Why I’m not going to SBL
Posted September 21, 2007on:
Apart from the time, the money and the travel, that is.
Last year I remember feeling overwhelmed and not a little sickened by the sheer number of people making their comfortable living off the back of God’s word. Around 5000 conference delegates were supplemented by the many hundreds of vendors, publishers, agents and so on. I have no idea how many of these people are motivated in the studies or their business by a true desire to honour God and serve his people, but judging from what I observed, it’s probably a minority.
So it’s particularly pleasing to find one such biblical scholar admitting to deep feelings of unease about his own part in this. Hector Avalos thinks that the Bible has no more intrinsic merit than Shakespeare, yet he is a biblical scholar at Iowa State University. He spends his working life studying a book which he does not believe. In this article he notes how biblical studies departments are finding it increasingly important to justify their own existence. He is pretty blunt about this:
I have come to see the SBL as having a self-serving ideology that must be confronted if the SBL is to survive at all. Given the ever-growing irrelevance of biblical studies in academia, the SBL has increasingly become charged with stemming the death of a profession. The vast majority of SBL members are engaged in an elite leisure pursuit called “biblical studies,” which is subsidized through churches, academic institutions, and taxpayers. Keeping biblical scholars employed, despite their irrelevance to anyone outside of faith communities, is the main mission of the SBL.
Now, I fundamentally disagree with Avalos about the worth of biblical studies. I think that there is nothing the world needs more than to hear and understand properly the texts I spend my days studying. My motivation is not to make money (!) nor a name for myself, but to serve the church. And I’m glad to be studying with and under people who have similar goals.
But I can’t help feeling that there are some parallels between the majority of SBL delegates and the moneylenders whom Jesus threw out of the temple.
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