Great news!
The Society of Biblical Literature has approved a new program unit called:


Description: This unit critically evaluates suppositions in and underlying biblical scholarship, including how an explicitly non-religious approach differs from what is even now represented as historical-critical scholarship, especially when compared to other secular disciplines within the Humanities (history, classical studies) and the Social Sciences (e.g., anthropology, sociology).

The unit grew out of discussions with SBL over a Secular Biblical Criticism unit, and other than the name change and a bit of tweaking, our most recent application was accepted. Or chair is Hector Avalos who worked quite hard on this, and I’m grateful for the support of John Kutzko and others in the SBL. For a while there I think the program committee and we were sort of talking past each other but we all seem to be on the same page now.

We are now in the official SBL program book for 2012′s meeting in Chicago in November with two sessions! And here they are, with my abstracts:

Session A: Frauds, Pious Frauds and Biblical Origins

Presiding, Stephanie Louise Fisher, University of Nottingham

Paper 1: Jim Linville, University of Lethbridge, “The Royal Scam: Josiah, Joseph Smith and Believing one’s own Pious Fraud.”

Paper 2: K. L. Noll, Brandon University, “A Portrait of the Deuteronomistic Historian at Work? How Theology Invents the History of the Bible”

Paper 3: Robert Price, Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, “Pious Fraud and Imposture in the New Testament”

Paper 4: Rene Salm, University of Oregon, “The Archaeology of Nazareth: A History of Pious Fraud?”

Respondent: Diana Edelman, University of Sheffield

 My abstract:

The Royal Scam: Josiah, Joseph Smith and Believing One’s own Pious Fraud

As is well known the history of religions is replete with stories of the discovery of purportedly lost or miraculously appearing books with messages from deities. This includes instances from ancient Egypt and Rome to 19th century America with the claimed discovery and translation of the book of Mormon. Some of these discovery tales have been accorded legitimacy while others have been suppressed or denounced as forgeries. Joseph Smith found an accepting audience but also incurred the accusation of fraud from many others. The historicity of the story of Josiah’s law-book and reform (2 Kings 22-23) occupies a central position in debates about the composition of much of the Hebrew Bible and the work of so-called deuteronomists.

In a 2003 paper in Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, that revolves around the story of Josiah Arthur J. Droge finds it curious that the lexica of Religious Studies tends to exclude the term “fraud” despite it occurring frequently within religious discourse. He writes that a cynic may well regard fraud as the “modus operandi religiousus”. Droge refrains from asserting that fraud should be an analytical category for religious studies, preferring to call attention to the need for critical analysis of how religious communities—and academic disciplines—construct legitimacy and illegitimacy within the socio-political contexts in which their texts are produced.  Yet, the question of fraud or forgery is not easily subsumed under this larger project. This paper takes a “cynical” approach to Josiah and Joseph Smith as a thought experiment to tease out some interpretative benefits of asking directly if a given religious text is the result of a deliberate fraud or forgery and relating this to legitimizing strategies that generate religious belief.

Session B: Histories of the Religion of Israel

Presiding, Willi Braun, University of Alberta

Paper 1: K. L. Noll, Brandon University, “Inventing Yahwism: The History of Israelite Religions and the Religion of a Historical Israel.”

Paper 2: Jim Linville, University of Lethbridge, “On the Religion of Bronze Age Goat-Herders. Ancient Israel as a secularist’s foil”

Paper 3: T.L. Thompson,  University of Copenhagen, “A Biblical Critique of Religion and the Figure of Yahweh in the Pentateuch,”

Respondent: Mark Smith, New York University


My Abstract: On the Fairytales of Bronze Age Goat-Herders. Ancient Israel as the New Atheists’ Foil.

One common dismissal of the biblical material by those active in the the so-called New Atheist Movement is the description of the Old Testament as bronze age goat herders’ fairy-tales. With this as a starting point, this paper addresses how the religions of ancient Israel and the biblical texts are often misrepresented in this popular literature and online resources. Of course, such characterizations are academically indefensible but for their proponents they serve to relegate the biblical materials to the past and to highlight that the Bible should be inadmissible in discussions of scientific topics or modern political and ethical questions. Some secular biblical scholars may well share the overall goal of de-privileging the Bible in modern discourse and so the question of the relationship between scholarship and activism with its sometimes less than academic rhetoric becomes an important issue.

Without seeking to defend the Bible’s relevance to the modern world (while admitting that relevance is a subjective evaluation) this paper argues that secular biblical scholars should be as concerned about these kinds of anti-religious mischaracterizations of ancient Israel and the Bible as they are of the literalist and conservative religious misrepresentations of biblical origins. This is especially the case when mischaracterizations are found in contexts which do influence how people address social issues, such as the works of influential writers such as Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins. Mischaracterization impacts the perception of the worth of the humanities as a broad discipline and can have more serious political implications. This paper, then, seeks to open a dialogue on the social roles and responsibilities of the secular study of ancient Israel and the Bible.


5 Responses to “METACRITICISM OF BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP: Announcing New SBL Program Unit”

  1. Dan Says:

    On a related note, I’ve never understood the intensity of the reaction to Dawkins and others brushing off certain beliefs or rituals as “bronze age myths”. If we take a few concepts from the Magna Carta and use them to support a belief about Law now, we still say that are Magna Carta concepts, even though the concept was written about (again and again) and republished in, say, 1980. We don’t call it “the new idea in law that arose in 1980″. We call it “based on Magna Carta”. But because a Bible book might have been written centuries after the Bronze Age, we are not allowed to refer to any Bronze Age ideas that were retained and carried forward as being from the Bronze Age, a few centuries (or more) before. We have to push “reset” and give the Bible authors a new coat of paint and forget the past. It seems to be a special tool sharpened just to use on Dawkins et al.

  2. Forthcoming Conference on the Bible, Zionism and Palestine « Euangelion Kata Markon Says:

    [...] chair or present at a session at the international or annual SBL meetings (see here, here, here,  here, here, here, here, here, here, here).  I had made a proposal for the session on the Synoptic [...]

  3. Ed Jones Says:

    Our most certain sufficient historical evidence for knowledge of Jesus, who he was, what he said and what he did rests “solely on the basis of the original and originating faith and witness of the apostles”. (Schubert M. Ogden). Over against this initial fact of history, one must take account of The FATEFUL HISTORICAL MISTAKE which took place in the earliest apostolic period 30 CE-65 CE at the very beginning of post-execution Jesus traditions. This period was marked by two distinctly different movements in deep adversarial relationship, the Jerusalem Jesus movement having claim to this apostolic witness, soon followed by the Hellenists Christ myth movement (the enemy of the Jesus movement) which developed in the Gentile world, imaging Jesus as the Christ myth, severing Jesus from his message and his Jewish roots, meeting with ready success, to become Gentile Christianity, finally to become orthodox Christianity. Soon becoming the winners in the struggle for dominance, Gentile Christianity was able to place this original Jesus movement under a conspiracy of silence; even at a later point, to have it declared a heresy, to effectively remove it from the pages of history. Under these Gentile conditions some 40 years later, the writings of the NT took place, mistakenly to be named the official canon, the apostolic witness to Jesus. Only since the 80’s have certain of our top scholars under the force of our present historical methods and knowledge fully come to a real objective historical understanding of this mistake, not only to say none of the writings of the NT are apostolic witness to Jesus, but to understand the how and the why of this fateful mistake. This is a human mistake, one of those ultimate mistakes related to the issue of God-man relationship, which bears testimony to unknowing mankind’s pervasive fallible mistake prone history – mankind’s propensity to develop “eyes that cannot see”, forming “tinted glasses” which cause blindness to seeing beyond sense perceived reality. In Jesus’ words (Matt. 6:22=23):
    “ The lamp of the body is the eye.
    If, then your eye is healthy/good, your whole body is full of light.
    If, however, your eye is sick/evil, then your whole body is dark.
    If, therefore, the light which is in you is darkness – what darkness!”
    A brief history of this fateful mistake: In this apostolic period, 30 CE – 65 CE, there were two movements each with its own interpretation of the significance of the Jesus event, placing them in the strongest adversarial relationship. Chronologically the first, the Jerusalem Jesus Movement which began (within weeks) with the key disciples, having fled to their native Galilee, overcome with grief and utter disillusionment , emboldened by Peter’s and others vision (some form of extrasensory cognition), at high risk, returning to Jerusalem, purposing to again take up the teaching of their revered Master. This was soon followed by a group of Hellenist Jews hearing talk of Jesus rising from the dead (as the visions began to be so interpreted), with their traditions of dying and rising gods, together with Jewish animal sacrificial rites, took up the sense perceived (not revelation) notion that the significance of Jesus was the salvific effects of his death and resurrection which abrogated the Torah. This was in effect treason for temple authorities. The Acts story of the stoning of Stephen, the leader of this Hellenist group, seems to reference a put-down by temple authorities of some kind of anti-Torah demonstration. Just here Paul is introduced, named as a participant holding the garments of those casting the stones. Next we find Paul having his “vision” on the road to Damascus, to where this Hellenist group fled, as persecutor, then converting to this group with their Christ myth beliefs. It was from this group that Paul received his Christ myth kerygma. In taking his Christ kerygma to the Gentile world, meeting with ready success, becoming Gentile Christianity as known above all from the writings of the New Testament, the letters of Paul, the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the New Testament, the source for orthodox Christianity. In becoming the winners in the struggle for dominance, they were able to declare the Jerusalem Jesus Movement heresy to effectively remove it from the pages of history. Only because Matthew included the Q material, which contained the Sermon on the Mount, do we have an alternative source which contains our sole original and originating faith and witness of the apostles, our most certain source of knowledge of the real Jesus.

  4. Ed Jones Says:

    Will someone kindly explain the notation: “Your comment is awaiting moderation” to my above comment?

    • Dr. Jim Says:

      IT means that the first time someone makes a comment it has to go to the owner of the blog, i.e., me. That way things that get through the spam filter can be eliminated, or comments full of personal attacks and the like can get deleted without ever showing up to bother readers.
      Generally, I accept any comment except spam or racist etc. abuse. It does take me a while sometimes to log in and see what others have written, mostly because not many people leave comments around here.