Thursday, September 25, 2008

Biblical Scholars are Zombies!

Well, this guy calls us everything but zombies, but I thought I needed some hook to the main theme of my blog:

What a small-souled man.

As a professor, I am very willing to admit that I and my work are mostly ignored by my students, and by the rest of the human race, for that matter. The couple of times per year when I have a profound effect on a student and change his/her mind or outlook, I am very happy; as for the other hundreds of students, maybe a few have some seeds of critical thinking and knowledge planted in them. For that I find my work very rewarding. Rather than attack me and his other colleagues in biblical studies, perhaps Dr Avalos would feel less bitter if he could learn some humility and rejoice at those students on whom he has some positive effect.


Blogger vivamurillo said...

In your chosen profession, you've traded frequency for impact with regard to positive effects on your students. Sounds worthwhile to me.

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm. So, Dr. Avalos' solution is to get rid of Bible Study? Does he truly not understand that Humanism (and most Western atheistic theory) comes from JudaeoChristian values? Or is he just arguing that it's good to be close-minded and deliberately ignorant of a major basis of Western culture, much like those British politicians who bleat about the irrelevancy of medieval history while while working out of a pile of stone that predates British democracy by hundreds of years?

At any rate, Eric Kripke of the show "Supernatural" feels your pain. You should have heard the shrieking last week over the introduction of an angel to the storyline. Hysterical fans posted all over discussion boards declaring that they were being aggressively proselytized and repressed. By a TV show.


7:53 PM  
Blogger KPaffenroth said...

Everyone wants to play the victim - atheists, fundamentalists, everyone. I see no point.

12:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, there's really not that much difference between fundamentalist atheists and fundamentalists believers. They're both intolerant of any other beliefs. And nothing fends off accusations of intolerance like claiming you're the one being victimized. It's a pretty old shell game.

5:26 AM  
Blogger Rorshach said...

Don't you think it's a little silly to critique a guy whose book you never read and whose argument you're caricaturing in the most facile way possible?

While I don't agree with everything in Avalos's End of Biblical Studies, he does make a few salient points that I think even Kim would agree with.

1) Focus on the Bible has distracted from the translation and scholarly appraisal of other contemporary texts and traditions. If you want to claim the Bible as a cornerstone of Western thought and culture: totally granted. What Avalos is saying is this is a circular argument. "The Bible is one of the most beautiful pieces of literature because it is a cornerstone, and it's a cornerstone because it's the most beautiful pieces of literature." There are other texts and traditions just as rich and insightful which predate the Bible, but languish in obscurity.

2) 'Biblical studies' is a bloated, incestuous field with few avenues for growth and is simply marking time with minor work by even its top scholars. Bart Ehrman has made a fortune by popularizing themes and discoveries that the Academy has been aware of since at least the 1950s, if not earlier in some instances. Barring a major new discovery, Biblical Studies should kindly stay silent until it again has something substantial to say (see turn-of-the-century German biblical studies for an example of the awesome spectacle of what this can look like)

Yes, Dr. Avalos overreacts to this. Like most academics, he's aware how much the liberal arts relies on playing three-card-monte with its public, as it like anything else must bow before Sturgeon's Law: 90% of everything, including biblical studies, is crap.

1:17 AM  
Blogger KPaffenroth said...

No, I don't think I agree with either of Rorshach's points.

The extra biblical traditions are a huge part of Biblical scholarship. If anything, I'd argue they're rather over emphasized, since they have had negligible influence on western civilization.

I suppose one could argue any academic field is bloated or incestuous, depending on one's tastes in what is "valuable." And of course popularizing treatments lag 50 or more years behind cutting edge research. So if the point is that biblical studies is like all academic departments, that seems right. I'm not sure what would constitute something "substantial" that Biblical scholars could again talk about, once they discover it.

9:19 PM  
Blogger KPaffenroth said...

And really - I'm not caricaturing Avalos' argument, only responding to his repeated claim (that he made in his response to Koester and elsewhere) that the Bible is irrelevant to modern Americans. And my response is that even if I and my subject matter are irrelevant most of the time to most of my students (as in my more pessimistic moments I believe they may be), I don't go around saying Dr Avalos or any of my other colleagues should "dismantle" their disciplines and go do something (that I deem) useful: instead, I find some satisfaction and enjoyment in those students and occasions when I do reach someone.

9:39 PM  

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