Rethinking Biblical Scholarship.

Author:Seters, John Van
Position:Book review
 
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Rethinking Biblical Scholarship. By PHILIP R. DAVIES, Copenhagen International Seminar. Changing Perspectives, vol. 4. Durham, UK: ACUMEN PUBLISHING, 2014. Pp. xv + 253. $99.95. [Distributed by ISD, Bristol, Conn.]

This stimulating and provocative book by Philip Davies is a collection of sixteen articles and essays, published between 1990 and 2008, and arranged under four headings: I, Method; II, History; III, Prophecy and Apocalyptic; and IV, Canon. The book is given a brief, but useful, introduction by Niels Peter Lemche, which summarizes the basic themes of Davies' work and places it within the context of this scholar's controversial academic career. Davies' approach to biblical studies comes out most clearly in part I on Method, in which, in the first essay, "Do Old Testament Studies Need a Dictionary?" he calls much of the language used by biblical scholars "Academic Bibspeak," which is a mixture of religious language and the terminology of academic studies with which it is entirely incompatible. In its place Davies proposes the use of critical language completely devoid of any theological (i.e., mythological) overtones.

In chapter 2 he makes the useful distinction between history as something that happened in the past, historiography as an attempt to recount events of the past, and metahistory as the study of various historiographic attempts to recover the past. This leads in chapter 3 to his discussion "What is a 'Minimalist' and Why Do So Many People Dislike It?" The charge of being a minimalist is made against him by religious conservatives because they want to retain a theological perspective within the academic study of the Bible, which Davies strongly rejects. His reason is that historians, by the very nature of their discipline, are minimalists in which religious bias has no place. Davies then illustrates this difference in chapter 4 with the discovery of the Tel Dan inscription, in which the "biblical maximizers" claim to have found a reference to the "house of David," a claim that he argues is very doubtful.

In part II Davies sets forth five historical problems related primarily to dating "historical" events or biblical texts about such events. In chapter 5 he discusses when the term "Israel" became the common designation for Judah, inclusive of Benjamin, with its capital in Mizpah, which reflects the Neo-Babylonian period. In chapter 6 Davies argues that the association of Yahweh with Cyrus (Isa. 45:1-7) does not belong to...

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