Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Onslaughts and Olive Branches, 1st of 2

In this series on American Evangelicalism and Old Testament scholarship, I plan to write two more posts. In the final one, I'll draw a few conclusions. But here and in and the next entry, I want to call attention to one of the unmistakable features of Christianity Today magazine when it deals with biblical scholarship: namely, the remarkable vacillation between bitter attacks and kind commendations in response to what is essentially the same thing.

First, the onslaughts. At times, especially in the writings of O. T. Allis and E. J. Young, only the most traditional positions are approved. Everything else is attacked. For example, in “Albright’s Thrust for the Bible View” [1], Allis clearly intends to set the record straight regarding the famous archaeologist. He says that while Albright has been hailed as the destroyer of old modernism, he is not the giant-killer he’s made out to be. In fact, for all of his celebrity among conservatives, Albright still holds to the basic outline of modernism. The best piece of evidence against him is his book, Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands.

Allis complains that, ironically, Albright asserts a historical reliability of the Pentateuch that is equal to the reliability of the accounts dealing with Zoroaster and Gautama (Buddha). It’s not much of a claim for the Bible, complains Allis. Furthermore, Albright reportedly claims that the census accounts in Numbers 2 and 26 are late:

This means that these two registrations which are definitely stated to have been taken by Moses must be regarded as two variants of the one census ordered by David centuries after Moses’ time. . . . This is one way of getting rid of the supernatural in the biblical records.

All this brings Allis to what seems to be his main point. Picking up the theme of anti-supernaturalism as liberalism’s Achilles heel, he says:

It is important that Christian people everywhere face up to the fact that the “religious history” of the Bible is supernatural to the core and that the supernatural events which it records are its most important and most precious content. In the last analysis, the attitude of higher criticism is anti-super-naturalistic.

Furthermore, the supposedly-conservative Yehezkel Kaufmann fails to provide any real help. Allis’s review of Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel, claims that although the book challenges the predominant version of the documentary hypothesis, its author holds a view of Scripture that “does not differ materially from that of the scholars whose views he criticizes and rejects.”[2]

The same attitude comes across when E. J. Young refers to those who hold a “‘critical’ view of the Old Testament” as opposed to scholars who represent “the views of a Bible believer.” [3]

Reviewing Walter Harrelson’s book Interpreting the Old Testament, R. Laird Harris complains that “He hardly leaves a single book of the Old Testament intact.” Indeed, Harrelson takes many positions “to which a conservative would react.” According to him, the Old Testament contains a good amount of legendary material, and “Jonah is a fable—written during the exile.” More generally, “No Old Testament miracle or long-range prophecy is allowed to be true. Of the 293 works listed in the bibliography, perhaps three are conservative!” Harris concludes his remarks by taking aim at some specific inaccuracies of the book. [4]

A short note in the issue, dated May 10, 1974, lambastes the Jerusalem Bible for the following section of its introduction to the Pentateuch:

For many centuries all five of the books were attributed to Moses as the sole or principal author. However, modern study of the texts has revealed a wide variety of styles, a lack of sequence and such repetitions and variations in narrative that it is impossible to ascribe the whole group to a single author.

The CT editor observes that this is not merely an assumption of the Documentary Hypothesis but also a dismissal of the traditional view as an impossibility. There is, he notes, a “paradoxical narrowness of today’s supposedly ‘liberal’ theological thought.” He also implies that to deny the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch is to write off “the infallibility of Scripture.” [5]

In the next post, I'll give some examples of some other Evangelicals being quite friendly to mainstream Old Testament scholarship.

[1] CT, IV (May 25, 1959), 7-9.

[2] “Challenge to the Wellhausen Theory,” CT, V (November 7, 1960), 39.

[3] CT, VIII (February 1, 1963), 5.

[4] CT, X (April 9, 1965), 38.

[5] CT, XVIII (May 10, 1974), 34-35.

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