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I appreciate the responses to my op-ed piece on Bible Scholarship and Faith-Based Study. It's an important issue to all of us and one we should think through together. The issues, especially the epistemological ones, demand deeper scrutiny. Here I offer just a few responses, not entirely identified by correspondent.

Rev. Brassey confuses opinions with faith. An opinion, moral or aesthetic, is not the same as a principle of faith. Opinions are not normative and they do not compel certain readings. They also are adaptable and responsive to evidence. My negative evaluation of the law in Lev 20:13 doesn't make me construe the verse differently. Opinions are not axioms or arguments. Faith, as indicated by the phrase "faith based," is indeed axiomatic and excludes those who do not share the particular faith in question.

That is not to say that scholarship is devoid of axioms. There are of course, as Adam Wells says, scholarly axioms or postulates outside scholarship. Gödel's incompleteness theorem guarantees it. An example of a postulate external to the system, cited by Wells, is that "scholarship rests on evidence." That is a meta-scholarly postulate, one of many on which scholarship is founded, but such postulates too are open to adjudication and adjustment. Rather different than saying that "true interpretation rests on divine inspiration" (Qumran) or "true interpretation rests on accepting the divine source of every word in the Bible" (Rabbis) or "the Bible told me so" (lots of preachers).

Adam Wells paraphrases me as saying that "an interpretation is truly scholarship if and only if it pertains to verifiable evidence." That sounds right. (Note: "pertains to," not "fully accounts for all.") To be sure, in the humanities "verification" is inevitably flexible, fuzzy, and probabilistic. But if someone wants to make arguments exempt of the duty of evidence, I'm not interested.

Contrary to Rodney Duke and Ronald Troxel, I did not say that secular Bible scholarship is a "value-neutral activity" or "postulate free," nor did I call for a "neutral hermeneutic." I was calling for a religiously neutral hermeneutic. Other presuppositions and goals—concepts of historical development, gender construction, and economic determinism, for example—can be discussed and probed by shared criteria. These are all realities of the human realm and open to examination, correction, and evidence. But the rules change once you bring God into the picture. Claims founded on God's nature, will, activity, and particular communications to privileged groups are dead-end roads for all but the faithful. They are not accessible to the kind of critique that Rodney Duke rightly calls for.

It must be granted that much of the most valuable scholarship in our field has been permeated by religious agendas, often unrecognized. This is a special problem of our field, but it is not overwhelming. Scholarship, such as nineteenth century German endeavors, had all sorts of religious presuppositions and agendas, but its arguments were usually based on a secular frame. That's why Jews could use it too, in spite of its Protestant (and sometimes anti-Semitic) biases. But at present most of us write in the secular mode for academic audiences.

I do not know if Prof. K. L. Noll is right about the corrosive power of the academic study of religion on the relevance of revelation, though there are undoubtedly conceptions of revelation that are not so fragile. But that issue belongs to theology, and thank God I'm not a theologian.

I especially appreciate James E. Bowley's introducing the issue of teaching and emphasizing that the common ground of secularity is crucial to Bible teaching in a diverse university. That brings us back to the essay that got this riff started, Mary Bader's "Strategies for Moving Students from Faith-based to Academic Biblical Studies" (http://www.sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleId=467). Bader seeks to teach critical thinking and to "introduce academic biblical scholarship as a new language that can be shared by all students, regardless of their faith backgrounds or lack thereof."

For those of us who teach in state-sponsored universities, secularity in the classroom is essential to professional integrity—and effectiveness. In that setting, presuppositions of faith stifle honest communication, and rational analysis gives way to pronouncements and preachments, often of an angry sort.

Clearly the "faith-base" advocates have an agenda that reaches into the classroom, including in the secular university. (Or do they have a special religiously neutral hermeneutic for use in teaching?) In this context, faith-based teaching amounts to religious propaganda to a captive audience. Secularity has been, if I may put it this way, a great blessing to Bible study and research, for it allow its practitioners and teachers to work together with full and open communication. This seems like a rather important "pragmatic" argument.

Finally, why do we talk about faith-based Bible scholarship in a vacuum? If faith-generated axioms are valid in Bible study, they should be valid everywhere, including Sanskritology, Classics, linguistics, law and (guess what) biology. Or is our field to receive a special dispensation, along with the condescension that attends such concessions? Most of us do not want it or need it, but I fear that Rev. Brassey may be uncomfortably close to the truth when he asserts that "Faith, in fact, is everywhere in biblical studies."

Comments on this article? email: forum@sbl-site.org

Citation: , " Response from Michael V. Fox," SBL Forum , n.p. [cited April 2006]. Online:http://sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleID=521

 
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