Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hitler's Willing Executioners, by D. J. Goldhagen: An Overview

In Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, first published in 1996, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen sets out to understand "the actions and mind-set of the tens of thousands of ordinary Germans who . . . became genocidal killers" (p. 4). He begins with a premise that seems obvious enough: to explain why and how the Holocaust occurred, one must explore "the question of what impelled the perpetrators of the Holocaust to kill" (5). He claims that, in the vast literature on the the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, comparatively little has been written on this central question, a neglect he intends to remedy.

Goldhagen, a historian and political scientist at Harvard, emphasizes that it is too simple to say that the Holocaust was perpetrated by Hitler and other Nazi leaders. By definition, all leaders have followers; and without the tens of thousands who willingly followed, the Holocaust would never have occurred. So exactly who were those followers, and what made them tick? Specifically, what were the motivations that led them to not merely execute, but to demean and torture and slaughter, as many Jews as they could? The author reports that in the majority of the previous interpretations of the Holocaust, the motivations of the perpetrators of genocide have been explained along the following lines:

A. They were coerced by the threat of severe punishment or even death.

B. They were blindly following Adolf Hitler, their popular, charismatic leader. Another example of this type of obedience explanation says that people generally obey authority. They are even more likely to obey state authority, and this would be as true of Germans as anyone.

C. They were subjected to high levels of social pressure and expectation.

D. They were petty, callous bureaucrats who were out to make careers and to provide for themselves and their families.

E. Because the Holocaust was carried out by a series of acts that involved different people doing different things, the responsibility for such inhumanity was dispersed. According to this explanation, very few of the thousands of perpetrators, therefore, accepted that they were killing millions of Jews. Under these circumstances, they found it relatively easy to shift the blame.

Goldhagen says that these explanations or rationalizations are mostly, if not entirely, untrue. The fact is, millions of ordinary Germans knew exactly what the "Final Solution" to the "Jewish Problem" was. Perhaps as many as 100,000 or more of these people became willing, responsible perpetrators of the Holocaust.

Coupled with this thesis is Goldhagen’s assertion that most of the previous interpreters of the Holocaust have not rightly understood the depth and the character of the antisemitism that motivated its perpetrators. Too often, he says, people have imagined that most Germans living under the Nazi regime were basically like most everyone else. They weren’t. Using anecdotes and statistics from primary sources, Goldhagen paints a portrait of Holocaust perpetrators who had very little of what might be called special exposure to Nazi propaganda. Nor were they a group of young, impressionable, hand-selected, highly-trained soldiers. Only small percentages of them were “SS men” or members of the Nazi party. Instead, the perpetrators were typical Germans, animated by what the author calls an "eliminationist antisemitism," a particular type that led the perpetrators of the Holocaust "to conclude that Jews ought to die" (14, original emphasis).

As Goldhagen attempts to demonstrate, this most-radical and hateful sort of antisemitism pervaded German society in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And that, he says, is how and why the Holocaust occurred.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Do You Listen to Talk Radio?

An AM radio station here in Amarillo, Texas broadcasts the Rush Limbaugh show midday and Michael Medved in the afternoon. I sometimes listen to them when I'm in the car. But I rarely listen to either of them for very long, and I don't ever hear one of their programs from beginning to end. So I can't be much of a fan or detractor in the case of either show.

However, I do have a take: I understand that Rush is a hero or a pariah to millions of people. But I'm taking my stand somewhere in the middle. Why? Because, while I am sometimes sympathetic to Rush's political views, and even though there are times when he can be a very entertaining talker, for the most part I really don't like his attitude and style. He comes across as petty, a bully, mean-spirited, someone who can't be corrected by anyone about anything. He's been known to have gone from harsh to downright foul in what he says. I don't easily imagine myself having a good time around him. But I think I get why he's so popular. No one on the radio is better at editorializing in behalf of a particular type of political conservatism that is very popular in the U.S. But I think that much of what has made him so popular and infamous (his polarizing stance and way) is the reason why I don't much appreciate him.

Of the two, Medved seems to be the much more likable and decent person. I hear in him some humility and religion (in the best sense of that last, much-maligned word). He seems like someone you wouldn't mind talking to, even if you found yourself disagreeing with him. I think it's interesting that, though Medved is a religious Jew, he sometimes goes out of his way to acknowledge the positive historic place of Christianity. I like that Medved pays attention to cultural as well as political issues (unlike Limbaugh, who seems to be completely political). He comes across more as a convinced academic, as compared to a demagogue (which is much the way I see Limbaugh). Those are just some of my impressions. I'd be interested to hear your take.

Anyway, I'd been thinking about talk radio in the U.S. So I wound up making my way to the website of Talkers Magazine, which looks to be a significant trade publication. Turns out, next month is when they release an annual ranking of talk-radio shows. The most up-to-date list that I found goes back to February of last year. Here's their top ten:

1. Rush Limbaugh

2. Sean Hannity

3. Michael Savage

4. Dr. Laura Schlessinger

5. Glenn Beck

6. Laura Ingraham

7. Dave Ramsey

8. Lou Dobbs

9. Mancow

10. Thom Hartmann

For what it's worth, Medved was #21. But from something I read at Talkers Magazine, I think his number might be a little higher than that this year. Now let me ask you:

1. Who, if anyone, in the talk-radio world do you listen to? Why? Are you every-day or occasional?

2. For those of you who listen to Rush or Medved, are you hearing the same things I do? Or have I gotten them wrong?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Help for Haiti

I'm thankful that in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, so many are doing so much to rescue and help people who are in desperate need.

There are many fine relief agencies out there. I want to recommend one in particular: the Christian Relief Fund, whose offices are located here in Amarillo. I don't know very much about other groups. This one I can recommend without reservation. To learn about the history and current work of CRF, specifically in Haiti, follow this link.

Contact information for this outstanding organization is as follows:

P. O. Box 19670
Amarillo, TX 79114-1670
(800) 858-4058

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Places I've Been and What I'm Reading

When it comes to Genesis 1-3, a well-known American dichotomy says "It's either history or it's myth." But is that a faithful approach? I'm intrigued by how N.T. Wright responds to such questions in this video.

I don't particularly care for the expression, but it communicates something that many conservative Protestants think and debate about. We call it the question of "Women's Role in the Church." Whether you lean egalitarian (more liberal) or complementarian (more traditional), you might want to read Wayne Grudem's challenge: "An Open Letter to Egalitarians: Six Questions That Have Never Been Satisfactorily Answered."

I'm currently reading Hitler's Willing Executioner's: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen. One of Goldhagen's most basic points emphasizes the word willing. In many of the previous interpretations of the Holocaust, the motivations of the German perpetrators of genocide have been explained along the following lines:

(a) They were coerced by the threat of punishment or even death.

(b) They were blindly following Adolf Hitler their popular, charismatic leader. Another type of this obedience theory is that, generally, people obey authority. They are even more likely to obey state authority, and this would be as true of Germans as anyone.

(c) They were subjected to high levels of peer pressure or social expectation.

(d) They were petty, callous bureaucrats who were out to make careers and provide for themselves and their families.

(e) Because the Holocaust was carried out by a series of acts that involved different people doing different things, the responsibility for such inhumanity was dispersed. According to this explanation, very few of the thousands of perpetrators, therefore, accepted that they were killing millions of Jews. Under the circumstances, it was relatively-easy to shift the blame.

Goldhagen says that these explanations or rationalizations are mostly, if not entirely, bunk. The fact is, there were many, many ordinary German people who knew exactly what the "final solution" to the "Jewish problem" was. These people were willing, responsible perpetrators. Coupled with this thesis is that most previous interpreters of the Holocaust have underestimated the depth and the strength of German anti-semitism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Too often, we have imagined that most Germans living under the Nazi regime were basically a lot like Americans living in the post-War years. Goldhagen seems to be saying, "No, they weren't. And if you don't get that, then you're bound to get the Holocaust wrong too." Has anyone else out there read this book?

And, by the way, what are you reading these days?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

American Evangelicalism and Old Testament Studies: Three Conclusions

Back on November 24th, I began a series of posts on American Evangelicalism and Old Testament scholarship. No, not every post I've done since then has been on the subject; I have interrupted the series from time to time. But for the most part, that's what I've been talking about for the last seven weeks or so.

As I've mentioned before, I designed the posts so that each one could be read on its own. At the same time, I tried to make the series coherent for people who were reading all of it. Anyway, now it's time to wrap this up. But before I get to that, here's a list of the nine previous posts, with links:

American Evangelicalism and Old Testament Scholarship

The Beginning and Rise of the American Fundamentalist Movement

Old Testament Scholarship and Christianity Today Magazine: Getting Started

American Evangelicalism Losing Its Mind: Old Testament Scholarship and CT Magazine

A Certain Word for Successful Mission: Sub-plot in the Story

The Blight of Anti-Supernaturalism: Christianity Today's Common Complaint

The Boom and Bust of Biblical Archaeology

Onslaughts and Olive Branches, 1st of 2

Onslaughts and Olive Branches, 2nd of 2

This is the last post I'll do on the subject, for now anyway. So where do I begin the ending? I have to start by saying that the following conclusions must be provisional for two reasons.

First, up to this point I have surveyed only one of several possible indexes of the history and current status of American Evangelicalism: Christianity Today magazine. That has been my main (though certainly not my only) resource for this project.

Second, because the following ideas are new and untested, they are still for me uncertain. However, I feel compelled to take a stab at coherence, and that's what the rest of this post is about. As I've worked through the evidence, three possible conclusion have occurred to me.

First, it seems to me that whatever might have been of an “intellectual middle class” within American evangelicalism is now virtually non-existent. This is not to say that evangelicals have in the last 30 years given up their desire to represent a bona fide intellectual as well as religious tradition. If anything, that desire has grown and seems to have met with considerable satisfaction. However, it certainly is the case that among evangelicals almost all of the intellectual enterprise has been relegated to the uppermost echelon. This development appears to have been neither planned nor predicted. But it does appear, for whatever reason, to be the way things are. In 1983, the evangelical Old Testament scholar Peter Craigie (pictured here) expressed a concern about the almost unbridgeable gap between studying the text in the classroom and preaching it from the pulpit. The minutiae of history of which literary criticism consists—so crucial for the final exam in an Old Testament course—seems bereft of relevance when proclaimed from the pulpit.

Craigie observed that with regard to the “great debates of Old Testament scholarship during the last century” which were “so loaded with theological overtones,” conservatives usually took a merely defensive stance. But more recently, he said, that had been changing. And he pointed with pride to the recently-published Old Testament volumes in the New International Commentary series, as well as the Word Biblical Commentary. [1] From this vantage point in time, it seems that Craigie’s evaluation could not take into account what were then the beginnings of a widening gap between the relatively few evangelical professors and their more-scholarly students on the one hand, and the rest of the growing evangelical movement on the other hand.

How else could one explain the clear transition in Christianity Today? As I've illustrated many times in this series, the magazine's early years were characterized by a serious engagement with the larger world of religious and theological scholarship, including Old Testament studies. More recently, and especially since the 1970s, CT's attention to such matters has been reduced to almost nothing.

And what about the recent works of evangelical historian Mark A. Noll? In 1984, Noll proudly chronicled the rapid rise of biblical scholarship among evangelicals. [2] But in 1994 he published The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which basically says that there isn’t one and which represented for Noll a potential letter of resignation from the evangelical movement. It seems fair to conclude that if one were to ask, “Is evangelical scholarship growing or declining,” we could correctly answer, “Both.”

A second not-so-provisional conclusion: the evidence I have cited seems to confirm one of George Marsden’s most basic theories regarding contemporary evangelical identity. In his book Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism 1870-1925, Marsden observes within fundamentalism “a strikingly paradoxical tendency to identify sometimes with the “establishment” and sometimes with the “outsiders.” This tendency, he says, is rooted in the majority status of nineteenth century evangelicalism (that is, before the fundamentalist-modernist controversy), combined with fundamentalism’s role “of a beleaguered minority with strong sectarian and separatist tendencies.” [3] As Marsden’s subtitle suggests, this paradoxical tendency has shaped not only the evangelicalism of the past, but also the contemporary expressions of “neo-evangelicalism.” As I have pointed out, it is clear that evangelical biblical scholars have attacked but at other times commended what is essentially the same kind of scholarly work done by outsiders. I am convinced that Marsden’s theory goes a long way in helping us to understand why.

Third and finally, there seems to be a connection between the explosion of American evangelicalism’s popularity beginning in the mid-1970s and the demise of intellectual life among their “laity” that is more than coincidental. Again, this is still for me less of a thesis and more of a hunch. But the facts are undeniable. According to a Gallup Poll, in 1976 nearly 50 million Americans age eighteen and over--one-third of the nation’s adults--said they were “born again.” Garry Wills, in a piece for the New York Times Magazine, spoke of “the blossoming evangelical movement, now the major religious force in America, both in numbers and impact.” Michael Novak asserted that “the most understated demographic reality in the United States is the huge number of evangelical Protestants.” President Gerald Ford attended the 1976 convention of the National Association of Evangelicals. And Bicentennial celebrations provided a platform on which the nation’s religious roots could be recalled. [4] Of course, most significant of all was the election that same year of a decidedly-evangelical Southern Baptist named Jimmy Carter. For the first time, evangelicals were in the White House and no longer seemed like a “beleaguered minority.” It didn’t take long for conservatives to get the message. Political and cultural power was theirs. Even fundamentalist Jerry Falwell was soon changing his outsider’s tune and singing the praises of a so-called “Moral Majority.” From the facts, one might conclude that when given the choice between the development of an intellectual tradition versus the exercise of political power, American evangelicalism chose the path frequently taken.

[1] CT, XXVII (March 4, 1983), p. 105.

[2] Mark A. Noll, “Evangelicals and the Study of the Bible,” in Evangelicalism and Modern America, ed. George Marsden (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984), pp. 103-21. Anecdotal evidence of what Noll has carefully assessed appears in a 1991 essay by CT senior editor Dennis Kinlaw. “Behind Scholars’ Closed Doors” relates Kinlaw’s recent experience as an outside examiner of a doctoral candidate in the field of historical theology. After they “probed and bored and challenged,” the other two examiners turned to the significance of the candidate’s dissertation. What emerged, says Kinlaw, was a beautiful moment in which the “obvious, but humble commitment of the young man to historic orthodoxy” became apparent. Afterwards, Kinlaw remembered the times “when the segment of the kingdom to which I belong had no such bright and highly trained and credentialed young people to explicate the mysteries of God. In fact, the door to studies that would furnish that excellence was closed to ‘fundamentalists.’ Old-style ‘modernists’ reigned in those circles.” CT, XXXV (April 29, 1991), p. 11.

[3] Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, pp. 6-7.

[4] CT, XXI (October 8, 1976), p. 52.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Onslaughts and Olive Branches, 2nd of 2

In the previous post I highlighted a few of the onslaughts: the places where Christianity Today magazine has taken a negative view of modern Old Testament scholarship.

What's interesting, however, is that for every pejorative remark regarding scholarship outside the evangelical camp, one can find another that is much more neutral, if not downright friendly. In many cases, the evangelical writer feels compelled to say that, yes, the work under review might be offensive to some. But then the writer goes on to vouch for the good intentions and correct points, even extending a welcome—where one might expect a warning—to the CT readership who are encouraged to study such works for all they're worth. For example, in 1959, remarking on Walter A. Maier’s commentary on Nahum, David Kerr observes:

If any trend distinguishes the direction of Old Testament studies at the present time, it is that which recognizes that the substance of biblical writing is often more important than the source. In some instances this trend is carried so far as to attempt to hold a fairly orthodox theology along side the most radical views of the literature of the Old Testament. In some other instances it has led to a higher respect for the integrity of biblical documents. [1]

In the 1960 review of recent books, although some writers are said to espouse what is called “Wellhausenism,” their efforts are credited in the warmest of terms. [2]

The Old Testament: Its Origins and Compositions by Curt Kuhl is calmly reviewed by Fred E. Young: “In simple and non-technical language, the PJED thesis is posited. He begins with P, although he dates it later than D.” The book, says Young, “is a good presentation by a critical mind on the books of the Old Testament and should receive wide reading by students interested in a critical approach to Old Testament scholarship.” [3]

Likewise, Carl Armerding notes that William L. Holladay's book Isaiah: Scroll of a Prophetic Heritage “is not committed to the literary unity of Isaiah." Nonetheless, says Armerding, "he finds in the varied materials of Isaiah a theological unity that will provide a thematic guide to a solid biblical theology.” [4]

Finally, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture by Brevard Childs (pictured above) is called “the notable event in Old Testament publication for 1979.” Armerding sums up his brief review by calling it “fresh, responsible, and devoid of irresponsible speculation.” [5]

What should we make of those much-different attitudes in the same publication representing the same group? In a final post on this subject, I'll take a stab at interpretation.

[1] CT, III (February 16, 1959), 8-9. It's interesting, I think, that Kerr's description of Maier's commentary sounds much like the later works of one Brevard S. Childs.

[2] CT, V (November 7, 1960), 43-44 and (December 19, 1960), 38.

[3] CT, V (July 3, 1961), 36.

[4] CT, XXIII (March 2, 1979), 30.

[5] CT, XXIV (March 7, 1980), 28.

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.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Boom and Bust of Biblical Archaeology

This post continues a series I started on November 24th. I've tried to give each entry a stand-alone quality so that you don't have to go back and read all of the previous posts.

The series began with an overview of the history and character of American Evangelicalism. Since then, these posts have examined the interaction between biblical scholarship (especially Old Testament studies) and Evangelicalism. I'm using Christianity Today magazine as the main indicator of where popular Evangelicalism has stood and what it has said. I welcome your questions and comments.

From its beginning in 1956, Christianity Today magazine provides plenty of evidence that in the early years American evangelicals viewed biblical archaeology, far more than any other factor, as the antidote to what it considered to be destructive, modernistic theories about Scripture. Frequently, no specific examples are cited. Instead, one finds the bare assertion that, whereas the anti-supernaturalistic liberals have theorized against the traditional views, recent archaeological finds have overturned their unfounded ideas and exonerated that what the Bible asserts is factually true.

Along this line, for example, William Sanford LaSor reviews Nelson Glueck’s book Rivers in the Desert and quotes with glee the statement , “It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference. (p. 31).” [1]

Two months later R. K. Harrison says, “It is almost a commonplace today for Old Testament scholars to admit that recent archaeological discoveries have demonstrate the essential historicity of events mentioned in the Old Testament.”[2]

In a later article on “British Old Testament Study,” Harrison complains that, in spite of increasingly-severe attacks from archaeological sources, liberals still hold on to the Documentary Hypothesis of Pentateuch and similar positions. According to Harrison, liberal critics appear appear indifferent to the fact that the approach they have adopted is becoming less and less defensible. Part of the reason for this attitude, he says, may be that most British Old Testament scholars have had little or no first-hand experience in archaeology, being trained almost exclusively in literary analysis. They do not attach due importance to archaeological findings. [3]

An interview with the great archaeologist W. F. Albright (at left), published in January 1963, must have been a highlight for readers of CT. Informed by an array of evangelical Old Testament scholars, an editor, presumably Carl Henry, asked the questions. One easily detects in Albright’s answers a good number of carefully-worded caveats and disclaimers. Nonetheless, he gives the magazine much that it wants to print. The interview includes, for example, the following exchange:

CT: Would you view a reference in the biblical narratives as a presumptive evidence of historical veracity?

Albright: Certainly.

Later in the interview, Albright is asked about how recent archeological discoveries have impacted scholarly attitudes toward the Documentary Hypothesis. In his reply, Albright says:

The study of the Dead Sea Scrolls has dealt a crushing blow to the minute critical analysis of the early books of the Bible that has prevailed since Wellhausen.

Still later he says:

the ‘School of Wellhausen’ is only one of many ideological systems built on arbitrary philosophical postulates and baseless historical presuppositions. [4]

In a piece that appears five years later, Albright is heard to say that proving the accuracy of Scripture “remains important and new confirmations are turning up almost daily.” [5] Following the Six-Day War, the vision of a victorious Israel and a united Jerusalem fired evangelical enthusiasm. According to John Montgomery, even those with limited exposure to the recent discoveries had been overwhelmed by “the amazing degree to which the archaeology of the past fifty years has confirmed the precise historicity of the Bible.” [6]

In a short article, D. J. Wiseman reports that findings from a recent excavation near Mosul, Iraq “include the earliest references to the capital city of Samaria and to King Johoash outside of the Old Testament.” Indeed, such Bible-confirming discoveries occur “so frequently that such finds now tend to go unnoticed.” [7]

Likewise, Edwin Yamauchi declares, “it may be safely said that the mass of archaeological evidence has strikingly confirmed the traditions and corrected radical skepticism.” Quoting D. Winton Thomas he adds, “Archaeological research will, we may believe, continue steadily to show that the Old Testament narrative is essentially trustworthy . . . ” [8]

Ten years later, in 1979, Samuel Shultz reviews The Bible in Its World, by Kenneth A. Kitchen (at right). Shultz summarizes:

Against the background of second and third millennium documents currently available, he suggests that these narratives are not legend or fiction but are closest to the historical class of literature. Kitchen is cautious in relating archaeology to the Scriptures. For example, rather than flat assertions, he simply observes that anyone in Joseph’s position would have been in close contact with writing, and that in the Middle Bronze period when alphabetic writing seems to have been invented, there is ‘the attractive (but totally unproven) possibility of patriarchal traditions being put into such script, in West-Semitic, from the seventeenth/ sixteenth centuries B.C. onwards, as the basis of what later we now find in Genesis. [9]

Here one notices a cautiousness that was unheard of in the early years. And by 1984, there is evidence of a realization that all of those celebrated discoveries combined with a new generation and wider array of interpreters has broken up the old and certain system. Gone forever are the days when one scholar, such as Albright, could dominate the field with his views. The explosion of new information made a standard synthesis like Albright’s Archaeology of Palestine, very dated. Yet no one immediately stepped forward to provide a good synthesis of all the new discoveries. [10]

This helps to explain how it was that on the subject of biblical archaeology the pages of CT fell nearly silent. One of the few entries in the last 25 years is a fine piece by Kevin D. Miller on the work of Egyptologists Kenneth Kitchen and James Hoffmeier. The two scholars are reported as fending off the large number of “biblical minimalists,” giving evidence and establishing a historical background against which Abraham, Joseph in Egypt, Moses and the Exodus, and subsequent Bible personalities and events may be presumed historical. [11] Nonetheless, by the 1970s, real interest in reporting the latest archaeological discoveries and what they mean to the conservative cause was all but forgotten, an obvious parallel to the treatment of biblical studies.

[1] CT, III (March 16, 1959), 37.

[2] CT, III (May 25, 1959), 5.

[3] CT, V (February 13, 1961), 12.

[4] “William F. Albright: Toward a More Conservative View,” CT, VII (January 18, 1963), 4-5.

[5] CT, XII (June 21, 1968), 3.

[6] CT, XII (August 16, 1968), 47.

[7] CT, XIII (January 3, 1969), 31.

[8] CT, XIII (February 14, 1969), 13.

[9] CT, XXIII (April 20, 1979), 31.

[10] CT, XXVIII (March 16, 1984) 51.

[11] “Did the Exodus Never Happen?” CT, XXXXII (September 7, 1998), 44-51.

Friday, January 01, 2010

J. I. Packer and Permanent Waves

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope 2010 turns out to be a good one.

You might want to check out this interview article with evangelical theologian J. I. Packer published in the Washington Post a few days ago. Here's a taste:

I think that the number of lively evangelical Christians in North America is, in fact, increasing. I think that if overall statistics show that churches are losing ground, it's because the deadwood is dropping off the branches. Amongst younger people, there is a very great deal of evangelical Christianity. It's not always deep, but it's there.

Having said all of that, there's a great divide between all the spiritualities of the world and Christian spirituality because Christian spirituality is at every point a relation to the triune God of the Bible. Secular spirituality isn't focused on God, if God even comes into it, but on me and my fulfillment. My self-discovery. My inner peace. The more you look at that gap, the wider it gets. It's the difference between self-centeredness and God-centeredness. It's unhelpful, actually, that both sorts of concern are called spirituality.

And now for a commemoration. It was thirty years ago today--January 1, 1980--that Rush, a three-man Canadian rock group once described as a "head-banger's Genesis," released their album called Permanent Waves.

By then, Rush had been around for years. But this album was my first exposure to their music. Since then, I've spent a lot time listening to this and some of the earlier albums, even some of the later ones, too. I've even made it to a couple of their concerts; the first with Craig (2002), the second with Chloe (2004).

I don't listen to Rush for long stretches. But whenever I'm in the mood for their music, it's a lot fun.