Jim has published a piece of rhetorical bombast, of the sort that only one who so fiercely and often delights in castigating the depraved could manage, taking issue with claims by Hector (and others) that biblical studies as a discipline allied to ecclesial interests has a place in the academy (as a “study”). It’s shortcomings of logic and charity have been ably pointed out (e.g. by Duane, of the self-avowedly abnormal interests). Beyond that it has stirred up an intense flurry of discussion on the Biblical Studies e-mail list, one which has skirted and (I think) in dozens of contributions made incursions across, if not set up camp on the other side of, the rules of engagement of that list.
For all its failings, and despite all its strengths, this opinion piece raises sharply the significant issues around the place of biblical studies in the academy, and the nature of biblical studies as a discipliine. I’d like here to offer my $0.02 worth:
- There are two sorts of study of “The Bible” currently pursued. They have different goals and methods.
- One is the study of Scripture (The Bible, which name, since it comes from Greek meaning “The Books”, implies a committed stance towards the text[s] as those belonging to and constituitive of particular communities, this we might therefore properly call “biblical studies”.
- The other is the study of ancient texts that have been significant for the development of Western culture. While it focuses on these texts because they are/have been perceived as Scripture such study does not consider them as such. We might call this “the study of ancient Christian (or Jewish) texts”.
- Up till now the same people have, by and large, performed both tasks. However, while either discipline might enrich the other they are different. Because they have different goals, methods and stance towards their object of study.
- It has also caused students much grief, signing up for a course that they expected to be in biblical studies (as understood above) to in fact receive something more attuned to the interests and approach of the study of ancient Christian texts.
- It has also caused some confusion and perhaps grief to teachers who have either had to act as if schizophrenically composed of two different personalities or to remain “in the closet” about significant parts of their being. (Both those doing SoACT while practicising Christians and those pretending to do BS while having no regard for the object of their study as Scripture.)
It is high time this motley confusion ended. Ban the names Bible, biblical and Scripture from all course titles etc. except where the text is in fact treated as the Scripture of a particular community. And by contrast ban the claim to “objective” (and so, I suppose, inherently modern) discipline.
There may still be many of us who elect to take part in both disciplines, but we could do so understanding that in their different contexts we are expected to play by different rules. Each discipline could enrich the other, not least by providing sparring partners ;) But what each is claiming to achieve might be clearer. The poor Society for Biblical Literature would either have to decide to change its name, take that name seriously, or perhaps divide into two sections ;)
Incidentally this divorce will cause little stir beyond the Western world, because there except when Western missionaries have carried their own training with them there has been little of the purely “Scientific” study of ancient Christian texts on offer ;)