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A Few Thoughts on Bible Secrets Revealed

Last night, the History Channel aired the first of six episodes in a series titled “Bible Secrets Revealed.” So what might some preliminary thoughts about the series, and some of the points that were made, look like to an evangelical (and Baptist! – *gasp*) minister?

You can find out more about the series at the History Channel website and also see the list of confirmed scholars who will have air time. Also, the venerable Dr Jim West has posted a liveblog of the episode from last night, go check it out. Here’s a YouTube trailer:

Couple of preliminary thoughts and then we’ll be moving along:

1. The scholars they consulted were some of the top in their field. You just can’t find many series that dig as deep into the scholarly pool to bring out some (relatively young and articulate) scholars who can make sense of their dense fields of work. For their contributions, each of the scholars last night did an excellent job.

2. There are no actual “secrets” in this (or likely any) of the episodes. Maybe they’ll be secrets for somebody who hasn’t ever actually thought about this stuff or ventured into even the most elementary discussions, but these are pretty well acknowledged topics.

3. The selection of scholars was, generally good, however, I would have like to see a couple leading evangelical voices. As I mentioned in a twitter exchange, there are legitimate evangelical scholarly voices. The producers saw fit to include a creative writing professor who has only published a (bad) book about Jesus based on discredited 19th century historical Jesus work. Why not dial up Dan Wallace and talk about his perspective on textual transmission? Or Craig Evans about the Dead Sea Scrolls? Or Tim Keller? Or some others?

4. Along these lines, there are legitimate, evangelical responses to each of the discussion points about the nature of the biblical text that present accurately a viewpoint that leaves the Bible as an inspired set of texts that were accurately transmitted and faithfully preserved to reflect the authentic words of their authors. I wish we had heard some of them.

5. Critical scholarship is hard business, but this was a good production of some realistic challenges with dealing with the biblical text. Some texts are more challenging than others, and certainly the producers have found a good starting point. I’ll look forward to some stimulating conversations with a few of my atheist and other religions friends based on this series.

6. I’ll look forward to seeing the subsequent “Qu’ran Secrets Revealed” that surely is being worked on. (wink, wink)

I’m looking forward to the other episodes. From the list posted by Dr Bob Cargill it looks like we’ll be seeing some Historical Jesus stuff, Gnostic and hetrodoxical testaments, eschatology vs. apocalytpicism, and sex (well you gotta keep folks attention some how.)

Perhaps we’ll also see some evangelical voices. The challenge for the History Channel and the producers of this series (not that they care) is many Christians in the United States are already expecting to see a series that “goes after” the authority and inspiration of the Bible. If you want to lessen the cries of “heresy” and “liberal theology” it might be best to include a few faces and voices they’ve heard and trust. Just putting out a series that recapitulates an argument against the Bible, perceived or not, which seeks to undermine it is no longer surprising to so many faithful Christians. Since the History Channel and other networks won’t ever touch on my sixth point, there is a definite imbalance that is hurting the credibility of good, scholarly based series like Bible Secrets Revealed.

So, what did you think?

13
Nov 2013
POSTED BY Garet
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Apologetics

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Review Round Up for Aslan’s “Zealot”

Well this week has had an interesting turn of events that began with the proliferation of clips from that ill-fated FoxNews interview of author and professor, Dr Reza Aslan about his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

Any book that is marketed as a popular treatment of technical scholarship, and that subsequently makes it to the top of Amazon’s sales list, needs to be taken seriously.

So here’s a briefly annotated list of some review links in certain categories:

Technical/Scholarly Reviews

In his Huffington Post review, Greg Carey gives a thorough review of Zealot that makes notes of its achievements while avoiding polarizing language. This does not mean Carey lacks criticism, but rather that his tone is measured.

Anthony LeDonne’s review, however, is markedly different in tone and force. LeDonne is helpful in his completeness of noting how much Zealot lacks an actual historical basis for its purpose.

Peter Enns hasn’t added a review, so much as a couple of notes that are appropriate to continuing the conversation about Zealot.

Jim West provided a quick retort of seven of the core positions (I’ll save you some time: the answer is Bultmann) of the text and then later noted the challenge of this kind of marketing strategy. We’ll all be looking forward to his more in depth review which is surely forthcoming.

That’s about it for scholarly interaction in the theological blogosphere. If I’ve missed some, let me know, because I definitely want to include them.

Popular News/Media Reviews

There were a couple of reviews of Zealot from some pretty high profile publications. At first there were two quick review notes from the Publisher’s Weekly and the New Yorker. They are joined by longer reviews in The Los Angeles Review of Books. Each of these reviews (written by some with, it seems, limited backgrounds on the topic) talks about how well Aslan has written the book, points out the alarming points, and settles on recommending the text for both of these reasons. There isn’t really any scholarly interaction.

In a more engaged review at Salon.com, Laura Miller challenges the approach Aslan takes. Adam Kirsch, at The New Republicprovides a more detailed interaction with the text that also questions some of its method and conclusions.

Of course then we have the Amazon.com reviews…which are about as useful as a Southwest Airlines pilot in the international terminal.

Certainly there are more forthcoming interactions. I’ll be sure to update the post with them. Just one quick observation (or two):

I don’t know what the process is/was for a text like Zealot when it comes to submission. It is curious that the publisher submitted the text to some popular review sources and not, it appears, scholarly ones. If this perception is wrong, I apologize. However, if this is the case…why would they do this? Why not pick up the phone and call a couple historical Jesus scholars and ask them to look at it while the popular press is doing the same?

All of this seems to be leading to a point that I reflected on this morning that this has a parallel to Matthew 16:26 (cf. Mark 8:36.)

In the larger community Dr Aslan will enjoy a couple of weeks of press and publicity and likely a fat royalty check for some time. That might work for him and his publisher, but in scholarly circles (the circles that provide sustainable engagement and develop appropriate reputations) he’s pretty much done. If the book is, as we’re seeing, really this poorly researched he’s toast. We can’t imagine what will happen if significant scholars get a hold of this text (Wright, Ehrman, Hurtado, etc) and do a just treatment. Who is going to take Aslan seriously in six months, a year, ten years due to this book and subsequent follow ups that are equally as bad? How does he rehabilitate his reputation following this book? It will be difficult to say the least.

Just a quick hit. Please update me on some additional reviews as they are forthcoming.

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