Sunday, September 06, 2009
What do Bible scholars really do?
Some readers of this blog are bible scholars themselves, so they don't ponder the headline question of this post.
Others might. I mean, beside teaching and speaking at conferences, what do bible scholars do with all their time? What are the secret "scholarly" things they do that make them "scholars"?
Unfortunately, the answer is not always too exciting. The technical projects on which we often work, intended for other scholars, are frequently esoteric. It can take a while to explain why they are interesting at all.
Case in point: at the upcoming Society of Biblical Literature conference (the big professional meeting for North American bible scholars) in New Orleans, I'll be giving a paper discussing whether the ancient author of Leviticus 25 was copying from Deuteronomy 15 when he wrote.
Why is this interesting at all? It has to do with how the Pentateuch was written, and how the laws of the Bible developed.
I did my dissertation on Leviticus 25, and have spent a lot of time pouring over both that passage and also Deuteronomy 15, which has a different laws about some of the same topics.
I've never seen any close verbal parallels indicating that there was some copying going on, in one or the other direction, like what we see between the synoptic gospels. (Nonetheless, it seems to be a dominant opinion among those who work in Pentateuchal law that most of Leviticus is reworking Deuteronomy. I've never been able to see it myself, but then again, I've always been the odd man out.)
So I'm going to argue there is no "literary dependence" between these passages.
But I could be wrong. If any of our good readers can find a convincing example of copying between Lev 25 and Deut 15, let me know!