I am by training a professor of religious studies. That means, among other things, that just about every time I step onto a plane or attend a party I have to explain to someone that, no, I am not a minister, no, I do not teach theology, and, no, I do not work in a divinity school. Theology and religious studies, I often say, are two very different things--as different as art and art history. While theologiansdo religion, religious studies scholars study religion. Rather than ruminating on God, practitioners of religious studies explore how other human beings (theologians included) ruminate on sacred things. Scholars of religion can be religious, of course, but being religious is not our job. Our job is to try to understand what religious people say, believe, know, feel, and experience. And we try to do this work as fairly and objectively as possible.
1) What is the goal of a scientific approach to the Bible?
Answer: to understand it according to what it is (i.e. to read it on its own terms, sachgemäß).
2) Which side of the religiou/theological dichotomy described above best equips us to read the Bible "on its own terms"?
Answer: it depends on the nature of the text, i.e. is the Bible itself religious or theological?
Let's compare Prothero's quote with one by a famous Old Testament scholar: Gerhard von Rad (who operated in the heyday of the academy's confidence about its capacities to be objective).
Prothero saif the following:
religious studies scholars study religion. Rather than ruminating on God, practitioners of religious studies explore how other human beings (theologians included) ruminate on sacred things.
Von Rad's analysis of the Bible is very different. He says the following:
Because Israel, in its historical witnesses, did not refer to its own faith but rather to Jahwe himself, in other words, because faith was not the "object," rather the "bearer, mouth" of its witness, the revelation of Jahwe in history in words and deeds becomes the object of a theology of the Old Testament.In other words, the Bible is a kerygmatic text. It witnesses to a reality outside of itself, and this witnessing activity is part of its historical intentionality, the reason for its existence in the first place. As far as von Rad was concerned, this view is not a pious move made by theologically minded scholars hoping to retain the Bible's relevance beyond the confines of past history, it is a scientific statement about the actual nature of the text. The fact that a living God is part of the equation doesn't make it less scientific.
Thus, on von Rad's analysis, Prothero's approach is fundamentally flawed because it doesn't do justice to the nature of the text itself.
Is von Rad a theologian or a religious studies scholar? And what should one be in order to understand the Bible?