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Bible Scholarship and Faith-Based Study: My View
by Michael V. Fox

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Professor Fox is undoubtedly one of the leading authorities in biblical studies today. He is both Jewish and a distinguished scholar. That is just the appropriate combination for a discussion regarding the tension between faith and science. As a religious Jewish scholar, who engages with biblical study in Israel, I'm inclined to agree with most of his positions. The rule is: Don't be correct, Be wise. When speaking in public in front of worshippers in the synagogue, the speaker must not try to be provocative or deal in his derasha (homily or sermon) with source criticism or the historicity of the Hebrew Bible. These discussions should be held in the universities, colleges and other academic institutions. The opposite is true as well: In the classes held in academic institutions, there is no place for homilies or apologetics.

That is all true, but there are also some limitations. I've heard more than once the claim that certain scholars are uncritical, since they do not accept some postulations regarding, say, the Deuteronomistic History hypothesis. That is of course another matter. Not accepting some assumption held in biblical studies does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that a certain scholar is uncritical. Many times, evidence for such hypotheses is assumed rather than presented. It is refreshing to read from time to time articles or dissertations where the conclusions of modern research are contested or refuted, and we may come to the conclusion that until now we have gone in an erroneous direction. In such cases, prejudice is being exhibited by those who call themselves "critical scholars." If I do not adhere to Martin Noth or Wellhausen, am I "non-critical"? Do I necessarily let my religious beliefs influence my scientific judgments? I doubt that. You do not have to be secular in order to be objective or "critical". The challenge is greater when you are both religious and a scholar teaching and working in a university.

I try as much as I can to differentiate between my religious beliefs and my academic work. But let's be frank: Can anyone be totally objective? Biblical critics worldwide have different agendas, different teachers, different views of morality, and so on. The ability to persuade and reason does not lie only with non-religious or even atheist scholars. Let us not forget that many of the great interpretations are to be assigned to Jewish medieval commentators.
Michael Avioz, Bar-Ilan University, Israel.

I commend Michael Fox on his concern for a "scientific" approach to biblical scholarship, but I would question his premise that every measure of "unscientific" consideration should be sidelined in the discussion. Just as he seems wary of those who would offer pseudo-science to the realms of the biologist or zoologist, might we be a bit out of line to eliminate the philosopher or theologian from the realms of faith? The kind of evidence we value in viewing the world or examining the witness of history is indeed worthy of our most diligent analysis and debate, but count me among those who dare to think it awkward to presume we would ever exclude the mystery from such a process. Every time I pursue the hard sciences to the extremes of present knowledge, I find room for something more. The way our knowledge informs our responses is always subject to the measure of moral and ethical choices. Cold hard facts will always need an interpreter of meaning for the times.
Ronald M. Hinson, Jr. Ph.D., Lenoir, North Carolina.

Citation: , " In Response to the Fox article," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited Feb 2006]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=502

 
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