The Bible after Babel: Historical Criticism in a Postmodern Age

By Jones, John Franklin | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 2007 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Bible after Babel: Historical Criticism in a Postmodern Age

Jones, John Franklin, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Bible after Babel: Historical Criticism in a Postmodern Age. By John J. Collins. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005, 201 pp., $18.00 paper.

Born in Ireland, John J. Collins is presently Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Interpretation at Yale University. He has written prolifically, authoring eighteen academic books; 215 academic articles; eight popular, church-oriented books; and thirty-three articles for popular, church-related readers. He has also lectured widely.

Delivered as the Gunning lectures at the School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh, 2004, The Bible after Babel is a brief analysis of some major trends in the study of the Hebrew Bible or OT during the latter third of the 20th century. Collins summarized the major tenets of both historical criticism and postmodernism (chap. 1).

The last quarter of the twentieth century saw a progressive loss of "confidence in the historical value of the biblical narratives." Called by Collins a "crisis in historiography" (chap. 2), it is not so much a result of postmodern philosophical predispositions as of "limitations in available evidence" (p. 34). Postmodernists can be credited with little more than a refusal to subscribe to the master narrative of accepting "the broad biblical outline of Israel's history without question" (p. 50).

Israel, especially the exodus, is considered a liberation paradigm (chap. 3). Liberation theology's concern for the poor and oppressed simulates postmodernism's concern for the marginalized. Claiming divine authorization for the ethnic cleansing jars the master narrative of liberation theology (p. 63). Both postcolonialism and postmodernism agree in affirming minorities (the Canaanite perspective of the conquest) against the empire's overarching claims. A postmodern "ethic of difference" (p. 72) can redeem ethnocentrism.

Feminist and gender studies (chap. 4) focus upon identifying and overcoming inequities between men and women. Collins would correct feminist and gender criticism by freeing it from treating the Bible as prescriptive and regards it unlikely that they will receive much sympathy for their agenda until they do so. Postmodernists object to the Bible's advocacy of a God-ordained order for the sexes to which all humans must conform. Contemporary gender theorists consider gender to be a human construct exhibiting relationships of power.

Scholarly opinion predominantly agrees that biblical accounts of Israelite religion (chap. 5) contain major discrepancies, that polytheism was widespread, and that the Yahweh-exclusivist cult, though a strain, did not triumph in suppressing religious pluralism until post-exilic Israel (Morton Smith's revisionism). While Collins disagrees that the Khirbet el-Qom and Kuntillet 'Ajrud inscriptions suggest that Yahweh may have had a wife, he feels revisionist scholarship is driven more by historical criticism and archaeological discoveries. Postmodern overtones are present in the resistance to biblical Deuteronomistic master narratives, the focus on marginal persons, and rereading biblical texts against editorial intentions (deconstruction of canonical account).

Collins does not feel that changes in the view of history, Israel's religion, or the ethical import of the OT for political or feminist liberation are mainly the results of postmodernist critical theory.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Bible after Babel: Historical Criticism in a Postmodern Age


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?