Amy-Jill Levine about the Current Trends in Academia

Posted: January 26, 2012 in General

The current trends of Biblical scholarship/research, in India in particular and the world at large, are mostly restricted within the areas of literary and perspectival studies. In this context, what Levine says below is eye-opener for all who are engaged in biblical scholarship, research, and preaching. I appreciate my friend Ekaputra Tupamahu (For more details about him, go here) for posting the following section (from Amy-Jill Levine’s work) at NTSW Facebook wall (here). His posting provoked me to browse through Levine’s work “The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus” (HarperOne, 2006, p. 121-122) yet another time. Levine, a professor of New Testament studies at Vanderbilt University, joins the ranks of Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, and others in the search for the historical Jesus.

Read below…

Departments of religion, seminaries, and university-based divinity schools are substantially to blame, through sins of both commission and omission, for the perpetuation of anti-Jewish teachings. Christian clergy and professors of seminary subjects ranging from Old and New Testaments through church history, theology, ethics, and pastoral care are not typically trained in Judaica. What they know about “Judaism” thus becomes an often intuitive sense derived from select readings of the Old and New Testaments.

The situation is a particular problem for New Testament or early Christianity Ph.D. programs. Not all such programs require degree candidates to read such Jewish sources as the writings of Josephus and Philo, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the pseudepigraphical works (books dating to ca. 300 bce–100 ce, usually written under the names of ancient worthies, such as 2 Baruch or 1 Enoch), or the rabbinic texts. Instead, popular today are required readings in methods. Rather than introducing students to the primary sources, faculty train their acolytes on “how” to read them. The result is a Ph.D. candidate who can apply any type of critical theory (from poststructural, postmodern, postcolonial, feminist, womanist, mujerista, Min-Jung, queer readings, and autobiographical critique to whatever is of greatest interest at this year’s Modern Language Association meetings). There is much worth in these reading strategies and others, but there is no value to them if the student has no clue as to the content of the Letter to the Ephesians, let alone Philo’s Special Laws, Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews, or tractate Sanhedrin in the Mishnah. The sad aspect of this methodological focus is that within ten years, the darling literary-critical theory will be outdated, and the academic whose focus is primarily on theory will be outdated as well. Even worse, a number of these strategies that seek to give voice to views that had previously been unheard in the academy preclude any critique. The voice from the margins claims the moral high ground, and all those who do not belong to the marginalized group can do is listen and, usually, feel guilty. Thus, scholarship devolves into solipsism, the social location of the interpreter is the only factor of determining the meaning of the text, and history becomes irrelevant.

You can have an overview of her book here.

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