Hector Avalos on the End of Biblical Studies

Professor Avalos is publishing a new book due out in July, The End of Biblical Studies. I have already pre-ordered Professor Avalos' book. I will post a report on it after I have had a chance to read it and digest his opinions.

The description of it appears to follow his tough critique of our society and biblical studies in general. There are many points on which I agree with him (and am very glad to hear him voicing these points in the SBL open forum), and some which I do not (i.e., I do not see our work as necessarily elitist, completely irrelevant, nor do I think that none of us in the discipline is concerned for the poor - my husband in fact is a poverty lawyer).

The one point that continues to resound for me, however, is his statement,

"The fact is that biblical studies is still functioning as a handmaiden to theology and faith communities rather than as a discipline relevant to those outside of faith communities."

This is a point that I myself have been very concerned about in the past, and continue to be so. I am not sure how the field of biblical studies can ever be a serious field of historical study as long as it remains tied to and controlled by faith communities and their needs.

I think that the first step in the creation and survival of the discipline as a historical discipline in the humanities is to develop an uncompromising and unapologetic historical methodology (see sidebar for past posts on this topic). I don't think we have successfully done this yet because too many in our field are too concerned about the theological consequences of our findings. But theology has to be separated from historical studies. These are two separate disciplines, period.

The second thing we have to do is change the name of our discipline. We should not be a discipline that studies Biblical Literature. We should be a discipline that studies Religion in Antiquity (subsets including: Ancient Israel, Early Judaism, Early Christianity, and so on). We have been chained to the canon, and its preservation, because of faith concerns, not historical ones. It is time to make the change.

How different would our association look if we were to rename ourselves the Society for the Study of Religion in Antiquity or some comparable name? If so named, we would have to take seriously critical historical scholarship, and stop worrying about being caretakers of the Bible and the contemporary faith traditions that rely on it.