Oh Well… Or, Why Mention It?

Christopher Rollston mentioned this evening an essay in BAR by Ronald Hendel, and so since I have immense respect for Christopher I thought I’d read it.  I did.  And I don’t understand it.

Indeed, it raised some questions for me.  For instance,

1- If you’re going to leave an organization, why make it public unless you have a grudge to express or an ax to grind?

2- If you’re a publisher, why devote space to such a piece?

3- What’s Professor Hendel really angry about (or sad or grieved or whatever term he might choose)?

I feel fairly confident that people let their membership in all manner of organizations lapse every day.  In fact, I’d say every one of us has done it at some point or other in our lives.  But I imagine as well that none of us wrote anything like a letter to the editor of the local news rag saying we had done so- unless we were really galled about something that said organization had done (or that we perceived it had done) to us.

So is Ronald’s real anger about the ‘evangelical and fundamentalist groups’ he sees encroaching on the sacred territory which secularists previously occupied?  Or is it the fact that the Society of Pentecostal Studies and the Adventist Society for Religious Studies meet along with the SBL?  And if so, so what?  Is someone telling Professor Hendel he has to attend those sessions?

As he writes

What’s wrong with bringing in such groups? Well, some of them proselytize at the SBL meetings.

Is that really it?  Are these groups with which Hendel has issues actually attempting to persuade others to adopt their views?  Just like each and every person who presents a paper is trying to do?  After all, when papers are read (and not so boring as to be slept through or slipped out of), isn’t the aim of the paper to persuade the audience to see things from the point of view of the presenter?  Isn’t every paper by every participant proselytizing of a sort?

Years ago whenever I went to the airport there were Hare Krishnah weirdos there, passing out flowers and attempting to convert anyone who looked them in the eye or walked to slowly.  There are strange people and people with whom we disagree even when we toddle down to the local Wal-Mart.  But we don’t stop going to the airport and we don’t stop going to Wal-Mart just because we might run into some kook.

Sure- Ronald has every right to withdraw from whatsoever he wishes.  Whatever, as the kids say.  But to blame it on some sort of fundamentalist takeover or ideological shift with which he cannot agree seems more than a little odd to me.  And the fact that he wants everyone to know he’s withdrawing also seems more than a bit odd.

He’s hurling stones as he leaves the village.  Villagers just moving on don’t do that.  Mind you, he can hurl stones if he likes.  It makes no difference to me.  But if he or BAR or anyone else imagines that there’s going to be some sort of uprising or outcry- some sort of mass exodus from the SBL, I think they’ve misjudged how life works.

Still, I’m left with a sense of discontent at his decision.  There’s something unspoken in it.  It’s that unspoken element that I’m most interested in.  And it’s also the element most likely to remain mysterious, and unspoken.  So, why does he mention his departure in the first place while leaving the real reason unexpressed?

8 thoughts on “Oh Well… Or, Why Mention It?

  1. irishanglican


    This is very interesting! Though I am not in the SBL, I have been in other scholar elements, and I too sort of left them, etc. My position was more theological, even biblical. I will not say “fundamentalist” however. I think too Hendel might have some Jewish issues with the fundamentalists? But we cannot be sure at this moment, just a guess? But, conservatives both Jews and Christians have been hammered by others also. We must allow both, conservative and liberal to exist together, live together, and even work together in some manner. But the line is not an easy one to draw at times.


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  7. Phil

    Jim, I seem to remember that you like the work of Gerd Lüdemann. As you know, he’s personal faith decision has had legal consequences for his ability to teach in a theological faculty (the home of German critical scholarship). I’ve claimed on my blog (post + comments) that Hendel has made an theological claim (apparently without realizing it) and that he is requiring Biblical scholars to subscribe to something similar to his own faith position (which of course contradicts his own point that faith has nothing to do with Biblical scholarship). I just read a fascinating article on Lüdemann, Critical Biblical scholarship, and the confessional status of German theological faculties and thought it might interest you.


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