Dangerous Ideas in Biblical Studies
I'm issuing a call to all bibliobloggers for their one "dangerous idea" pertaining to the field of biblical studies. As I noted this morning, The Edge asked leading specialists (mostly scientists) the following question:
"The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?"
So this is my question for bibliobloggers:
"The history of biblical studies is replete with scholars who were considered dangerous in their time; Reimarus, Strauss, and Schweitzer, etc. What is your dangerous idea? Any idea you think is dangerous, not because you think it's false, but because many others want it to be false and you think it's true?"
Here are five ideas I came up with for examples. I should note that I do not necessarily agree with them to the extent their originators do, though I agree significantly or in part, which is why I chose them. Naturally, not everyone is threatened by the same thing; what is dangerous to one scholar will be rather mundane to another. But I would say that you could find plenty in the guild who find one or more of the following ideas threatening.
1. Biblical exegetes are forever reinventing the wheel, making little to no progress. (Dale Allison: "Forgetting the Past", The Downside Review, Vol 120, No 421; Resurrecting Jesus, Chapter 1)
2. The biblical texts we have today cannot be trusted. (Bart Ehrman: Misquoting Jesus)
3. The historical Jesus attached sacrificial meaning to his death, believing that his blood would appease God's wrath. (Scot McKnight: Jesus and His Death)
4. Scholars cannot be trusted to interpret biblical texts if they cannot be trusted to recognize a transparent hoax like Secret Mark. (Donald Akenson: Saint Saul: Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus, Chapter 4)
5. A Jewish Jesus is just as agenda-driven as a Hellenized Jesus, and the historical Jesus is irrelevant in any case. (William Arnal: The Symbolic Jesus)
So, bibliobloggers: what is your dangerous idea?
UPDATE: Over the course of today, under the comments section and over at Internet Infidels, I've received the following submissions for dangerous ideas. Nice work, folks; keep them coming.
Q is a mirage. (Michael Pahl, citing Farrer/Goulder/Goodacre’s dangerous idea)
The resurrection really happened. (Michael Pahl) In the comments section I explain why I don’t think this really qualifies as a dangerous idea. So does James Crossley.
New Testament studies should become a genuinely secular discipline (James Crossley)
Critical study of the New Testament and early Christianity provides only limited genuine support for modern feminist concerns and agendas. (Andrew Criddle)
Matthew is a thoroughly Christian document, written by Christians for Christians and not for Jews. (Chris Weimer)
Acts is not a historical source accurately dating the Christian movement. (Chris Weimer)
Q is not dead yet. (Chris Weimer)
Much real progress on the gospels have yet to be recovered because of the mentality to not accept change. (Chris Weimer)
Biblical scholarship should start with the assumption that the impossible is impossible. (Joe Wallack)
"We can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus, since the early Christian sources show no interest in either, are moreover fragmentary and often legendary; and other sources about Jesus do not exist." (Rick Sumner, citing Bultmann’s Jesus and the Word)
UPDATE (II): Here are a couple more.
The New Testament isn't big enough and the corpus isn't secure enough to support style theories for authorship determination when the theory is based on counting criteria like hapax legomenon, common words or conjunction use. (Rick Brannan; see his blogpost)
God is supernatural. To approach Biblical Studies from a viewpoint that does not allow the supernatural to be possible is an invalid approach. (Rick Brannan; see again his blogpost)
I'm beginning to think I may have dismissed Michael Pahl's dangerous idea (Jesus' resurrection) a bit hastily after thinking about Rick's second suggestion. Evidently in this field, one person's minefield is another's comfort zone. Ken Ristau also disagrees with me (and Crossley) in the comments section. In response to my statement, "Most people in the guild of NT studies -- let alone the masses -- want the resurrection to be true", Ken said: "This I disagree [with] big time. Perhaps people might wish that their own resurrection were possible but I think the vast majority of us don't want to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, the Jesus of the Gospels. That brings with it far too many additional complications that many people spend their lives throwing off." I've certainly never met a Christian who has stated a longing for their own resurrection while denying Jesus', but perhaps what Ken is trying to say is that while individuals naturally want to resist their own demise (or "escape death" in some way), the resurrection idea in general poses uncomfortable ontological implications in the modern age. I maintain that many more people find ideas about resurrection, reincarnation, etc. more attractive (and less dangerous) than not (that's why they've been around and still persist), though I suppose I can meet people like Ken and Rick halfway: skeptics can indeed be threatened by ideas relating to the supernatural.
I'll take more dangerous ideas up until the end of the week, at which point I'll probably choose ten winners and devote a separate blogpost for them.
UPDATE (III): I've been anticipating a dangerous idea relating to the sources commonly used as a basis for understanding first-century Judaism. Here it is.
Many of the ancient texts used by New Testament scholars as sources for first-century Judaism as background material for the New Testament are actually either Christian compositions or were written long after the first century, or both, and insofar as reconstructions of early Judaism are based on them, those reconstructions are of dubious value. (Jim Davila; see his blogpost)
UPDATE (IV): The esteemed Mark Nanos emailed me his dangerous ideas about Paul. Mark believes Paul was more Jewish-friendly than usually assumed, and has argued this at length in Mystery of Romans and Irony of Galatians. I print below with his permission.
My dangerous idea is that Paul observed Torah, ritual as well as moral, eating kosher, observing Sabbath, having his sons circumcized (if he had any), offering sacrifices at the Temple if in Jerusalem, and so on. Moreover, concomitant with this dangerous notion, he taught believers in Christ who were Jewish to do the same, and non-Jewish believers in Christ to both respect those practices for Jews and to adopt many of them also themselves, as was customary for so-called "God-fearing" non-Jewish associates of Jewish communities (Noahide Commandments, Apostolic Decree of Acts 15).
The communities he formed...practiced Jewish dietary customs and calendars of the area Jewish communities. There was no "Law-free Gospel" or "faith only" in the sense it came to have in Christian tradition, but a Gospel message for non-Jews that they joined the family of Abraham without becoming proselytes, a "Proselyte-free Gospel," because of the faithfulness of Christ to restore not only Israel, but all of the nations to the Creator God.
This also brings up another dangerous idea, Christ-believing non-Jews do not become members of Israel...The "church" is not a new, third group of people (a "third race")... but a subgroup of the Jewish community (Israel)... The ethnic and thus some behavioral differences remain, but the discrimination associated with those differences in the present age is to be eliminated among themselves; they are to live as if the age to come had begun among themselves instead, which is to what Jesus Christ's resurrection bears witness (so Paul claims).
One more dangerous idea about Paul. He was unfair to judge any Jew who did not have the same revelatory experience he claimed for not agreeing with him, for on the basis of Scripture and empirical data he did not himself come to these conclusions; why should he proceed as if it should be so for anyone else? In other words, Paul's own experience, like his teaching at some points, should lead to respectful disagreement, not judgment of motives or ends; that is, to leave judging to God, and to pursue instead mutual respect and service to everyone by those who seek to uphold the faith he proclaimed.