Part 9: Does the Bible's ritual status hinder acceptance of non-canonical texts?

David Hamilton has offered an intriguing response to the question I posed in Part 8: Non-canonical uneasiness on Ionic Books - where I raised the following question citing Professor Watts' contribution to this question of non-canonical unease.

I wrote: "Does the fact that the canonical materials are ritualized, are "iconic," make it nigh impossible for the study of non-canonical materials to shift the tide (not only in popular sentiment, but also for many in the Academy)?"

Mr. Hamilton doesn't think so:
I encounter many people in my area who are quite comfortable revising their beliefs and commitments. There are many people who seem to be extremely suspicious of the religious establishment, in all its varieties: reformed Catholics, deprogrammed fundamentalists, etc. These (not so) few are more than willing to entertain revisions of Christian history and theology, almost too willing.

As for the Academy, when the Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scroll texts first came out, I would have said "Yes". But it takes 1-2 generations of scholars to get enough experience and distance to appreciate such collections adequately. I believe this is starting to happen now. In fact, my take on the past 15 years of scholarship is that the direction is strongly in the direction of revising our understanding of early Christianity to the point that it strongly calls into question the validity of the received tradition.
I think one of the issues that is coming up to the top of this discussion is that we are dealing with reactions to the non-canonical texts from many different groups of people. There is a range of uneasiness, both within and without the Academy. So I appreciate Mr. Hamilton's remarks.

The point to note about the Academy, however, is that NH studies (not so much DSS, which is interesting in and of itself) is marginal, is peripheral in the Academy. No one knows this better than those of us who work on these texts, and the constant reactions we get from our canonical colleagues. Astonishment, amazement, and always "why bother?" In all my years as a scholar working on these materials I have never had a canonical colleague come up to me and say, "Wow, you're rewriting the received tradition, good for you!" What I get is something along the lines, "How dare you suggest that this material has anything to do with the origins of Christianity."

The "change" that Mr. Hamilton points to is not a change that the Academy has welcomed with open arms. It is occurring because there is a comparably small number of non-apologetic historians in the Academy who have worked very hard in this direction, but this work has been against the tide and still is not considered "mainstream." Case in point, how many biblical scholars know Coptic? How many think it is essential to teach their graduate students Coptic - as essential as Hebrew and Greek?