I think it was Remy’s comment on April DeConick’s post that set me in a metacommentary mood: why the intense energy over the apparent divide between biblical historical criticism and ‘postmodern’ approaches?

First, a recap. It began with an article by George Aichele, Peter Miscall and Richard Walsh in the Journal of Biblical Literature (which unfortunately you can’t access unless you’re a member of the SBL) called ‘An Elephant in the Room: Historical-Critical and Postmodern Interpretations of the Bible’. I know these guys rather well and they are a thoughtful and gentle bunch. They wanted to spark a dialogue between the two sides – in that they succeeded spectacularly, so the article has already achieved its main aim. However, the nature of that response was a surprise. John van Seters came out with a somewhat arrogant and dismissive response, accusing ‘postmodern’ approaches of not being anywhere close to a method. Deane Galbraith at the Dunedin School posted some thoughtful comments, tending to side with van Seters (here, here, here and here), at least initially. April DeConick came out with another dismissal, defending objectivity, science and reason over against what she saw as the quasi-theological nature of postmodern approaches. So I stirred things up a little with a small post suggesting that April had little idea of what postmodern means. And then things went ballistic, aided by the classicist, Chris Weimer, who kept things boiling along.

Rather than take a position in the debate – mine is clear from those earlier discussions – I realised that the fact the debate is happening now is itself symptomatic. The Aichele-Miscall-Walsh article was published in the flagship journal of the SBL, something that obviously annoyed some, since the journal has been the stalwart of historical-critical approaches. It was like a strike deep in the shrinking home territory of historical-critics and their response indicates that they can no longer put the wagons in a circle, hoping that the new critical approaches to the Bible will simply go away. Now they need to position themselves in relation to these critical approaches. In itself that signals a profound shift.