The problem illustrated:
If what I write could help in any way towards the establishment of justice and peace there [in Israel and Palestine], or indeed anywhere else, I would be deeply grateful.
– N.T. (“Tom”) Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (London: The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1996), p. xv.
A recent rejoinder:
To the best of my knowledge, Wright’s book on the historical Jesus has not yet had any impact on the Middle East peace process or indeed any other conflict.
– James Crossley, Jesus in an Age of Terror: Scholarly Projects for a New American Century (London: Equinox, 2008), p. 179.
The problem is that idealism seems such a natural position, especially for intellectuals like biblical scholars. Indeed, biblical scholars are by default idealists. Why? We work with texts and opinions and arguments all the time. We read, teach, write, speak, and persuade. We have been trained long and hard to believe that what we think and say and write will change people, or at least change the accepted opinion concerning the understanding of a text. We hold that the interpretation, say, of Aaron’s rod, or of the daughters of Zelophehad, or of Elisha’s floating axe, or of Ezekiel’s smelly loin-cloth, or of Paul’s remarkable ability to resist snakebite, or whether Paul communed in the seventh heaven with Philo or the Stoics, or of the advisability of a little wine with our dinner, is absolutely vital…. We also like to think that we are far more important than we really are. And the only way we can kid ourselves concerning our self-importance is to project our default idealism on the rest of the world. Our ideas do matter, we like to think, and the world had better take notice – just as long as we do not actually need to go down to the street from our comfortable offices and get dirty. After all, when was the last time a troop of biblical scholars seized power in a revolution? Does anyone recall when the program committee at the SBL was last arrested en masse for civil disobedience? And when did the SBL last attempt to establish an alternative economy?
Quite right. Read it all here.