Danger: Biblical Scholar at Work

Ronald S. Hendel (Berkeley) challenges right-wing political correctness

caution-bible-scholars

Danger: Biblical Scholar at Work. Ronald S. Hendel (Berkeley) satirically suggests that a caution label be placed on his books—and perhaps those of other Biblical scholars—to warn readers that they may encounter unfamiliar and uncomfortable ideas within their pages. Image: John Gregory Drummond.

Is modern Biblical scholarship at risk?

In universities and institutions around the world, scholars engage in academic and critical Bible study. The goal of the modern Biblical scholar is not to prove or promote particular religious doctrines but to examine the Biblical text carefully—analyzing its composition and transmission and presenting the best interpretation of the text. Sometimes the results of academic and critical Bible study contradict the beliefs and doctrines held by certain religions, such as Christianity and Judaism. When there is a disagreement between academic and critical Bible study and traditional religious belief, it can lead to a variety of reactions—from outright rejection of an interpretation to acceptance. People fall everywhere in between the two ends of this spectrum, with some thoughtfully considering but still rejecting an interpretation and others arguing against but ultimately accepting it. All of these responses have their place in modern academia, where meaningful discussion and critical thought are major goals.

Recently Ronald S. Hendel, the Norma and Sam Dabby Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, has come under attack for promoting academic and critical Bible study. In the Biblical Views column “Biblical Scholarship at Risk,” published in the May/June 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Hendel explains how he and his scholarship have been criticized by a right-wing organization—and what this could mean for the future of Biblical scholarship.

In our free eBook Frank Moore Cross: Conversations with a Bible Scholar Hershel Shanks conducts five interviews with the renowned Bible scholar.

During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the stakes were high for Biblical scholars whose work contradicted traditional religious beliefs; they were labeled heretics—and sometimes traitors. One would expect the accusation of treason for academic and critical Bible study to be a relic of the past. Ronald Hendel explains, “At public universities like the University of California, Berkeley, where I teach, there are rules about academic freedom to protect scholars from accusations of treason or heresy.” Yet despite this protection, Hendel was charged with treason by a right-wing organization. He explains:

Shortly after the presidential election, a right-wing organization issued a “Professor Watchlist,” which includes my name and picture. Along with some 200 other professors, I am accused of “promot[ing] anti-American values and advanc[ing] leftist propaganda in the classroom.” My un-American propaganda is modern Biblical scholarship. The list accuses me of the following crime: “[telling] students not to take his class if they think the Bible is infallible.” This is not quite true since I tell students that they are welcome to take the class if they can operate within its academic horizons, that is, learning the material even if they disagree with it.

In the U.S. and in other countries where there is religious freedom, Biblical scholarship that disagrees with the traditional religious beliefs of some is not grounds for treason. Hendel offers a satirical solution for those who disagree with his work: “In this dawning era of right-wing political correctness, I suppose that I ought to put a trigger warning on my books and courses, lest students be confronted with unfamiliar and uncomfortable ideas. Here’s my idea for a trigger warning: ‘Danger: Biblical scholar at work.’”

To read more about the development of modern Biblical scholarship and some of the threats it has faced over the centuries, read the Biblical Views column “Biblical Scholarship at Risk” by Ronald S. Hendel, the Norma and Sam Dabby Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, in the May/June 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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BAS Library Members: Read the full column “Biblical Scholarship at Risk” by Ronald S. Hendel in the May/June 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Defining Biblical Hermeneutics

Who Tells the Truth—the Bible or Archaeology?

The Bible and Religious Violence
Ronald Hendel examines religious violence in antiquity and today

Overcoming Religious Illiteracy: Not as Simple as A, B or C
A Bible History Daily-exclusive contribution by “Bible in the News” author Leonard J. Greenspoon
 


 

Posted in Archaeologists, Biblical Scholars & Works.

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3 Responses

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  • Joe says

    When it comes to religious belief, what is taught or submitted as absolute must be absolute TRUTH as best we can determine. This information dissemination is well documented in “Israel and the Dead Sea Scrolls” that shows hard disagreement at the time the Scrolls were first discovered and how the information finally came into scholastic scrutiny. This article is witness to continued bias in the I’m-right and you’re-wrong attitudes so contrary to Scripture that calls for love. There is no love outside of truth and those without total truth had better nuzzle up to forgiveness for many reasons, whether on the Left or Right. Biblical Archeology is not the place for right fighting. Just present the beautiful facts as discovered and allow the Subject of it all to correct thinking, belief and knowledge. We all want to know more. Biblical Archeology Review is in that teachable position. No prejudice, please.

  • bob says

    Such list are nothing new. That you so recently learned of ’em means you are living in a bubble, I suspect. I doubt there is anything to worry about for you. You may have been on other lists in the past.

    Perhaps you need to get out more, LOL. 🙂

  • David says

    belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine is the definition of Heresy. If you are teaching other than the orthodox viewpoint of the Bible, you are a Heretic – be proud of it! Expect those with orthodox views to attack your position – I will attack your position any time you teach the Bible is wrong.

    I will not attack you, nor should any other person attack the person of the heretic. Each of us have positions where we disagree with the current teaching of even our own church, and those disagreements are heretical. They are also proper and should be applauded. This is the way we learn – we must reject all previous thought and force our teachers and instructors to prove every point that put forth as truth.

    I would not expect a heretic to attack me or my position either. If the instructor has a position and presents a valid proof for his position, and I take a counter positions and am able to present an equally valid proof for my position, then I should not expect the instructor to hold me in disrepute, nor to judge my position by his position.

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