRECTING THE RESURRECTION

A relatively new and highly educated crop of evangelical apologists is now claiming to have found philosophical breakthroughs that will bring about the demise of "naturalism," which is perceived to be the primary enemy of all sound philosophy. The start of such a trend is witnessed by, among other events, the founding of the Society of Christian Philosophers in 1978. And as in the case of previous generations of evangelicals, the test case is the supposed miraculous return to life of Jesus after his crucifixion and burial. The stories of the resurrection are in the Gospels of Matthew (28), Mark (16), Luke (24), and John (20).

While most academic scholars abandoned the historicity of the resurrection already by the late nineteenth century, there are still efforts to argue that attacks on the historicity of the resurrection are based on Enlightenment paradigms that supposedly now have been destroyed by more recent developments in epistemology. These attacks on naturalism are part of a new wave that is also attacking the naturalistic assumptions of the sciences in an effort to bolster religionist agendas such as Intelligent Design. That Christology and Intelligent Design are intimately linked is announced by William Dembski, one of the primary gurus of intelligent design: "So, too, Christology tells us that the conceptual soundness of a scientific theory cannot be maintained apart from Christ."

Naturalism refers here to the idea that natural causes are the only valid explanations for all phenomena, including historical phenomena. In general, some scholars find it useful to distinguish between ontological naturalism and methodological naturalism. The former argues that the natural world is all that exists. The corollary of that proposition, of course, is that supernatural phenomena and entities, such as God, do not exist. Methodological naturalism, on the other hand, makes no claim about whether the supernatural exists. Rather, it argues that natural entities and causes are the only ones we can know or investigate.

Accordingly, the success of any effort to establish the historicity of the resurrection is linked with the allegation that naturalism is inadequate to explain the resurrection accounts.

One champion of the antinaturalist approach to establishing the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is William Lane Craig. Craig has two doctorates, one in philosophy from the University of Birmingham (1977) and one in theology from the University of Munich (1984). He has authored or edited over thirty books and scores of articles.? He is particularly known for debating prominent skeptics and secular humanists, including the present author. His official Web site lists him currently as a research professor in philosophy at Talbot School of Theology (1996- ) and as a visiting professor of philosophy at Wheaton College, Illinois (2003- ).

With regard to the resurrection, Craig argues that advances in the philosophy of history render an argument for the resurrection a reasonable one. Craig relies heavily on historical criteria developed by C. Behan McCullagh, a philosopher of history, to establish that the resurrection probably happened. Craig appraises McCullagh's work thusly, "In his book Justifying Historical Descriptions, historian C. B. McCullagh lists six tests used by historians to determine the best explanation for given historical facts. The hypothesis 'God raised Jesus from the dead' passes all of these tests." Since these criteria are so central to Craig's argument, they bear repetition at length as represented by Craig:

1. It has great explanatory scope. It explains why the tomb was found empty, why the disciples saw postmortem appearances of Jesus, and why the Christian faith came into being.
2. It has great explanatory power. It explains why the body of Jesus was gone, why people repeatedly saw Jesus alive despite his earlier public execution, and so forth.
3. It is plausible. Given the historical context of Jesus' own unparalleled life and claims, the resurrection serves as divine confirmation of those radical claims.
4. It is not ad hoc or contrived. It requires only one additional hypothesis--that God exists. And even that need not be an additional hypothesis if you already believe in God's existence ...
5. It is in accord with accepted beliefs. The hypothesis "God raised Jesus from the dead" does not in any way conflict with the accepted belief that people don't rise naturally from the dead. The Christian accepts that belief wholeheartedly as he accepts the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead.
6. It far outstrips any rival theories in meeting conditions 1 through 5.
Down through history various rival explanations have been offered ... Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. No naturalistic hypothesis has attracted a great number of scholars.

The first item to observe is that Craig modifies the number and general nature of the criteria outlined by McCullagh. As used by McCullagh, the criteria are mostly meant to differentiate between natural explanations, not between natural and supernatural explanations. And while Craig confidently proclaims that the resurrection hypothesis "passes all these tests," here is what McCullagh himself says: "One example which illustrates the conditions most vividly is discussion of the Christian hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead. This hypothesis is of greater explanatory scope and power than other hypotheses which try to account for the relevant evidence, but is less plausible and more ad hoc than they are. That is why it is difficult to decide on the evidence whether it should be accepted or rejected."

Further problems arise when we examine how McCullagh applies these criteria to one of his prime illustrations, the death of William II (Rufus), king of England from 1087 to 1100. According to most historians, William died mysteriously during a hunting expedition on August 2, 1100, an event recorded by William of Malmesbury and other medieval chroniclers. McCullagh undertakes an evaluation of three explanations for William's death that were discussed by an earlier historian, Christopher Brooke. The latter raised the possibility that William II was killed as part of a conspiracy that resulted in the crowning of his brother, Henry I, three days later. These three explanations may be summarized as follows:
1. The king was killed accidentally.
2. The king was killed through witchcraft.
3. The king was killed as part of a conspiracy.

Most historians will opt for the first and third. But why do most historians, including McCullagh, not usually accept that the king was killed through witchcraft? McCullagh refers to his criterion of "plausibility" and tells us: "As for the second hypothesis, a decision about whether the evidence which it explains also renders it probable to any extent, depends upon one's view of the occult. Do dreams and portents of events which subsequently occur make it likely that evil powers are at work, or not? If the answer is that they do, then the reports of those dreams and portents do confer plausibility upon the second hypothesis; but if the answer is negative, then the reports do not contribute to its plausibility."

So, in actuality, the "plausibility" criterion is quite subjective. McCullagh provides no criteria for preferring one view of the occult over another, or over no view of the occult at all. Apparently, if one's view is that the occult exists, then it is allowed "plausibility." If someone else believes that the occult does not exist, then witchcraft is not "plausible" at all. If we apply this criterion evenhandedly, then we could render the claims of any religion plausible or implausible. For example, if our view is that Krishna does work in the world, then explanations appealing to Krishna's actions in the world can be used. No further evidence is needed to justify having that view.

McCullagh's sixth criterion is either misrepresented by Craig or adapted without much notice that it has been adapted. McCullagh's sixth criterion states:
"It must be disconfirmed by fewer accepted beliefs than any other incompatible hypothesis about the same subject; that is, when conjoined with accepted truths it must imply fewer observation statements and other statements which are believed to be false."

Craig's representation of the sixth criterion ("It far outstrips any rival theories in meeting conditions 1 through 5") apparently now refers to how much consensus a theory has gained. Craig elaborates this criterion with this statement:
Down through history various rival explanations have been offered .... Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. No naturalistic hypothesis has attracted a great number of scholars.

Of course, such a criterion depends on which group of "scholars" one regards as authoritative. More importantly, elsewhere Craig rejects the use of "consensus" as a criterion, something reflected in his approval of historian Morton White's attack on "historical relativism": "White charges that the most dangerous thing about historical relativism is the way in which it can be used to justify historical distortions. The ultimate result of this totalitarian fiddling with the past is envisioned by George Orwell in 1984 ...Whatever the Party holds to be true is truth."

If Craig is inconsistent about the validity of consensus, then he is just as inconsistent about the use of "radical dissimilarity" as a criterion for historical explanation. In a debate with John Dominic Crossan, the celebrated historical Jesus scholar, Craig argues: "In summary, there are good historical grounds for affirming that Jesus rose from the dead in confirmation of his radical personal claims. And Dr. Crossan's denial of this fact is based on idiosyncratic presuppositions which no other serious New Testament critic accepts."

In the very same paragraph Craig is arguing that the resurrection of Jesus is a credible event because Jesus made "radical" and unique claims. On the other hand, Crossan is not credible because he makes claims no other New Testament critic accepts. Uniqueness, therefore, is applied on a pick-and choose basis.

In any case, Craig misrepresents McCullagh's criteria, and McCullagh's application of his criteria actually yields inconclusive results even when applied to natural phenomena. In the case of William II, McCullagh admits that his conclusion is ambiguous, and follows Brooke in admitting that "[t]he most we can say is this: If Rufus' death in August 1100 was an accident, Henry I was an exceptionally lucky man." McCullagh adds: "It looks as if arguments to the best explanation are not much more useful than simple hypothetical-deductive arguments after all." More importantly, McCullagh, unlike Craig, understands that these criteria are not useful for deciding between natural and supernatural explanations.


From the conclusion, pages 339-342:

CONCLUSION

Biblical studies as we know it should end. Many scholars have told us that the Bible is a product of another age and culture, whose norms, practices, and conception of the world were very different from ours. Yet these very same scholars paradoxically keep the general public under the illusion that the Bible does matter or should matter. We have argued that whether they intend it or not, their validation of the Bible as a text for the modem world serves to validate their own employment and relevance in the modem world.

We have seen how translations, rather than exposing the alien and more opprobrious concepts of biblical authors, instead conceal them with gender neutral language and other devices. Some are more blatant in endorsing two versions: one for the ignorant masses and one for the scholarly hierocracy. Translations are a big business, and publishers seek to sell a product. To be successful they have to make the translations attractive to consumers.

We have seen how textual critics, even after knowing that the original text is probably irrecoverable, do not announce to most churches that their Bibles are at best constructs that cannot be traced earlier than the second century for the New Testament and the third century BCE for the Hebrew Bible. Indeed, Christians are still taught to believe that the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts behind their translations can be confidently restored to what God intended. Textual critics know that their audience will be greatly reduced if they shift their biblical study to the history of its constituent texts. Believers want the original, and nonbelievers don't care about textual histories.

In our look at biblical history and archaeology we learned that most so-called facts are nothing more than tendentious religionist and nationalistic interpretations, even among those who claim to be secularist positivists. For example, we have seen Dever attempting to retain the idea that archaeology can help us to "know" that the highland dwellers were "Israelite." Yet Dever's retreat from previous certitudes is a metaphor for the entire fields of biblical archaeology and history. "Biblical history" has not so much been erased as it has been exposed as not being there in the first place.

Modern historical-Jesus research is merely a postscript to the obituary written by Reimarus. In fact, the decline in Jesus research is so precipitous that many Jesus scholars have gone from arguing about the historicity of big central issues, such as the resurrection, to the most trivial questions, such as which of two sequences best represents Jesus' utterance of two words ("is better" or "better is"?). We have also learned that the so-called new defeat of naturalism only hides a selective supernaturalism. This is most evident when William Lane Craig cannot bring himself to believe in the resurrection of the saints reported in Matthew 27:52-53, yet he tells us we should believe the resurrection story about Jesus in the same book.

The supposed superior artistic merit of the Bible has been unmasked for what it is-another bibliolatrous apologetic device. Not only is beauty subjective, the Bible does not even satisfy the very criteria (such as symmetry or originality) that scholars often tell us are the measure of artistry. At the same time, many cannot even conceive that parts of the Bible may be ugly, artistically and ethically. That also would be bad for business.

We have learned that there is a very active infrastructure supporting biblical studies that is just as religionist as it ever was. True, it may no longer be "fundamentalist" or "traditionalist," but it is still religionist insofar as it believes that religion is essentially good and necessary for a productive human life. We see this attitude in the entertainment industry and in the publishing industry. We still see it in the most elite institutions of private and public academia, despite the growth in secularism and pluralism. As Jon Levenson of Harvard Divinity School says, we have replaced one form of orthodoxy with another.

Yes, bibliolatry is still what binds most biblical scholars together, whether they see themselves as religious or secular, champions of Western culture or multiculturalists, evangelical Christians or Marxist hermeneuticians. Witness the plea of William G. Dever: "If its professional custodians no longer take the Bible seriously, at least as the foundation of our Western cultural tradition, much less a basis for private and public morality, where does that leave us? If we simply jettison the Bible as so much excess baggage in the brave new postmodern world, what shall we put in its place?"

But why do we need to put anything in the Bible's place? Why do we need an ancient book that endorses everything from genocide to slavery to be a prime authority of our public or private morality? Why do we need any ancient text at all, regardless of what morality it espouses? "The Bible" is mostly a construct of the last two thousand years of human history. Modern human beings have existed for tens of thousands of years without the Bible, and they don't seem to have been the worse for it. There are modern secularized societies in Europe that seem to get along just fine without the Bible.

From my perspective, there are really only three alternatives for what is now called biblical studies.

1. Eliminate biblical studies completely from the modern world
2. Retain biblical studies as is, but admit that it is a religionist enterprise
3. Retain biblical studies, but redefine its purpose so that it is tasked with eliminating completely the influence of the Bible in the modern world.

I do not advocate the first option, at least for the moment, because I do believe that the Bible should be studied, if only as a lesson in why human beings should not privilege such books again. My objection has been to the religionist and bibliolatrous purpose for which it is studied. The second option is actually what is found in most seminaries, but we must advertise that scholars in all of academia are doing the same thing, though they are not being very open and honest about it.

I prefer the third option. The sole purpose of biblical studies, under this option, would be to help people move toward a postscriptural society. It may be paternalistic to "help people," but no more so than when translators hide the truth or when scholars don't aggressively disclose the truth for fear of upsetting believers. All of education is to some extent paternalistic, since an elite professoriate is there to provide information that uneducated people lack. The third option is also the most logical position, given the discovery of the Bible's alien character.

Mine would also be the less self-interested option because it would not have my own employment as an ultimate goal, and it would allow thousands of other texts that have not yet been given a voice to also speak about the possible wisdom, beauty, and lessons they might contain. Indeed, thousands of Mesopotamian texts continue to lie untranslated. So even those who believe that literature does matter should be advocating that we bring to light more of the as-yet unread ancient texts.

But is elimination of the Bible's authority feasible in the modern world? I believe it is feasible for at least two reasons:

(1) I have already argued that even believers use very little of "the Bible." (2) Believers who do use the Bible do so under the illusion that they have the Bible, the unmediated word of God.

To move believers from their minimal use of the Bible to no use at all is not a big quantitative step, but it is a formidable qualitative step. The reason is that it is scholars, translators, priests, and ministers themselves who must be convinced to join an educational mission centered on exposing the alien nature of the Bible. They must find the will to proclaim to their congregations that they do not have "the Bible," but really only a document constructed for them by elite scholars.

Some might object that I am contradicting myself in expending so much effort arguing against the study of a Bible that is so little used. My response is twofold. First, the small amount of the Bible still being used remains a significant problem, especially in justifying violence and oppression. Thus, total abolition of biblical authority becomes a moral obligation and a key to this world's survival. Second, by maintaining the idea that the Bible is any sort of divine or moral authority there always remains the potential to use it more than it is being used now. Unfortunately, the pen often has proved mightier than the truth.

So our purpose is to excise from modern life what little of the Bible is being used and also to eliminate the potential use of any sacred scripture as an authority in the modem world. Sacred texts are the problem that most scholars are not willing to confront. What I seek is liberation from the very idea that any sacred text should be an authority for modem human existence. Abolishing human reliance on sacred texts is imperative when those sacred texts imperil the existence of human civilization as it is currently configured. The letter can kill. That is why the only mission of biblical studies should be to end biblical studies as we know it.

3 comments:

J.L. Hinman said...

as you know John, my critique of this book, part 1, is up on the CADRE blog. second one down


here


I really find that whole work to be a web of spin doctoring and double standards.

(1) Bible's out moded and irrelevant because it's ancient and foreign and no one can understand it, but there are tons of ancient and foreign texts going unstudied, which means no one understands them, but we have to rectify that by studying them.

(2)Hegemony is bad, but he's honest about being hegemonic so he's ok.

(3) Hegemony is worse when it' well intentioned because it's paternalistic. his hegemony is well intentioned, but he's not paternalistic because he's honest.

(4) Bible is irrelevant because so few understand it, but those take the time and trouble to understand it are just furthering its irrelevance, even though they take the time to understand it.

(5) Bible is very popular, but it's irrevlivant because people don't know much about it, even though it influences their lives.

(6) teachers are meant to teach, but he wont go into the field where he can studied the text not begin studied, he stays in an irrelevant field so he can tell us its irrelevant. One wonders why he isn't doing both?

I could go on. I find inconsistency on every page. Wait until part 2.

J.L. Hinman said...

my answer to Avalos's book Part 2 is now up

http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/


say Hector, when do you want to debate me?

cranker said...

John,

The king is naked and he knows he is naked, but a change of wardrobe will not keep the disguise going.
frank