Tuesday, August 17, 2010

One hysterical scholar; or, When academics throw hissy-fits

Author and scholar Dr. Ronald S. Hendel has let his membership lapse in the Society for Biblical Literature, and he wants everyone to know about it.

Why? What drove him out?

It always cracks me up when Hugh Hewitt gets a conspiracy theorist on his show, some feverish soul hinting around about a dark and malicious group who is engineering the course of history and the world's miseries.

Hewitt will cut and say "So Bob, Bob, Bob — is it The Jews?"  (Except he pronounces it, "da Jooooooooz.")

Well, Dr. Hendel calls himself a Jew, so those aren't his villains. In Hendel's case, one might say "So Ron, Ron, Ron — is it The Christians?"


See, Dr. Hendel is a very religious man, worshiping a very narrow, specialized definition of Reason. In the good doctor's lexicon, "Reason" must exclude, or adopt a dismissive approach to, one certain category of evidence. Hendel does Schleirmacher proud in positing a rigid and vast chasm between faith and facts. One must begin with the assumption that "the religious" is unrelated to reality, unrelated to facts. Anyone not falling within Hendel's very narrow borders cannot be a real scholar, or at least not one fit for a platform in the SBL.

Not even octogenarian OT scholar Bruce Waltke, internationally-acclaimed author of a very solid Hebrew grammar and reams of articles and publications. Why is Waltke disqualified?

Well, Hendel doesn't put it this way, but Waltke is disqualified because he believes the texts they're supposed to be studying. To Dr. Hendel, belief is heresy.

Pause. Isn't that odd? Society for Biblical Literature — but you're only qualified to speak (according to R. Hendel) if you do not actually believe the Biblical Literature around which you've formed a Society.

Well, of course the doctor's woes go far beyond having to live with the shameful knowledge that Dr. Waltke (horrors!) believes the text he's writing about. No, worse still: there might be people there who care about Hendel's soul, and who try to express their faith.

No! No! Run away! Run away!

This leaves us with the irony that Dr. Hendel's narrow, doctrinaire nut-cases will sit and respectfully listen to his lectures and read his papers. But show them the same respect? Absurd! Ridiculous! Where's the door?

So Dr. Hendel takes his marbles and goes home, leaving the Society to (in his words) "creationists, snake-handlers and faith-healers."

That's right. You know.

Like Bruce Waltke.


Ron (aka RealityCheck) said...

Well, it sounds like the marbles he’s taking with him are the ones he’s lost along the way so… would it be rude to say, “don’t let the door hit…" (I guess it would be so I won’t).

I do find the “creationists, snake-handlers and faith-healers” grouping as fascinating as usual and wonder what I as a creationist am missing out on by not hanging out with the other two. I guess I’ve got to get out more.

FX Turk said...

Sounds like a party to me. A weird one with no beer and lots of falling down anyway, but a party none-the-less.

Neil said...

I'm reading Waltke's O.T. Theology right now. Hendel is right about him. Waltke is a loon who really does believe the stuff. Nuts.

As opposed to a loon who devotes his life to scholarizing literature that purports stuff that he doesn't believe.

Neil said...

And stop rolling your eyes at me.

jmb said...

Dr. Hendel writes: "What to do? Well, I’ve let my membership in SBL lapse. Maybe that’s a cowardly response, but sometimes, as Shakespeare wrote, “The better part of valor is discretion.” Sometimes it’s reasonable to avoid conflict."

And then, to avoid conflict, he writes an article for a rather widely-read publication which posts his article online. So much for his use of reason.

Chuck said...

Read the comment thread over there. Apparently Hendel misrepresents just about everyone in this article. Other SBL/AAR members showed up and pointed out that:

1. Other, more evangelical types- specifically the Pentecostal group mentioned- have been there for over a decade.

2. The reason they split up? Overcrowding, not cash.

3. The AAR/SBL are meeting together- again- until at least 2014. So much for the Academia backing his assertions up.

All in all, if he can't get that right, why would I listen to the rest? I mean, he ain't righting this on his Facebook page or something- it's the BAR.

SolaMommy said...

That GIF is cracking me up.

DJP said...

Thanks Chuck - yeah, I meant to mention the comment thread. There are one or two who applaud his marvelous bravery... but mostly, not so much. I was pleasantly surprised.

SolaMommy - there's actually one I like better, but I can't find it from work. I think the pages where it's hosted are blocked. Check back later tonight maybe.

Chuck said...

I just realized I put 'righting' instead of 'writing'- fail.

Oh, and I also love the GIF.

Stefan Ewing said...

Imagine that.

Folks who read the Bible at face value—believing what it claims to be, the Word of God—infusing their nutty beliefs into an organization devoted to...studying the Bible.

So the fundamental criterion for "reasoned" study of the Bible is repudiating its claims outright. Because that's, er, reasonable.

Garrett League said...

Your gif is blaspheming (I've always wanted to say that).

kateg said...

Don't you think it is sad for a grown man to spend his life immersed in something he recognizes only as a myth? It's like spending all your time, reputation and treasure on the My Little Pony mystique. Though I actually think it is Satan's attempt to attack God's people at their core, those people themselves must have to jump through some hoops to explain it to themselves.

DJP said...

1. It could be Dr. Hendel, who mightn't care.

2. It could be saying "Oh my guppies!"

Aaron said...

post Mosaic and post Solomon Hebrew. It's amazing nobody caught that in three millenia before Hendel.

Rhology said...

I thought Waltke was notorious recently for coming out as NOT believing the text.

DJP said...

I think one of the commenters there points that out: Waltke had to quit his last gig because his position seemed not conservative enough, but Hendel has to storm out in high dudgeon because Waltke's too conservative.

Unknown said...

I am so loving that gif...

The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.

Anonymous said...

Hendel thought that Bruce Waltke was in the category of a snake handler or a faith healer?

Like Hector Avalos and Dan Barker used to be?

Like a real, honest to the flying-spaghetti-monster faith healer?

That's amazing. I wonder how that went over at RTS? I can only imagine what their chapels must have looked like:

I'm just picturing Bruce Waltke getting the annointing while preaching, calling up anyone who needs a healing, and then slapping John Currid in the forehead (*GLORY!*) and back into the arms of Mark Futato and Miles Van Pelt, who lay him down on the ground to twitch beside Ligon Duncan and John Frame.

Yup. That's how I've always pictured chapels at RTS.

DJP said...

It's well-known: Waltke is a wild and crazy guy.

Anonymous said...

Does everyone here have access to the complete BAR article? I am allowed to only read the first paragraph. Need to become a member it seems. In any case there is a very well written response linked to in the comments section of the above mentioned article. The response was called "An Army of Strawmen...". Good response to humanism in general. I highly recommend it.

John Sellman

bahrelius said...

I was able to access the article through my library account at the University of South Africa. I'd suggest you try your local public or seminary library for access through ATLA or ProQuest.

As for the article, he is very telling. His main concern is that he considers anything but historical criticism, form criticism and source criticism to be the legitimate focus of the old mission statement of SBL (to foster critical scholarship--it now reads to foster biblical scholarship). That, and he doesn't like being evangelized. I'm an evangelical, and a critical scholar--rhetorical and sociological criticism. Anything that is simply concerned with simply what the text says is not critical in his view. However, I point him to Muilenbergs 1968 address and subsequent paper that said it's time to move beyond form criticism and get to what the text has to say through rhetorical criticism.

Based on this quote, "The views of creationists, snake-handlers and faith-healers now count among the kinds of Biblical scholarship that the society seeks to foster," it sounds like he wants to limit the definition of critical scholarship and violate the fundamental principle in academic freedom of freedom of inquiry even if it means questioning the consensus. He's been learning from the scientists. I appreciate my doctoral supervisor--at a liberal institution, who constantly reaffirms with me, "Please, feel free to disagree with me, just be sure to provide verification."