Tuesday, July 14, 2009

William G. Dever and the Minimalists

William G. Dever

I was going to do a piece about the school of Biblical Minimalism and its use of Post-Modernism but the Archaeologist William G. Dever has beat me too it. So I'll just quote two passages from one of his books. Now Biblical Minimalism is a hyper-critical school of criticism that maintains that the Bible is a collection of "texts" that have little or nothing to do with events that really happened. They are "fictions" that have nothing or next to nothing to tell us about what really happened. This school of thought is commonly called the Copenhagen school. This school views the Bible has a collection of texts that have to be approached suspiciously for their "real" purpose which is to support an ideological position and does not except in the most tenuous sense tell use anything about real events. Further this school assumes that very little if any older material got into the Bible, and that it reflects overwhelmingly the late Persian / Hellenistic period and were used to justify policies and positions that existed then.

Dever's first summarizes his view of the "new" Post-Modernist literary approach.

A Brief Critique of New Literary Criticism

My own misgivings about the new literary critical approach to texts concern primarily the following:

1. Its determined “anti-historical” stance, for which! find no justification.

2. Its promise of superior results; but does this approach truly edify us, or merely entertain us?

3. Its lack of sophistication, despite its claims, particularly in its inchoate theories of “literary production.” These are usually borrowed from other disciplines long after they have become obsolete.

4. Its largely reactionary character, self-consciously situated on the “margins” of society and preoccupied with questions of ideology and power and political discourse that may be totally foreign to the text.

5. Its stress on the “social context” of all knowledge, but its ignoring the original context of the text itself.

6. Its minimalization of the importance of philological, historical, and comparative-analytical competence; its “know-nothing” attitude toward, or denial of, any original context.

7. Its contradiction in insisting upon the “isolation” of an individual text, but at the same time arguing that “intertextuality” is essential in reading texts.

8. Its positing that a text must be “tested;’ but producing no criteria by which that might be accomplished.

9. Its denial of “authorial intent;’ which defies common sense.

10. Its ultimate cultural relativism, which makes the text mean anything the reader wants. This is no different from the distortion and exploitation of texts of which they accuse both Fundamentalists and the liberal religious establishment in the past.

11. Its fondness for “posing questions” of the text, but its lack of any answers.

12. Its elevation of the reader’s subjective concerns to the status of final arbiter of “meaning,” which I find arrogant and self-indulgent.

13. The oppressively ideological and polemical character of the entire movement, which substitutes slogans for sustained rational argument.

14. The superiority of this approach is often asserted, usually dogmatically; but its actual reading of texts often borders on the fantastic.

15. A typical postmodern stance is assumed as essential, but it is rarely defended. Is the latest fad (for that is what it will in time be seen to have been) really the best?1

The next quote is William G. Dever's summary of the "revisionist", "post modern" positions and tactics.

1. Always attack the Establishment on principle, and in the name of “revolutionary progress?’ Set in motion a counter-culture, even if it means repudiating your own earlier works, but pretending that you have not done so.

2. Pose a set of convenient false issues; create an imagined dichotomy between positions; polarize the discussion.

3. Reject consensus scholarship; deplore the middle ground; carry the argument to its most extreme; celebrate the bizarre, since it gets attention.

4. Caricature the history of traditional scholarship; demonize any remaining opponents.

5. Deny that there are objective facts; insist that everything is relative, and that all interpretations (except your own) are under suspicion.

6. Pretend to be scientific, but discard evidence that doesn’t fit; falsify the rest.

7. Be “politically correct” at all times; pretend to identify with the oppressed minorities, while still maintaining your elitist privileges.

8. Substitute clever epigrams for sustained rational argument; use catchy slogans to conceal the real agenda.

9. Declare yourself innovative and “revolutionary”; inflate banalities into presumptuous social pronouncements.

10. Reject empiricism and positivism as outdated and perverse; but promote your own Utopian visions.

11. Elevate skepticism into a scholarly method; cherish cynicism; pride yourself on how little real knowledge you possess, since that suggests modesty and honesty.

12. Remember that the real issue is always ideology: race, gender, class, power, and above all politics. Expose others’ ideology, but deny that you have any.

13. Escalate the level of rhetoric, so that the issues are obscured.

14. Announce the “New Truth” triumphantly,

15. When exposed, decamp; accept martyrdom gracefully.

If all this sounds familiar, it is. It is precisely the method and agenda of the extreme forms of postmodernism that I have posited above as the intellectual and social matrix of revisionism. This is not sound, careful, balanced, honest scholarship: it is demagoguery.2

Certainly the above is both blistering and highly nasty, but frankly having read some of this stuff it is hard NOT to react the way Dever did. (Check Dever for a bibliography of such works)3 Other books by Dever include:

Who Were the Early Israelities and Where did They come from?, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids Michigan, 2003.

Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids Michigan, 2005.

1. Dever, William G., What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know it?, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids Michigan, 2001, pp. 15-16.

2. IBID. pp. 52.

3. See for example Thompson, Thomas L., The mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel, Basic Books, London, 1999, and Davies, Philip R., In Search of "Ancient Israel", Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement 148, Sheffield Academic, Sheffield, 1992.

Pierre Cloutier

No comments:

Post a Comment