Crisis After Crisis Among Evangelicals Concerning Biblical Authority

Volcano and Lightning
Click on the image to view it full size, you wonʼt be disappointed, itʼs from the volcano in Iceland that erupted.

Christians are tireless debunkers of each othersʼ interpretations of the Bible (perhaps because many of them still believe the stakes are infinitely high, and they fear one unorthodox interpretation can lead to another down a slippery slope toward damnation). Thanks to the internet, questions of biblical interpretation flow instantly and without ceasing. Everyone from aged scholars to eager young seminarians and born again newbies are commenting on blogs, engaging in online forums and Facebook discussions, commenting on books at, tweeting, contributing to carnivals like the Biblical Studies Carnival, and newsgroups like CrossTalk2, or emailing each other. Books and articles on biblical studies have never been easier to seek and obtain (at the very least one can read abstracts and portions of books online and request the item at your local library via document delivery).

Having said that, I donʼt think I need to enumerate the controversies between Christians (but click here for a sampling). Instead I am sharing information about topics that biblical scholars (not just “Evangelical Christian” biblical scholars) are researching and discussing today per the latest edition of Old Testament Abstracts, a tri-annual publication that sums up the contents of current articles and books. (There is also a sister publication called New Testament Abstracts.)

Todayʼs Topics Add Fuel to Tomorrowʼs Flames

Daniel Vainstub, “Human Sacrifices in Canaan and Israel,” Beer-sheva 19 (2010), 117-204 (in Hebrew).

“The existence of infant sacrifices in biblical times both in the Canaanite culture and in Israel has been a matter of intense controversy in the scholarship of the last eight decades. Paradoxically, the more relevant data emerges, the wider the scholarly discensus grows. Some hold that the practice never existed among the Canaanites or the Israelites, while others aver that it was a deeply rooted practice both in the Canaanite homeland and the Punic cities of the West. Vainstubʼs comprehensive, interdisciplinary study of the issue includes an up-to-date survey of the divergent opinions concerning it and offers new insights based on an array of evidence, epigraphic, linguistic, artistic, and literary. The study highlights the significant degree of parallelism among the various sources, and comes to the conclusion that infant sacrifices to Baal by parents were indeed a strongly rooted custom in Bronze and Iron Age Canaan. The practices was taken over by the Israelites, and persisted until its abolition by Josiah. Later on, the practice was limited to the Phoenician coastal area until it was completely eradicated by the Persians there during the 5th century. B.C. Such sacrifices continued in the Phoenician colonies in the West for another 400 years.”

Herve Tremblay, O.P., “Yahve contre Baal?” ScEs 61 (2009)

“Tremblay pulls together conclusions from different fields of research. If Baal is the god of Canaan, Yhwh was not originally from there and was ‘imported’ from the South. The people of Israel did not come from outside the country but emerged out of inner division within Canaanite society. In a process of ethnic and religious distinction that lasted several centuries, Yhwh was adopted as the national God by the Israelites.”

Martin Leurenberger, “Jhwhs Herkunft aus dem Suden…” ZAW 122 (2010)

The ‘Berlin thesis’ of Kockert and Pfeiffer has challenged the regnant hypothesis of the southern origin of Yhwh. Leurenbergerʼs article defends the southern origin hypothesis via a more comprehensive evaluation of the relevant archaeological data and biblical texts. The results of his investigation of these two bodies of data correlate with each other, and thereby substantiate the emergence of the solitary weather-god Yhwh in the Late Bronze Age Araba.”

Douglas S. Earlʼs writings figured prominently in v.34 (2011) Old Testament Abstracts.
Earlʼs book, The Joshua Delusion was summarized in which Earl claims [the book of] Joshua is a symbolic rather than historical narrative. Three of his articles were also summarized:

Douglas S. Earl, “‘Minimalism’ and Old Testament Theological Hermeneutics,” JTI 4 (2010)

In recent OT scholarship there is a growing tendency to understand the portrayal of Israel in the OT as bearing little relation to the ancient Israel of history—the so-called minimalist stance. In particular, the existence of a united monarchy under David is now widely questioned and often actually denied. Readers of the OT with theological concerns often appears to either reject or disengage from these trends and their implications for the study of the OT. But might theological interpreters not rather fruitfully engage with minimalist readings of the OT? Taking John Van Seterʼs 2009 The Biblical Saga of King David as a test case of a radically revisionist reading of the life of David, EARL explores the implications of a reading of this sort for a hermeneutical and theological perspective.”

Douglas S. Earl, “The Christian Significance of Deuteronomy 7,” JTI 3 (2009)

“Earl says that Deuteronomy, chapter 7 is perhaps the primary articulation of the herem concept in the OT, this commanding the utter annihilation of the local inhabitants of the promised land that Israel is about to enter, and is, as such, a deeply problematic text… Earl raises the question of the contemporary Christian significance of Deut. 7, exploring the hermeneutical issues the passage generates for a Christian reading of the OT.”

Douglas S. Earl, “Toward a Christian Hermeneutic of Old Testament Narrative: Why Genesis 34 Fails to Find Christian Significance,” CBQ 73 (2011)

“Interpreters have come to conflicting positive and negative assessments of the actions of the brothers Simeon and Levi verses the actions of their father Jacob in the story of the rape of Dinah, Genesis 34… Earl discusses different scholarly readings of the text, only to find Sternberg on track in his reading … that spotlights the underlying ideology that both structures and is reinforced by the text, viz., the importance of endogamy [=the practice of marrying or requiring to marry within oneʼs own ethnic, religious, or social group] in Israel. One is either an Israelite (like Dinah) or one is not (like Shechem), and there is no chance of mediation or transformation (in this narrative even via circumcision) between the two categories. Thus, the narrative evokes the disastrous consequences of exogamy and mingling. For Christianity, which is based on shared faith, not genealogy, mediation and transformation are essential to the construction of identity. Hence, Genesis 34 is problematical for Christianity, both theologically and ethically, at its structural and narrative levels.”

Grzegorz Szamocki, “Polityczne i spolecezno-religijne …”

“Szamocki notes the difficulty of aligning the particulars of the Book of Joshua with the historical truth concerning the proto-Israelites. Historical-critical research regarding selected texts of the book allows one to conclude that these recʼd their basic shape in the postexilic period. In particular, the analogies between the history of the proto-Israelites as described in the book and the experiences of the Israelites involved in the restoration of social and religious life in the province of Yehud suggest that the texts in question have a parenetical and catechetical character: i.e., they are intended to teach the postexilic community about its new chance for reordering its life now that it is back in the land via a resolute commitment to the Torah and faith in Godʼs guidance of them.”

Volker Wagner, “Profanitat und Sakralisierung…” VT 60 (2010).

“Wagner argues that male circumcision was not widely practiced in Israel and did not possess any religious or specific cultic significance until after the Exile. A theologization and sacralization of the practice are only attested in very late texts of the OT, i.e., Gen 34:15-17; Lev 12:3; Josh 5:2-7; 9:24-25. Against this background, W. associates the practice of circumcision to the end of the monarchy and the need for greater cultic distinctiveness during the Exile in Babylon (whose population did not circumcise). This development led to a broad dissemination of the practice of circumcision in Judaism.”

Lukasz Niesiorowski-Spano, “Origin Myths and Holy Places in the Old Testament: A Study of Aetiological Narratives” [aetiology = “the story or stories told about how a place received its name”] (International Seminar, 2011)

“Niesiorowski-Spanoʼs monograph examines the aetiologies of a series of extra-Jerusalem cultic sites as related in the Books of Genesis, Joshua, and Judges, viz., Beersheba, Bethel, Dan, Hebron (and Mamre), Ophrah, Shechem and Gilgal, plus the Transjordanian locales Galeed, Mahanaim and Penuel. Basing on the evidence of the relevant biblical texts, archaeological discoveries, and such extra-biblical documents as Jubilees, Josephus, and Pseudo-Philo, N.-S. endeavors to trace the tradition-history of the aetiologies in question and their final literary fixation, as well as the nature of the cult (and the deity worshiped) at the given site. On this basis he concludes that the materials studied by him, while they do—in some cases at least—draw on older materials, received their final redaction in the Hasmonean period (160-110 B.C.), the territorial realities and aspirations of which they reflect. The fact that the Jerusalem priests responsible for these materials included such accounts accrediting the sacral character of an array of extra-Jerusalem sites would indicate, according to N.-S., that Jerusalem was not, in fact, regarded by them as the sole legitimate place of worship—Jerusalem attained that status in Judaism only after the catastrophe of 70 A.D.

Next time … some excerpts from New Testament Abstracts!

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