Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Oh Academics, You Slay Me!

I'm busying struggling to catch up on reading and preparations for two papers and comp exams. After all, I have merely 6.5 weeks until my semester is up, and part of that will be eaten up by Pesach, so yeah. Madness is what we're looking at. I've got a binder full of about 215 pages worth of documents that cover basically all of the great academics of their subject and period (from ancient to modern and social Jewish studies) and how they felt about what, as well as another binder full of texts about Medieval versions of Tobit and a few texts on Herman the Jew (still developing this idea, concerned it's going nowhere), not to mention a binder in progress on am ha'aretz, which, let's be honest, I haven't really started on.

Heaping spoonful of sigh.

The upside is that there are lots of little amusing morsels of academic wisdom (or ridiculousness) that I get to share with my interested readership. You see, academics are hilarious. They're sarcastic and snotty and snarky at every turn, and it makes me giggle. I get it. I get the jabs, and I get the sneaky scripted way they present them. The over-arching statements that poke at revisionists or classicists ... they're beautiful. Here's a gem, from William Dever, from "The Crisis in Historiography" from John Collins The Bible After Babel.
But what if ancient Israel was "invented by Jews living much later, and the biblical literature is therefore nothing but pious propaganda? If that is the case, as some revisionist historians now loudly proclaim, then there was no ancient Israel. ... The story of Israel in the Hebrew Bible would have to be considered a monstrous literary hoax, one that has cruelly deceived countless millions of people until its recent exposure by a few courageous scholars. And now, at last, thanks to these social revolutionaries, we sophisticated modern secularists can be "liberated" from the biblical myths, free to venture into a Brave New World unencumbered by the biblical baggage with which we grew up. (p. 40-41)
Oh that was good. Do you feel the knives and jagged edges in those words? Look out revisionists, you just got your tush handed to you on a platter by Dever.

And then there's this, which is less sarcastic than it is a brilliant approach to this question of historiography. This comes from the mouths of Iain Provan, V. Phillips Long, and Tremper Longman III, again in Collins "The Crisis in Historiography."
"Why," they ask, "should verification be a prerequisite for our acceptance of a tradition as valuable in respect of historical reality? Why should not ancient historical texts rather be given the benefit of the doubt in regard to their statements about the past unless good reasons exist to consider them unreliable in these statements? ... Why should we adopt a verification instead of a falsification principle? 
I tend to agree with these guys when it comes to the idea of revisionists that it's all a bunch of ballyhoo. I also am a big fan of the benefit of the doubt theory, because more often than not academics assume that absence automatically suggests non-existence. This, of course, is ridiculous. However, I think their statement fails in one way, because who is to say what a "good" reason really is when it comes to deciding what is reliable and what isn't.

Anyhow, those are my gems for now. Eat them up, swallow 'em down, and get your brain all juicy with smart-stuff goodness.