What is a Critical Scholar?

Jon D. Levenson, Professor at Harvard Divinity School in the Department of Near Eastern Studies and Civilizations, offered a great definition of what a critical scholar is when he wrote they “are prepared to interpret the text against their own preferences and traditions, in the interest of intellectual honesty.” See page 3 of his book The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son. In that book he argues that "only at a particular stage rather late in the history of Israel was child sacrifice branded as counter to the will of YHWH and thus ipso facto idolatrous" (p. 5). Why shouldn't all Biblical scholars be critical scholars?


Rob R said...

Although this wasn't the point of your post, having read some of what google books made available, I observed that he said this of scholars looking at Exodus 22:28 and he noted that these critical scholars were not in agreement on how to take it.

As for his argument further down, He advances the claim similarly to you down to Ezekiel 20:25 and suggests that Ezekiel gives "no reason [to believe] that its recipient [the act of child sacrifice] was anyone other than the God who gave them "the laws that were not good". (p 7)

Well, there's some really good reasons to take things the other way as Levenson as far as I can tell ignores the relational context explained by Ezekiel immeadiately above where he says that these Jews were not following God's law and they were chasing after idols. Furthermore, the laws that Yahweh gave them to the effect of sacrifice were probably given in a similar manner in which God would disperse them as was mentioned only a verse or two above. God used the pagan nations to disperse Israel and there's no reason to think that God didn't also likewise allow the Israelites to be given over to the pagan decrees of child sacrifice through pagan religions and pagan gods.

Rob R said...

As for the main point of this topic, which is an extension of your claim about the outsider's test for faith, I think an equally scholarly approach and but more fruitful path is the insider's test for understanding, where instead of approaching all religious views with immeadiate doubt, rather, they should be approached from two angles, how is this believed by those who believe it and why does it work. How does it work on it's best terms. While I'm not going to apologize for my lack of neutrality on Christianity and other religions, I'm still going to approach other faith claims as having some possible truth and at least possibly consistent and my own faith as true and workable when problems are perceived. I'm not commited to scripture no matter what it may say (I almost lost my faith over a percieved scriptural evidence for reprobation) but I'm going to hold out that there is a deeper and more powerful meaning when things don't always turn out right, and I have been vindicated in this approach on more than one occasion.