By vocation I am a teacher and scholar of the collection of literature that Christianity calls the Old Testament. This is the term used in my institution, Belmont University, but in the other academic contexts in which I interact it is most often called the Hebrew Bible. The academic study of this literature has a long and sometimes complex history. It is a common perception that large areas of consensus developed between the middle of the nineteenth century and the middle of the twentieth century, but that these began to break down through the 1960’s and 1970’s leading to a state of fragmentation and chaos. Both the degrees of consensus and fragmentation are sometimes overstated, but the general portrait of the field is true. Leo Perdue’s label for this seismic shift, “the collapse of history,” may be the best.
I decided to start this blog soon after attending the 2013 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Baltimore, because I think I began to observe some significant “points of convergence” in this field of study and I want to start writing about them. One place where this was evident was in a session called “Convergence and Divergence in Pentateuchal Theory.” This session and the yearlong seminar in Jerusalem that led to it were convened by Bernard Levinson of the University of Minnesota. The reemergence of the Documentary Hypothesis, pruned of its dead and dead-end branches, was a beautiful thing to behold in this session. Perhaps the center of the discussion is best expressed in the assertion of Joel Baden of Yale University that the Documentary Hypothesis began as a literary solution to a literary problem. Many of its excesses came from using it as a tool to solve historical problems. The “collapse of history” led to, among other things, the proliferation of literary methods, typically focused on the final form of the biblical text, and one of the most productive of these development s was the refinement of narrative criticism. When Baden engages in the identification of sources in the his book The Composition of the Pentateuch (Yale University Press, 2012), one of the primary factors he uses is “narrative coherence.” So, it seems that the revival of source criticism in the Pentateuch has taken up some of the tools developed in the approaches to scholarship that that overtook it almost a half century ago.
This is an example of the kind of “point of convergence” I hope to make observations about in this blog a couple of times a week for as long as I can. My claims about convergence here do not mean that there are not still sharp lines of disagreement and dispute within my field. Who would want an academic discipline without them? It does mean that I see some elements coalescing in ways that I did not see five or ten or twenty years ago.