You may remember Thom Stark. He’s the blogger/author/biblical historian who wrote a response to Paul Copan that was 20% longer than the original book.
In his latest exploit, he’s written a response to several people who are themselves reacting to a piece on HuffPo. The original piece is a scant 1,200+ words. Stark’s response is a whopping 25,000+ words.
I am impressed but concerned. If this trend continues, I fear that someone will write “Stark sux” on a forum somewhere and Thom’s response will be so long that it breaks the internet.
Briefly, the article that started this is a straightforward piece by Dr. Christopher Rollston called The Marginalization of Women: A Biblical Value We Don’t Like to Talk About. Rollston, a professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, considers the misogyny and status of women in the Bible. He finds good and bad, but concludes that the bad far outweighs the good.
Stark calls these conclusions “almost drearily uncontroversial,” since anyone who has a passing familiarity with the Bible or the ancient culture that produced the Bible will already be aware of the gist of it. Nevertheless, several people did take exception to it, including one of Rollston’s colleagues. They have problems with Rollston’s theology – ignoring the fact that he’s not doing theology – but really, really have problems with the fact that he’s making Christianity look bad by airing the dirty laundry.
I’d say you should read Stark’s column, but it is very long and also very repetitive. Stark has to say over and over that Rollston is doing biblical history and not theology. I kept expecting him to lapse into greek or start signaling with semaphore flags.
Since Rollston is doing history, his goal is to figure out what the sacred text meant to the people who wrote it. Rollston’s detractors would prefer to reinterpret and theologize about what the Bible means today. Neither side really has a problem with the other until you ask the question, “What does the Bible mean?” Rollston made clear what the authors of the Bible meant. That makes the proper starting point for whatever interpretation you do next, but it makes for unpleasant reading to someone who would prefer a more modern interpretation.
There has been an outpouring of support from the ‘net. James McGrath and Stark both have link lists. Much of it is focused on the issue of academic freedom at confessional institutions and academic honesty – both issues I support but have little to add to.
Stark notes the irony of the complaints that Rollston is somehow hurting the images of Christians in the world by airing the dirty laundry. Stark studs his post with comments on Rollston’s article, many of which are from non-believers, who praise him for his honesty. Let me just add my two cents in: we non-believers are already aware of the dirty laundry. Honestly, you can only make it look better by bringing it out into the open rather than trying to hide it away.