"It's the End of Biblical Studies as We Know It, and Chris Heard Doesn't Feel Fine"
Chris Heard has begun reading Hector Avalos' The End of Biblical Studies, and he says he's a bit scared of it:
"Hector's thesis is that the Bible is—despite all the rhetoric to the contrary—irrelevant (and maybe even harmful) to life in today's world, but biblical scholars 'conspire' (in a sense) with religious and media organizations to keep an illusion of relevance alive."I pretty much agree with this, but like Avalos I'm a secular type, so that's easy enough to say. I should note, however, to help assuage Chris' fears, that there are committed Christians who come close to sharing these sentiments. Take one of my favorites, Dale Allison:
"What can historical Jesus research do for us? Well, maybe this will surprise everyone, but my view is: very little... Too many expect too much from historical Jesus research. We also have ethics professors, theologians, and philosophers. How come? Why do we need them if historical Jesus research gives us our answers? We need them because it doesn't... I truly think the big issues are best addressed by philosophers, scientific theorists, theologians, poets, and novelists, not historians. Cut my own throat there, didn't I?"I don't think Dale has ever claimed that the historical Jesus is completely irrelevant, but at least largely so. So don't be scared, Chris. Believers in the faith are warming to the idea of the bible's irrelevance as much as the infidels.
Here's how I put the matter in my interview at biblioblogs.com, from the cultural angle, my point being that the bible will never lose its vibrancy for all of its irrelevancy:
"The most fascinating thing about the bible is that it comes from a culture which many of us find alien and unpalatable (honor-shame), and that it can provide only limited support for modern agendas, however liberal or conservative. That's what makes the book so vibrant on its own right, even to me as a non-Christian. Ironically, I find it easy to warm to the biblical writers in all their flawed and convincing personalities. They were struggling to make sense of the world as they knew it, sometimes commendably, sometimes not. Funny thing is, I don't know that we do much better than they did."We can still take inspiration from that which is obsolete or irrelevant. Now I want to play that R.E.M. song...
UPDATE: See Problems with the SBL and Does Theology Bring Death to Biblical Studies? for more on Avalos' book.