The Library Basement
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Tag scholarship

Defamiliarizing the Biblical Scholar

[][]In reading through Stephen D. Moore and Yvonne Sherwood's The Invention of the Biblical ScholarI have found some rather choice quotes. The stated aim of the work is to defamiliarize Bible scholarship, and it is hitting the mark in my judgment.

The habit of esotericism . . . would prove difficult to break. Scholars would continue to churn out arcane discourse on and around the Bible long after they had forgotten why they first began to do so. . . . Even as the reasons for such discourse receded, however, the incentives of engaging in it increased . . . These incentives and disincentives achieve quintessential expression in the policy . . . of valuing scholarly monographs over books written for the general public, and technical articles in peer-reviewed journals over articles in periodicals with a broad circulation, in matters of hiring, tenure, and promotion. Even as the general public has become less and less interested in what the professional biblical scholar has to say, the profession has become more and more interested in ensuring that the biblical scholar spend less and less time addressing himself or herself to the general public. (p. 78)

And again, with the tongue planted firmly in the cheek:

For biblical criticism was established in the wake of the perceived disaster of letting the populace at large commune directly with the Bible through such vague and unregulated intermediaries as individual conscience or the Holy Ghost. . . . members of the intellectual elite felt that the only viable response to religious violence [brought on by free reading of the Bible] was to create a sanctioned social space for tolerance and free-reading - but this had to be squared with the unnerving specter of the uncouth hydra-reader beyond the charmed circle of gentlemen scholars. Critical biblical scholarship was, to a large extent, invented as a measure for managing these two potentially conflicting readerships. Professionalized philological method emerged as the touchstone and guarantor of valid biblical meaning. (pp. 102-103)

Once more, with feeling:

Even the language of the gospels is not the colorless, abstract, propositional language of a modern theological treatise; instead the language is consistently concrete, graphic, and pictographic. Standard biblical-scholarly style, meanwhile, functions as a kind of paint-stripper to relieve these pictorial texts of their residual hieroglyphic brilliance. (p. 112)

Anyone who observed me reading this on public transit today probably wondered "why is that guy smirking so much?"