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Is the SBL in Need of Medicine?

7th November 2006

The most recent Chronicler of Higher Education has an article entitled, “What’s Wrong With the Society of Biblical Literature?” by Jacques Berlinerblau.

While I don’t have time to fully engage the article, I think it raises a number of good points, but misses the mark on just as many. I agree that it would be good to have a “census” of members (“census” sounds so biblical; I just hope our census fares better than King David’s!) to see where people are at on a whole variety of issues. I agree that the society should make a concerted effort to popularize good biblical scholarship (I think that the “SBL Forum” is a step in the right direction). Perhaps a glossy magazine is in order?

In regards to the academic freedom issue, I don’t see how an academic society (which is what SBL is and will always be; sorry Jacques) can really have much input except by encouraging standards to which institutions can strive. The SBL is not an accrediting agency. Finally, in regards to his recommendation to create “a form of biblical scholarship that goes beyond theology and ecumenical dialogue” I am not quite sure I agree with this proposal or even his perception that is is already not happening.

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with Berlinerblau’s article is that it seems just too American. Perhaps it is just my sensitive Canadian ears, but many of the examples seem to be too nationalistic (e.g., “America is in the midst of a religious revival,” suggesting that the SBL should aspire to the likes of the Brookings Institution [PEN isn't quite as bad a comparison since one of its goals is to foster international literary fellowship], or that it should address “the rising use of Scripture in American public life,” etc.). The SBL is an international organization with members from every continent in the world; it needs to focus on promoting and fostering excellent biblical scholarship on an international level.

I also think that many of Berlinerblau’s criticisms are unfair. For instance, in regards to the great divorce between AAR and SBL, the reason why AAR tries to explain their position on their website is because they are the ones who went forward with divorce proceedings, not SBL. I guess the SBL could have a little note on their site saying, “We don’t want to separate, we love you, please come back,” but I don’t think it would work!

Anyhow, its an interesting article and I imagine it will generate much discussion in the weeks ahead.

(HT Blue Cord)


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