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Archive for the ‘Criticism’ Category

Results of Apologetic versus Non-Apologetic Bible Commentary Survey

Posted by NT Wrong on October 16, 2008

Thank you for all your suggestions concerning possible non-apologetic Bible Commentaries written over the past few hundred years. My count is now complete and I am pleased to present the results of my survey here.


Total Non-Apologetic Bible Commentaries =

1 and 2/3*


Apologetic Commentaries posing as ‘Critical’ Bible Commentaries =



*to wit, Robert Carroll’s Jeremiah commentary and David Clines’ Job commentary

**Gematria-based estimate only

Representative Bible Scholar, surrounded by Bible Commentaries of solely Apologetic Content, Writing His Own Bible Commentaries of Same. Can we break the cycle?

Representative Bible Scholar, surrounded by Bible Commentaries of solely Apologetic Content, Writing His Own Bible Commentaries of Same. Can we break the cycle?

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Criticism | 8 Comments »

Can You Name a Single Non-Apologetic Bible Commentary?

Posted by NT Wrong on October 14, 2008

I was just trying to think of one. Just one.

Actually, there’s one on Jeremiah that springs to mind. But that’s as far as I got.

Is there any one that does not attempt to defend the biblical book’s ideology, wax lyrical about the mellifluous prose or poetry of the contents of its most thrown-together redactions, make vague parallels with the Amarna letters or somesort in order to defend it ancient pedigree or historicity, or include some other specious nonsense?

I mean to ask — of the thousands of ‘critical’ biblical commentaries written over recent centuries — how many, if any, are actually ‘critical’?

Critical shmitical!

Please offer your suggestions.

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Criticism | 23 Comments »

What is ‘Critical’?

Posted by NT Wrong on September 15, 2008

What is a ‘critical’ approach? What are the minimum requirements?

Is it enough, in order to be ‘critical’, to simply explain your approach. That is, are you being critical if you merely make explicit your interpretive choices? If you merely elucidate your method?

… or, in order to be ‘critical’, must you do something more? Must you also evaluate your results? Should a properly ‘critical’ approach always seek to determine whether it has made the best interpretation of evidence? I’m not asking whether one should ignore the situatedness of one’s approach, or claim any illusory value-neutral position. But I’m wondering whether an approach can be quite ‘critical’ if it only sets out its method, without attempting some evaluation of the position thereby reached — an attempt admittedly limited by subjective biases, although, perhaps not so limited by one’s known and unknown biases so that one is forced to conclude that every interpretation is equal.

Or … are Daniel Patte and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza right or wrong?

“My reading of Rom 1:26-27 as presented above is critical, not because it argues that it is the only legitimate reading of this text, but rather because it acknowledges its autobiographical character, its analytical, hermeneutical-theological, and contextual choices. Yet, these became apparent only because I compared it with other readings of this text, and because I viewed these readings as other autobiographical interpretations, based on equally legitimate and plausible, though different, interpretive choices.”
– ‘Can One Be Critical Without Being Autobiographical?: The Case of Romans 1:26-27’ in Ingrid Rosa Kitszberger, ed. Autobiographical Biblical Criticism: Academic Border Crossings – A Hermeneutical Challenge. (Leiden: Deo Publishing, 2002), pp. 34-59.

“competing interpretations of texts are not simply right or wrong, but they constitute different ways of reading and constructing historical meaning. Not detached value-neutrality but an explicit articulation of one’s rhetorical strategies, interested perspectives, ethical criteria, theoretical frameworks, religious presuppositions, and sociopolitical locations for critical public discussion are appropriate in … a rhetorical paradigm of biblical scholarship.”
– Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Presidential Address

Posted in Criticism | Comments Off on What is ‘Critical’?

Review of Biblical Literature – September 6, 2008

Posted by NT Wrong on September 5, 2008

Let’s have a look at what’s come up in the Review of Biblical Literature over the last month or so that could be of interest…

Boer, Roland, editor, Bakhtin and Genre Theory in Biblical Studies (2007)

This very good collection of essays includes contributions from John Anderson, Roland Boer, Martin J. Buss, Judy Fentress-Williams, Christopher Fuller, Barbara Green, Bula Maddison, Carleen Mandolfo, Christine Mitchell, Carol A. Newsom, David M. Valeta, and Michael Vines. There’s interesting applications of Bakhtinian genre-theory to illustrate the usefulness of Bakhtin’s reformulation. Gunkel commented on the volume, in an exclusive interview with the N. T. Wrong Blog: ‘Vell, ve vould have gone about it in a more disciplined vay, but nevertheless, this book is sehr gut!”

Grabbe, Lester L., Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It? (2007)

Brian Schmidt reviews Lester Grabbe’s latest, a “prolegomena” to a history of Israel. (Is anything further possible, nowadays?) The Deveresque subtitle of Grabbe’s book is a good description of the content, and Grabbe examines a good number of the available methods: social science, archaeology, longue durée, ethnicity, ideology, new fundamentalist approaches, maximalists and minimalists, and the name-calling and shenanigans in what is the most heated topic in Hebrew Bible studies. Grabbe offers methodological principles for history writing. Reviewer Brian Schmidt makes some wise comments about the — at best ambiguous, probably simply wrong — commonplace that ‘archaeology cannot disprove the bible’. Schmidt’s comments on ‘Canaanite’ and ‘literacy’ are also valuable.

Metso, Sarianna, The Serekh Texts (2007)

From the author of The Textual Development of the Qumran Community Rule (1997), an examination of the various scrolls of Serekh ha-yachad, with discussion of their relation to CD also. The volume forms part of the ‘Companion to the Qumran Scrolls’ series.

Tischler, Nancy M., Thematic Guide to Biblical Literature (2007)

This looks like a handy guide to the use of biblical themes in Western literature. The reception of biblical themes is arranged topically: (1) Creation, (2) Earthly paradise, (3) Nature, (4) Animals and humans, (5) Temptation and Sin, (6) God’s Love, Human Response, (7) Friends and Family, (8) Love and Marriage, (9) The Hero, (10) Women as Heroes, (11) The journey of life, (12) Slavery and Freedom, (13) War, (14) Good people, (15) Justice, (16) Government and Politics, (17) Predestination and Free Will, (18) Truth, (19) Death and Afterlife, (20) Last Days. According to the reviewer, the book examines how different people have struggled with these broad questions. In confining itself to ‘Western’ literature, early Jewish and Rabbinic literature is not covered.

Rake, Mareike, “Juda wird aufsteigen!”: Untersuchungen zum ersten Kapitel des Richterbuches (2006)

Klaas Spronk provides a very good review of this book. Rake provides a historical-critical analysis of Judges 1-2, in a book based on her dissertation. She provides a “thorough survey” of theories of development, before offering her own radical reconstruction of the text, which allows her to reverse the majority opinion of influence — she concludes that Joshua is dependent on Judges 1-2, although the direction of influence is complex and uncertain.

Pruin, Dagmar, Geschichten und Geschichte: Isebel als literarische und historische Gestalt

This book analyses the different Jezebel traditions in the Bible and its reception, and also attempts to retrace the development behind the stories.

Younger Jr., K Lawson, editor, Ugarit at Seventy-Five (2007)

The papers derive from the Midwest Regional meetings of the American Oriental Society at Trinity International University (Deerfield, Illinois), in February 2005 — which was held to commemorate the 75th anniversay of the discovery of Ugarit (Ras Shamra). The first five essays deal with the Ugaritic texts. Mark Smith looks at various aspects of Ugaritic religion. Dennis Pardee looks at RIH 98/02 (discovered in 1998), a song to Attartu with parallels to Exod 15 and Judg 5. Nic Wyatt discusses the divinity of kings. Wayne Pitard discusses the monsters Anat fought in the Baal Myth. Pierre Bourdreuil looks at new texts from the House of Urtenu, including some new data on the rapi’uma/rephaim. The last three papers deal with archaeological or historical issues, including a survey of the evidence for the origins of the Arameans by K. Lawson Younger.

Posted in Archaeology, Biblical interpretation, Books, Criticism, Dead Sea Scrolls, Historical Books, Historiography, Reception, Ugaritic | Comments Off on Review of Biblical Literature – September 6, 2008

Roland Boer responds to D. A. Carson’s fantastic review

Posted by NT Wrong on August 7, 2008

Roland Boer is ashore, and provides a review of D. A. Carson’s review of his book (a review for which I earlier provided a less calm and less sober review).

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Books, Criticism, Religion & Society | Comments Off on Roland Boer responds to D. A. Carson’s fantastic review

Secularism and Biblical Studies – Ed. Roland Boer, July 2008

Posted by NT Wrong on July 29, 2008

D.A. Carson Organises Protest at Boer's New Book

D. A. Carson Organises Protest at Boer's Forthcoming Book

A new book edited by Roland Boer with the title Secularism and Biblical Studies is due out about now. Actually it’s a little overdue from Equinox, but not “a little overdue” in the sense of Philip-Davies-Festschrift overdueness. In any case, it looks like it will be well worth the wait when it does appear. It boasts all the crowd favourites — Berlinerblau, Avalos, Lemche, Davies — and more besides.

Publisher’s Blurb:

“What is secular biblical criticism? Each of the essays gathered in this collection seeks to answer this disarmingly simple question. Coming out of current debates that have been flaring within biblical studies over the issue of secularism, the essays crystallize the various positions that have been taken. Provocative, engaging and challenging, Secularism and Biblical Studies will also fuel more lively discussion and debate.”

The book begins with two articles which appeared on the SBL Forum in 2006, one by Michael V. Fox and a response by Jacques Berlinerblau. The two articles provoked a lot of discussion at the time.

Here’s the full contents of the book:

    Roland Boer: Introduction: Secularism and the Bible

    1. Michael V. Fox: Scholarship and Faith in Bible Study
    2. Jacques Berlinerblau: The Unspeakable in Biblical Scholarship

    3. Roland Boer: A Manifesto for Biblical Studies
    4. Hanna Stenström: Boer’s Manifesto: Part of the Solution or Part of
    the Problem? Some Reflections from a Swedish Perspective
    5. Niels Peter Lemche: Guns do not kill, people do!
    6. Mark G. Brett: Theological Secularity: A Response to Roland Boer
    7. Todd Penner: Is Boer Among the Prophets? Transforming the Legacy of
    Marxian Critique

    8. Hector Avalos: The End of Biblical Studies as a Moral Obligation
    9. Joseph A. Marchal: Responsibilities to the Publics of Biblical
    Studies and Critical Rhetorical Engagements for a Safer World
    10. Heike Omerzu: A German Landscape: Currents and Credits of New
    Testament Studies in Germany During the Past Decades
    11. Philip Chia: Private or Public? The Challenge of Public Theology
    to Biblical Studies

    12. Ward Blanton: Neither Religious nor Secular: On Saving the Critic
    in Biblical-Criticism
    13. Edgar W. Conrad: From Jefferson’s Bible to Judge Moore’s Ten
    Commandments Monument: Secularizing the Bible in the USA
    14. Athalya Brenner: From Ruth to Foreign Workers in Contemporary
    Israel: A Case Study in the Interaction of Religion, Politics and the
    15. Yairah Amit: The Samaritans – Biblical Considerations in the Solution of a Political Problem
    16. Philip Davies: The Biblical Roots of Secularism

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Books, Criticism | Comments Off on Secularism and Biblical Studies – Ed. Roland Boer, July 2008

New Reviews in the Review of Biblical Literature – July 13, 2008

Posted by NT Wrong on July 14, 2008

What’s sexy in the latest Review of Biblical Literature?

Douglas R. Edwards and C. Thomas McCollough, editors, The Archaeology of Difference: Gender, Ethnicity, Class and the “Other” in Antiquity: Studies in Honor of Eric M. Meyers (2007)

The second of two Festschriften for Eric Meyers, following Religion and Society in Ancient Palestine. The first third of the collection covers the neolithic to Persian periods, while the second two-thirds covers the Hellenistic to Byzantine periods. How’s that for coverage? Amongst the 32 articles is “Ethnicity and the Archaeological Record: The Case for Early Israel” (William Dever), and in a different vein, something on linguistic variation by Raymond Person.

Avraham Faust, Israel’s Ethnogenesis: Settlement, Interaction, Expansion and Resistance (2007)

His theory on the ethnogenesis of Israel involves (1) settlement in the highlands versus Canaanites and Egyptians, primarily involving nomadic Shashu, (2) sharpening of ethnic identity through conflict with Philistines. Sounds familiar? Yes – it’s another Bible-paraphrase.

Jon L. Berquist, editor, Approaching Yehud: New Approaches to the Study of the Persian Period (2007)

The essays in this volume include a mixture of historiographic and literary approaches to the Persian period, now firmly established as the most productive period for the writing of texts which appear in the Hebrew Bible. Melody Knowles writes about pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Greek evidence; Richard Bautch writes about intertextuality; Donald Polaski examines inscriptions as sites of power; David Janzen examines Ezra 9-10 and mixed marriage; Christine Mitchell develops a Bakhtinian examination of the genre of historiography, with comparison to Greek historiography; Brent Strawn compares Isa 60 and the Apadana Relief from Persepolis; Jean-Pierre Ruiz makes a postcolonial reading of Ezekiel; John Kessler examines the golah in relation to demographic studies and Zech 1-8; Herbert Marbury examines Proverbs 7 in relation to Persian control; Jennifer Koosed reads Ecclesiastes via Derrida and Lacan; Jon Berquist introduces post-colonial considerations to the study of the function of the Psalms in the Second Temple period.

Posted in Archaeology, Books, Criticism, Historical Books, Historiography, Prophets | 3 Comments »

SBL International Auckland – Day 3

Posted by NT Wrong on July 9, 2008

The first sessions of the day I went to were a bit ordinary, so I ducked unto the Book Review Session for Roland Boer’s Rescuing the Bible. This was a good move. George Aichele provided some excellent comments. He first questioned whether it is correct to say that the religious right had “stolen” the Bible (as Roland Boer had asserted), due to the fact that the very idea of a canon is intrinsically conservative. There can only be a “Bible” as long as we consider it authoritative. That is, the Bible would disappear if not considered authoritative. So, he reasoned, it is even impossible to say that the Bible can be taken “out of context”, to the contrary, the “Bible” is the context. What the Left should advocate, according to Aichele, is nothing less than the complete removal of the codex itself. And then he came out with this comment:

“The only good Bible is a dead Bible.”

George Aichele gave the example of The Brick Testament as a retelling of ‘biblical’ stories which manages to free the stories from their canonical context. The aim of the Left should be to reduce the Bible to a husk – reduce the Bible to the mere illusion of a book.

Aichele contrasted his view with those in the Left who want the Bible to act as canon, a venerated classic, to recover, as some have put it, “the dangerous memory of Jesus”. Such a view would try to rescue the radical bits, while failing to recognize the oppressive parts in which it is embedded.

George Aichele also questioned Boer’s advocation of a utopian socialist “myth” which should be aimed for, objecting that all myths are universalizing and totalitarian. Instead, with reference to Lyotard and Zipes, he advocated multiple fairy tales and fantasies rather than a single overbearing myth.

Aichele finished by pointing out that the motivation to be suspicious of the Bible’s contents is not something that derives from the Bible itself, but from outside, from a secular hermeneutical standpoint. If the motivation for suspicion were from the Bible, after all, we would have to be suspicious of that, too. Yet sometimes the Left has accepted the Right’s claim that we are not choosing our beliefs and actions, but we are “just following the Bible” (which, for the right means “just following the Bible” to oppress women, minorities, and homosexuals, encourage capitalism, etc, etc; for the Left means some illusory authentic radical core). Rather than rescuing the Bible, we therefore need to rescue people from the Bible.

Phew, eh?

Here’s Roland Boer in action:

Posted in Biblical interpretation, Criticism, The Bible | 2 Comments »

SBL International Auckland – Day 1

Posted by NT Wrong on July 7, 2008

Day one at the SBL International Congress produced some good papers. Here’s a few:

Jon Berquist gave a paper called ‘Identities and Empire: Historiographic Questions for the Deuteronomistic History in the Persian Period’. He made a comment about the tendency of scholars to interpret the DH ideology as future-oriented, imposing a remnant theology on the text. But such interpretations are based more on the Christian wish to identify with a messianic remnant community than with the text itself, which is more interested in present questions of identity and government.

Mark Brett (‘Identity as Commentary and Metacommentary’) emphasised the point that, while aspects of “nationalism” and “identity” are applicable to the ancient world, there are also some fundamental differences in the ways moderns and ancients view the world. He noted his upcoming book, ‘Decolonising God’, which will probably discuss this issue.

James Hoffmeier looked at 1 Samuel 17.54 (where David takes Goliath’s head to Jerusalem, then under Jebusite control, and puts Goliath’s armour in “his tent”). He interpreted the possessive in “his tent” as though the antecedent were Goliath. He then compared the desecration of the Philistine hero’s head with several late BA and early IA ancient Near Eastern accounts of people cutting off heads and carrying out other types of body desecration on defeated enemies, and displaying them sometimes at their god’s temple. It seemed that he was treating this story as though it were historical, which seems odd for a story about a giant. What’s more, almost everybody in history has desecrated their enemies’ bodies, so I very much doubt you can limit the parallels to the Bronze Age, unless you’ve already made up your mind only to select examples from this period.

David Gunn read excerpts from his favourite book from his childhood, the rip-snorting story, ‘Maori and Settler’ from the 1880s. (I don’t think David Gunn read it in the 1880s; that was just when it was published.) The children’s book alludes to Samson, and then seems to attribute a lot of Samson-like qualities to the novel’s hero, Mr Atherton. And those damn natives seem to take on the “treacherous” vixen Delilah role.

Posted in Criticism, Historical Books, Historiography | 1 Comment »

The Contribution of Biblical Studies to the Humanities – Mark S. Smith

Posted by NT Wrong on July 2, 2008

From The Skillful-and-Wise One, Mark S. Smith:

“Perhaps beause of its historical roots in theology, the field of Israelite religion (not to mention biblical studies generally) remains one that does not generate its own general theoretical contribution to the humanities or social sciences.”

– Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and Other Deities in Ancient Israel. 2nd edn.; Grand Rapids & Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2002: xxx.

Is Mark S. Smith right?


Posted in Academia, Biblical interpretation, Criticism, The Bible | 3 Comments »