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Posted May 16, 2008
Brilliant critique of biblical studies
Hector Avalos, associate professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, has written a brilliant and original critique of biblical studies from within. He argues that biblical studies should end, because it is just religious apologetics, not an academic discipline or a branch of scholarship. Most biblical studies academics think the bible is worth keeping and studying and most are members of `faith communities¿. But Avalos shows that the bible is irrelevant, the product of an ancient and very different culture whose values and beliefs about the origin, nature and purpose of the world are not useful or ethical. Religion is a fifth wheel, superfluous to life, a hindrance to all intellectual and scientific advances. It is an illegitimate claim to extra power for foolish arguments. We should not rely on any authority, especially not on a single ancient text. He investigates biblical studies¿ various sub-disciplines. He shows that the translations of the bible are largely bowdlerised. Textual criticism has found no original texts or manuscripts, and Jesus spoke in Aramaic, not Hebrew or Greek, so there can be no original, pristine word of God. Avalos shows how history and archaeology have disproved `biblical history¿. He notes that centuries of Jesus studies have not found a historical Jesus: he has no verifiable words or deeds, and there are no contemporary eye-witness accounts. Literary criticism has not shown that the bible is better literature than other ancient works, and the excessive attention paid to this one text has meant that thousands of ancient Mesopotamian texts have never been translated. Avalos examines the USA-based Society of Biblical Literature, with its 7,000 self-serving members, and shows how it has nothing useful or original to offer. Theology has found no coherent message about God instead it is inconsistent and arbitrary, trying to rescue the bible through citing bits of texts. Nice people find the nice bits, nasty people find the nasty bits both say that theirs are the essential bits. It is often held against atheists like Richard Dawkins that they do not know theology, but they don¿t need to because others have done the work, like Walter Kaufmann in his Critique of religion and philosophy and now Avalos in this excellent book.
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