My Response to John Hobbins
Recently, John Hobbins responded to one of my posts in the Does Higher Criticism try to “Destroy the Bible”? series. For me it is an example of uncharitable reading (some of it so far between the lines it’s not even in the lines), and extreme nitpicking. As we go forward in this series it is clear that regardless of what I write or how I frame the conversation there will be dissenters. This should not be unexpected as there are a variety of epistemological and hermeneutical methodologies applied across the broad range of biblical studies. However I think John’s disagreements with me might be a priori rather than a posteriori. Let me respond and clarify a few of his ‘grave’ concerns.
In the post that John refered to there were two videos by Chuck Missler who was talking about how the DH has been shredded. I pointed out that the situation was more complicated than Missler was making it out to be. Note what I actually wrote
Just to be clear: the DH has not been shredded; if anything subsequent formulations of the original DH (really should be the Documentary “Theory” if we are going to follow the program of methodological naturalism) posit even more sources for the Torah. J1, J2, or H as final redactor, do not add anything, at all, in any way, to the veracity of Mosaic authorship.
The context of this quote is responding to Missler and the idea of single scholarship for the Torah. But somehow in John’s mind, who knows me and my scholarship so intimately, it becomes a stunning leap in logic:
Scott on his part brandishes Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis as if it were a sword capable of slaying dragons – the dragons who breathe the fire of a full-bodied Jewish or Christian faith. Nothing could be further from the truth: the sword of Wellhausen, and the others Scott tries to wield, are made of papier-mâché.
Hyberbolic much? Exaggerate much? Read my quote again: we should use the word theory properly and there are more sources. The point is that in the reformulations and modifications of Wellhausen’s theory that “today, it must be conceeded, the majority of biblical schoalrs in American and European universitiesare convinced by the idea of the Pentateuch’s multiple authorship.” (James Kugel, How to Read the Bible, 42). The point then is just because the DH has been modified by some subsequent scholars, suddenly Mosaic authorship does not become the best theory.
Furthermore, as I mentioned in the post, “In addition, the most popular theory–as far as I can tell–in recent Torah scholarship, asserts that we can learn very little, to no, actual history from the Pentateuch but instead learn about the social conditions in Yehud in the fifth or fourth century.” I assume, though I could be wrong, that this idea would be very disturbing to the average person in the pew who has been told very likely many times some sort of formulation that they can trust the Bible because it is historically reliable.
While John knows me and my work better than myself apparently (I also listen for the divine word from Bultmann apparently, a scholar I don’t believe I have quoted or sourced in a single academic paper) the reality is that Wellhausen’s work while groundbreaking and influential in its day–and let’s face it if you say you work with the OT and don’t know it, forget about it–if I was merely regurgitating his positions for my current work I would very likely receive very poor grades. In fact, the academic work I actually do uses the second theory above and moves away from some of Wellhausen’s ‘fracturing’ of the text.
Second, John is adamant that I am misreading Plantinga and thereby misleading my readers. I may have not reproduced enough of Plantinga’s essay for John but I don’t think the quote I used was out to lunch
Here is the [unsourced] quote Scott provides:
There is no compelling or even reasonably decent argument for supposing the procedures and assumptions of historical biblical criticism are to be preferred to those of traditional biblical commentary. [Page 412 of Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief.]
Little will Scott’s readers suspect that his unsourced quote is part of a larger argument which Plantinga introduces further with the following words:
A little epistemological reflection enables us to see something further: the traditional Christian (whether in the pew or not) has good reason to reject the skeptical claims of HBC [emphasis mine, JFH] and continue to hold traditional Christian belief despite the allegedly corrosive acids of HBC. [Page 412 of Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief.]
There you go. I used a quote that said there is “no compelling reason…for supposing the procedures and assumptions of HBC are to be preferred” and John though I should have used a quote that said they had “good reason to reject the skeptical claims of HBC.” I hope you all don’t think less of me now that shocking bombshell has been dropped!
Another reader at John’s site, Patrick Mefford, wrote
I think Scott is far closer to the mark than you give him credit for John.
In my reading Plantinga, his two fold rejection of Troeltschian and non-Troeltschian HBC is his rejection of their presuppositions and the unlikely event of any a posterior evidence had from Troeltschian and non-Troeltschian HBC that could reasonably give Christians a problem (pages 420-421 of WCB).
Anyways, for me, this is an example of John’s uncharitable reading. In a series with thousands of words and several posts title Does Higher Criticism Attempt to “Destroy the Bible”? John does not deal with any of the first posts or the primary question that is being pursued. No, instead an ancillary point that if stretched just enough (maybe) can show how I am misleading my readers. When someone has decided to approach your posts in such a fashion you simply cannot win.
Therefore, I will move forward in the series, and though it is partially in my brain I’m not really sure how it is going to come out at this point. But I believe I’ll discuss a little bit about how I view methodology and what I value in historical study. We shall see.
However, I’m sure that John will find some windmills to tilt at when I do.