Reflections On Recent Bible Studies Carnivals

I direct this post to the biblical blogging community. Unless you really have abnormal interests, this post may not interest you at all.
Before I get into the meat of the post, let me do a little stage setting, a little framing. I approach the subject of this post with some trepidation. For one thing, I don’t really want to start a flame war with or within an online community for which I have considerable affection and from which I have learned a lot over the last several years. As far as I have grown as an amateur student of the Hebrew Bible and gained some modest recognition, I owe a good portion of that growth and recognition to the biblical blogging community. That doesn’t mean that I have always agreed with every post that I have read on the Hebrew Bible. I sure haven’t. But I often learn much more from those with whom I disagree than from those with whom I agree. And while I have often winced and occasionally been driven to comment, I have tried to take individual and occasional community excursions into theological realms with at least some deference, attempting always to separate the grain from the chaff. Hebrew Bible bloggers like Chris Heard, Jim Getz, Alan Lenzi, John Hobbins, Tyler Williams, Charles Halton, Jay Crisostomo, Brooke Lester, James McGrath, Doug Mangum, Claude Mariottini, Jim Davila, Joe Cathey, Bob MacDonald, Seth Sanders, the pseudonymous NT Wrong, the anonymous Voice of Iyov (now there’s a diverse lot) and a host of others have sustained me, taught me, corrected me, encouraged me and made me feel a part of the community. Sadly, many of them no longer post on a regular basis and a few are not blogging at all. And then there have been bloggers like Jim West with whom my online relationship has been more ambiguous, welcoming with one hand, rejecting with the other. My occasional face-to-face encounters with Jim have been uniformly positive. In return for the support of this community, I have hosted the Biblical Studies Carnival three times, tried to write an occasional post that my online Bible oriented friends might find interesting and left comments to others’ posts when I thought I had something to contribute.
Back before its recent demise and eventual resurrection, Tyler Williams saw the Biblical Studies Carnival as focusing on “academic biblical studies” which he defined in its two parts,

  • Academic: Posts must represent an academic approach to the discipline of biblical studies rather than, for instance, a devotional approach. This does not mean that posts have to be written by an academic, PhD, or professor — amateurs are more than welcome! Nor does it mean that posts must take a historical critical approach — methodological variety is also encouraged.
  • Biblical Studies: Broadly focused on discipline of biblical studies and cognate disciplines, including Ancient Near East, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Christian Origins/New Testament, Intertestamental/Second Temple literature (e.g., LXX, Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, etc.), Patristics, Biblical Criticisms and Hermeneutics, Biblical Studies and popular culture, among other things.

Tyler is no longer the guiding force behind this carnival. Jim West is. But based on my reading of the most recent carnivals, I worry that the enterprise is drifting away from even Tyler’s broad definition of academic biblical studies in the direction of confessional or apologetic content with a reduced emphasis on academic content. Don’t get me wrong, not all of the recently selected posts are confessional or apologetic. I do worry that my concerns are in part a sour grapes reaction to not being included. It’s true that I didn’t nominate any of my own posts for inclusion. If I had, I’m reasonably sure one or two would have been selected. I have no reason to gripe about not being included. I do hope that my concerns transcend the purely personal but, humans being as they are, I cannot be sure.
However, I don’t really feel slighted. In fact, I’m rather glad not to be included in a Biblical studies carnival that has had “Systemic Theology” as one of its major subdivisions for the last couple of months. I say this despite the fact that I consider a world-class theologian among my friends and teachers. Whatever Systemic Theology may be, it is only an academic discipline in a confessional context. Of the twelve links in the “Systematic Theology” section of the most recent carnival only six, by my count, linked to actual posts and of those two didn’t mention the Bible, any part of it, or its context at all. The others appeared to me to be more interested in explaining or referencing some theologian’s, mostly Barth’s, opinion on the Bible or a loosely related topic or in one case simply using a verse or two as little more than proof texts. I’m not competent or disposed to evaluate the quality of these posts. For all I know they may be great treatments of their respective subjects. But not a single one is about the Bible or its context or really the history of its interpretation or even its relationship to popular culture. Yes, perhaps a few of them might fall under the general rubric of hermeneutics and may, therefore fit the criteria that Tyler enunciated but, in my view, most of them put Tyler’s criteria to the test. To be sure, Tyler’s criteria may no longer apply and the new management may have even abandoned them. I have no problem with there being an occasion post on hermeneutics that attempts to bring the supposed authority of the Bible to bear on some theological or ethical topic. I will likely think it seriously misguide but I won’t have a problem with its being included in the carnival. And if people want to have a systemic theology carnival, it’s fine with me. Go for it. Just don’t try to sneak it into a Biblical studies carnival.
I don’t mean to be picking on Steven Demmler as I write this. Within the context of the recent history of this carnival, his work is what one would expect and within that expectation, he did a very good job. He’s just the most convenient and recent target of opportunity.
Now, let’s look at the few of the posts not listed under Systematic Theology to which Steven’s carnival linked. For now, I will confine myself to his Old Testament section. The reference posts on the genocide of the Canaanites are within the larger scope of the academic study of the Bible. But I find a couple of them too confessional and too apologetic for my taste even if they are technically okay in a biblical studies carnival. That said, I find a couple of them on the confessional and apologetic edge of acceptability. Bob MacDonald always has interesting things to say about the Psalms. I don’t necessarily agree with him but so what. Most of the other linked posts are also fine and well within the carnival’s scope. But Jason Goroncy’s post “On the cost and grace of parish ministry,” however instructive it may be, is outside the scope of the carnival as I see it.
Now how upset should I be by one post that doesn’t match my preferred criteria? Perhaps not too upset. But somehow the whole carnival, including a couple of the posts on genocide of the Canaanites seems to have drifted in the confessional, apologetic, direction and away from a solid academic center that once formed the core of the carnivals. Perhaps I am wrong, but it sure feels that way. There are links to a sermon, a largely apologetic reflection on Steven Hawking’s recent book and a discussion of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work from a Christian perspective. As far as I could see, not one of these posts so much as mentioned the Bible, its background or the history of its interpretation. I’m certain that one could find posts like these featured in the good old carnivals, even in carnivals that I hosted, but I rather doubt that one would find them at the density that one now finds them.
Sure, the Biblical Studies Carnival Redivivus doesn’t need to follow my concept of what a biblical studies carnival should be. And I don’t need to follow it. But I worry that what it is becoming will make me sad.
PS: I just saw that Jim West, James McGrath, Robert Cargill, Roland Boer, and James Crossley all have essays in the most recent online issue of the Bulletin of the Study of Religion. I may comment on them but I need to read them first and it’s a journal to which I do not subscribe. So I’m off to the library but can’t get there before Monday afternoon. You may want to read them too. I understand that all these folks have written essays on the subject of biblioblogging. Maybe some of them mention the Biblical Studies Carnival.

5 thoughts on “Reflections On Recent Bible Studies Carnivals”

  1. I agree, Duane. To my mind, the carnivals as originally conceived are becoming a thing of the past. Not that it really matters; others can run the enterprise however they please.

  2. Hi Duane, I appreciate your post, the problem may well be to do with who is hosting it, I know i have a very few atheist/liberal bibliobloggers in my reader at the moment, i will be looking at your blog and those on your blog roll for posts for this months carnival but i would appreciate any assistance given in recomending posts as well. Personally I find the more different you are to me the more interesting your work is to engage with and the more it forces me to think through my own position, so please don’t leave the party.

  3. You have support. And I’ve seen similar ‘webjackings’ of topics and forums by many a fringe group (or single fringe person). It’s disappointing but it seems the best thing to do is to let the group drift away like a dead log on a river while finding others. Think of it as a Darwinian parting of interests. May the better interest win. ;o)
    Of course, one could speculate what might have happened here based on your description. Groups on Bible topics, regardless of original intent, surely grab the attention of the more obsessive and intellectually immature Christians who, afraid of doctrine conflict and logical truth, would rather interfere with open communication and honest debate in order to impose irrational or off-topic views. The problem with the web is that it’s hard to accurately gauge what real-world support is behind these events and what’s just caused by a few individuals with behavioral problems.
    Anyways, you’re not alone. I enjoy your honest curiosity and levelheadedness in these topics. I confess that the idea of “a discussion of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work from a Christian perspective” disturbs the hell out of me for its tragic irrelevancy on every level. ;o) Do we really need to bore readers with a “Christian perspective” on every novel involving elves and witches now? It’s almost purposely insulting to atheists and moderate Christians alike who followed the carnival for facts rather than pure fantasy.

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