Thomas L. Thompson Responds to my “On Biblical Scholarship and Bias”


Well, my recent article, “On Biblical Scholarship and Bias,” published on the online magazine The Bible and Interpretation, has generated some controversy.  Thomas L. Thompson, Professor Emeritus of the University of Copenhagen, has published an article response, entitled, “On Myths and Their Contexts: An Issue of Contemporary Theology? A Response to Jeffrey Morrow.” I have to admit I am quite honored that Thomas Thompson bothered reading my article, and also that he took the time to respond. I remember reading Thompson’s work for the first time as an undergraduate student. Along with John Van Seters and Niels Peter Lemche, Thompson’s work has played a significant role in casting doubt on the historical veracity of the Old Testament. I remember reading my own professor Edwin Yamauchi’s 1972, The Stones and the Scriptures, which ended on a quite positive note, assuming that the trust biblical scholars placed in the general historically reliable picture of the Old Testament would continue to increase, as it had been doing since around 1944. From roughly 1944-1972, historians were increasingly confident that the Old Testament was rooted in history. This was in sharp contrast to the more skeptical positions of the 19th century, in which many of these historians were trained. Yamauchi’s 1972 assessment, however, was not to prove correct, as he later mentioned in his 1980 reassessment in The Scriptures and Archaeology. The publication of several books would initiate the period of skepticism, which in some ways was more severe even than what came in the nineteenth century. Among these books were John Van Seters’ 1975 Abraham in History and Tradition and Thomas L. Thompson’s 1974 The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives. I read these volumes as an undergraduate, as well as what I consider to be one of the most significant (and sane) responses to these unwarranted skeptical claims, namely Alan Millard’s and Donald Wiseman’s 1980 edited volume, Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives (the individual essays by Goldingay, Millard, Bimson, Selman, Wiseman, Wenham, and Baker, are available full text at that link…or click below on the individual essays). The contents of that important volume included:

John Goldingay, “The Patriarchs in Scripture and History.”

Alan R. Millard, “Methods of Studying the Patriarchal Narratives as Ancient Texts.”

John J. Bimson, “Archaeological Data and the Dating of the Patriarchs.”

Martin J. Selman, “Comparative Customs and the Patriarchal Age.”

Donald J. Wiseman, “Abraham Reassessed.”

Gordon J. Wenham, “The Religion of the Patriarchs.”

David W. Baker, “Diversity and Unity in the Literary Structure of Genesis.”

I would add to this list, Kenneth A. Kitchen’s very important yet much neglected 1994 essay, “Genesis 12-50 in the Near Eastern World,” in He Swore an Oath: Biblical Themes from Genesis 12-50, ed. Richard S. Hess, Gordon J. Wenham, and Philip E. Satterwaite, which I also read as an undergraduate, as well as Edwin M. Yamauchi’s more recent essay of 2010, “Abraham and Archaeology: Anachronisms or Adaptations?” in Perspectives on Our Father Abraham, ed. Steven A. Hunt.

Needless to say, I am honored that such a scholarly giant as Thomas Thompson responded to my work, and I plan on writing my own response to his recent essay response.

If this discussion interests you, be sure to check out my Three Skeptics and the Bible.

On Biblical Scholarship and Bias

PICKWICK_TemplateThe online magazine, The Bible and Interpretation, published an article I wrote at the end of last year. My article was entitled, “On Biblical Scholarship and Bias,” and has generated some discussion, which I’ll post on shortly. Be sure to check out the article, and feel free to leave a comment on their site. If you are interested in this debate, check out my book, Three Skeptics and the Bible.

Back from the Uses of “Religion” Conference

Inside the Library
Inside the Library

I’m back from The Uses of “religion” in 19th Century Studies International Conference at Baylor University’s Armstrong Browning Library! I have to say that this was one of the most thrilling and fulfilling academic conference I’ve ever participated in. The atmosphere was welcoming and convivial. The hosts were warm and generous and treated us both like VIPs and at the same time like old friends. There was a real and lively scholarly exchange of ideas. I found the presentations fascinating, and learned a lot. The disciplines represented included religious studies, theology, philosophy, history, and especially Victorian literature–which was not an area with which I have a lot of familiarity, so I learned a lot. If you’re into 19th century studies and missed this conference, you really missed out. Hopefully this was only the first of many such conferences. For more on the conference including its schedule and other relevant info, you can go here to the main conference website. They also have put up a Digital Exhibit of the presenters, presentations, and materials from the library itself, which you can also access here. If you click on a presenter’s name it will take you to a page that includes a photo of the presenter, some information about the presenter, a brief summary of their presentation, and then some materials from the library that they thought related in some way to the content of the presentation. The page for my presentation is here. They video recorded the presentations, so some of the videos of the actual presentations will be available in the near future, so you’ll want to check back.

By “religion” Loisy means….

LoisyI have completed (more or less)  my paper for the upcoming conference at Baylor. To spill the beans a little early, it appears that, in the works I examined prior to his excommunication in 1908, Loisy uses “religion” in a fairly unexceptional way, the way most of us use it today. There are some exceptions to this, but in general, his use of “religion” is that of a generic category, which includes such instantiations as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc. What is significant, is the broader history of this term; “religion” has not always been used this way. The work of scholars like Talal Asad (e.g., Genealogies of Religion), William Cavanaugh (e.g., The Myth of Religious Violence), and Ernst Feil (especially his 4 volume Religio) are important contributions to the history of the development of the understanding of religion. More to come.

Loisy on Religion–Coming Soon

Well, I’m getting ready for my upcoming conference presentation on LoisyLoisy’s use of “religion.” The paper is entitled, “Religion and Empire: Loisy’s Use of ‘Religion’ Prior to his Correspondence with Cumont,” and it will be one of the presentations at The Uses of Religion in 19th Century Studies international conference at the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University in Texas. Here’s the complete list of panel and presentations. Here’s the conference schedule. The paper is not in its final form yet, but its coming along. I’m limiting my discussion to his pre-1908 works. Danny Praet and Annelies Lannoy have shown how Loisy’s work in the history of religion after 1908 was influenced by his correspondence with the Belgian scholar Franz Cumont. My paper will take a look at his use of the concept of “religion” prior to this time, and thus prior to his excommunication. It’s exciting reading, and it relates to his work on biblical interpretation and ancient Near Eastern studies, since most of his uses of the concept of “religion” prior to 1908 occurred in the context of his work on the Bible. Stay tuned for more to come.