Roland Boer’s Dress Rehearsal

A roving reporter caught a sneaky, behind the scenes look at the dress rehearsal for Roland Boer’s family oriented (at least, family originating) Society of Biblical Literature paper,

Too Many Dicks at the Writing Desk, or, How to Organise a Prophetic Sausage-Fest

Session: S20-330

Prophetic Texts and Their Ancient Contexts

Saturday, Nov. 20
4:00 PM at the Inman room in the Hyatt Regency

Yes, Roland has hired a chorus of back up s(w)ingers.

And for S.B.L.’s attempt to reward Boer for his pro-family scholarship, see the numerous posts on his blog.

All Her Bass Belongs to Her: Brandi Disterheft, SJB Deluxe

I haven’t been posting much of late, so let’s try to get back into the swing of things with a new


is a Canadian composer, bassist and singer now based in Toronto. Unfortunately, her website is currently down, so I couldn’t see what was there, but it might be working soon.

She has two albums; the first, from 2007, is called Debut (iTunes).

I don’t have it, but it is on the “things to order” list. A few excerpts from an online review from All about Jazz by Raul D’Gamma Rose.

The incredibly gifted Disterheft has all at once crossed the threshold of first albums and pushed the horizon much further than any musician of her vintage. Debut (Superfran Records, 2007) is a truly remarkable achievement. The album has nine original compositions that are not just original, but appear to have come from a voice so distinctive that one can safely say, “You’ve never heard anything like this before.” Unless you were the late Oscar Peterson, in which case you might say, “She has the same lope or rhythmic pulse as my bassist, Ray Brown. She is what we call serious.” And that, Dr. Peterson, would be putting it all too mildly.

Debut is the kind of first album that most musicians can only dream of to launch their careers. Praise is also due to fellow West Coaster, Michael Kaeshammer, a fine musician in his own right, for the production.

She also appears as part of the Richard Whiteman Trio (piano) along with drummer Sly Juhus, who has followed her on her solo career.

I do have her second album called “Second Side” and it’s currently getting lots of airtime on my stereo. A wide range of material, some instrumental (she is a great bassist) and some with vocals (she is also a great singer). There are all sorts of styles and textures on the album and it all works for me.

Holly Cole does the vocals on “He’s Walkin'” (and co-wrote it), and it is perhaps the most accessible, radio-friendly tune on the album. Ranee Lee sings on “This Time The Dreams on Me”

Here is the link to Justin Time Record’s blurb about her and it.

And a review excerpt from the aforementioned Raul d’Gama Rose at All About Jazz.

Despite being more adventurous than Debut, Disterheft continues to reference the blues with deep conviction. Using contemporary interpretations of that idiomatic platform, the bassist/composer has succeeded in creating truly ebullient, elastic and ever-evolving compositions, as she plucks her way forward. The result is a record that is delightfully unexpected in content and near-flawless in performance.

Well, how about some music? Here is a youtube video:




The Shocking Truth about Chuck Norris.


Would a lolcat lie?
Sew,  he seez me, sez "Aww" 'n den jus' fallz ober 'n diezes.

Vote for my new lol! Click the pic!

Dr. Jim to Speak in Calgary about NOT practicing what teaches.

That’s right. I’m a hypocrite. Actually, just an atheist teaching religious studies and the Bible, and I will make a full confession

Confessions of an Atheist in Religious Studies

Tuesday Dec. 14  7:30pm – 9:30pm

U of C campus; Cassio A/B Room in Mac Hall

2500 University Drive NW
Calgary, AB

Here is the blurb from the Facebook event:

The field of Religious Studies is constantly battling with questions of “insider” versus “outsider” knowledge of religious traditions, ideas, and societies. Many people—even on the “outside”– assume that Religious Studies scholars necessarily belong to the traditions they teach and research. Many others, however, assume that academic examination of the Bible or Judeo-Christian religious traditions are intended to challenge or even subvert the teachings and integrity of those faiths. As an atheist researcher and teacher of the Hebrew Bible (who also dabbles in introductions to Judaism and mythology) there are many roadblocks and pitfalls, especially if one is also an active advocate for secularization and humanism in the public sphere. In presenting these potential land mines Jim will also point to the riches in teaching in these fields.

Mac Hall is designated with an “MH” on this map: You can reach Mac Hall turning left on to Collegiate Blvd. off of 32nd Avenue NW. The closest parking will be in Lots L13, L12, or L11.

Admission to this event is $10 General Public, $5 for Students, and FREE for Friends of the Centre and University of Calgary Freethinkers Club Members

And please note, the entrance fee goes to offset the bills of the Centre for Inquiry in hosting the event and their other good work. I’m doing my bit for free. Well, there is always the glory. Don’t forget the glory.

Dr. Jim gets ready for Atlanta!

Yeah, I’m going.

I’m doing a paper in the Ideological Criticism section on Saturday Nov. 20 (session S20-319). The theme is “Secular Biblical criticism and Introductions to the Bible”. Johanna Stiebert (Leeds), presiding.

4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Room: Fairlie – Hyatt Regency

My paper is called “Why is this mythology different from all other mythologies?” I have a really crappy and no longer entirely applicable abstract in the program book, but here is a better foreshadowing of what my paper is all about.

“Myth” is a notoriously difficult to define, but its application to any of the materials in the Old Testament is complicated by modern theological conceptions of the uniqueness of the Israelite world-view.  Fortunately, this state of affairs has been changing in key areas but it has yet to fully impact the way the Hebrew Bible is presented in textbooks intended (at least in part) for the secular classroom. despite there being a number of other wise excellent texts, few are really strongly based on the conceptions and methods taught in secular Religious Studies, and none I have seen really addressed the thorny problem of “myth” in anything approaching a comprehensive fashion. Some books, while claiming a secular religious studies approach, actually undermine it.
The blurred dividing line between secular biblical research and confessional biblical interpretation is maintained in these books, the publishing industry, and in most academic societies devoted to biblical studies, such as the Society of Biblical Literature. This, in turn, helps preserve a barrier between secular biblical criticism and the wider field of Religious Studies. A fully secular critical introduction that is designed as a component in a comprehensive study of world and/or ancient religions remains lacking.

A Snap from this Summer’s Atheist BBQ!

I’m very overworked so no time to post but I don’t want the Thinking Shop to stay completely dead, so here is a photo from the GREAT ATHEIST BBQ GET TOGETHER this past summer.

MMMMM, Baby…. Goooooood!

Cooking the Book. On the Bible and How Not To Do Religious Studies

Ok, I admit it, I may have screwed up slightly in assigning this book for my Religious Studies 3000 “What is Religion?” course in the Autumn 2009 semester, but it was clearly the best of the bunch and a whole lot of it was really quite good. I admit not reading it as carefully as I should have. It looked good overall, the chapters I read closely were very good, and everything else seemed generally in order.  I had a few issues with this volume but no text-book is perfect.  Perhaps I’m just a sloppy previewer, but I find that I can never really assess a text until the class actually starts.

James C. Livingston
Anatomy of the Sacred: An Introduction to Religion
(Prentice Hall, 6th Edition).

In many ways, it is a pretty good introduction to the nature of religion in comparative contexts and how to think about issues like ritual, social organizations in religion and the like. It is fairly fair and objective. A major source of aggravation is its favouring of the standard “religion is sui generis” line but this is almost unavoidable with any introduction I’ve found. In Livingston it is manageable for the class room and one can always get the class to assess the viability of that claim.

I really don’t think it does students any good to assert too strongly that religion cannot be reduced to manifestations of other social or psychological factors, although certainly not to a single factor. Having been raised academically on Eliade and with that lecherous Rudolph Otto skulking in my educational history around too, I sort of adopted the “Sacred” talk, but I’m really trying to kick the habit. Trying to understand what religion is is a thorny enough problem. One cannot make any progress towards solving it by saying it is just the way people and societies act in reference to a mystery. I can see why religious folk want key parts of their beliefs and experiences considered “off limits” to rational exploration and critique. That scholars invent methodologies to create a corresponding taboo to their own thought is counter-productive. Anyway, enough of that.

As I’ve already intimated, this isn’t my main problem with the book.

What is really egregious comes in chapter 8: “Deity: Concepts of the Divine and Ultimate Reality”. Livingston is talking about the rise of monotheism and the whole discussion goes to hell over the space of a couple of short pages. He talks about the “Patriarchal and the Mosaic periods” (p. 172). What freaking patriarchal and mosaic periods?!? He treats these guys as historical figures. Has he not read ANY modern biblical studies? He then writes:

The ancient Israelites did not arrive at a knowledge of Yahweh by examining the order of nature or by rational speculation, as did the Greeks. Rather Yawheh was revealed to Israel through her historical experience and, most notably, through the Exodus from Egypt, the Covenant sealed at Mount Sinai, and the Exile in Babylonia” (pp. 172-73).

After providing an abridged rendering of Exodus 3, Livingston provides the answer to Moses question as to the identity of the deity speaking from the burning bush, describing it like this:

“The answer Moses received is a most significant event in the history of religions”

AARGH! How is this an event? It is an episode in a myth! It takes ages to get students not to regard episodes in stories uncritically as real events. It is almost impossible when a textbook makes the same damn mistake! And why are these mistakes so often made when the mythology in question is Jewish/Christian and not Shinto, Buddhist or whatever?

Anyway, I managed to turn this into a passable “Teaching Moment”, getting the class to survey the chapter and pick out lapses in judgment and thought in it.  A number of them picked this up right away (as one student said “It sounds ‘truthy'”), and those that didn’t learned something about human frailty on the part of authors. Still, it is even more egregious that this is the 6th edition of the book, and I checked the fourth and same lapse is there too. This seems to be a longstanding feature of the book. No one has caught this in any of the efforts at revision?

Still, I should admit that I am a bit mad at myself that I didn’t read this chapter as close as I should have before hand. I’m not sure it would have been a deal breaker; like I said, the rest of book had some excellent features, and I couldn’t find anything else to have the students buy.

I’ve  run completely out of patience with the almost impossible to avoid rubbish that Livingston repeats here (he certainly did not invent this idea!). “Yawheh was revealed to Israel through her historical experience” What frikkin’ theistic religion (other than deism) DOESN’T think that their deities show their power in historical events? And didn’t the Israelites think that big storms, famines, locust swarms, etc. were the will of their God? Didn’t Babylonians interpret their military history as being influenced by their deities?

The interesting historical and literary question is why some Judean writers composed a more more or less narratively interconnected corpus offering a long, historical legacy for their readership while the scribal elite in other societies did not.  And in any case that process should properly be placed in the Persian and Hellenistic periods and not 1000 years earlier in a time when the “historical” Moses didn’t bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Other cultures must have had some historical sense and Israel had hardly broken the chains of mythology.

As I’ve said above, this mistake seems very common when scholars treat the Bible and the religions surrounding it, less common with other traditions. Of course, Livingston cannot be blamed entirely. He is merely repeating the gist of a large body of work on the Hebrew Bible that constructs a “history” of the Israelites from a paraphrase of the biblical text and treats their worldview as historically oriented in contradistinction to virtually all other faiths. Certainly, the ancient Israelite and Judean worldviews were NOT identical to that of their neighbours, but then the Babylonians’ were NOT identical to that of the Assyrians, Hittites, Egyptians, Persians and so forth. Too often, scholars construct lump together non-Israelite cultures and religions as one part of a dichotomy with Israel and the Bible on the other. This polarity does not help the cause of understanding any of these ancient people, religions or texts. “All non-biblical religions look the same” and “All god are created equal but Yahweh is more equal than that others” are biases that biblical and world religions scholars must overcome.

The Far Left Side. Pure Brilliance!

Secular biblical scholars and historians of Israel need to do a better job within the larger Religious Studies academy to highlight modern secular work on the Bible and its production. This requires a closer alignment between biblical studies and R.S. and cutting of the confessional apron strings that bind biblical studies to discourses seek to affirm that there is an exceptional nature of the Bible and Israel.

On the Society of Biblical Literature and Sharing the Academic Playground

Ronald Hendel of the University of California Berkeley has stirred up a major storm over his recent article in Biblical Archaeology Review explaining his quitting the Society of Biblical Literature over its compromised critical academic focus. I thought I should start blogging again, so here are some of my comments on a few aspects of the uproar.

In Farewell to SBL, Hendel writes:

When I learned of the new move to include fundamentalist groups within the SBL, I wrote to the director and cited the mission statement in the SBL’s official history: “The object of the Society is to stimulate the critical investigation of the classical biblical literatures.”3 The director informed me that in 2004 the SBL revised its mission statement and removed the phrase “critical investigation” from its official standards. Now the mission statement is simply to “foster biblical scholarship.” So critical inquiry—that is to say, reason—has been deliberately deleted as a criterion for the SBL. The views of creationists, snake-handlers and faith-healers now count among the kinds of Biblical scholarship that the society seeks to foster.

The SBL has published its own response and there are several dozen comments that have been appended to it. The response seeks to correct some points of Hendel’s claims about the SBL’s institutional history and intentions that I’m in no position to judge. It also affirms at the outset that through the SBL’s long history it,

has seen no inherent contradiction between “critical investigation” and including in the conversation “all interested in biblical literature,” a perspective that is consistent with the SBL’s current mission statement: “to foster biblical scholarship.” In short, “critical inquiry—that is to say, reason” has not been “deliberately deleted” from the SBL mission. SBL has never“removed the phrase ‘critical investigation’” from any initiative.

Many of the comments offer varying degrees of support with some adding that Hendel has used some ill-chosen terms or overstated his case. Hendel has a lot of outright opponents, though. A number of these commenters champion “inclusiveness” of different viewpoints and stress the subjectivity of all human endeavour that should preclude virtually any boundaries to the kinds of discourse permissible at the SBL.

To my mind some of these objections only show the extent of the problem Hendel has identified. Regardless of whether Hendel himself overreacted …

…many of his critics certainly do.

For instance, the first commentor, Daniel Harlow, thinks that Hendel suggests that  everyone with “confessional interests in and faith commitments regarding the Bible should be excluded from the SBL”, while Hendel says no such thing.  He reminds Hendel that the Bible’s authors were religious. I would remind Harlow that there is a distinction those who are studied and those doing the studying. The biologist dissecting a frog need not be an amphibian.

You might want to think like a gopher, but you don’t have to be one.

The ancient Israelites, Jews and Christians were not writing modern critical scholarship (or doing modern theology, either, for that matter). Their thoughts are the subject, not practice, of scholarship. As scholars we must analyze what they did and wrote. There is no need to share their beliefs to do that.

Scholars study other people’s religions all the time. There is no advantage I can see for scholars examining the world view behind Aztec human sacrifice rituals to think these murders may have have been a good idea. Indeed, the whole pro-faith approach falls down on the special status it claims for its own world views, a status it does not grant to other faiths. Would some of the theological groups that hold meetings alongside the SBL welcome papers that entertain the reality of Marduk?

Amy Anderson (comment #21), a Pentecostal, challenges Hendel’s characterization of her church as fundamentalist. From this one alleged academic slip, Anderson is led to “question everything else he claims”. Now there are academic standards for you! Anderson then writes that, “I have always been impressed by the theological breadth of the SBL annual meeting.” Well, isn’t this the whole point? Hendel is objecting to the SBL permitting the doing of theology under its auspices. Claiming that it is done only after careful vetting of contributors and welcomes “vigorous disagreement” hardly answers his complaint, does it?  Regardless how rigorous the level of theological discussion, is it really compatible with the humanities or social scientific scholarship into religion? I don’t think so. Whether or not the two sides both have rights to the word “scholarship”, they are just too different of beasts to be in the same pen.

The issue is the special pleading for a status for Judeo-Christian beliefs that is not extended to other religions. We can see this in the comment of Benno Zuiddam (#68), who opines that scholars should treat the object of their study with integrity, and I couldn’t agree more. But when he says “we should let these sources speak“,  a few red flags go up. Of course, we must not make them say what they do not, but in what way should we listen? Do we do as Zuiddam says?

As far as I am concerned, members should be allowed and even be encouraged to debate, agree and disagree about the validity and possible implications of statements and conclusions in the primary sources.

How far can we take these debates and remain scholars? If the Bible or other ancient text says King S0-and-So did this, that or the other thing, certainly it can be worthwhile and important to discuss the evidence for those alleged events transpiring. But when the sources say a donkey talked, that shellfish should not be eaten, or that all religions other than that of the source’s authors (or that of those who appropriate the source as their own scripture) are abominations, is there really any “validity and possible implications” worthy of a scholarly debate?

If scholars are not willing to debate whether Thor of Baal provides the superior divine metaphor for storms, then they really have nothing to debate in terms of the validity of the Bible’s claims about Yahweh. And it matters not a bit how familiar the debaters are on matters meteorological or archaeological, or what great ability they have in ancient Hebrew, Ugaritic, or Old Norse.

Absolute Truth

Academic debate is fine. No one on any side of this issue is against it. It is merely a question of what kind of topics are worth debating as biblical scholars. Unless we are willing to entertain the possibility that ANY god, goddess, godlet or sprite ever imagined might be real or that any scripture or religious/spirtiual writing has a validity outside of the world of its own writers and subscribers, there is no point in giving pride of place to Yahweh, El, Jesus, the Bible, Talmud, Book of Mormon, etc.

One comment strikes me as down-right silly. Patricia Elyse Terrell (#69) tries to affirm a sharp delineation between the teaching of Christianity in seminaries and the teaching about the faith in non-denominational U. S. universities. I would have thought there are a number of scholars in otherwise secular universities whose work proves to be rather unsecular, but this need not detain us. What is strange is how she tries to describe the life of the Church as scientific:

Churches teach Christian facts based upon biblical study, repeated religious events that test the veracity of its precepts (scientific falsification), and partake in a liturgy as a devotional drama of its history. Christian teachings are based on repeatable experiences the way a scientist repeats an experiment to test its truth or falsity.

This hat will not save you, dear reader.

This is enough to make one’s brain hurt. Repeated experiences are not repeatable experiments! This is not scientific falsification but merely confirmation bias in action. Do Hindus or Muslims find veracity in “Christian facts”? So long as the fact finding and fact verifying are solely an in-house exercise, there are no “facts” or veracity that any outsider need concern themselves with directly. Of course, examining those “facts” and processes of verification as social constructs are good subjects of critical scholarly research, but the generation and transmission of the facts and strategies of interpretation within the confines of those social contexts are not.

She continues: “SBL is an assembly for biblical studies and Christian teachings like no other.”

I have no idea what can be meant here.  The in-house Christian jargon should be plain: “assembly” and “teachings” makes it sound like she is suggesting that the SBL is doing the church’s work.  If it is, it should stop immediately. The SBL is not a church. She complains that Hendel’s views on objectivity are unreasonable, claiming that there is no possibility that anyone could be objective. Oddly, she doesn’t try to reconcile this with her earlier (mis)appropriation of the scientific method for “Christian facts”.

Like so many others commenting on Hendel and in other contexts, the impossibility of total objectivity is taken as legitimizing the absence of any value in at least partial objectivity. One can only wonder how relative Terrell would see the claim that she caused a fatal car accident when it was the other party who ran the red light. I wonder if she would see the conflicting testimonies as “emotional and relational variations” that “make one a sense extending instrument in evaluating the subject matter.” Whatever the heck that might mean, she relates it to the frequent schisms of the Christian church which she explains as occurring when:

groups identified personal events with particular biblical principles that validated their shared experience, be they Catholics, Mennonites or Pentecostals. The denominational mosaic is a very beautiful collection of carefully studied and tested biblical values, each holding differing views about the best route to Christian goals.

I wonder if she thinks that all the insults, anger, denunciations, heresy trials, tortures, executions and wars that accompanied many of these splits are part of the inherent beauty of it all. In any case, she ends her comment on a totally bizarre note that makes a mockery of her previous views on the relativity of facts:

SBL consists of many amazing scholars who are sense-extending instruments of a Reality that is greater than ourselves and is still very much who we are, including Mr. Hendel if he were brave enough to investigate the history laid bare before him.

In my view, Terrell’s opinions at this point are nonsense-extending instruments of bafflegab™, and if Terrell would just be brave enough to think about it clearly, she would probably agree. She first appeals to the relativity of truth and here asserts a capitalized “Reality” external to Hendel. Well done.

My last example is comment 81 by Daniel Darko, who questions what “critical” biblical scholarship might be. Well that he does, since he really does not seem to know. Odd for a member of an academic association. He is among those who argue that the more the merrier when it comes to different approaches. But here is the kicker:

Perhaps, we should encourage more open discussion on debatable matters while promoting Biblical scholarship that serves Jewish and Christian communities.

But why should scholarship do the preachers’ or rabbis’ work? Why can’t it align itself with the academics trying to understand other religious or cultural groups? Scholars looking at the phenomenon of Scientology need not find new ways to serve that community. But perhaps I am being a bit hasty:

Faith cannot be divorced from the study of sacred texts—even if a scholar does not deem it as such. Most of our members are of Jewish, Christian or some sort of faith background! ‘Denominational cleansing’ at SBL will not be healthy for us.

I fail to see where Hendel was proposing “denominational cleansing” (or, for that matter, a “thought-police” as suspected by J. H. Ellens, comment 79). First of all, using language that evokes images of the atrocity of  “ethnic cleansing” is a rhetorical hyperbole far beyond any overstatement Hendel might have made. It also evokes images of a failed ecumenicalism, but let’s get this straight: SBL is not a church or religious organization. It is dedicated to scholarship, not ecumenicalism. A smaller SBL might not be a weaker one, if academics are the main concern. Darko also ends on a weird and perhaps deliberately ambiguous note:

Let us find a way to encourage critical scholarship without requiring the misnomer of a ‘faithless’ Biblical scholarship.

Now, does he mean that everyone has a “faith”, including atheists and agnostics? It is a popular equivocation to regard the presuppositions of atheists or secularists as a “faith”, in the same way that a Christian, Hindu, or Muslim (or whatever) buys into an elaborate mythology with accompanying ritual, dogma, and theologies, that is beyond rational scrutiny. The two, while related, are rather different critters. Secularism is not a “faith” and atheism is not a “religion”.

Perhaps Darko is suggesting that secularists cannot be scholars, and this too would not be an idea exclusive to him. Secularists have heard it all before. Again, one need only look to how other religions are studied. Indeed many Christians and Jews study other religions. Are they doing the impossible, or does their “faith” give them an insight to that which they hold to be untrue? Either way, Darko seems to imply that secular research into the Bible is not possible or illegitimate.

A number of other people try this same bullshit. Last year, when I started blogging about secularism and the SBL, Rick Wadholm questioned how anyone could be non-religious about anything. Therefore, secular biblical scholarship was impossible.

As I pointed out in my comment to the SBL response (#80, ironically placed just before Darko’s), Jim West wrote an article in Bible and Interpretation in which he asserts the total irrelevance of secular scholarship, except as outsiders whose opinions ultimately mean nothing. Well whoopdie-doo.

On behalf of the Church (presumably all of them) and the Synagogue, he claims ownership of the Bible (but which one? All of them?). Since unbelievers didn’t write or transmit it, they really have nothing to do with it. He likens atheist to sports commentators who never have first hand experience of the game. To a point that is true, but still if one wanted to know the history of baseball, a person who has studied that subject extensively may be better equipped to speak to it than a home-run champion. West then appeals to a special spiritual gift he claims Christians have that gives them spiritual insight into the Bible. In his citing the New Testament to prove this, however, one is left wondering where this leaves the Jews he previously spoke for!

More importantly, at this point West gives up any pretence of writing as a scholar. He has both feet planted solidly in the ephemeral world of internal religious claim, belief and mystification.

Atheist exegesis is, by definition, spiritless and therefore – according to the very texts which they attempt to interpret – empty, void, vapid, pointless, meaningless.

Really Dr. West, what self-respecting scholar is bound by the claims of the text she or he is studying? The Vedas are to be studied only by the “twice born” castes according to Hinduism, but this does not stop non-Hindu, and technically “untouchable” scholars from reading them. West acknowledges that “outsider” scholars examine the Bible as textual artifacts but says

they cannot interpret, they cannot explain, they cannot exegete- for they lack the requisite tool- spiritual understanding. This is precisely, exactly why unbelievers cannot, and normally do not, and absolutely under any circumstances should not, write commentaries.

Oh brother. There are many different kinds of commentaries. Is the whole broad genre to be closed to unbelievers? Certainly what a secular scholar does with a text is different from what a believer does with it as an act of faith, but which secular scholar suggests otherwise? Academically, West is creating a strawman but beyond that he is just articulating Christian claims to a special status, something religious groups (and political, ethnic and other collectives) do all the time. It is hardly an academic position but is a view that should be the subject of critical scholarship as part of Christian discourses. A study of the history of world religions reveals the mystification of the origins and meanings of the religions, texts, doctrines and teachings. What West and St. Paul are doing are merely Christian examples of a world wide phenomenon. Scholarship into religion is supposed to penetrate those clouds of mystification to see them as personal and social constructs (and in West’s case, its use is political, intended to position his camp into a higher social position vis-a-vis secularists). Scholarship that defers to the mystification it is intended to unravel is no scholarship at all.

Well, I’ve said enough for now. I will close by returning to a comment by Ron Hendel himself (#59).

One further thought: The mission of the American Council of Learned Societies is “the advancement of humanistic studies in all fields of learning in the humanities and the social sciences and the maintenance and strengthening of relations among the national societies devoted to such studies.” If the SBL is no longer devoted to the humanistic study of the Bible—and I see no indication of such devotion in its mission statement and core values (revised in 2004)—and actively promotes groups and scholarship that are antithetical or hostile to the humanities, then I suggest that the SBL is morally obligated to resign from the ACLS. I suppose that many members of the SBL would welcome such a decision.

I, for one, really think he has a point. We cannot as an academic society permit the humanistic, secular study of the ancient cults of Babylon, Ugarit, Egypt or Israel and their texts and other cultural products, while at the same time permit the bizarre level of special pleading to permit Christian theology exist as a “scholarship” on an equal footing.

A Response to Michael Kok

Esteemed Canadian Person of Note, Michael Kok, has recently commented on this blog questioning the completeness of my of my report on my upcoming session at the SBL. Read it for yourself (the first comment). Let it be known that I take all such comments very seriously and I am deeply sorry for any shortcomings in my previous post. Here, Mike, let me make it up to you.


Secular Biblical Criticism and Introductions to the Bible

The Society of Biblical Literature has had its preliminary program for the November meeting in Atlanta online for some time.

Dr. Jim will be there and presenting a paper this time. Given the hoopla over Hendels’s claims the SBL is too religious to bother with anymore, it should get a good audience. I will address Hendel and the SBL soon. I have a big post in draft form, but see my comment, #80, on the SBL’s response.

Anyway, here are the details about our session.

Ideological Criticism
4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Room: Room TBD – Hotel TBD

Theme: Secular Biblical Criticism and Introductions to the Bible

Johanna Stiebert, University of Leeds, Presiding
Hector Avalos, Iowa State University
What’s Not So Secular about Introductions to the Hebrew Bible? (20 min)
James Linville, University of Lethbridge
Why is this mythology different from all other mythologies? (20 min)
Esther Fuchs, University of Arizona
Christian Bias in Feminist Introductions to the Bible (20 min)
Zeba Crook, Carleton University
A Course in Miracles, or a Secular Introduction to the New Testament? (20 min)
Barry Bandstra, Hope College, Respondent (30 min)
Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Harvard University, Respondent (30 min)

I’m very glad that Barry Bandstra is responding. I had to buy his Reading the Old Testament book as an undergrad and used it in my first year of teaching Old Testament at the University of Alberta. Can’t say it did me any harm, but I will make some polite comments on how such introductions tend to affirm a kind of exceptionalism about the religious world behind the Old Testament that is unfortunate. I will use the Exodus myth as my starting point, hence the title of the paper that takes off on the Passover questions about why Passover night is different from all other nights.

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