Public Evidence and Sectarian Claims in SBL

What does it look like for a person of Jewish or Christian religious faith to—as a matter of method—bracket her sectarian claims about the Bible in her investigation into the content and context of biblical texts? And why is it necessary that she be willing to learn to do so?

As some of you will know, a conversation has been underway about book reviews in biblical studies that appear, as a matter of academic method, to privilege sectarian claims (sometimes along with the reviewed book itself). Alan Lenzi has raised up occasional samples, and one in particular has generated some conversation. Calvin at the Floppy Hat wrote a thoughtful post that garnered some comments.

The readers at Art Boulet’s finitum non capax infiniti, especially, have produced a comment thread especially worthy of attention. It’s not a record-breaker in terms of length or number of participants, but it is clearly drawn and notably free of distracting polemics.

The basic question underlying the discussion—what does it mean for anyone, religious or not, to engage in “academic biblical studies” over against sectarian apologetics—may be of special value to students in higher education who are being asked to make this distinction, or to religious laypeople who wonder how seminary “book learning” differs from confessional “Bible study.” By all means, take a look.

[Public Evidence and Sectarian Claims in SBL was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/03/27. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

5 Responses

  1. thanks for drawing attention to that comment thread. I’d read art’s post a few minutes after he’d published and not been back to follow the discussion. I don’t think this issue is ever going to go away for academic biblical studies. but at least it gives us something to write about.

  2. Thanks, Brooke, for pointing people over there.

    Doug, I think the feverish pitch will decrease in the next few decades as older Evangelical views die out with the hard core folks who hold them. Those among the younger generation, it seems to me, who want to be a part of the mainstream conversation, mostly see the need to make a clearer distinction between public evidence/consensus methodology and sectarian theological confession.

  3. alan, you are referring, of course, to thoughtful people like myself from that younger generation, I assume. unfortunately, there are some of the younger generation who have had the tradition of hard core evangelical/fundamentalist views passed on to them intact. but I think you’re right that it will lose traction as the older generation passes on.

  4. I think I’m missing something here in the conversation. I take the distinction between public evidence and confessional theology to be a separate question from the debate over whether and how theological perspectives are to be included in scholarly biblical studies. I’m for both, and I don’t see how that’s inconsistent.

    As for the debate abating, I’m really curious to know if that’s the way it’s really trending. Don’t you think SBL was less theologically-oriented a generation ago? I would think so, but I could be way off.

  5. The conversation as it went in Art’s comments wandered in that direction a bit. The original issue, at least in my mind, has been about the difference in method – starting with verifiable evidence or starting with a theological claim. Unless I’m missing something, I thought Brooke was of the same mind with the this post.

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