My new book, Three Skeptics and the Bible, is coming out soon! It’s a collection of essays I’ve written over the past several years, dealing with the biblical interpretation of Isaac La Peyrère, Thomas Hobbes, and Baruch Spinoza. I’ll post more on this when it becomes available on Amazon. It’s being published by Pickwick from Wipf & Stock, and is my first scholarly volume. At the side is the image they sent me of the cover. I’m still plugging away on my sabbatical projects, and hope to post more on those before my sabbatical is over. More to come in the not-too-distant future.
My dear friend Brant Pitre recently posted a wonderful blog post that deals with Loisy and the controversy surrounding the so-called “Jesus of faith” vs. the so-called “Jesus of history,” with the attendant replacing of that Jesus of faith with the Jesus of history. His post can be found here on the Historical Jesus Research Blog.
In addition to the book on Loisy that I had been working on over the summer, I’ve been working intensely since the end of August helping out on a broader project dealing with the roots of modern biblical criticism, stretching back from the 14th century into the
early 20th century. It’s been an amazing journey so far. I’ve helped draft sections on the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, and am almost done with the 17th century, although the 16th century sections still need a lot of cleaning up. The research has been gripping. It’s been very interesting to me to see the varied political connections. So far I would say that I think Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker’s many insights in their Politicizing the Bible are dead on target. It’s been amazing going through the connections between Marsilius of Padua and William of Ockham, as they resided with Ludwig of Bavaria, all three in conflict with Pope John XXII—-and then to see how Marsilius’ and Ockham’s thoughts get carried through into later generations. I’m still processing some of the material on Luther and in Reformation England, even as I’m reading (and re-reading) material in the 17th century works of Hobbes, Spinoza, and Simon–which I know better. I know I haven’t done a very good job updating this blog as I progress on my sabbatical, but I’ll try to do a better job. I’m looking forward to getting into the 18th century, probably in a few weeks after we complete better drafts of the chapters I’ve already worked on. So stay tuned.
I’ve been working away on my Loisy book, and progressing nicely—actually, I began the work prior to July 1, so I’ve spent much of the summer working on it—and I thought I’d share some interesting finds. This is from his (in)famous L’Évangile et l’Église (The Gospel and the Church), which landed Loisy in a bit of trouble. The book was censured, placed on the Index of Forbidden Books, and it certainly contributed to his eventual excommunication six years later. In fact, many see this work as having “precipitated” the Modernist Crisis–I think that phrase is from C.J.T. Talar, but I don’t have on hand which of his many works he wrote that in. Loisy’s ecclesiological vision, his view of the Church, is the main topic of a paper I’ll be presenting this upcoming November in Atlanta at the meeting of La Société Internationale d’Études sur Alfred Loisy, in conjunction with the American Academy of Religion/Society of Biblical Literature. It will also form part of one of the later chapters of my book.
In my rereading of L’Évangile et l’Église earlier this summer, I was struck by how Loisy emphasized again and again the Jewish context to the New Testament, and particularly Jesus’ Jewish context (and that of Paul et al). For many of you, perhaps most of you, this wouldn’t seem odd at all. We take it for granted that of course Jesus was Jewish, Paul was Jewish, and the New Testament should be read in its Second Temple Jewish context. And yet, even now, the Jewish context to Paul and the New Testament (if not the “historical” Jesus) is questioned frequently. I remember when my friend Brant Pitre came out with his Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, and one of the criticisms he received was his use of Jewish sources. Granted, Brant was using later rabbinic Jewish sources (Midrashic, Mishnaic, Talmudic, etc.), but even these later sources incontestably contain earlier traditions—the obvious question/debate is how much of their traditions are Second Temple or earlier. I recall last November’s meeting of La Société Internationale d’Études sur Alfred Loisy, which I chaired, the question my doctoral advisor Bill Portier (responses to whose fine work, Divided Friends: Portraits of the Roman Catholic Modernist Crisis in the U.S., occupied the first session) asked the final presenter, Belgian scholar Danny Praet about the absence of a discussion of the Jewish context to the New Testament in the correspondence between Franz Cumont and Alfred Loisy on the matter of Christian origins. The Cumont-Loisy correspondence began in 1908, the year Loisy was excommunicated, and I think we can detect a development in Loisy’s work from after his excommunication. It seems to me that Loisy’s later work, within the History of Religions (although now more influenced by Cumont than Hermann Gunkel, by whom I think he was more influenced prior to beginning his correspondence with Cumont). It was pretty clear that Post-correspondence with Cumont, Loisy was less inclined to situate the New Testament in its Jewish context, and more in a Greco-Roman context.
But, Loisy was early-on influenced by 19th century German scholarship (which for him was contemporary), and such scholarship was increasingly de-emphasizing, in fact, often denying, not only the Jewish context of the New Testament, but of Jesus (historical or otherwise) as well. This became something of a no-brainer with the push for Markan priority (which Loisy followed, but which we should bear in mind was relatively new…really getting going with a following in the 1880s when Loisy was studying biblical criticism [under Ernest Renan beginning in 1882] and Assyriology [under Arthur Amiaud also beginning in 1882]). Mark contains no genealogy for Jesus, and is arguably the least Jewish of the 4 Gospels. In light of this context, Loisy’s comments in L’Évangile et l’Église at the very dawn of the 20th century (1902 and in the expanded 2nd revised edition of 1903) are rather striking.
So, here are two quotations from L’Évangile et l’Église [from Alfred Loisy, The Gospel and the Church, trans. Christopher Home (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912), which is an English trans. of the 2nd revised and expanded edition of 1903]:
“To seek in the gospel an element that shall be entirely new in regard to the religion of Moses and the prophets, is to seek a thing that Jesus had no desire to set there, a thing that on His own statement does not exist there” (65).
“The Gospel, appearing in Judaea and unable to appear elsewhere, was bound to be conditioned by Judaism. Its Jewish exterior is the human body, whose Divine Soul is the spirit of Jesus. But take away the body, and the soul will vanish in the air like the lightest breath” (121).
One could attribute some of this to the fact that he was explicitly responding to Adolf von Harnack, who famously desired the removal of the Old Testament from Christian Scripture (in Marcionite fashion). But, having read quite a bit of Loisy’s earlier works, I don’t think this is sufficient to explain these comments. I think Loisy was convinced of their Jewish context at that point, even if he changed his mind later on.
It’s official–I have begun the first sabbatical of my career. I have many projects on the plate, all relating to topics of interest to this blog. The first major one, with which I’ve been busy, is a book project pertaining to Alfred Loisy. Loisy was a Catholic priest and Bible scholar from the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. He was excommunicated as a Modernist in 1908. In fact, he was at the heart of the controversy over Roman Catholic Modernism which Pope St. Pius X condemned as the “synthesis of all heresies” in his 1907 papal encyclical, Pascendi Dominici Gregis. I’m convinced that the biblical scholarship of Loisy and many of his contemporaries, as well as the responses to such scholarship from the Magisterium and from other anti-Modernists, played a very significant role in what came later in Catholic biblical scholarship in the second half of the 20th century, and today. I’m excited about the Loisy project because I have found that most scholars of Roman Catholic Modernism are either historical theologians, systematicians, fundamental theologians, or the like (or a combination), but tend to know less about the history of biblical criticism. With few exceptions, when they do write about Loisy’s work in biblical studies (which is what got Loisy in trouble), they focus on his New Testament work without dealing much with Loisy’s quite substantial work on the Old Testament. Moreover, fewer know much about Loisy’s early work in the related field of Assyriology. The first few chapters of the book I’m working on during my sabbatical deal especially with Loisy’s Old Testament work and his work in Assyriology. They build upon work I’ve already done for conference presentations at the American Academy of Religion, La Société Internationale d’Études sur Alfred Loisy, and the Near Eastern Archaeological Society, which in turn resulted in an article last year in the Near Eastern Archaeological Society Bulletin, another article that came out earlier this year in Journal for the History of Modern Theology/Zeitschrift für Neuere Theologiegeschichte, as well as another article forthcoming from the Journal of Religious History. The work I did for those presentations and articles underscored for me the significance of Loisy’s early Assyriological work for his Old Testament studies. So, I’m enjoying pulling this all together as I write my book. So, thus begins my year-long sabbatical at undisclosed locations. I will try to post on some of the interesting findings as I progress.
Michael Legaspi begins his fine book, The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies,(1) which treats the eighteenth century origins of modern biblical studies, with an elegantly written description of two approaches to biblical interpretation, what he terms two Bibles–the “Scriptural Bible” and the “Academic Bible.”
“From behind the icon screen, the priest comes into view, carrying overhead, in solemn procession, an ornately bound, gold-plated volume: the Book of the Gospels. All stand. There is incense in the air. Acolytes, candles in hand, stand by to illuminate the reading of the Gospel. In that moment, the people are told not to look, to follow texts with their eyes, but rather to listen. The priest proclaims, ‘Wisdom! Let us attend!’ and the people go silent.”(2)
He continues by contrasting this image with that of what he calls the “Academic Bible,” using the example of the university biblical studies seminar classroom:
“It too is filled with people. They sit, not stand. At the center is a long table. On it are many Bibles, various copies in assorted languages: Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, Latin. Some lie open, others are pushed aside into impromptu stacks. They share the table with other writings: teacher’s notes, photocopies, reference works, dictionaries, grammars, commentaries. The atmosphere is sociable but cerebral, quiet but static. Heads are bowed, but over books. There are readers here too, but the oral performances are tracked closely by others whose eyes are attuned carefully to common texts.”(3)
Not long ago I published an article length review of Legaspi’s book in the scholarly theology journal Nova et Vetera.(4) I had already read the earlier version of the book, which was Legaspi’s Harvard University doctoral dissertation, and I must say that both versions make an incredible contribution to the field. The published version is a must read for anyone interested in the history of modern biblical scholarship.
The quotations I include above from Legaspi’s book, bring up some very important issues concerning methodology, among other things. The issues relate to the relationship between the scholarly study of the Bible in the academy to more traditional forms of encountering Scripture as the Word of God. Can there be a connection? Can one engage in theological interpretation in a way which is scholarly? Are Legaspi’s “Scriptural Bible” and “Academic Bible” mutually exclusive? Can anything that may be gleaned from the study of the Bible in the modern biblical studies seminar like that Legaspi describes be profitable for the spiritual life? Is there something about theological interpretation that can benefit the study of the Bible in a non-theological context? Is there something in particular about the role of Scripture in the Liturgy, and especially the Sacramental Liturgy (Divine Liturgy or Holy Mass) that can benefit the scholarly study of the Bible?
In thinking about this last question in particular, I am reminded of two important scholarly pieces that Scott Hahn wrote, which are thankfully both available online. The first piece is his article entitled, “Worship in the Word: Toward a Liturgical Hermeneutic.”(5) The second essay is entitled, “Canon, Cult and Covenant: The Promise of Liturgical Hermeneutics.”(6) I published a related piece in the journal Logos wherein I used the example of Genesis 1-3 and its use in the Memorial of St. Joseph the Worker.(7)
In the end, I think that both approaches described by Legaspi have their benefits. I would not want to shut out the theological from the academy, nor, however, do I think that close attention to language and history is inimical to theological enterprises. Afterall, traditional Jewish and Christian biblical interpretation paid careful attention to issues concerning language, various textual traditions among different manuscripts, as well as matters of history. The story of the creation of the “Academic Bible” that Legaspi recounts, however, does represent a dramatic shift from what came before. The mode of scholarship that Johann David Michaelis (the main scholar Legaspi examines) initiates has wide-ranging implications, and has left its mark on the world of biblical studies as it continues today in universities across the globe.
(2) Ibid., vii.
(4) Jeffrey L. Morrow, “The Enlightenment University and the Creation of the Academic Bible: Michael Legaspi’s The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies,” Nova et Vetera 11, no. 3 (2013): 897-922.
(5) Scott W. Hahn, “Worship in the Word: Toward a Liturgical Hermeneutic,” Letter & Spirit 1 (2005): 101-136.
(6) Scott W. Hahn, “Canon, Cult and Covenant: The Promise of Liturgical Hermeneutics,” in Canon and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Craig G. Bartholomew, Scott Hahn, Robin Parry, Christopher Seitz, and Al Wolters, 209-235 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006).
(7) Jeffrey Morrow, “Work as Worship in the Garden and the Workshop: Genesis 1-3, the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, and Liturgical Hermeneutics,” Logos 15, no. 4 (2012): 159-178.