Friday, May 29, 2015

Enlightenment rationalism

I'll make a few comments on this:

For starters, this is a pretext to flatter the boss. What Enns doesn't tell the reader is that Kenton Sparks is his boss. 

2. Claiming alleged Enlightenment influence on opponents is a well known conversation stopper among evangelical apologists, and I am particularly disappointed to see Hoffmeier resort to it. Evangelical defenses of historicity are often quickly propelled into the philosophical stratosphere of “presuppositions,” which has the unfortunate effect of reducing debates on concrete matters to claims of theological superiority.
As far as I am concerned, “you’re just beholden to Enlightenment rationalism” is on the same rhetorical level as “that sounds like Hitler (or Bultmann, or Barth),” or more economically, “you’re liberal.”
This sort of rhetoric is not designed to converse but to gain a theological upper hand by determining the playing field and rules of engagement. It has worn out its welcome and has no place in scholarly engagement.

i) To begin with, many Bible scholars of the SBL variety operate with methodological atheism. They don't believe Biblical events did happen because they don't believe they could happen. They don't believe in miracles. They don't believe that God is active in the world. So they are operating with gut-level philosophical presuppositions that filter what the text is allow to attest. 

ii) The Bible is a theological document as well as a historical document. So you can't simply bracket its theological presuppositions. You can affirm them or deny them, but you can't ignore them. They are integral to the nature of the text.

iii) Apropos (ii), does Enns think there's any difference between Christian scholarship and secular scholarship? Should a Christian scholar suspend theological presuppositions when he studies the Bible?  

Affirming or denying a historical claim depends, in part, on the kind of world you think we live in. On what you think is possible. On the kinds of events you think occur. That's a necessary consideration in evaluating the probability of a historical claim. 

For instance, how we assess reports of "alien abductees" depends in large part on whether we believe it's even possible for an alien species to travel that distance. Our views regarding the laws of physics screen out certain explanations. 

If a Bible scholar is a Christian (or orthodox Jew), there is, presumably a reason why he's Christian. He believes in a personal, omnipotent, omniscient, interventionist God. And he has reasons for believing that. Should that not inform his view of Scripture? 

In Biblical scholarship, it's unavoidable that we will approach the Bible from one viewpoint or another. We can't very well approach the Bible with no viewpoint at all. 

There is no view from nowhere. Rather, there are different ways of approaching Scripture. One reader may think it's true. Another reader may think it's false. Another reader may think some of the historical notices are true, but reject the miraculous reports. Another reader may not have made up his mind one way or the other. Perhaps he's reading the Bible for the first time. 

These reflect different, incommensurable viewpoints. Is one superior to another? 

If, in fact, the Bible is revelatory, then that's how we should approach it. How else would a Christian scholar approach it?

iv) Enn's definition of Bible scholarship reduces to collegiality. It's horizontal and sociological rather than vertical and theological. Not a quest for truth, but comity.  What's expected from members of the club. 

3. Another common evangelical tactic repeated here by Hoffmeier is to equate Wellhausen’s 19th c. theory of Pentateuchal composition with source theories that have developed since Wellhausen. Sparks effectively addresses this in his response.
Let me simply say that source criticism is most certainly not dead, though most all have moved beyond Wellhausen, including neo-documentarians like Joel Baden and Jeffrey Stackert. (On this see Dozeman, Schmid, and Schwartz, The Pentateuch: International Perspectives on Current Research, 2011; especially Schwartz’s essay, “Does Recent Scholarship’s Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis Constitute Grounds for Its Rejection?)
And one would be hard-pressed indeed to find any biblical scholar outside of the inerrantist camp–whether Israeli, American, or European–who does not see the Pentateuch as having a rich and complex developmental pre-history spanning several hundred years and not coming to end until long after the return from exile.
P and D are not seriously questioned among biblical scholars. The origins of Israel’s ancient narratives– J and E–are. That is a great discussion to have. But the “we know Wellhausen was wrong so now we can retreat back to Mosaic authorship” rhetoric is at best misleading because it is grounded in a description of Pentateuchal scholarship that is absolutely wrong.

A basic problem with source criticism is that all literary critics have to work with is the final form of the text. They don't have draft copies. They can't compare the final draft with rough drafts. 

So they try to reverse engineer the editorial process or the creative process from the finished product. But there are no external checks on that procedure. It's all about the imagination and ingenuity of the critic. He tries to separate early layers from later layers. He stipulates the social setting for the original text, before it was rewritten to address a later situation. The entire exercise is viciously circular. 

It doesn't retrace the process from effects to causes. Rather, we're just peering into the mind of the critic. A window, not into the past, but into his fervid imagination. Mental projection masquerading as historical reconstruction. 


  1. I always figured that D was assumed to be proven because they assume that the document "found" in the temple during Josiah's reign was a work deceptively written by the priests and then they claimed it to be Old, but has Chavalas noted in his background comments concerning that passage ancient temples would often hide ancient texts in the temples. If the deceptive priests hypothesis is denied the D source loses its late date.

  2. Enns also misrepresents Evangelical scholars. They do not deny that various sources were used in the writing of the Pentateuch. Enns is a liar. Period.