226 of 245 people found the following review helpful
, August 8, 2007
This review is from: The End of Biblical Studies (Hardcover)
GNPR 70: Biblical Studies?
Marshall McLuhan, of "the medium is the message fame," used to say that his books did not sell well, because they contained more than the 25% of new material that most books did. For most people, "The End of Biblical Studies," a new book by Hector Avalos, Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, will contain material that is at least 75% new to them, even though much of what Professor Avalos has to say has been well known within the Religious Studies community for many years.
What Avalos brings to this book is incredible scholarship, remarkable attention to detail, and, most of all, willingness to tell it like it is. A variety of scholars, among them Bart Ehrman, William Dever, John Dominic Crossan, have been busy popularizing what translators, literary critics, and biblical archeologists, have been saying for years. Much to the distress of fundamentalists, there is no single definitive text of the Bible, the Bible has no claims to distinctive literary merits, and the extensive archeological research of the last hundred years has done nothing but puncture holes in the hope of establishing any claims anyone might have that the Bible is in any way historically accurate. (Avalos has an excellent section pointing to the radical discrepancy between the Big Bang theory and the origins account of Genesis.)
Avalos, who has a Ph.D. from Harvard in Biblical Studies, points out that few people even in very religious America, really read the Bible, and even fewer have anything but a bowdlerized grasp of what is really there. His erudition in this regard is exceptional, taking apart the popular softenings of texts like Luke 14:25: "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother...cannot be my disciple." Christian exegetes have soft-pedaled this, but the text really does say "hate," a verb that has no other possible translation. (One Christian exegete says: "this is indeed a hard saying.")
What does Professor Avalos hope to accomplish? As he says: "Our purpose is to excise from modern life what little of the Bible is being used and also to eliminate the potential use of any sacred scripture in the modern world." Jews and Christians are quick to find quotations in the Koran that relate to killing of the infidels, but are eager to pass over all those references to slaughter of the innocents that occur in various books of the Bible.
Avalos makes the case that the Bible was written by primitive people in a cultural context so foreign to our own that the Bible no longer makes sense. "What I seek is liberation from the very idea that any sacred text should be an authority for modern human existence." He refers constantly to the "bibliolatry" that has gotten us into so much trouble historically, and laments that the publishing industry and academia have such a vested interest in keeping such a form of idol worship alive.
"Abolishing human reliance on sacred texts is imperative when those sacred texts imperil the existence of human civilization as it is currently configured. The letter can kill. That is why the only mission of biblical studies should be to end biblical studies as we know it." This is an extremely well written book, but written at a sufficiently popular level that even someone not well versed in biblical studies can benefit from it. Even those who read the Bible continually will find at least 25% new material, and everyone who reads it will come away with 100% satisfaction. You may not agree with what Professor Avalos concludes, but his well-put together arguments deserve your thoughtful attention.
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