The Invention of the Biblical Scholar by Stephen Moore and Yvonne Sherwood: First of April Mischief?

The Invention of the Biblical ScholarToday, on 1 April 2011, those doyens of Theory, Stephen Moore and Yvonne Sherwood, unveil their manifesto for the future of biblical studies:

The Invention of the Biblical Scholar: A Critical Manifesto
(Fortress Press,
1 April 2011).

Remember this day.

The book reworks material from a series of three articles which the two biblical scholars published in Biblical Interpretation in 2010 (Part One, Two, and Three). They have also added to this content some further consideration of the religious turn in continental philosophy over the last two decades, including the contentious issue of the possibility of the emergence, or maybe the irruption, of a new universalism.

From the publisher’s blurb…

The modern—and —biblical scholar, they argue, is a product of the Enlightenment. Even when a biblical scholar imagines that she is doing something else entirely (something confessional, theoretical, literary, or even postmodern), she is sustaining Enlightened modernity and its effects. This study poses…pressing questions for scholars and students of biblical interpretation: What other forms might biblical criticism have taken? What untried forms might biblical criticism yet take?

Moore and Sherwood – the Marx and Engels of contemporary biblical studies – unveil more of their vision for the future of biblical studies within the pages of their manifesto:

Our argument in this book is that contemporary biblical scholarship, including even those developments within it that most readily invite the label “postmodern(ist),” is still fundamentally predetermined and contained by the Enlightenment épistémè, and far more than is generally realized. The Bible of contemporary biblical scholarship remains the Enlightenment Bible. Despite the alleged “fragmentation” of the historical-critical paradigm, associated with the recent multiplication of methods and the intensification of interdisciplinarity in biblical studies, we contend that no fundamental rupture of the biblical-scholarly épistémè has yet occurred remotely comparable to that which brought the discipline into being in the first place. This is not to suggest, however, that the history of critical biblical scholarship should, therefore, be seen as a smoothly unfolding saga, devoid of discontinuities and disjunctions. The temptation to compose histories of biblical criticism as aetiological sagas, implicitly designed to demonstrate how all the essential elements of contemporary historical-critical method are present in embryo in eighteenth- and nineteenth century scholarship, has been considerable. What even an account of nascent biblical criticism as original and insightful as Sheehan’s The Enlightenment Bible fails to register, in particular, is a significant, indeed symptomatic, disjunction between eighteenth- and nineteenth-century biblical criticism around the issue of morality…. What standard histories of the discipline tend not to emphasize…is the extent to which the morality of the Bible emerged as a prior and larger problem during this period. (48-49)

The Invention of the Biblical Scholar proceeds to examine an alternative genealogy of biblical criticism, in which its moral concerns are foregrounded, a discussion which leads into the recent discussions of St. Paul and universalism. One example the authors adduce is Pierre Bayle, whose “hugely influential” Dictionnaire historique et critique, “regarded the Bible’s technical errors as a mere sideshow to David’s manifest immorality” (52). For Bayle, “[t]he Bible’s failure to attain to universal moral values, however, is far more catastrophic…than its failure to attain to literary unity” (53).

Yet Bayle’s identification of one such literary failure, involving “Saul’s odd amnesia in the Goliath episode”, is quoted in the manifesto, and is worth a quick read:

It is a little strange that Saul did not know David, since the young man had several times played on instruments of music in his presence, to calm the dismal vapours which disturbed him. If such a relation were found in Thucydides or Livy, all the critics would unanimously conclude that the transcribers had transposed the pages, forgotten something in one place, repeated something in another, or inserted additional passages in the Author’s Work.
(Bayle, English translation, 4.533)

The foundations and goals of biblical studies are about to shift. Will anything ever be the same again?

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Filed under Ancient Jewish texts, Goliath

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