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Old 08-20-2001, 10:56 PM   #1
Family Man
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Post New Testament Class Diary

With eleven credits needed to graduate, I found myself in the unusual situation of needing to take an additional class or getting kicked out of my apartment in married student housing. Thus, I enrolled in a New Testament course. Personally, I would have preferred a history course, but nothing interesting fit my schedule.

So, I thought I'd share my experiences with the board, for a couple of reasons. First, while I'm blown away by the scholarship of many on this board, it might be nice to have a thread dedicated to an introductory level of Biblical scholarship. Second, it will give me a chance to comment on some of the arguments I see on other threads in this forum. Finally, I hope that some of my observations on the class with spark some discussion, and perhaps some will deserve threads of their own.

Thus, if I write something you object to, or agree with, but can't respond to without writing a tome complete with scholarly quotations, massive biblical excerpts, and suggested translations from the original Greek or Hebrew, please start a thread where the more erudite among us can respond. I'd like to keep this thread on a more introductory level.

Not much was covered in the first meeting, except to clarify some ground rules. The instructor has advanced degrees in religious studies from Stanford, Harvard, and Syracuse, which pretty well establishes her qualifications in my opinion.

What she made very clear was not only was she approaching Biblical studies not only from a critical viewpoint, but from a Secular Humanist point of view. Secular, in the sense that the bible is not being viewed from any particular religious viewpoint; humanistic in that it is assumed that religions and religious writings are human inventions, and not the work of any God. That is not to say that she considers religious viewpoints to be worthless, just that they are articles of faith and not critical scholarship. In other words, she'd be siding with Aprikorus and James Still over Nomad in their discussion in the Is the Hebrew Bible the Achilles Heel of Christianity thread.

In fact, I gather she'd consider injecting theology into a critical analysis of the Bible to be oxymoronic. In her view, the consensus developed by critical scholars is very strong, and taught without controversy in every academic institution and nearly all seminaries.

Finally, in every class professors are required to state what is considered acceptable classroom behavior. This is the only class I've ever had where that part isn't glossed over with a "this is never a problem" statement. It is clear that disruptive classroom behavior is often a problem (apparently in the previous semester) and that it comes from Christians unwilling to accept her critical point of view as legitimate. She went as far as to tell the class that if they don't want to hear that point of view, the proper course was to drop the course and stick to their church. I had a good inward chuckle at that.

The class meets twice a week and I'll try to post the class contents when I get home in the evening. I'll try to respond to comments, but I'll have to decline invitations to debate simply because I will be lacking time to do so.

[ August 21, 2001: Message edited by: DennisM ]
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Old 08-21-2001, 02:24 AM   #2
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Hi Dennis,

I hope you enjoy the course.

Perhaps, given your prof is so well qualified and also non-religious, you could ask her for the definitive answer as to whether or not Jesus existed as a historical person. It would be interesting to hear what she has to say and to what extent she is aware of arguments on each side.

Yours

Bede

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Old 08-21-2001, 07:18 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally posted by DennisM:
<STRONG> In her view, the consensus developed by critical scholars is very strong, and taught without controversy in every academic institution and nearly all seminaries.
</STRONG>
Dennis, did she elaborate (yet?) on what
that view is? I'd be interested to hear just
what critical consensus is taught in most
seminaries (and how the seminaries stay
in business if they teach it).

Thanks.
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Old 08-21-2001, 07:40 AM   #4
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Question

Bede,
I checked out your sight, and read your speil obout 'recovered fundies' and throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

You scored a point with me on this, but the only thing that I'm still hung up on is how a 'non-fundie' christian reads the bible, and what they hold to be true? If anything?

I posted a new thread about a term I heard, 'contextualist', that eludes to the same thing. But I wanted to get a response from you by replying here.

If you aren't a fundie, what are you, and what do you believe? It seems that if I am able to remove the fundamental facts stated in the bible, that it would be much easier to accept. But as soon as it requires me to believe something arbitrarily in order to get my salvation, I get hung up. Don't you?

But what is left? If it isn't fact, then how can it satisfy your desire to know the facts??

Also, what part of the bible do these enlightened christians use to justify leaving a 'fundie' approach behind.
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Old 08-21-2001, 08:59 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by dmvprof:
<STRONG>It seems that if I am able to remove the fundamental facts stated in the bible, that it would be much easier to accept. But as soon as it requires me to believe something arbitrarily in order to get my salvation, I get hung up. Don't you? </STRONG>
Didn't Thomas Jefferson have someone remove all the supernatural (ie; "fundamental") references in his Bible? What was left was a humanistic guide with many sound Judeo-Christian values and moral standards to live by, eg; don't murder, don't steal, tell the truth, help out and love your fellow mankind.
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Old 08-21-2001, 09:13 AM   #6
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Bede --

First, the class is being taught from a secular, academic perspective. As far as the instructor's religious preferences, she gave no hint as to what that might be (remember, this methodology is taught in most seminaries, not just secular universities). She went to great pains to say she wasn't there to convert or deconvert anyone, but merely to illuminate what's in the New Testament through the light of critical, secular scholarship.

Second, I don't think it's necessary to ask her about the historicity of Jesus himself. What I have read clearly indicates that modern scholarship has established that there was a historical person named Jesus, but that much about what is claimed for him is dubious at best. The mythicist position is interesting to read, but I don't buy it myself.

I fear many theists on this board erroneously assume I'm a mythicist. I'm not, and never have been. Earlier this year, there were several threads where I felt theists were severely abusing historical methodology to imply that the facts of Jesus's career were far better established than they actually are. This occurred about the same time that the mythicist position was being discussed, and despite my repeated statements that I was discussing the events of and claims about Jesus's life, not his actual existence, people were still misrepresenting what I had to say. I hope this won't happen again.

Kosh, no, she hasn't really started in on that.
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Old 08-21-2001, 09:32 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally posted by DennisM:

In fact, I gather she'd consider injecting theology into a critical analysis of the Bible to be oxymoronic. In her view, the consensus developed by critical scholars is very strong, and taught without controversy in every academic institution and nearly all seminaries.
Hello Dennis

I hope you enjoy your class, and learn a great deal from it. I would be especially interested in finding out what text books or other scholars your prof will be relying upon.

Your statement here interested me, however. What does she believe to be the "concensus" of scholars in NT studies? In other words, what issues does she consider to have been settled to the point where they are not even worth questioning any longer. The rejection that God inspired anything in the Bible is clearly one of them. What others does she have? Finally, why does she accept this as being self evidentially true?

Thanks again, and good luck in your studies.

Nomad
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Old 08-21-2001, 03:49 PM   #8
Peter Kirby
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Quote:
Originally posted by Nomad:
<STRONG>
Finally, why does she accept this as being self evidentially true?
</STRONG>
That's a funny question! If it's truly "self-evident," no answer is either possible or necessary.

best,
Peter Kirby
http://home.earthlink.net/~kirby/writings/
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Old 08-21-2001, 07:23 PM   #9
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Nomad --

The main textbook is Understanding the Bible, by Stephen Harris. This is to be supplemented by Primitive Christianity, by Rudolph Bultman, who she considers the leading academic in the modern, critical movement, and The Sociology of Early Palestinian Christianity by Gerd Theissen, and readings from the New Testament, of course.

As for the consensus she describes, you can hardly blame her for not covering it all in one class season. I believe it will take the whole course. As an example, however, she is a big fan of the Jesus Seminar, and she cites their conclusion that Jesus probably never said 80% of what was attributed to him as being widely accepted among New Testament scholars.

And I think you operate under some misapprehensions. First, it isn't that divine inspiration is rejected, it is that it isn't knowable. From her syllabus:

Quote:
This [critical] perspective...differs from many religious approaches to the Bible, which often teach that the Bible came directly from God, or that it was inspired by God. This is regarded by scholars as one of the truth claims of the religious perspectives. A category like "divine inspiration" by its very nature is not something which scholars can verify by any kind of evidence. Since they cannot validate or invalidate the claim that "the Bible came from God" it is not an issue which scholars approach at all. In other words, they recognize that this is a claim which scholarship is simply not equipped to decide on way or another, so they don't try.
If I might put my spin on this, what I think she's saying is that you're free to believe that the Bible is divinely inspired. But if you use that presumption to guide your study of the bible, you're not using critical scholarship because you're not free to come to the conclusions demanded by the evidence.

Finally, none of this is "self-evident". The Jesus Seminar has been widely-criticized for their methodology of using colored beads to cast their votes on the authenticity of Biblical quotes. This makes for great PR for conservative biblical scholars, but it also ignores the fact that the scholars were required to state the reasons for their votes, citing evidence to back them up. In short, the consensus has developed not because it was "self-evident" but because the evidence pointed to it.

[ August 21, 2001: Message edited by: DennisM ]
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Old 08-21-2001, 08:47 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by MOJO-JOJO:
<STRONG>Didn't Thomas Jefferson have someone remove all the supernatural (ie; "fundamental") references in his Bible? What was left was a humanistic guide with many sound Judeo-Christian values and moral standards to live by, eg; don't murder, don't steal, tell the truth, help out and love your fellow mankind. </STRONG>
The Jefferson Bible was a "cut and paste" job by Tom himself. He didn't "have" somebody do it for him; he did it himself (or at least directly supervised those who were doing it under his direction; I wasn't there, you know...... ).

Here is the card catalog description of Tom's work:
Quote:
[ca. 1819]. T. J. THE LIFE AND MORALS OF JESUS OF NAZARETH.
1 vol. in several hands including Martha Randolph, Cornelia Randolph Trist, Mary Trist, and Martha Jefferson Trist Burke.

Copied from a volume (now in the National Museum), which Jefferson made by clipping from two copies of the Gospels verses dealing with Christ's life and moral precepts. (The University of Virginia Library owns the two Bibles from which the clippings were excerpted).
[1760]
A summary of what it contains is available HERE on the Secular Web.

== Bill
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