Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Emerging from the Tomb

I have emerged from the tomb so to speak - at least it feels like it. What a relief. I left my office Monday with a finished book on the Gospel of Judas. I've turned it over to my editor, so now its fate is in her hands.

Now I'm trying to catch up on the Jesus Tomb controversy. What I have found (not too surprising!) about the comments that I have followed here on the blogs, on the web, on Ted Koppel, and on e-mail lists, is the control that theology holds over us - not only what conclusions we draw, but what inquiries we feel we are allowed to make, and how we should be allowed to make them. The rabid attacks, the name-calling, the outright dismissals, the unwillingness to discuss the possibilities, the Christian apology even in scholars' responses. I haven't even had a chance to form my own opinion yet, because I feel so smothered by all the rhetoric!

This is an occasion again to be reminded that historical inquiry in our field must be liberated from the constraints of faith. Faith must not dictate to us what questions we consider or predetermine our answers. We must follow a course of rigorous academic discourse and lay out all the possibilities. Then we must narrow these down. And in the end we will sort out what the data means. But this process must be a process of free inquiry without a predestined outcome.

I am happy that Simcha Jacobovici laid out his opinion as a journalist. In my opinion, he has shown up once again how afraid we are as scholars to talk about Jesus' death - that the man really died and was buried. And that the resurrection is a doctrine of faith. Frankly, my feelings after watching his film was how silly we look as biblical scholars. I continue to worry about our image. How can we ever be taken seriously as historians as long as we keep wanting to also be theologians or be worried about our faith?

My hope is that Simcha Jacobovici has stirred up the hornet's nest enough that scholars will begin publishing their argued cases in peer-edited forums. If we keep this only a discussion of various posts on the web, or allow Ted Koppel to ask the questions, we will never come to a scholarly consensus. To launch this, I suggest organizing an academic conference in a year so that the case can be discussed among scholars sitting at the same table.

PS. I'm not offering to organize or hold the conference.


David said...

How true. After I completed my B.A. in Religion at William & Mary, I chose not to go on to graduate studies (in the 70's) because I didn't believe the separation between faith and scholarship was possible at that time. Thank goodness this appears to be changing. For me, faith commitments prevent or interfere with quality scholarship, because faith commitments don't allow the tough questions to be asked, which means you are always pulling your punches. This is, fundamentally, dishonest.

Thank you for holding us all, scholars and amateurs alike, to a higher standard. said...


I wonder if the 'peers' would discuss whether or not the 'man who really died and was buried' was called by the name of Jesus (a theology name?). I also wonder if the 'peers' would be sufficiently open to discuss the possible mode of death and burial.


Max Wolfe said...

Although I am not a scholar, I worry that the authors didn't have "their ducks lined up" and that it fueled the criticism that one would normally expect. Was it Schweitzer who said that the bar is always much higher for those who argue against the orthodox position? I am afraid that your field will suffer more than be helped by this particular media event.