A d F o n t e s

(Latin: "to the sources")

More on Generalism vs. Specialism

Below Jared kindly directed me to the following SBL link. Here Craig Keener and Mike Bird argue that there is a need for generalist bible scholars. I basically agree with the direction that they’re heading. However, I actually think that what they’ve done is created an argument for why specialists need to be much more “general” than we typically are, not why we need generalists around. I don’t think this is too much to ask; rather, I instead I think it’s a sign that our standards have fallen over the past century. It’s impacted what we expect from each other, from students, and it shows in the quality of our publications (just compare, say, NTS w/ JRS). It’s no mystery that ancient historians tend to hold historical work by NT or rabbinics scholars with great prejudice–the reason is that they’re often not very informed on other relevant historical matters, despite how well they know their own texts, and it shows in their analysis. I know this sounds picky and pejorative. It’s not meant to be. But I think we need to step it up.

That said, I agree with their other argument that there is greater need for multidisciplinary study. It needs to be done carefully though. I’ve seen it done poorly. Last SBL, for instance, there was a “Christianity and Economy” session. I’m a young scholar of economic history, so I stopped by–though primarily out of skepticism: the title struck me as really odd, as if it assumed that “Christianity” as a movement was a justifiable (or even detectable) economic actor that could or should be investigated. My skepticism was warranted: with the exception of one lecture (by an informed historian I know personally), all of the presentations were drastically undertheorized, not up to date on the field, and didn’t exhibit much awareness of the relevant data. There’s a lot to learn, admittedly, but this is an excellent example where knowing the field better would sharpen the questions in much more productive ways. And learning it is not too hard or too much to ask. One of my qualifying exams (of 3) is “social and economic history of the Roman Empire, 1-400). It’s a lot to do, but the basics are manageable.

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June 22, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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