SBL Statement on Academic Freedom

SBL Statement on Academic Freedom June 2, 2017

The Society of Biblical Literature issued a statement on academic freedom. Here is an excerpt:

The Society of Biblical Literature supports academic freedom for scholars in their research, publication, and the broader communication of that research in an international context. This includes the freedom to choose topics and methods and to arrive at controversial results. SBL’s institutional purpose to foster biblical studies is defined by scholarship devoted to the critical investigation of the Bible from a variety of academic disciplines. This mission is carried out by advancing academic study of biblical texts and their contexts as well as of the traditions and contexts of biblical interpretation, and by facilitating broad and open discussion from a variety of scholarly perspectives.

Members participating in meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature contribute to the intellectual community of SBL, and thereby agree to engage in an open academic discussion guided by disciplinary norms and in scholarly discourse characterized by critical inquiry and investigation. SBL expects all members to be responsible for the quality of this scholarly community when participating in its programs and forums. SBL’s rules of discourse and engagement are consistent with other learned societies in the humanities and social sciences. SBL embraces the opportunity to expose individuals, institutions, and communities to SBL’s institutional mission, intellectual methods, and humanistic values. As a learned society, its role is also to encourage the expression of opposing viewpoints and to provide a safe space for discussion in which everyone is encouraged to put forward their reasoned opinions while being offered respect and collegiality.

You can read the whole thing on the SBL website.

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  • John MacDonald

    “As a learned society, its role is also to encourage the expression of opposing viewpoints and to provide a safe space for discussion in which everyone is encouraged to put forward their reasoned opinions while being offered respect and collegiality.”

    You’ve been warned. No more belittling someone for being a Young Earth Creationist or a Mythicist! lol

    • If someone makes a learned case for any view, it should be considered. And that has been done in the past. But what sometimes happens is that once mainstream views become fringe, and eventually even beyond the pale of the acceptable, as the evidence against them makes them not merely implausible but laughable. Nevertheless, even so, a genuinely academic offering on the topics you mention may be disagreed with but should not be simply dismissed if it uses appropriate methods and venues of communication.

      • John MacDonald

        I think Ehrman oversteps his bounds a bit in “Did Jesus Exist” when he starts psychologizing that Mythicists are really motivated by a desire to denounce religion rather than examine historical evidence.

        • That doesn’t seem inappropriate to me, and keep in mind that Ehrman is engaging for the most part with the predominant form of mythicism, which bypasses and ignores learned discourse and the venues in which such is practiced.

          • John MacDonald

            Thomas Brodie and Tom Harpur (who recently died) were Mythicists who remained Christians.

          • And one of them approached mythicism through appropriate academic lines, while the other did not. And so one should obviously not engage in overly sweeping generalizations. But there may nevertheless be patterns and overall tendencies, and that should not be ignored either.

          • John MacDonald

            Ehrman recently said on his blog that he read Carrier’s book “On The Historicity Of Jesus” and that there are so many errors in it that it would take a book three times as long as Carrier’s in order to respond to it. Ehrman explained that he doesn’t engage with Carrier because if he were to write one paragraph, Carrier would respond with two, and if he responded with five paragraphs, Carrier would respond with ten. Ehrman gave me the sense that, to him, interacting with Mythicists was a game of constant one-upmanship where the goal of the Mythicist is to get in the last word, not engage in a serious dialogue trying to resolve the mystery of the texts. I kind of like Dr. Barrier Wilson’s approach in “How Jesus Became Christian” where he argues the original Jesus movement (possibly led by James) didn’t teach atonement, and so you saw Paul’s letters denouncing these Christians who preached “another Christ, another Gospel.” I think Paul and those like him may have wanted to replace the temple cult with faith in Jesus, which ran counter to the original message of Jesus. It is difficult to see this because the New testament seems so colored by Paul.

          • What Carrier does is a tactic that makes it inevitable that eventually anyone attempting to engage with him will give up in frustration (because unlike him, they have another job and must write and publish other things besides responses to his blog posts). It is an attempt at meaningless internet victory through sheer verbiage.

          • John MacDonald

            Dr. Tabor speculates in “Paul and Jesus” that the Jesus movement, as opposed to Paul’s Christianity, may have believed in something like what we see in the Didache.