2022-03-07

Paradigm Shifts in Religious Studies (Part 3)

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by Tim Widowfield

In a comment to the previous post, Russell Gmirkin took issue with my explanation of Kuhn’s definition of a paradigm and my conclusion that fields of study outside of natural sciences don’t have Kuhnian paradigms, and hence no “paradigm shifts.”

He quoted from his forthcoming book, as follows:

One may define an academic paradigm as an implicit or explicit theoretical and factual framework that is agreed upon by consensus by a body of professionals within a discipline. (Gmirkin 2022)

As I’ve said before, if you want to propose your own definition of a paradigm, I have no quarrel with it. However, having done so, you will have left the Kuhnian universe of ideas. And once again, I protest not because Kuhn was right in all things, but simply because he had a particular structure in mind, and to appropriate his conclusions based on terminology antithetical to that structure is wrong.

Unright

I apparently must now apologize for calling someone or something wrong, since Mr. Dabrowski has informed me that I am displaying “animus.” Let us say instead that it is unright. Perhaps even double-plus unright.

Gmirkin continues:

Paradigms are typically perpetuated within academic institutions of learning in preparation for professional life within that field. As an axiomatic intellectual framework enforced by revered teachers and respected peers, paradigms tend to be conservatively preserved and are difficult to change except in the face of both deconstruction by new facts that run counter to the accepted paradigm and the construction of a competing paradigm with greater explanatory power (Kuhn 1996) (Gmirkin 2022)

I understand his point. As we discussed in previous posts, anomalies arise when new data arrives that calls the entire prevailing framework into question. The resulting crisis can engender a great deal of backlash. For example, the discovery of X-rays sent shock waves through the scientific community. One might wonder why this should be so, since the prevailing paradigm didn’t exclude the possibility of their existence.

X-rays, however, were greeted not only with surprise but with shock. Lord Kelvin at first pronounced them an elaborate hoax. Others, though they could not doubt the evidence, were clearly staggered by it. Though X-rays were not prohibited by established theory, they violated deeply entrenched expectations. Those expectations, I suggest, were implicit in the design and interpretation of established laboratory procedures. (Kuhn 2012, p. 59, emphasis mine)

And here we see the importance of ingrained, well-established practices in normal, day-to-day, scientific puzzle solving. These established practices are local paradigms, or what Kuhn would later call exemplars. As you may recall, his global paradigm is the entire worldview of the community. Kuhn suggested that we use the term disciplinary matrix instead, but it would appear no one followed his lead.

Living in the Matrix

This disciplinary matrix implies a discipline, which further implies a community that works within that matrix. Kuhn himself put it this way:

In the book, the term “paradigm” enters in close proximity, both physical and logical, to the phrase “scientific community” (pp. 10-11). A paradigm is what members of a scientific community, and they alone share. Conversely, it is their possession of a common paradigm that constitutes a scientific community of a group of otherwise disparate men. (Kuhn 1977, p. 294, emphasis mine)

A paradigm is essentially a sociological phenomenon. Could we then perhaps extend Kuhn’s structure to include non-scientific scholastic communities? Gmirkin thinks we can:

My introduction details two distinct paradigm shifts that the field of biblical studies has undergone. The first was the pre-critical (or “fundamentalist”) research paradigm that accepted biblical claims of authorship and date. The second was classical Higher Criticism that evolved into a (“Maximalist” or “pre-Hellenistic”) theoretical framework that saw the biblical text (notably Genesis-Kings) as having been authored in pre-Hellenistic times with predominantly Ancient Near Eastern literary and cultural influences. The third (“Minimalist”) paradigm was what I term the Hellenistic research paradigm that allows for the possibility of the Pentateuch and other biblical texts having been authored after the time of Alexander the Great, subject to influences from Greek culture and literature present in the east under Greek rule. (Gmirkin 2022)

Are these paradigms in the Kuhnian sense? And, further, has biblical research really experienced paradigm shifts? Before I answer these questions, I would draw your attention to something Kuhn noticed early on in his quest to understand how scientific revolutions occur. In the preface to Structure, he wrote:

The final stage in the development of this essay began with an invitation to spend the year 1958–59 at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences. Once again I was able to give undivided attention to the problems discussed below. Even more important, spending the year in a community composed predominantly of social scientists confronted me with unanticipated problems about the differences between such communities and those of the natural scientists among whom I had been trained. Particularly, I was struck by the number and extent of the overt disagreements between social scientists about the nature of legitimate scientific problems and methods. (Kuhn 2012, p. xlii, emphasis mine)

Kuhn didn’t mean by this observation that somehow the natural sciences have a firmer grip on the truth or that they didn’t experience upheavals or argue over facts. Natural scientists do not, he said, have “more permanent answers” than their counterparts in the social sciences.

Yet, somehow, the practice of astronomy, physics, chemistry, or biology normally fails to evoke the controversies over fundamentals that today often seem endemic among, say, psychologists or sociologists. Attempting to discover the source of that difference led me to recognize the role in scientific research of what I have since called “paradigms.” (Kuhn 2012, p. xlii, emphasis mine)

Uniform Research Consensus

What distinguishes the hard sciences from the social sciences and the humanities is the existence of prevailing disciplinary matrices or paradigms. The constant relitigation of fundamental ideas keeps them from developing a uniform research-consensus.  Keith Percival explained it quite well:

Furthermore, according to Kuhn this same chronic uncertainty regarding fundamentals is what characterized fields such as celestial mechanics before they had achieved “scientific maturity” by acquiring their first exclusive paradigm. In Kuhn’s system, therefore, there is still a very clear line separating the sciences from the nonsciences. Certain fields, moreover, are still stuck in the preparadigm stage of interschool rivalry. It is to this category of scientifically immature disciplines that Kuhn consigns not only the humanities, but also the social and behavioral sciences. (Percival 1979, p. 29, emphasis mine)

Now you see the problem, or at least I hope you do. Biblical minimalism has not replaced maximalism. Both camps have entrenched scholars publishing, arguing, hurling insults at one another. One can also find apparently no end to the number of scholarly papers asking us all to get beyond the animus (and there is real, visceral animus here) and try some third way. There is no consensus.

For some time now, I have been following the story of what the press likes to call “King Solomon’s Copper Mines.” Suffice it to say, at least for now, that conservative scholars continue to speak of the Davidic-Solomonic empire as a given fact, and are content to refer to any archaeological find from that general period as possibly (probably?) having something to do with King Solomon. The media seizes upon these stories, breathlessly reporting fantastic new discoveries that prove the Bible was right all along. It sells.

I welcome the advent of minimalism. I’m glad to see people taking it seriously. However, it would be unright to say that minimalism has become the dominant disciplinary framework. Conservative, moderate, and “skeptical” scholars still vie for attention and argue over the basics of their profession.

No, these are not paradigms. They are trends.

Paradigms Are Not Styles

Musicians didn’t stop creating baroque music because some new observational data revealed its problems. Artists didn’t move away from representational art to impressionism because the old style was “broken.”

Along those lines, Andrew Dabrowski writes:

Let me try a different tack. Kuhn says

“Periodization in terms of revolutionary breaks in style, taste, and institutional structure have been among their standard tools.”

So what are these revolutions against if not paradigms? Kuhn’s project was to apply the insights from the humanities to the sciences. (Dabrowski 2022, emphasis mine)

What are these revolutions against? They are revolutions against the earlier style. They occur when people tire of current fashion. Things start to look “old” or “stodgy.” Sometimes artists simply decide they’ve tapped the well dry. They need to express themselves in some other way. It is rarely, if ever, a rational occurrence. Nor do new styles become the standard way of “solving problems.”

Andrew also writes:

The condition must be relaxed for the humanities, for as I said paradigms there can coexist. But there are definitely communities of musicians in which one genre is dominant.

Now you could argue that relaxing the third criterion means the concept is no longer “Kuhnian”, but I think that’s quibbling – everyone recognizes some changes must be made to the definition if it is to be extended to the humanities. (Dabrowski 2022)

We could also, for example, expand the definition of mammal to include reptiles. They are warmblooded — and cold blooded, too. They give milk — or not. They have fur — or maybe scales. Some changes will have to be made to the definition of “mammal” if we extend it to include snakes and lizards. You could argue that relaxing the definition would remove it from the model Linnaeus described, but that’s just quibbling.

No, a Kuhnian paradigm is not a style. It isn’t a genre or a trend — or even a movement. It is a disciplinary matrix possessed by a community of scientists. You certainly have the right to define paradigm however you wish, but what purpose does it serve to invoke Kuhn and then ignore his entire framework? Why use his terminology, but then contradict those terms at nearly every point?

Conclusion

And here’s why it matters. Kuhn wanted to figure out what circumstances surround the shift from one paradigm to another. In other words, what is the “structure” of “scientific revolutions”? Musicians didn’t stop creating baroque music because some new observational data revealed its problems. Artists didn’t move away from representational art to impressionism because the old style was “broken.” But scientists did abandon the phlogiston paradigm for those reasons, and we can trace the experiments that led to its demise.

I will grant you that we can learn from Kuhn’s discussions of how difficult it is for people to move from one worldview to another. And this would naturally occur in nonscientific disciplines as well. Kuhn said one can’t simply move piecemeal into the new worldview. He called it a gestalt switch. And throwing that switch can be exceedingly difficult.

How, then, are scientists brought to make this transposition? Part of the answer is that they are very often not. Copernicanism made few converts for almost a century after Copernicus’ death. Newton’s work was not generally accepted, particularly on the Continent, for more than half a century after the Principia appeared. Priestley never accepted the oxygen theory, nor Lord Kelvin the electromagnetic theory, and so on. (Kuhn 2012, pp. 149-150)

In other words, the old guard dies off. Unfortunately, in biblical studies, what I have observed from reading a great deal from the past couple of centuries is that conservative scholarship may lie in the weeds, but it always comes back. It may change its packaging, but it does not die. David Friedrich Strauss discussed many inconsistencies and contradictions that could have triggered a crisis. But they didn’t. They sparked a lot of outrage, but the same arguments over the fundamentals never went away.

What I’m saying is this: People generally do not change their minds easily when it comes to fundamentals. People’s self-identity is bound up with their worldview. Even in the natural sciences, where practitioners should follow the evidence, they often cannot make the leap. Their gestalt switch is frozen. In the humanities, we can expect it to be even more difficult to flip the switch. And in biblical studies it will be next to impossible, because their worldview is inextricably tied to their understanding of salvation and the belief in their personal role in the cosmic struggle between good and evil.


Kuhn, Thomas S., “Second Thoughts on Paradigms” in The Essential Tension. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.

Kuhn, Thomas S. and Hacking, Ian, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2012, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

Percival, W. KeithThe American Sociologist, Vol. 14, Issue 1, “The Applicability of Kuhn’s Paradigms to the Social Sciences,” 1979

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Tim Widowfield

Tim is a retired vagabond who lives with his wife and multiple cats in a 20-year-old motor home. To read more about Tim, see our About page.

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35 thoughts on “Paradigm Shifts in Religious Studies (Part 3)”

  1. If I may offer a couple comments, Maximalism (in evolving guises) was the uncontested reigning paradigm throughout academic biblical studies from the nineteenth century until around 1990. Old Testament scholarship universally operated within its set of guiding assumptions. It was universally agreed that the Hebrew Bible was mostly an Ancient Near Eastern, effectively immune from Greek influences.

    Minimalism, which arose in the early 1990s and allowed for biblical texts to have been authored in the Hellenistic Era using Greek texts, is an entirely distinct competing research paradigm. It is not a debate or “trend” within an existing paradigm, but fundamentally incompatible with the naked assumptions of the former paradigm.

    Kuhn fully allowed for the coexistence of old and new paradigms in what he called the “transition period” discussed in the chapter “The Response to Crisis” (Kuhn 1996: 77-91). “The transition from a paradigm in crisis to a new one from which a new tradition of normal science can emerge is far from a cumulative process, one achieved by an articulation or extension of the old paradigm. Rather, it is a reconstruction of the field from new fundamentals…” (Kuhn 1996: 84-85).

    That is what is currently occurring in Old Testament biblical criticism (as I noted in my earlier comments). The fact that the paradigm shift in Old Testament biblical studies is not complete is thus not an argument that Minimalism and Maximalism represent distinct research paradigms.

    1. Gmirkin:

      Maximalism (in evolving guises) was the uncontested reigning paradigm throughout academic biblical studies from the nineteenth century until around 1990.

      You are saying there was a paradigm in biblical studies. I have some questions, and maybe once we have the answers we can at least establish the ground game and make some progress.

      When you say paradigm, it appears you believe this to be a Kuhnian paradigm. That seems a reasonable assumption, since you quoted Kuhn twice. If that’s the case then:

      1. Do you think Kuhn was wrong when separated the arts and humanities from the natural sciences?
      2. How would you describe “normal science” under a biblical studies “paradigm”? From my perspective as an amateur historian, I couldn’t tell you how a historian performs “normal science,” because history isn’t a science. Was Kuhn’s definition of “normal science” wrong?
      3. Kuhn said anomalies occur when data arise that can’t be explained within the existing paradigm. How would that work in biblical studies? Was Kuhn’s definition of anomaly wrong?
      4. Do you think Kuhn was wrong in saying only mature sciences have paradigms?
      5. Finally, do you think Kuhn’s definition of a paradigm is wrong?

      Do you see where I’m headed with these questions? If you disagree with Kuhn’s definitions and his structure, why bother with it?

      Keith Percival, writing about the history of linguistics (his own field) and its applicability to Kuhn’s Structure, has some important insights here:

      If it is easy, as Kuhn asserts, to identify the paradigms of a mature scientific community, then we must indeed conclude that, from its inception, modern linguistics has not been a science–or more precisely, that modern linguistics has not been one of Kuhn’s ‘mature sciences’. For since philosophers are not in agreement as to what constitutes a science, we are under no obligation to adopt Kuhn’s solution to that problem. (emphasis mine)

      He concludes:

      Practicing linguists will also be better off if they do not regard their own activities from a Kuhnian vantage point. Since linguistics has never been characterized by the uniform assent which Kuhn sees as the distinctive attribute of the hard sciences, an unhealthy situation might arise if linguists began to look upon all theoretical disagreements within their profession as conflicts between rival paradigms, i.e. incommensurable viewpoints, and used this as an excuse not to observe the ground rules of rational discussion. Moreover, since (according to Kuhn) any genuine paradigm is destined inevitably to be accepted by the entire profession, some linguists might feel impelled to give premature assent to any novel theory which they observed gaining wide support, for fear of ending up as isolated adherents of a discarded paradigm. Uncritical acceptance of Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions could thus lead to a lowering, rather than a raising, of scientific standards within linguistics.

      See his essay, “The Applicability of Kuhn’s Paradigms to the History of Linguistics”

      Here: http://www.jstor.org/stable/412560

      1. Hi Tim,

        This is an important subject, so I will take time out from other projects to respond in some detail. I think I can cover the topic in two somewhat lengthy postings (to follow).

        (1) What is Kuhn’s definition(s) of a paradigm? Does he restrict paradigms to the natural sciences? (no) The sciences? (yes) Does he restrict paradigms to “normal” or “mature” science? (no, except when he does) Does Kuhn define science /scientific? (no – one must go to Popper for this)

        (2) Can one do science within biblical criticism? (yes) Within the fundamentalist paradigm? (no) Within the Maximalist paradigm? (yes) Within the Minimalism paradigm? (yes) Do Kuhn’s ideas of “normal” science and “anomaly” play out in biblical studies? (yes) Does Kuhn’s theories on paradigm shifts play out in biblical studies? (yes, with discussion)

      2. Response Part 1.

        First, let’s discuss Kuhn from a definitional point of view.

        “‘Normal science’ means research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledge for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice.” (Kuhn 1996: 10.)

        Note that Kuhn does not restrict ‘normal science’ to the natural sciences, nor even does he anywhere define ‘science’ or ‘scientific’ (a point to which we will return later). But Kuhn is a historian of the natural sciences, so his book focusses on that subject matter. We will late consider whether biblical criticism can be understood as a scientific enterprise and to what extent.

        “In its established usage, a paradigm is an accepted model or pattern, and that aspect of its meaning has enabled me, lacking a better word, to appropriate ‘paradigm’ here” (Kuhn 1996:23). Kuhn notes that the reason why a paradigm gains its status as an “accepted” model is because it is more successful than its competitors in solving important problems (or “puzzles”). Kuhn therefore associates a paradigm or accepted/successful model as a characteristic of normal or mature science that has an accepted track record of success.

        First, this particular definition must be rejected, since paradigm simply signifies a model (that is its meaning in Greek as well as in common usage), not an “accepted” model. Kuhn’s introduction of the idea of an “accepted” model is thus somewhat of a cheat, aligning the meaning of the word to his theories of normal science. More importantly, Kuhn’s usage of paradigm throughout his book frequently corresponds to the more accurate meaning simply as model. For instance, Kuhn uses paradigm to describe a new, competing model that does not reflect “normal” or “mature” science, but in fact challenges the “normal” science of its day, such as Aristotle’s Physica or Newton’s Principia and Optics (Kuhn 1996:10). These new competing “paradigms” were at first untested, but later gained acceptance and superseded the older paradigms. They were not initially accepted or existed as a product of normal, mature science at the time of their introduction, before they had effected a paradigm shift. Their success was only known in retrospect, by hindsight. Describing these as paradigms or “accepted” models at the time of their introduction is thus anachronistic, basically using a Kuhnian crystal ball to predict they would later win over the field. Kuhn also talks about competing paradigms, and more than one paradigm in existence during the crisis period or period of transition, which is not possible if these were all “accepted” paradigms and the product of “normal” science.

        Kuhn is thus inconsistent. His usage corresponds to the actual broader simple meaning of paradigm as model. A paradigm only becomes accepted and an expression of “normal” science when and if it wins out over its competitors as a result of a paradigm shift and comes to dominate a field, or at least a community within the field. So a paradigm is simply a model and it is perfectly valid to speak of competing paradigms.

        Kuhn also puts forward a “sociological” definition of a paradigm as “the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on shared by the members of a given community” (Kuhn 1996: 175). He noted that a scientific community does “normal science” by building on past research within the framework of its distinctive accepted paradigm and conservatively defends that paradigm’s validity. He keenly observes that the closed membership of a scientific community constitutes the sole arbiters of the correctness of their own beliefs (Kuhn 1996: 167) which makes the community and its paradigm self-perpetuating. Competing paradigms create competing scientific communities and the relative success of such paradigms, especially in explaining anomalous data, determine which paradigm will gain or lose support (and perhaps disappear) through time.

        Finally, let us turn to the definition of science. Since Kuhn nowhere discusses this, I think we can go with Karl Popper here in The Logic of Scientific Discovery (which Kuhn mentions). Basically Popper says the business of science consists of creating hypotheses and testing them against objective facts or experimentation. Kuhn says that a paradigm will lead to certain predictions (read hypotheses) and that the business of “normal science” is to either verify or falsify these predictions. The role Popper assigns to the falsification of a scientific hypothesis through testing corresponds closely with Kuhn’s theory of anomalous data that creates a crisis and stimulates a paradigm shift. I would assert that any enterprise that seeks to solve problems by creating hypotheses and testing them against the facts is engaging in science.

        Hopefully we can now more-or-less agree on what Kuhn says and shift gears in Part 2 to the extent to which Kuhn’s discussion of science, scientific communities and paradigm shifts carries over to and sheds light on the history of biblical studies, and especially on Maximalism vs. Minimalism.

      3. Response Part 2-a.

        First, let’s establish the fact that it is possible to do science within biblical criticism, according to Popper’s description of science.

        The example I will use is the king lists of 1 and 2 Kings. The hypothesis is that these source documents go back to authentic Iron II sources. This hypothesis can be tested against Assyrian, Babylonian and Moabite inscriptions that mention kings of Judah and Israel/Samaria/Bit Humri.

        The rulers of Samaria have the same names, in the same order, and the same chronological period in Kings and inscriptions, including Omri, Ahab, Jehu, Jehoash, Menahem, Pekah, Hoshea (ending in the fall of Samaria).

        The rulers of Samaria have the same names, in the same order, and the same chronological period in Kings and inscriptions, including Jehoahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh and Jehoiachin, ending in the fall of Jerusalem.

        The conclusion of this analysis is that the king lists go back to authentic Iron II sources starting ca. 890 BCE with Omri in Israel and starting in 735 BCE with Jehoahaz (Ahaz) in Judah. The king lists appear to contain reliable data for these periods. Earlier rulers in both kingdoms are unattested and historically doubtful (especially in Judah).

        Gmirkin, Russell E., “‘Solomon’ (Shalmaneser III) and the Emergence of Judah as an Independent Kingdom.” Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò and Emanuel Pfoh (eds.), Biblical Narratives, Archaeology and Historicity: Essays in Honour of Thomas L. Thompson (Library of Hebrew Bible / Old Testament Studies series; London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2020), 76-90.

        The process is straightforward and scientific. Hypotheses are tested and evaluated against known facts.

        History, both ancient and modern, is filled with such examples. You cite contemporary sources, archaeology, etc. The level of confidence correlates with the strength of the supporting facts cited.

        1. I should have said, “The rulers of JUDAH [not Samaria] have the same names, in the same order, and the same chronological period in Kings and inscriptions, including Jehoahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh and Jehoiachin, ending in the fall of Jerusalem.”

      4. Response Part 2-b.

        Kuhn was a student of the history of science. In the course of my research I have found it necessary to become a student of the history of biblical criticism (the discipline that deals with the date and authorship of biblical texts).

        Biblical criticism has gone through three distinct paradigms, which for our purposes I will call Fundamentalist, Maximalist and Minimalist.

        The Fundamentalist research paradigm, which lasted from antiquity to ca. 1600 CE, was pre-critical and pre-scientific. The research community was composed largely of priests, rabbis and other educated theologians. It viewed the Hebrew Bible as factual and took at face value its claims of biblical authors and dates.

        Certain rabbis noted the existence of anachronisms that ruled out the Mosaic authorship of the books of Moses, noted as “mysteries”. These constituted the anomalous data that created a crisis and led to a paradigm shift.

        Higher criticism arose ca. 1600 CE to explain these anachronisms, which played prominently in Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise. As higher criticism developed over the course of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, the dates of biblical texts were moved down in time to accommodate these anachronisms. Indeed, they were in general dated as early as possible such that anachronisms were removed. One can attribute this partially to the theological background of most early biblical critics and their desire, conscious or unconscious, to keep as close to the fundamentalist model as possible. One can call this trend Maximalist, although that term didn’t arise until the later Minimalist vs. Maximalist debate.

        In what can be described as a scientific impulse, higher criticism attempted to accommodate or conform to historical facts in three ways.

        • As discussed above, their dating of biblical texts took into account anachronisms that ruled out biblical claims of authorship and date. Biblical critics claimed that the books of Moses, for instance, were written by others long after the time of Moses.
        • These new biblical dates also attempted to take into account the facts of history as recorded within the historiographical books of Kings and Ezra-Nehemiah. Thus, for instance, the introduction of the Deuteronomic law code (Dtn) was placed in the time of the discovery of a scroll of Deuteronomic law in the temple in Josiah’s time, and the priestly source (P) was dated to the time of Ezra’s return from Babylon with a book of the law. By the end of the nineteenth century the Documentary Hypothesis of Julius Wellhausen, drawing on the work of earlier biblical critics, correlated the various Pentateuchal sources with historical developments from ca. 950 to ca. 450 BCE.
        • Biblical critics also took into account new discoveries in cuneiform Mesopotamian texts like the Gilgamesh Epic and others. The Hebrew Bible came to be understood as an essentially Ancient Near Eastern body of literature (with a few isolated later additions like Daniel, etc.). This did not involve revising the Documentary Hypothesis and was seen as confirming the basic results of higher criticism.

        Science seeks to test theories and hypotheses with the facts of the real world. Maximalism may be understood as a primitive scientific enterprise that sought to align theories of biblical authorship and date with factual content in the form of biblical anachronisms, biblical history, and Ancient Near Eastern literary discoveries. Starting ca. 1950 archaeological data was also taken into account.

        Maximalism throughout the period ca. 1600-1990 conformed to the Kuhnian description of a closed community of experts within a discipline doing “normal science,” using the successes of the past as exemplars for problem-solving, their puzzles being the authors, dates, literary sources and cultural influences of the Hebrew Bible. The whole field was Maximalist until ca. 1990, and Maximalism clearly qualifies as a Kuhnian paradigm. Despite not falling under the category of a hard natural science, Maximalist higher criticism possessed scientific values that sought to root its theories in fact, to the extent that was possible.

        One could detail the numerous variations of Supplementary and Fragmentary Hypotheses that arose in the 20th century as improvements on the highly successful Documentary Hypothesis and the crisis years of the 1970s and 1980s as the field began to recognize the untenability of all its conflicting theories of Pentateuchal origins, not to mention the huge disconnect between biblical historiography and archaeology. Yet through all these difficulties, the entire field tenaciously held to the central paradigm that saw the Pentateuch as having been created between the monarchic and Persian periods and cast the history of biblical literature against the background of the events of biblical historiography.

        Minimalism challenged the Maximalist paradigm in two key respects. First Thomas L. Thompson (followed by others) rejected the factual content of biblical historiography, undermining the scientific basis of biblical criticism. He argued, quite controversially but successfully, that biblical historiography had a theological and/or mythical content that removed it from the realm of historical fact as held by contemporary scholarship.

        Second, Niels Peter Lemche introduced new factual considerations, namely solid data regarding when biblical texts are known to have existed, namely only in the third century BCE or later. Rather than speculatively dating texts as early as possible, taking into account anachronisms, he thought a more important consideration was the latest possible date a given text could have been written, based on data such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc. Hence the Copenhagen School of biblical criticism came to be known as Minimalists, and traditional biblical critics as Maximalists.

        Lemche’s observations that the biblical texts could have been written as late as the early Hellenistic Era implied the possible influence of Greek literature, a possibility never remotely considered under Maximalism, which held the Hebrew Bible was essentially complete prior to the conquests of Alexander the Great. I have been at the forefront of research into Greek sources utilized by the authors of the Pentateuch, demonstrating that the Books of Moses were Hellenistic Era creations. The Hebrew Bible is now understood as a substantially Greek rather than Ancient Near Eastern literature.

        Minimalists and Maximalists now constitute two separate scholarly communities, each with their own paradigm. I would argue that the 2000s can be understood as a transitional period in which biblical criticism has two competing paradigms and is undergoing a Kuhnian paradigm shift.

        Without belaboring the point, one can point to various anomalies that undermine the conservative Maximalist paradigm but are easily explained under the Minimalist paradigm. (I call myself a post-Maximalist, but for the purposes of this posting I will call myself a Minimalist.) These anomalies notably include, among many others:

        • The Elephantine Papyri that clearly demonstrate that neither Mosaic laws or texts were in existence as late as ca. 400 BCE.
        • Greek legal sources used in the Mosaic law codes.
        • As well as Greek constitution content, a genre completely unknown in the Ancient Near East.
        • Greek foundations stories underlying Genesis-Joshua
        • Greek scientific sources in Genesis 1-3 (see Gmirkin 2022, forthcoming).

    2. {It was universally agreed that the Hebrew Bible was mostly an Ancient Near Eastern, effectively immune from Greek influences.} Not the sharpest were they with that belief if Saite Egypt was highly dependent on Ionian and Carian mercenaries.

      Herodotus Book II 154. To the Ionians and to the Carians who had helped him Psammetichos granted portions of land to dwell in, opposite to one another with the river Nile between, and these were called “Encampments”: 133 these portions of land he gave them, and he paid them besides all that he had promised: moreover he placed with them Egyptian boys to have them taught the Hellenic tongue; and from these, who learnt the language thoroughly, are descended the present class of interpreters in Egypt. Now the Ionians and Carians occupied these portions of land for a long time, and they are towards the sea a little below the city of Bubastis, on that which is called the Pelusian mouth of the Nile. These men king Amasis afterwards removed from thence and established them at Memphis, making them into a guard for himself against the Egyptians [a Swiss Guard long before Switzerland]: and they being settled in Egypt, we who are Hellenes know by intercourse with them the certainty of all that which happened in Egypt beginning from king Psammetichos and afterwards; for these were the first men of foreign tongue who settled in Egypt: and in the land from which they were removed there still remained down to my time the sheds where their ships were drawn up and the ruins of their houses.

      157, but as for Psammetichos, he was king over Egypt for four-and-fifty years, of which for thirty years save one he was sitting before Azotos, a great city of Syria, besieging it, until at last he took it: and this Azotos of all cities about which we have knowledge held out for the longest time under a siege. Azotos = Ashdod on the coast 50km from Jerusalem; 30 years of mercs drinking and screwing in their camps there when not fighting just like so many of the “contractor” mercs that I knew from the Afghan and Iraq wars were wont to do. Centuries later perhaps Jesus [if he existed] was one among the progeny tracing back to their donations to the gene pool. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potasimto Those who wrote the Elephantine Papyri would of been well acquainted with them from the battles they fought in together against the Nubians in 592 BC.

  2. Re “What distinguishes the hard sciences from the social sciences and the humanities is the existence of prevailing disciplinary matrices or paradigms.”

    I must disagree. The natural sciences have something the “social sciences” do not have–a final arbiter: nature. Nature settles all disputes and if you decide to go against Mother Nature, expect to be bitch slapped back into line. Such corrections are rarely gentle.

    History and sociology and archeology have no such final arbiter as all of their “facts” are subject to interpretation, and interpretation alone. There is no-one or no thing to finally settle disagreements, and I think Biblical Studies is at the far end of any spectrum of that attributes.

    1. I’m not sure I understand what you disagree with. Or whom.

      By the way, many people in psychology, sociology, and economics disagreed with Kuhn and claimed they had recently become a mature science. According to most observers, philosophers and historians of the natural sciences remained highly skeptical of Kuhn’s Structure. Ironically, the disciplines he didn’t think were capable of having scientific paradigms (or who were at least still in a pre-paradigm state) embraced the idea. Strange, huh?

  3. Paradigm shifts often begin with an apparently simple change to a foundational assumption. For example, assuming the earth revolves around the sun instead of vice versa resulted in a paradigm shift, and we don’t even have to measure and understand everything that changed to accommodate that shift to understand we entered a new paradigm.

    Thomas L. Thompson set off a paradigm shift set off by viewing the Hebrew Bible as an artifact of history, rather than history itself. The ramifications of that insight have led to a body of work most broadly known as Biblical Minimalism. I don’t know how we cannot (or why we should not) consider Minimalism a paradigm shift.

    In its simplest form, a paradigm is just a model, and the most important features of a model are its underlying assumptions and boundary conditions. Any discipline that uses models to develop understanding is amenable to paradigm shifts, if the underlying assumptions or boundary conditions of its model(s) are changed.

    1. In its simplest form, a paradigm is just a model…

      The words “model” and “theory” existed before Kuhn selected “paradigm” to describe the worldview of a community of scientists who are engaged in the practice of normal science.

      A Kuhnian paradigm can contain models, but a model is not a paradigm.

      I don’t know how we cannot (or why we should not) consider Minimalism a paradigm shift.

      You can, and probably will. I’m just trying to help you realize that if you do, you are talking about something very far from what Kuhn was describing.

      1. Kuhn admits to using the term “paradigm” in two different ways.

        From Kuhn’s 1969 Postscript to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions:

        “Next I consider what occurs when paradigms are sought by examining the behavior of the members of a previously determined scientific community. That procedure quickly discloses that in much of the book the term ‘paradigm’ is used in two different senses. On the one hand, it stands for the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on shared by the members of a given community. On the other, it denotes one sort of element in that constellation, the concrete puzzle-solutions which, employed as models or examples, can replace explicit rules as a basis for the solution of the remaining puzzles of normal science. The first sense of the term, call it the sociological, is the subject of Subsection 2, below; Subsection 3 is devoted to paradigms as exemplary past achievements.

        Philosophically, at least, this second sense of ‘paradigm’ is the deeper of the two, and the claims I have made in its name are the main sources for the controversies and misunderstandings that the book has evoked, particularly for the charge that I make of science a subjective and irrational enterprise.”

        1. Yes, which is a point he drives home with even more vigor in his essay, “Second Thoughts on Paradigms.” He had first picked “paradigm” because it was kind of like the paradigms you use when memorizing grammar — e.g., amo, amas, amat… They’re a pattern of sorts.

          By the time of that essay (published in 1977 in The Essential Tension) he admitted he had abused the word and now wished to call the local or small paradigms “exemplars” and the global paradigms “disciplinary matrices.”

          He explains that he noticed that there was an extraordinary amount of group cohesion within scientific communities that could not be explained by a set of rules. What was is that held them together? Kuhn decided it was “shared examples of successful practice.”

          Those examples were its paradigms, and as such essential to its continued research. Unfortunately, having gotten that far, I allowed the term’s applications to expand, embracing all shared group commitments, all components of what I now wish to call the disciplinary matrix. Inevitably, the result was confusion, and it obscured the original reasons for introducing a special term. But those reasons still stand. Shared examples can serve cognitive functions commonly attributed to shared rules. When they do, knowledge develops differently from the way it does when governed by rules.

  4. Robert Price tried to apply some of Kuhn’s ideas about paradigm shifts to Religious History. It seems that most commenters here think there is some merit in that.

    Tim adopts the Procrustean stance that since Kuhn was writing about science, and Religious History isn’t a science, Kuhn’s ideas can’t be applied.

          1. You quoted him:

            “A number of those who have taken pleasure from it have done so less because it illuminates science than because they read its main theses as applicable to many other fields as well. I see what they mean and would not like to discourage their attempts to extend the position,…”

            He goes on to say,

            “Periodization in terms of revolutionary breaks in style, taste, and institutional structure have been among their standard tools. If I have been original with respect to concepts like these, it has mainly been by applying them to the sciences, fields which had been widely thought to develop in a different way.”

            It seems he accepted there were paradigm shifts in other domains, more commonly than in science, and thus unremarkable. Yet you seem to claim they only occur in science.

  5. “…Kuhn didn’t mean by this observation that somehow the natural sciences have a firmer grip on the truth…”

    Kuhn may not have said it but I will: the natural sciences deal with much, much simpler systems than the social sciences, and it is much easier to get a firm grip on truth in the former. It’s silly to pretend that this has nothing do with the contrast Kuhn found between them.

  6. In keeping with Feyerabend, who urged the possibility of going even to dislikable, disreputable or otherwise bad sources, and JS Mill, whom Feyerabend revered for similar wrong-ish thinking, I go to websites that drive me up walls to find some useful stuff. Just today I found a comment on such a site on the emphasis of linking ‘science’ closely to experimentation. The comment suggests a strong linkage is rather questionable inasmuch as ‘science’ can involve observation and theory (or ideology/religion?) rather distant from experimentation:

    Just today ‘Geezer Geek’ wrote,

    ‘Some areas of modern science are actually just theories and thought experiments, hence are called Theoretical Science. The math may work, but that doesn’t prove it’s true. Cosmology cannot run tests, reproducible or otherwise, to test the multitude of Big Bang theories. Evolution cannot be tested at a macro level to observe a single-celled creature turning into multitude of species. Geology cannot make continents suddenly move about the surface of the planet to test the theory of continental drift.
    Science can come up with theories based on observable facts, but some are just based on correlations with no hint of the true causation. Other parts of science can be based on reproducible experiments, often leading to places no one dreamed about in their wildest speculations.
    It all comes down to definitions, I suppose.’

    (from http://www.zerohedge.com/covid-19/cdc-director-nobody-said-covid-19-vaccine-effectiveness-might-wane)

  7. “Musicians didn’t stop creating baroque music because some new observational data revealed its problems.”

    Birds didn’t stop singing because of some new observational data! (Unless a hawk flys by).

    Birds, musicians, and theologians do what comes from the heart. Scientists do what comes from the brain. That’s why you can’t change the mind of a theologian by using rationale arguments. It’s all opinion.

  8. ‘I apparently must now apologize for calling someone or something wrong, since Mr. Dabrowski has informed me that I am displaying “animus.” ‘

    This is disingenuous. You must realize that I don’t object to your disagreeing with Price, but to your tone. You could have gotten the point of your disagreement across in a paragraph or two, but instead you spent two weeks composing essays designed to humiliate Price, without ever seeking to understand his point of view, or acknowledge the enormous amount common ground you have.

    I must assume you have some axe to grind with Price that you’re not owning up to. Maybe his politics? I wouldn’t entirely blame you, I’m appalled by them too. But this blog isn’t about politics.

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