Robert Price interviews fellow Bible Geek and secular Bible scholar Hector Avalos on a wide range of topics, from the increasingly devotional character of the Society of Biblical Literature to law enforcement in the Bible and whether Ezekiel was seeing a flying saucer (Ezekiel 1:4-28; Ezekiel 10:1-22).
Did Abraham exist? How about Moses? David? Solomon? Jesus? Is there a future for Biblical Studied as we relegate it to the same level as the Iliad and the Odyssey?
Hector Avalos serves as professor of religious studies at Iowa State University. Once upon a time, he was a Pentecostal preacher and a child evangelist. Since then he has earned a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology in 1982, a Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School in 1985, and a PhD in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Studies from Harvard University in 1991. His many books include Illness and Healthcare in the Ancient Near East, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, and The End of Biblical Studies.
So let me get this straight, the majority of the people working in Biblical Studies, which as a disciple is a tool/ function of the religions which use the Bible as scripture, have failed and/ or refused to accept that what “secular” scholars say about the Bible. Of course the religions that use the Bible don’t won’t to incorporate scholarship that says the Bible doesn’t teach the various pet theologies the religions are founded on. Christians and Jews also don’t advocate Islamic interpretations of the Bible nor would anyone blame them for not taking Islamic claims that it was really Ismael who Abraham attempted to sacrifice or that Jesus didn’t die on the cross seriously. So why should “secularist” complain that an society dedicated to perpetuating a study of a religious text would be filled with religious people? I think after listening to the podcast that the “secular” study of the Bible is little more than an attempt by individuals who started studying the Bible as believers and have since become disillusioned to either maintain their employment or to attack a text they now feel stupid for believing in the first place. Yes the Bible is ancient myth that shouldn’t have in place in modern society but it does in part because religious people believe it and some ex-religious people can’t or won’t go find a new job in a different field. As for the Bible’s influence in the modern world well I think that attacking the Bible won’t do anything to end it reign of terror rather we need to teach every child in this country basic philosophy and provided them with the tools to think critically for themselves and then the Bible will become like the Iliad and be read merely as an arachic expression of some of the silly things humanity use to believe.
I mean that all, and I do mean all, of the current debates revolving around the Bible to include who wrote Hebrews etc have been noticed and argued by the various groups of believes for over a century if not longer. (In the case of Hebrews it was such a dubious text that the people in the second/third century who wanted it in the Bible said it was written by Paul in oder to get it into the canon, thus it dubious authorship can hardly be consider something new.) In fact theologically minded scholars have for centuries noted the issues with this or that book of the Bible as it served their theology, as examplified by Luther questioning the authority of James, Jude and Revelation in his introductory text of his New Testament translation. Or the Liberal Protestant theologians promoting a historical Jesus, who usually was an advocate for a very liberal form of Christianity, to counter the traditional Christology of the Church. Nor is this something new, the Marcionites starting in the Second century advocated that none of the text of New Testament but ten of the Pauline epistles and a Gospel were authentic. As for the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures, according to the likes of Margaret Barker, a British Methodist, there is an Older canon that was replaced by the Deuteronomic canon. Nor is this something I think Dr. Price would argue with since he has advocated that all New Testament scholarship since the middle of the 19th century when FC Baur formulated his Tubingen theory is merely a big series of footnotes.
Price and Avalos were refreshing and good to listen to. I’ve never heard a discussion about the Bible stories done with such criticisms of the immorality and of the less-than-skeptical traditional interpretations of them, all while keeping it light-hearted, intelligent, respectful, and grounded.
They addressed the skeptical audience with ideas like: [7:35] the gets too much attention from scholars done at the expense of other ancient books that are just as wise and beautiful. The devotional aspect of the Bible scholarship is due to the religious support for it, but there are secularists among the scholars who want to pursue the Bible in a secular way. Dr. Avalos even goes as far as saying we should be championing the fight against the apologists and evangelical scholars and taking an activist stance to deprivilege Biblical authority in scholarship down to the ordinary level of the rest of the ancient works.
Where would Archimedes and other ancient authors be if less attention had been paid to the Bible, Archimedes has almost been forgotten now-a-days, scholars had other work to do.
Price and Avalos addressed the religious scholars with [22:18] refutations of their less than skeptical interpretations of various Bible stories: [23:00] “... I will only accept as historical what has some sort of independent corroboration. By that standard very few things in the Old Testament are historically established, and in that sense I’m a minimalist.” [23:56] “... and I think people should be proud of being a minimalist, it shouldn’t be a bad word.”
[24:08] There’s just no evidence for the empire of King Solomon in all the glory and size that the Bible credits to it. [28:05] “Most of our actual sources don’t date to the first century. Even the New Testament sources.” “So we have no way to know what was changed/not changed between the first century and the time the Extant manuscripts we have were copied.” [28:40] When it comes to sources from the first century we actually have a poverty of sources. I can’t tell you much of anything about the first century.”
I think that the cause of preserving the great ancient works is worthwhile, and that the cause of preserving the ancient Bible has had enough attention already. Price and Avolos did well.
The phrase that Price uses often when referring to Calvin’s views of newborns, “little serpents in the crib,” is not a direct quotation.
He is referring to this passage from Calvin’s “First Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ”:
Now, however, we see how we must fight against our affections, and unless we do it is impossible for us to move a finger by which we do not in full measure provoke the wrath of God. For behold our Lord Jesus Christ Who is pure and entire, as we have already declared. If one asks what His will was, it is true it was weak as the will of a man, but it was not vicious as the will of those who are corrupted in Adam, for there was not a single spot of sin in Him. Behold, then, a man Who is exempt from every vice. But, however that may be, it is still necessary that He efface Himself and that He exert Himself to the limit and that He finally renounce Himself, and that He put all that underfoot, to yield obedience to God His Father. Let us look now at what shall become of us. What are our affections? What of our thoughts? All those are enemies that battle against God, as says; St. Paul. Here God pronounces that we are altogether perverse and that all that man can imagine is but falsehood and vanity. Even from our infancy we show that we are steeped in the complete infection of sin. Little children coming into the world, though the malice does not appear, do not always fail to be little serpents full of poison, malice and disdain. In this we truly realize what is in our nature even from the beginning. And when we have become of age, what of us then? We are (as I have said) so evil that we do not know how to conceive a single thought which is not at the same time rebellion against God, so that we do not know whether to apply ourselves to this or to that, since we are always led astray from the true norm, even if we do not come to a clash with God in a provocative way. What a fight, then, is necessary to draw us back to the good! When we see that our Lord Jesus, in Whom there was nothing but integrity and uprightness, had to be subject to God His Father, even to renouncing Himself, is it not important that we should give ourselves entirely to it?
I think it’s telling that Avalos’ book was published by Prometheus Books, and not by a mainstream academic theological publisher. I don’t know why The Center For Inquiry gives people like Bob Price a stage. I think I remember from back in 2002 when I was doing my Masters’ degree in philosophy being told that credible scholars take credible theories to appropriate publishers.
Here is a review of one of Bob Price’s books by his peers: