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The End of Biblical Studies (2007)

by Hector Avalos

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743291,913 (3.72)5
In this radical critique of his own academic specialty, biblical scholar Hector Avalos calls for an end to biblical studies. He outlines two main arguments for this surprising conclusion. First, academic biblical scholarship has clearly succeeded in showing that the ancient civilization that produced the Bible held beliefs about the origin, nature, and purpose of the world and humanity that are fundamentally opposed to the views of modern society. The Bible is thus largely irrelevant to the needs and concerns of contemporary human beings. Second, Avalos criticizes his colleagues for applying a variety of flawed and specious techniques aimed at maintaining the illusion that the Bible is still relevant in today's world. In effect, he accuses his profession of being more concerned about its self-preservation than about giving an honest account of its own findings to the general public and faith communities. In a controversial conclusion, Avalos argues that our world is best served by leaving the Bible as a relic of an ancient civilization instead of the "living" document most religionist scholars believe it should be. He urges his colleagues to concentrate on educating the broader society to recognize the irrelevance and even violent effects of the Bible in modern life.… (more)
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The author calls for the end of Biblical studies, citing numerous reasons why he believes this has become irrelevant in the modern world. He feels not just Biblical studies, but the Bible itself, is irrelevant in a 21st century world, and that the main purpose of Biblical studies is to find some way to maintain the relevance of one particular book over all the many manuscripts remaining from the early days of written history that have yet to be even translated, and may offer as good a historical guide, and at least as good a moral guide, as the Bible. He writes in lucid prose, though occasionally he lapses into jargon, so keep your dictionary handy (and Google; some of these words are not even in the OED). I probably had to look up no more than 4 words; if you have read heavily in this topic, the book will be easy going. If you are just dipping in your toe, this is much easier than many of the other scholarly works, and the author does not give us untranslated Hebrew, Latin, or Greek, so non-Biblical scholars can read this book without being Left Behind (if you'll forgive the pun). I recommend this book for anyone who thinks the Bible is (1) accurate to the original document; (2) the original words of God/Jesus Christ; and/or (3) an important guide for modern living. Since people who believe those things will not likely accept the arguments herein, I also recommend it to people who don't believe those things but are interested in the scholarly controversies over Biblical history. ( )
  Devil_llama | Jul 11, 2018 |
Avalos's thesis is in brief that Biblical studies has found that the Bible is culturally alien, historically unreliable, and ethically reprehensible; and that Biblical scholars systematically hide these findings from the public at large to secure their continued prestige and employment. Avalos also argues that the field is in decline and the only remaining service it can do to humanity is to hasten the erosion of Biblical influence in modern life.

It's an interesting book - Avalos is an insider in the field he's condemning - but also a deeply annoying one. I agree with much of what Avalos has to say, but the way he has chosen to present his case is frequently exasperating. He makes provocative claims and clarifies them into something less radical. He makes lots of irrelvevant asides (frex, discussing textual criticism, he notes that the Leningrad Codex was written about 3000 years after the traditional dates of Abraham, which is true, but the topic supposedly under discussion wasn't whether the Codex can tell us anything worthwhile about Abraham, but whether it can inform us of the original form of the texts, which is vastly younger). He repeatedly fails to say just how far he'd go (frex, several of his arguments against Biblical archaeology would seem to apply to other subdisciplines too, but he doesn't tell us if he thinks that, say, Scandinavian or Polynesian archaeology should end).

Thus, a book that can be recommended only with significant reservations. A pity, because when shorn of the rhetoric and when the author can keep on subject it has important things to say. ( )
2 vote AndreasJ | Feb 3, 2011 |
Several months ago, I decided to let my subscription to Biblical Archaeology Review lapse because I’d perceived during the past several years that its content had become less scholarly and increasingly apologetic. I’d been a subscriber for over a decade, and along the way I’d added the now defunct sister publications, Bible Review and Archaeology Odyssey, to my list of subscriptions. In short, more and more of the pieces in the magazine were aimed at readers who wanted to see their religious beliefs verified by, and reconciled with, the results of scientific investigation, while too many of the decreasing number of critical articles addressed trivia that offered little for anyone outside the small circle of professional specialists. Now after reading Hector Avalos’s new book, The End of Biblical Studies (Prometheus Books, 2007), I understand why.

Avalos takes on Biblical studies from the inside: He’s an associate professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University with many books and articles to his credit, and a long-time member of the Society of Biblical Literature. His main points are that (1) using the tools of text criticism, scholars have been unable to discover the original text of the Bible, nor—because of the thousands of widely variant sources—can an original text ever be reconstructed; (2) archaeologists and historians have failed to confirm the Bible’s narrative, even to the point of leaving in doubt the very existence of such crucial characters as Moses, David, and Jesus, as well as the historicity of the principal stories; (3) the culture that produced the Biblical texts is so far removed from modern culture that the Bible is neither understandable by, nor relevant to, people today; (4) scholars, however, prop up the Bible’s public image of relevance to protect their careers, and in doing so, produce work that is largely apologetic, not scientific; (5) the pretense of relevance causes the Bible to overshadow other, more worthy, ancient literature, which is left to languish untranslated and unstudied; (6) society is ill served by a reliance on sacred texts, and we’d all be better off were the Bible to be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Avalos shores up his positions well with numerous solid examples, sometimes going into greater depth than necessary, such as in his chapter on the aesthetics of the Bible. Furthermore, he writes clearly and constructs easy-to-follow arguments. Even though his book is aimed at the general reader, he provides hundreds of endnotes and a substantial bibliography, which are of value to scholars and other readers who want to pursue the matter further.

Because Avalos focuses his book so tightly on Biblical studies, he leaves the impression that there are no related topics worthy of examination. He would have been wise to end with a “going forward” sort of chapter, in lieu of the summary he provides, delineating potentially fruitful avenues of study. For example, even though we have no archaeological or historical evidence for the existence of Jesus, we have a lot of information about ancient Christian movements and sects. Just to set the historical record straight, explaining the emergence of Christianity without the heavy baggage of the Christian foundational myth is an intriguing prospect and a worthy goal. Such Biblical scholars as Burton Mack, Robert M. Price, and Robert Eisenman have made significant strides in that endeavor. But this is a minor oversight in an otherwise well-argued and thorough treatment of the topic. The End of Biblical Studies should be read by everyone with an interest in Biblical archaeology, criticism, or history. ( )
13 vote MobileMaker | Jan 2, 2009 |
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In this radical critique of his own academic specialty, biblical scholar Hector Avalos calls for an end to biblical studies. He outlines two main arguments for this surprising conclusion. First, academic biblical scholarship has clearly succeeded in showing that the ancient civilization that produced the Bible held beliefs about the origin, nature, and purpose of the world and humanity that are fundamentally opposed to the views of modern society. The Bible is thus largely irrelevant to the needs and concerns of contemporary human beings. Second, Avalos criticizes his colleagues for applying a variety of flawed and specious techniques aimed at maintaining the illusion that the Bible is still relevant in today's world. In effect, he accuses his profession of being more concerned about its self-preservation than about giving an honest account of its own findings to the general public and faith communities. In a controversial conclusion, Avalos argues that our world is best served by leaving the Bible as a relic of an ancient civilization instead of the "living" document most religionist scholars believe it should be. He urges his colleagues to concentrate on educating the broader society to recognize the irrelevance and even violent effects of the Bible in modern life.

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