One More Voice on the “Great Divide” in Biblical Studies

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by Neil Godfrey

Not everyone was happy with my post The Great Divide in Biblical Studies. Admittedly the words “great divide” carried connotations for many readers that I had not intended. By “great divide” I was thinking of the intellectual gulf between those scholars who follow methods of historical research that would fit seamlessly into any other historical research in other history departments, whether ancient or modern, on the one hand, and those scholars who resort to various psychologically grounded yet fallacious “criteria of authenticity” as their primary tools of historical research on the other.

If I had been keeping up with various discussion groups I would have known at the time that another highly regarded biblical scholar, Niels Peter Lemche, had only weeks previously made the same point about too many of his peers. In the Yahoo Biblical Studies list he posted the following:

The question about historical information in the OT is a classical historical-critical issue. Here the only demand is that any investigation must be complete and take into consideration every piece of evidence, and there is no question that should not be asked (such as the alleged historicity of David and Solomon). 

This should be rather evident, and it is remarkable that is to many people is not, and then begins another project: to find out why it is so difficult for many biblical scholars to go all the way with their critical studies which in this way turn out to be not critical at all but faith based.

Lemche, Niels Peter, 2019. “28392SV: [biblical-studies] What is Minimalism?Biblical Studies – Yahoo Groups.

It’s not just me. Voices from among the tribes in the wilderness are themselves crying out.

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Neil Godfrey

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4 thoughts on “One More Voice on the “Great Divide” in Biblical Studies”

  1. OP: “Voices from among the tribes in the wilderness are themselves crying out.”

    Shaw, Brent D. (2015). “The Myth of the Neronian Persecution”. Journal of Roman Studies. 105: 73–100. doi:10.1017/S0075435815000982.

    Those who have expressed even modest scepticism about the historicity of the one explicit passage in the historian Tacitus that attests to the executions have been voces clamantium in deserto.

    Cf. Godfrey, Neil (17 December 2015). “The Myth of Nero’s Persecution of Christians“.

    1. Shaw, Brent D. (8 March 2018). “Response to Christopher Jones: The Historicity of the Neronian Persecution”. New Testament Studies. 64 (02): 231–242. doi:10.1017/S0028688517000352.

      I attempt in this reply to clarify some of my arguments and to restate my original claim that a persecution of Christians by the emperor Nero in connection with the Great Fire of 64 seems improbable given the context of the relations between officials of the Roman state and Christians over the first century ce.

  2. • One side of the divide:

    Wallach, Efraim (2018). “Historiographic narratives and empirical evidence: a case study”. Synthese. doi:10.1007/s11229-018-02065-w.

    [A]n easily comprehensible and emotionally evocative narrative will give way to a complex and mundane one, when the latter provides a more coherent account of the consensually accepted body of evidence. This points to a fundamental difference between historiographic narratives and fiction, contrary to some influential opinions in the philosophy of historiography. Such historiographic narratives have similarities with hypotheses and narrative explanations in natural science.

    Wallach, Efraim (2016). “Bayesian representation of a prolonged archaeological debate”. Synthese. 195 (1): 401–431. doi:10.1007/s11229-016-1224-8.

    Carrier (29 May 2018). “A Test of Bayesian History: Efraim Wallach on Old Testament Studies”. Richard Carrier Blogs.

    Wallach models two generations of the debate over whether, basically, the Bible is right that the Israelites came from Egypt and conquered Palestine, or whether in fact the Israelites were just another native Palestinian tribe of Canaanites who absorbed surrounding tribes and then later invented the myth of their conquering from outside. Some alternative theories to those came and went over the course of the 20th century, which Wallach also includes. The observed phenomenon is that the field started convinced of the Biblical hypothesis, and ended up convinced of the Native hypothesis instead. Wallach asks: Is the process that the experts in that field underwent in that period Bayesian? He finds the answer is yes.

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