Biblical Criticism

Some time ago I read a book by a guy who says he lost his Catholic faith when he began to study science and discovered that there was no evidence for the existence of angels. Duuh. Angels are non materialistic beings. Trying to devise a trap for an angel is like trying to make a potted fern receive radio waves.

Another area of scholarship which never interested me much is modern Biblical scholarship. The main problem with 99% of modern biblical scholarship is the underlying assumption of the scholar. They come at the text as scientific, objective historical analysts. This method has some merit, but very little. It’s like taking apart an alarm clock. You can see how the clock works, but you’ll never understand time by the exercise. Similarly, the Biblical scholars can tell us more historical stuff about the text and they can devise theories on how the text was composed and edited, but so what?
Unfortunately, the scientific textual analyst very often believes he has now de-bunked the sacred text because he has show, perhaps that the story of the Tower of Babel is also in the Epic of Gilgamesh, or the gospel writers seem to have made mistakes in the details of timing in the passion narrative or whatever. To be frank, I found the whole industry pretty boring and never did more study in the area than I needed to.
The point of the post is this: a friend has an atheist mathematician brother who has read a book by a liberal scholar called Kugel, and has discovered that the whole Bible is a cute fable. Can anyone out there recommend a book by a good Catholic (or Evangelical) scholar who expertly counters the liberal scholars without resorting to fundamentalist arguments? 
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  • The late Fr. Most did great work in this area. Even better his works our now online for free.I would recommendFree From All Error: Authorship, Inerrancy, Historicity of Scripture, Church Teaching, and Modern Scripture Scholars in the Conciousness of Christ the preface goes into the reliability of the Gospels and the indexes have a in depth critique of form criticism much everything he wrote is awesome and here is a link to the MOST Theological Collection will all of his work.

  • I have not read it yet (shame on me I got a backlog of books to go through and never enough time to read them) but doesn’t Pope Benedict XVI’s book Jesus of Nazareth deal with with a response to modern biblical Criticism?

  • Pope Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth” only lightly touches on the philosophical errors of the excesses of the historical-critical method. (This doesn’t stop members of the guild from getting a bit hysterical. Chilling effect?)Cardinal Ratzinger’s essay “Biblical Interpretation in Crisis” examines these in detail, with a particular response to Dibelius and Bultmann, the giants of early 20th-century exegesis, whose shadow still looms over the field.At a popular level, I’d suggest Luke Johnson’s “The Real Jesus” (I know of late Dr. Johnson has said some rather heterodox things in the public forum, but this doesn’t negate the brilliant insights of this book from the 90s). A bit more daunting, but definitely worthwhile, is N. T. Wright’s 3 volume project. Volume 1 (“The New Testament and the People of God”) deals extensively with historical criticism

  • If the person is skeptical from the viewpoint of the study of history, we are lucky to be living when the tide is turning against a lot of Jesus-scholar malarky. The New Testament at least is looking stronger than ever.Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, by Richard Bauckham, is stunning. And to delve even deeper, N.T. Wright’s three volumes (so far) of his Christian Origins and the Question of God are incomparable. (What mad folly it is to waste one of the world’s greatest historians as a mere Anglican bishop!) But these are only useful to those willing to do some work.There are good short summaries of these (and various other anti-faith arguments, and good arguments against them) in The Reason For God, by Timothy Keller.

  • A very good post, father. I get so tired of people saying that the bible is a “bronze-age, oddly written novel”.

  • I’m with you father. I tried several Bible studies at my parish and abandoned them pretty quickly due to their shallowness.The last thing I expect at my parish is a historical treatise on the Word of God. Rather, I want to listen to what God desires to tell me. It’s too bad that studying the Bible has been reduced to this. No one would dare approach a love letter as modern exegesis does, yet that’s exactly what is done to the greatest love letter from God to His children.By God’s grace we still have the comments of many saints and doctors throughout the ages to guide us. And by His grace this tradition will be picked up again.May St. Augustine pray for us.

  • A little off topic, but I would want to ask this person… “Please explain existence to me(Mr. Smarty-Pants.)”

  • Dan

    The writings of St Augustine are often a good way to introduce skeptics & thinkers to God. I would recomend "Confessions."

  • Not sure this is what you are looking for, but here is a book I've heard good things about:"Mad, bad or God" by John Redford. I have not read it, yet, but I believe that he tackles, specifically for John's Gospel, those who argue that the Wedding of Cana was allegorical.;=books&qid;=1216417204&sr;=1-1

  • Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: the Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony is a scholarly study that received very positive reviews (e.g., by the likes of N. T. Wright, et al). Bauckham argues against many of those assumptions you express doubts about. Donald Guthrie’s New Testament Introduction is excellent.

  • Jesus of Nazareth,Pope Benedict XVI

  • I also recommend Baucham’s Jesus and the witnesses and N.T. Wright’s book on the Resurrection. On a more popular level, and with a Protestant Evangelical perspective, is Strobel’s “The Case for Christ”. On the Old Testament, Kitchen’s book “On the Reliability of the Old Testament” is good at giving the strong evidence that the general historical structure of the Old Testament is accurate from the Patriarchs onward.

  • The Hebrew Christ by…I forget but will look it up! And The Birth of the Synoptics by Claude Tremonstant (sp?)

  • The problem is that most of us, most of the time, see what our beliefs allow us to see. We imagine that we are being objective, but in fact we are “converted,” and then we can see the evidence, rather than the other way around. The mathematician probably was not persuaded just by the book; rather he found in it confirmation of what he already wanted to believe. What he already suspected deep in his heart. He read it, and the evidence seemed to click into place along with lots of other things that were in his mind. Sort of like finding a group of pieces that fit together in a jigsaw puzzle. That can be an extremely satisfying experience, especially if you were in an uncomfortable state of confusion before. You don’t give it up easily.A book of counter-evidence will likely do no good. Unless he is already disposed to hear it, it will just be a buzz of meaningless static. A personal appeal might break through…heart speaks to heart…

  • I’ll just throw in another one that I haven’t seen anyone mention. It isn’t a treaty or a response to Historical Criticism (HC), per se, but it provides a different perspective approach to scholarly Biblical Studies.Brevard S. Childs was professor at Yale in Old Testament studies. He developed the “Canonical Method” of interpretation. There are similarities with Redaction Criticism, as well as some forms of “recent” literary criticism. In a nut shell, his method says, “Ok, the HC people have come up with a lot of insight into the background and history of the text. So what? The Church has the text in its canonical form, and that is how it is intended to be read.” He can be confusing at points, but his three books, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, Biblical Theology in Crisis, and Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context are at least worth a glance. The real value to Childs is the fact that he presents an intelligent alternative to classic HC exegesis. Good post, as a biblical studies student, I find modern biblical interpretation really boring without any links to church, theology, or even truth. What’s the point, really?Thanks for the post, and I hope this is helpful.Peace,BJStupid Scholar