On Ron Hendel and SBL

By now it is old news that Ron Hendel has written an opinion piece on his dissatisfaction with the fact that “In recent years [the Society of Biblical Literature] has changed its position on the relationship between faith and reason in the study of the Bible.”

Many have already voiced their opinions, sympathetic or otherwise. Jim West believes Hendel has an ax to grind, one that remains unspoken in his article. John Loftus finds himself in “complete agreement” with Hendel, comparing the association of faith and reason at SBL to the presence of flat-earthers at a scientific table. Doug Mangum agrees that “SBL should be focused on critical investigation of the Bible, free of overt religious proselytizing and theologically-motivated biblical interpretation.”  Jim Davila is concerned about lower attendance at the annual SBL meeting but does not believe that recent, more inclusive, changes to the SBL mission are the solution. John Hobbins thinks Hendel has gotten it all backwards, both in thinking that the shift in the mission statement promoted the shift in SBL’s focus and in thinking that letting his membership lapse is the solution to this problem. Michael Bird thinks Hendel fundamentally misunderstands the society, but is willing to leave the light on should Hendel reconsider membership. Carl Sweatman shares that he too has allowed his membership to lapse, yet due to the fact that he is a poor Ph.D. student paying out of pocket, not because he thinks such a move in the current intellectual climate is wise (in fact he thinks it is downright cowardly). Stephan Carlson doesn’t think there is too much to be worried about, but also doesn’t think that SBL is beyond criticism.  Robert Cargill believes that SBL must pursue alliances with critical scholarship, not popular membership. Chris Brady summarizes his view thus: “the bigger the tent the bigger the party.”

There is now a Facebook group calling for the SBL to “put the word ‘critical’ back into their purpose statement.”

Finally, SBL has responded and asks the following questions:

  1. To what extent do you believe that the Society successfully balances its commitment to scholarly integrity while maintaining an atmosphere in which all voices may be heard (specific, first-hand examples are encouraged)?
  2. Should the Society establish a standards-based approach to membership? That is, should there be a set of minimum standards, qualifications, or achievements for SBL membership?
  3. If you favor a standards-based approach, what specific standards would you advocate for SBL membership?

As a younger, student member of SBL, I recognize that I have a very limited perspective. I don’t know that I have enough experience with SBL to answer question 1 or strong enough opinions to answer questions 2 and 3. I thus far find myself sympathetic to views expressed on both sides of the discussion. This has breathed some new life into the world of biblioblogging, a world, as some have recently recognized, lacking momentum. I would encourage those of you responding to the solicitations for feedback to share your responses on your blogs. This discussion is both important and interesting.


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