Westar Institute Bible Seminar: The Bible and History

Presentation by David McCreery

1.    Documentation re Abraham etc.:
2.    Egyptian enslavement and Joseph and Moses; no mention archeologically or historically
3.    Historical Moses and legal tradition?  No physical evidence; legal stuff is predated by Hamurabi
4.    Origins of ancient Israel and Judah; define the tribal names and historical interrelations
5.    No iron-age artifacts can confirm the historicity of David and Solomon
6.    Popular idea that Israel was the first independent state to emerge
7.    Wellhausen on the origins of the Torah/Pentateuch: Challenged the view the Moses wrote the Torah.  Wellhausen says there were 4: Yahwist, Elohist, Priestly, Deuteronomic, and
8.    The dating of some of the traditions has become problematic.  Patriarchs may be post-exilic
9.    Gunkel re myth etc.: Gunkel did a commentary on Genesis – primarily legendary.  Defined the meaning of legend and myth.  Distinctions are useful.
10.    How many voices are in Isaiah: At least 3: First Isaiah – a contemporary of Ahaz up to the Assyrians in 701; 40-55 is Second Isaiah – Exilic; Third Isaiah 56-66: Post-exilic.  Assumes the second temple has been rebuilt.  But even first Isaiah has inserted later passages.  There are at least 3, maybe as many as 10.  Third Isaiah seems to be an anthology of the followers of 1 and 2 Isaiah.
11.    American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR)
12.    No evidence for the Exodus outside the Bible

Associate Questions

1.    While the historical context is matrilineal and patriarchal, why does the field of biblical scholarship continue to ignore the importance of women in the Bible?
2.    If we concentrate on the veracity of the story, are we throwing out the baby with the bathwater (value of myth as social cohesion and personal meaning)?
3.    Do findings such as Nag Hamadi and the Dead Sea Scrolls really change our understanding of the Bible?
4.    In the 21st Century how do we understand the meaning of apocalypse: Daniel and Revelation?
5.    Why is it that fundies attach so much importance to Paul and pseudo Paul and ignore the gospels?  Is it a matter of control, especially over women?


1.    What questions are the most important to our understanding of the Bible?
2.    The foundation is the story, so the story needs to be verified.
3.    Important because of the Mosaic law

Westar Institute Bible Seminar: The Bible and Society

Questions Raised by Arthur J. Dewey

1.    Dewey on Christian anti-semitism – takes this on the road.
2.    These issues are interconnected.
3.    Does the Bible still have currency in the post-modern world?  Is it relevant
a.    The bible as a spur to violence.  Violence seems imbedded.
b.    Delight for vengeance.
c.    What do we do with texts of terror?
d.    Bible, film, and electronic media: Film has become the modern bible.
e.    Electronics have produced a sea change
f.    The bible and GLBT: The bible is used to condemn this – a lethal message.
g.    What can and should a responsible reader say about homosexuality?
h.    The bible seems to support the maintenance of patriarchy
i.    Has the momentum of history moved beyond?  Is the bible still a resource?
j.    The bible and authority – who speaks for the bible today
k.    The Bible and the American myth.  The American rugged violent individualism counters the non-violence in the Bible.
l.    The Bible and debt.  Religious entitites have avoided this question of metaphors and assumptions of debt.
m.    The Bible and the denial of death.  Can the bible be read without illusion?
n.    The Bible vs. science.  Readers construct myth from fragments
o.    The Bible and other religions.  Intolerance and tribalism are rampant.


1.    Most questions seem to be of equal value; however a consensus did form around J as a first priority: Can the bible be read meaningfully within a scientific perspective

Associate Questions

1.    What about the Poor: Distributive Justice
2.    What to do about over-population
3.    How did Jesus respond to his society and how can we learn from his response?
4.    What difference does the historical Jesus make in our society
5.    What does the bible say about Racism
6.    Is there a difference between what Jesus would say and what the Bible says as a whole.
7.    Compare and contrast the differences between OT views and Jesus’ views on war and peace; violence and non-violence.
8.    In looking at the OT how can we reaffirm or reclaim Jewish sources?

Westar Institute Bible Seminar: Once and Future Bible

Paper Presentation Pamela Eisenbaum
1.    How the Bible came to be and how it needs to change
2.    Developed a course on the formation of the canon.  Question of what the bible is, both materially and technologically, as a whole.
3.    Discuss the move from scroll to codex; correspondence between the rise of Xtianity and codex –the book technology.
4.    Bible software is widespread.  Avatars of the Word – James Augustine; Question whether there is a concept of an emerging canon in the dead sea scrolls; how important was it to early Xtianity;
5.    The Orthodox corruption of Scripture.
6.    Window into early Xtian scribal culture – gives hints about what they thought scripture was.
7.    Connection between what happened in the first few centuries regarding the formation of the Bible and what is happening now.  Both involve a technological shift that impacts the form in which the Bible is read, transmitted, and studied.
8.    In addition, understand how cultural and technological forces impacts how scripture and canon are conceptualized and how does it affect form.
9.    Digitization of information has revolutionized scholarship; is radically changing how we communicate, but also changing how we think and learn and conceptualize reality.
10.    The Bible is going to become something very different.  Scholars may have a different role to play in mediating this process.
11.    The medium is the message: Marshall McLuan: The form of the message defines what the message is, and therefore what it means.
12.    So the image of the Bible up to now is a book.  Future people may have a different mental image of online/onscreen Bible.
13.    “The Rise and Fall of the Bible” – The end of print culture will be the end of the Word as we know it – the end of the idea of the Bible as THE book.
14.    Hypertextual, cross-textual, and process-oriented – changed; revised constantly.
15.    Collaborative – bloggers, readers can comment on it and revise it – [will we have a talmud??? commentary on the Christian Bible?]
16.    The Bible was never a fixed, stable unchanging thing.  This was an illusion caused by codex and print.
17.    Is this a good thing?
18.    Will progressive Xtian values win the day because of more participation in interpretation.
19.    The Bible is ubiquitous–everywhere.  This could potentially increase the idea that the Bible is the divine word.  Are lay readers any more likely to land on sites.
20.    Search engines; wikipedia; yahoo; amazon; The Bible is the Amazon of sacred texts.  Could maintain its cultural dominance.
21.    With new technologies the right has tools that can reach as never before.
22.    Most makers of Bible popular software are evangelical right wingers who want to convert the world.
23.    It has been largely evangelicals who have embraced popularizing technologies.
24.    The ability to call up any portion of the bible can lead to even more proof-texting and simplification.
25.    More likely to open the canon – but will it be? What’s lost is the narrative context.
26.    Does the software do the interpretation work?
27.    Biblical scholars as mediators of the text are therefore diminished.
28.    Every English translation was either done by scholars, or totally dependent on a scholarly translation.  Most people never think about this; the problem with the unawareness of the role of scholars is that it further diminishes the human aspect in the Bible and the role humans play.  This can result in a more authoritarian view of the bible.

1.    Relationship between canon and text; goes along with terminology clarification;
2.    Two ways to look at the prioritizing: 1) procedural; 2) cultural urgency

Westar Institute Bible Seminar: World Cafe Process

1.    Papers by Pamela Eisenbaum, Arthur J. Dewey and David McCreery – No time for questions.  Move into the seed questions.  Read through the questions, then prioritize and vote on them.
2.    Not how to answer, but prioritizing them as to importance.
3.    Then brainstorm and refine the questions then pick the top three.
4.    So papers first, distill new questions, and consider the online set questions.
5.    15 minutes: a scholar will present a set of questions.  This will be both handouts and electronic.  Look at the questions and rank them.  After a half hour, time is called and everyone switches places.  Fellows meet and associates mix.  Then generate new questions.  Scholars and associates will likely have different questions, so that is why the groups are divided.  The upcoming agenda will include both sets of questions.
6.    People with Laptops threw questions into a common Bible Seminar GoogleDoc projected on screens.  This is the proto-document for the Bible Seminar Agenda.

Westar Institute Bible Seminar: John Dominic Crossan Keynote

1.    The questions generated and prioritized by the participants will dictate what happens over the next year
2.    There is a difference between questions and doubts.  The opposite to question is death.
3.    We are thinking of the Christian Bible because that’s where the biggest problem is.
4.    “Try to determine the subtle difference between baptism and lobotomy”
5.    In Daniel 7 the Kingdom Of God is opposed to imperialism.  If Jesus represents the KOG, then Jesus also opposes imperialism.  The Biblical god is on a collision course with our homeland
6.    Three themes:
a.    The problem of Unity: A small library disguised as a book, considered as a story, with Bad God in OT, Good God in NT – will have to be denied.  It is only persuasive to those who have only read Revelation.  What is the unity?  Not solved by dividing it into the new disposing of the old.
b.    Violence: whether god is supreme, is the god of theXtian Bible violent or non-violent?  Or some cocktail of some of each?  What do we do with the fact that God is nonviolent distributive justice and the opposite?  Is there a solution?  Which program do we join?  Take the good and ignore the bad.
c.    Looking at the Xtian bible – where the Jesus and Bible seminars cross: It reads like a story, but is the meaning at the end or in the middle?  Can you flip to the end and find the meaning?  Is the historical Jesus the norm of the Bible, or is the Bible the norm of the Historical Jesus?  Which trumps the other?  Christ vs. Criminal?  Is this Jesus the norm of the Bible.  Does the peaceful man on the donkey trump the violent soldier on the horse?  Did God so love the world that he sent a book?  Or a person?  How to explain the flight of the New Testament from the historical Jesus (HJ)?  Even before Revelation.  Does Jesus change his mind or do the writers change their Jesus?  Xtians are not the people of the book but the people with the book.  We count time down to the HJ, and then out from the HJ.  Is Jesus a nice mixture or is he a nonviolent revolutionary?  “The flight from the Historical Jesus is a tribute to the honesty of everyone involved, and he scared the living daylights out of them.”

Westar Institute 2011 Fall Meeting: The Bible Seminar

Notes from this ground-breaking launch of the Bible Seminar by the Westar Institute follow.  In three Bible Seminar sessions, a “café table” format discussed the following three topics:

a.     What are the old questions re the bible in history: what, why,
b.    The Bible and society: What does the Bible say about family values, GLBT issues; war and peace and violence.
c.    The Bible as something: once and future Bible: What is it?

In each session, we were asked to prioritize questions from scholars, and to generate new questions to add to the list.  Over the next year, the questions generated by fellows and associates will be distilled into the agenda for the Bible Seminar.  The 2012 Fall meeting of the Bible Seminar will be held in Chicago, and these results will be presented at that time.