facts are facts, and faith has no business dealing in the world of facts.
Wednesday, 23 June 2010
My 2 cents on Hendel's BAR piece
Hendel's recent criticism of SBL has been doing the rounds on the blogosphere. For comments, check out Ancient Hebrew Poetry, Biblia Hebraica, Exploring Our Matrix, Suzanne's Bookshelf, Euangelion, Jim West etc. etc. (James McGrath has collected posts to date). SBL has responded in part here.
Here are my two cents:
I appreciate Hendel's commitment to allowing objective reality - both of the text and of the external world - to function as a constraint on the kind of interpretive construals presenters at a Biblical studies forum are allowed to make. I also appreciate his commitment to reason as a tool for interpreting that reality. However, not only does his conception of what in fact constitutes a "fact" seem rather naive, he seems to contradict his own premise, namely that faith has nothing to do with responsible study of the Bible. He says:
Isn't this a deist position? Even if it isn't, isn't it still the case that Hendel has taken a "theological" stance which will then inevitably constrain the way he approaches the subject matter of the Bible? He can be deist (or atheist, or whatever) if he wants, but he can't then claim that by being so he has left his cosmological presuppositions at the door of his academic office. The irony here is that the God of the Bible is simply not one that would fit into Hendel's implied creed - he is יהוה עשה השמים וארץ, the creator of ... facts, historical or natural. So even at the level of exegetical method one wonders whether his theological presuppositions are best suited to enabling him grasp the subject matter SBL has commited itself to studying.
I know this is a highly complex area, that commitments to various ontological, soteriological, anthropological and even eschatological systems has distorted our ability to grasp what is actually going on in the Bible. As a confessing Christian, I want to affirm with Hendel the existence of a the empirical realm which stands over against our prior faith commitments (see my posts on the dialectical nature of Biblical history). And yet, at the same time, all humans are subject to the kinds of presuppositions outlined above, we wouldn't be able to function without them. It seems to me that the best way forward is not (try and) suppress or ignore our theology but to try and improve it and then bring it into dialectical relation to "the facts." I'm sure Hendel himself would not appreciate being called a "deist," and I think a bit more theological reflection on what kind of a God he does believe in could not only do him some good, but also the broader community of Biblical students he's paid to serve (and the same goes for Waltke).*
*[One example from my own experience where a more refined theology has honed my "critical" skills is the area of the Immanent and Economic Trinity. Appreciating this ancient Nicene Dogma is helping me become more "liberal" in my take on Biblical historicity and the concept of the literary/theological unity of the text].