The End of Biblical Studies – Introduction

An Enchanted Atheist (Sabio Lantz) & and Unorthodox Christian (SocietyVs) do a Simul-blog on Hector Avalos’s book “The End of Biblical Studies”. 

Part 1: The Introduction 

Hector defines his thesis for the book in 2 points:

1. Modern biblical scholarship has demonstrated that the Bible is the product of cultures whose values and beliefs about the origin, nature, and purpose of our world are no longer held to be relevant, even by most Christians and Jews.

2. Paradoxically, despite the recognition of such irrelevance, the profession of academic biblical studies still centers on maintaining the illusion of relevance by:

   (a) A variety of scholarly disciplines whose methods and conclusions are often philosophically flawed (e.g., translation, textual criticism, archaeology, history, and biblical theology).

   (b) An infrastructure that supports biblical studies (e.g., universities, a media-publishing complex, churches, and professional organizations).” (Avalos, ‘The End of Biblical Studies’, pg 16)

Hector defines irrelevance:

’Irrelevant’ here refers to a biblical concept or practice that is no longer viewed as valuable, applicable, and/or ethical” (Avalos, ‘The End of Biblical Studies’, pg 17)

Hector states a few examples of this concept in the revelations of modern science, certain biblical figures not being as ‘historical’ as once believed (Abraham, Moses, and David), lack of independence of evidence about Jesus’ life, and the idea biblical authors believed women to be subordinate to men. 

A good point about the ‘cultural capital’ (based on Marxist theory) of the scripture:

Instead, (John) Guillory and the like-minded critics argue the relevant knowledge must be grounded in an awareness of how knowledge is used to create class distinctions and power differentials” (Avalos quoting John Guillory in ‘Cultural Capital’, ‘The End of Biblical Studies’, pg 23)

A final summarized piece from Avalos:

Biblical studies should be geared toward helping humanity wean itself off the Bible and toward terminating its authority completely in the modern world” (Avalos, ‘The End of Biblical Studies’, pg 29)

It is clear to me Avalo’s does not want to end biblical studies, just change the direction it’s taking. I think he does not like the point/focus of current biblical studies – apologetics. I guess he wants it to become like all other ancient literature available out there, plain reading material that does not direct one’s life.

Obviously I do not agree with Avalo’s in his personal direction with regards to biblical studies, studying theology and all. I do get where he is going with pieces of his honesty about approaching these texts; in some ways I can sympathize.

However, I see more to the bible’s teachings and a normal modernization of the ideals being taught; from thence to now. Maybe Avalos as an atheist cannot really see the reason for such modernization, but such is faith/religion.

What do you think?

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7 thoughts on “The End of Biblical Studies – Introduction

  1. @ Luke
    What seminaries do you feel would be incriminated by his book? (you’d be guessing, of course, but give it a stab) Society can let you know at the end of the book.

  2. no clue… evangelical ones? i’m going to read that article you posted on your site before commenting any further. needless to say, i’m about as put off by his writings as you are with my stupid cartoons 😉

  3. after reading the article, it sounds like he’s going after those seminaries and institutions which go apologetic in terms of reading, trying to uphold age-hold (usually medieval) traditions and interpretations of the text. i’m against that too. so are the scholars at my seminary. we have 1 or 2 that do the “christocentric” reading of the bible, but not many. most use the modern critical methods much like Ehrman yet still retain their faith, although don’t apologize for it. that’s what i’m getting thus far, based on the information at hand.

  4. I think the obvious problem with Avalos is his lack of understanding in the modernization process of a discipline. If this were Psychology, he would not be making this argument…even if it were Philosophy – he wouldn’t. It just happens to be ‘religion’…and for some reason this is a discipline that must not be ‘modernized’ (circa the Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris line of thinking).

    But Avalos, for as studied as he is, is also puling the reigns back to make his point. He has to avoid some obvious ideas within the texts to progess in his reasoning.

    For example, the texts reveal an obvious modernization. We move from Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, to Moses, to Judges, to Kings, to Prophets. Within the NT we have an added in Elijah (John) and messiah movement. Then we see a movement to disciples, small Jewish community, and to the inclusion of Gentiles. I mean, how much more modernization has to occur before one realizes this is easily part of the biblical story with regards to interpretation.

    I guess a highly respected and well studied individual like Avalos knew this. If he didn’t, I have to question his study of the texts as narrow minded for narrow purposes. The same problem he gives the Evangelicals – like William Lane Craig.

  5. @ Society
    I seriously doubt Avalos has a “lack of understanding” of liberal theology. In his book, he cushions many of his statements. But I am sure, like me, he feels even those with their various liberal versions don’t really understand what many of the implications may be and that liberals do intellectual gymnastics to hang on to old terms and images that are fed by the very thing he criticizes. It is as if the liberals want their cake and eat it too (as the idiom goes).

    Either way, again, I highly doubt Avalos has a “lack of understanding”, though I am sure you would imagine you both have a lack of agreement with him.

    @ Luke
    I hear you. I think you and many of your teachers are immune from many of Avalos’ criticisms.

  6. “But I am sure, like me, he feels even those with their various liberal versions don’t really understand what many of the implications may be and that liberals do intellectual gymnastics to hang on to old terms and images that are fed by the very thing he criticizes. It is as if the liberals want their cake and eat it too (as the idiom goes)” (Sabio)

    What could possibly be the implications of using religious teachings that have the ability to modernize? This seems to be the exact case within the study of the actual scriptures of the bible – from Tanakh to the NT writings. In fact, a book could be written on the movements within the texts themselves and their ability to modernize/adapt to the situations the authors find themselves in.

    This is why I raise concern with Avavlo’s thesis. It’s a nice thesis and I look forward as I read to him defending it – but it’s one side of a two sided coin (just saying is all).

    I think the Evangelical/Catholic/Orthodox BS of modern America and the West has helped color most people’s imaginations of what they think the bible represents and stands for. They see a more concrete view of scripture when this is clearly not the case – from within the texts themselves. Then liberals are looked at as the ‘outside’ group in interpretation when modernization has been occuring within the texts for centuries – and even after their canonization (if we study Judaism). This is my personal qualm with current biblical studies.

    Fact is, if the scripures were so ‘concrete’ the Christian sect should never have existed – since when did the inclusion of the Gentiles become a key issue in the Tanakh? Yet this is exactly what happened under Paul – and even Peter and James and John and their version of the messianic fulfillment. It’s like a modernization of the messianic idea to ‘include’ Gentiles more fully.

    Let’s fast forward to our times and the use of modernization…the gay community. Does one’s messianic vision hold room for them? The scriptures are quite unclear on this topic – but for all we know – according to the Acts 15 passage and an understanding of the Noahide Laws…why not? And that’s a fair interpretation based on the history of the texts in the NT.

    So there is a lot to say about the use of the texts in our modern culture.

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