2843Berlinerblau: What's Wrong With the Society of Biblical Literature?
- Nov 8, 2006Jacques Berlinerblau has an interesting article in the November 10, 2006 Chronicle of Higher
Education: "What's Wrong With the Society of Biblical Literature?"
"... Consider that the most popular and widely discussed books about the Bible are almost never
written by biblicists. On the down side, there is the execrable The Bible Code — a book claiming
that urgent prophetic communications are encrypted, often diagonally, within the Hebrew text of
the Bible. On the level of serious scholarship, I find it quite telling that some of the most
influential studies — the ones that get reviewed in the major journals of opinion such as The New
York Review of Books, The Nation, Commentary, The Times Literary Supplement, what have you — are
written by professors of English and comparative literature. To give a recent example, Harold
Bloom has released a quirky, unforgivable, but deliciously provocative book entitled Jesus and
Yahweh: The Names Divine. In 2006, as far as I can tell, it has generated more media commentary
than any other work of scholarship focused on the Bible in the past year.
Consider that "biblical studies" as a college major is not exactly a booming industry. In secular
universities, a department devoted solely to biblical studies is virtually unheard-of. When an
undergraduate takes a class in Scripture, it will most probably be a survey course. In all
likelihood, that will be the last course he or she takes in the Bible, and it will not prepare the
student to engage the text's awesome complexities. The campus biblicist — assuming there is a
biblicist on the faculty — is usually mothballed in a religious-studies department as opposed to
an autonomous biblical-studies program. He or she (and I know of very few secular universities
with more than two biblicists on the payroll) is trotted out ignominiously with other members of
the diverse religious cast wherever a theatrical display of ecumenical spirit is required. For
better or for worse, American undergraduates major in religion, not in Bible.
Consider that many secular universities don't even have a full-time position in biblical studies.
Biblical scholarship is underwritten by theological seminaries — be they independent or affixed to
universities. In a recent piece in the online SBL Forum, I called attention to the fact that
something like 95 percent of jobs advertised on the SBL site's "Openings" list are placed there by
nonsecular institutions. That there are few positions out there for nonbelievers is a fact that
consistently fails to alarm the overwhelmingly religious membership of the SBL. But here is a
reading of this situation that might concern them: There is absolutely no growth in our field.
Secular universities have made the most minimal commitment to the study of Scripture, in spite of
the role that the Bible has played in the philosophical, literary, and artistic heritage of
Occidental civilization. Were it not for the aforementioned sectarian seminaries, there would be
few places on earth for a biblicist to ply his or her craft.
Consider that in nearly half a century, maybe since the time of the biblical archaeologist William
Foxwell Albright, not a single biblical scholar has emerged as a public intellectual either
nationally or internationally. Let me cite a few names from the bestiary of public intellectuals
to give you a sense of what types of thinkers and styles of argumentation we are missing. No
Hannah Arendt. No Pierre Bourdieu. No Cornel West. No Catharine MacKinnon. No Cynthia Ozick. No
Noam Chomsky. No Bernard Lewis. There are undoubtedly many formidable biblicists out there. That
almost none of them are known beyond their own denominations or the pages of the Journal of
Biblical Literature is sobering ..."
Read the rest, it's very interesting.
- Next post in topic >>