Monday, September 11, 2006

Unraveling Paradigm in OT Scholarship

Where is the arena for progress in OT scholarship? Where can thoughts and arguments go from here?

I just finished reading one of the most intelligent, lucid, and practical surveys in a long time by David Clines in Response to Rolf Rendtorff's "What Happened to the Yahwist? Reflections after Thirty Years". Rendtorff, in his essay (also hosted at the SBL site, here) assessed the dying climate of the Documentary Hypothesis over the past several decades. Many scholars had affectively abandoned the Hypothesis in argument without actually leaving the fold. Since the approach has seemed to reached its end, Rendtorff gave his plea for its open dismissal. Clines responded by evaluating how the system of the sociological and scholastic processes work. The result was a rare eye-opener, forceful in its analysis and answers.
Shocking though it may sound, I believe that the time has long gone when we can discuss questions of Pentateuchal origins as academic questions in their own right. No longer is it the truth or falsity of a particular theory that determines whether it will find favor in the guild. Bad arguments will not be driven out by good arguments. Reason will not be the arbiter.
--Clines, Response to Rolf Rendtorff's "What Happened to the Yahwist? Reflections after Thirty Years"
World-view, desire, experience, and environment trump reason in almost any discussion--whether it's a question of the existence of God, Yeshua's resurrection, evolution versus intelligent design, Bush versus Kerry, or whether we should abandon the Documentary Hypothesis. That's something Positivists won't like hearing--but it needs to be heard. Clines goes on to explain some of the criteria that make or break an argument no matter what it proves or how rational it is or isn't:

1. the power of people and their organizations
2. the power of a theory or perspective itself to convince the masses

I'm suddenly reminded of many things in Christianity bound by the same situation. Trinitarianism, for instance, is powerful not only because big names and big organizations back it up and stomp out those who disagree, but because the idea is so accessable and explicative of the data, though its flaw is clearly seen even by the common man. (The question "how can someone be 100% man and 100% God?" is either explained as being unexplainable or the diversity and oneness of the Three is/are reduced to a metaphor that only shows how far Trinitarianism is from the reality in which those metaphors exist--a crippling failure of the belief that only the blind don't see).

Because the Documentary Hypothesis is so grand a theory and framework, it is better called a world-view or paradigm. People base everything they think and do on world-views or paradigms, which makes them so hard to abandon even if they know it's horribly flawed.
Inevitably, we must expect to be stuck with that old paradigm for a long time; for a paradigm, says Kuhn, is declared invalid only if an alternative candidate is available to take its place.
--Clines, ibid
This is the reason people are coming to the end of the Documentary Hypothesis and still holding on--because there's no grand, unifying theory yet to best it. The current theory may be horribly flawed, but paradigm shifts don't happen when there's nothing to shift into. Even though I can see the holes in Trinitarianism like I'm looking at Swiss cheese, because I haven't yet seen or developed a major, unifying perspective to replace it, all I'm left with are the tired old alternatives or *heresies* from past Christian history that were, perhaps, just as flawed, if not more so.

Therein lies the road of progress in OT scholarship--the way out of the mess and forward into what we can only hope is less of one. Of course, such a way is more dangerous...but there are ways to balance the power.
The physicist Max Planck said: "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
--Clines, ibid


Blogger Kent said...

Have you seen the new collection of material on the Pentateuch released on Pre-Pub from Logos Bible Software? It includes books by Rendtorff, Whybray, and others, and contains extensive discussion on the DH. I thought you might be interested: Pentateuch History and Origins Collection (10 Vols.)


4:53 PM  

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