osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

A quick rant on Biblical studies

A tip of the hat to thnidu for a link to this article on newly discovered writing that might or might not be Hebrew.

It does lead me to a rant on Biblical studies. Like many fields, biblical studies suffers from strong ideological bias that impacts the real world. Worse, it does so in multiple ways. The result, IMO, is a field that suffers a great deal from a lack of objective analysis and an over abundance of assumptions that have largely been discarded in other archeological fields.

more below . . .

For example, the notion that writing would make matters more reliable than oral traditions. Even back when I was in college, the accuracy of oral traditions was being significantly upgraded from the previous notions that oral traditions were malleable. To the contrary, the wisdom developing 20 years ago was that oral traditions were likely to be very accurate in things like description, because the tellers memorized word for word. A new appreciation for pre-literate societies (demosntrated by calling them pre-literate rather than illiterate) was emerging.

Nevertheless, the idea that early Hebrew conquerers/settlers must have been illiterate savages incabale of accurately recording events continues to permeate much Biblical studies literature. Certainly there are discrepencies -- at least with the known historical record to date (while it cannot be disproven that Abraham had camels, for example, they don't seem to have been in use in the Middle East during the time period generally ascribed to Abraham).

Part of this, no doubt, has to do with the fact that pretty much everything up until the narrative of Abram is short on detail and high on legend/cosmology. But again, this imputes a particular narrative and purpose to the first ten or so chapters of Gen. and stems from ideas about the organization of the Five Books of Moses that go back to the roots of Biblical criticism in the 18th Century. The notion is that the Bible is intended as an historical record and oral history. The argument that it is a religious text filled with religious allegories, illustrative bits of history that go to the halachic narrative, but intended primarily as a law book, is viewed as an apologist approach rather than as a signifcant possibility -- this despite the fact that Jewish exigesis has taken precisely this approach for millenia -- well before the need to apologize for anything.

To make matters worse, modern Israeli acheologists tend to have conflicting ideological goals. On the one hand, Zionism relies on the historic claim to the land, so reenforcing the Biblical narrative is important. On the other hand, secular Zionism relies on discrediting the shackles of primitive religion, so discrediting the historical narrative is important. The result is usually an effort to take every find and fit it into a predetermined, and often inconsistent, historic narrative.

For my money, we should only let people from cultures with no reltionship with the Bible and no political stake in the matter do Bibilical studies. Mind, that would mean eliminating must of the charis of religious departments, but I could live with that. Give the Chinese, Japanese, and folks from India a good 50 years to clean up the mess made by centuries of ideology driven research and apply some modern tools of analysis to the study of Israeli archeology with a clean slate. I wager we would learn some entirely new things.

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