John Gee, Biblical Studies, and Credentials

John Gee has alleged that Biblical Studies degrees at elite universities do not require history or archeology. As evidence, he looks at the minimum course requirements, and in a few cases at general exam areas. The immediate implication of this claim is targeted at David Bokovoy, whose PhD is from Brandeis in Hebrew Bible–the first target of Gee’s “analysis.” The broader implication is that people with Biblical Studies degrees are less qualified to speak about the ancient world relevant to the Bible than others with archeological or historical degrees. Gee has been insulting LDS graduates of these and other programs online and even to their face for years.

Gee’s understanding of the field of biblical studies is problematic at a minimum. First, his method for determining whether graduates of these programs have actually studied history and archeology is deeply flawed. Whether students actually take the classes that he admits are offered at those schools is a better measure of what actually happens. For instance, the program requirements are quite different from what an graduate adviser may require of her students. Further, whether it is possible to actually take the full number of courses without taking any of the classes offered in history or archeology is not accounted for.

Second, Gee seems to think that “history” and “archeology” are somehow not part of the biblical studies courses that are not labeled “history” and “archeology.” This is a serious misunderstanding of how biblical studies proceeds in the academy today. For instance, a course on Psalms, Genesis, or the Deuteronomic History, would all necessarily touch on the relevant archeological and historical materials. Outside of courses on particular biblical literature, other courses might deal with institutions, movements, or other topics that would necessarily deal with these issues. Even philological courses often treat the historical or archeological material being translated. Gee imagines that these subfields are siloed off from the rest of the coursework, but they are thoroughly baked in.

Third, “history” and “archeology” are certainly important aspects of Biblical Studies, but there are numerous other critical approaches that are part of the field as it exists today. It is a massive field with numerous subspecializations, including philology; source, form, redactional, and text criticism; history of interpretation; various hermeneutical methods; anthropological and sociological analysis; and literary criticism. So, even if we could imagine that a biblical scholar trained at these institutions managed to somehow escape the influence of the particular subfields mentioned by Gee, it  would not mean that they were bad biblical scholars or couldn’t speak to the topics relevant to the Bible. Furthermore, Gee’s myopic understanding of what biblical studies should consist of is in part what makes him incapable of evaluating the text in sufficiently rigorous ways.

Now, my onymous critics can call me names and issue as many insults as they desire. They seem fond of this level of argumentation, having made their careers on it (even while frequently denying doing exactly what they have done to me). They seem to really believe in the argumentum ad pseudonym is a good argument. But if you are invoking credentials as a way of evaluating the strength of an argument, as Gee has done in response to Bokovoy’s criticisms of Kitchen, then you can be sure that you have a pretty weak argument.

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