Thursday, May 28, 2009

Kevin has an important post on the anti-semitic orientation of some biblical scholars.

Or in the oft-cited words of Solomon Schecter - Higher criticism = Higher anti-semitism:

Our great claim to the gratitude of mankind is that we gave to the world the word of God, the Bible. We have stormed heaven to snatch down this heavenly gift, as the Paitanic expression is; we threw ourselves into the breach and covered it with our bodies against every attack; we allowed ourselves to be slain by hundreds and thousands rather than become unfaithful to it; and we bore witness to its truth and watched over its purity in the face of a hostile world. The Bible is our sole raison d'etre, and it is just this which the Higher anti-Semitism is seeking to destroy, denying all our claims for the past, and leaving us without hope for the future.


Anonymous said...

That was one the dumbest things SS ever said. And I say that despite agreeing that many early Bible critics were antisemites who made invalid claims due to incorporating their antisemitism into their criticism. It was like saying that evolution is racism because many early evolutionists (e.g. Agassiz) were racists who made invalid claims due to incorporating their racism into their biology. Dumb.

zach said...

Yeah, James Kugel, Jeffrey Tigay, Marc Brettler, Richard E. Friedman, etc etc etc. Anti-semites all.

But I disagree with anonymous. Shechter - who died more than 90 years ago - was completely justified in making the quote. Not so the rabbi of our shul who used the same quote recently.

Wolf2191 said...

You really have to read Sulzbach's thesis -

A major point is the dating of P(riestly code). Wellhausen had to move it fw because this "brainless legalism" represented all that was bad in Judaism for him. He was trying to construct a divide between the pure propehtic Judaism that Jesus "inheried" and the mindless "quibbling" of Rabbinic Judaism. If that isn't anti-semitism, What is?

Even Schecter admits that Kuenen (who actually corresponded with R D Z Hoffmaann) is in a class of his own. But the vast majority f 19th century scholarship is agenda driven (eg. the Aryan origins of Jesus) and modern scholarship still is based on some of that research.

You also might want to read S. Heschel's book on Geiger and the Jewish Jesus to get a sense of what these 19th century critics were like.

Anonymous said...

Why? I'm already convinced that Wellhausen was an antisemite and forced some of his ideas to fit his prejudices. I have read extensively on the biases of the 19th century Christian Bible critics (I found Levenson to be quite convincing). So what? That doesn't invalidate the whole field of higher criticism, or make it the equivalent of antisemitism due to some cockeyed idea about it existing solely to dethrone Judaism. Humans really do share ancestry with dogs (and whites with other races), and the Torah really is a post-Mosaic composite document (despite the demoralizing effect on rabbinic Judaism). These are facts; the former is not racism, and the latter is not antisemitism.

SS was wrong, embarrassingly so. He was on the defensive, so it's understandable, but, contra zach above, it was not justified. He should have known better.

wolf2191 said...

I think we are quibbling over semantics. I agree the whole field is not invalidated - so did Schecter, he specifically excludes Kuenen and presumably would have a similar opinion about the later critics - but even they are to some extent based on the earlier research, and some of that is suspect.

I never studied evolution but that may be a good example since it is also related to the racist "science" of eugenics. Modern evolutionary theory has grown past that (I think), Modern criticism - only to a degree.

Anonymous said...

"I agree the whole field is not invalidated - so did Schecter"

Schecter explicitly equated higher criticism with antisemitism. You can't defend a Schecter of your own concoction.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Anonymous, how should Schecter have known better? Was he a prophet?

At Schecter's time it was perfectly plausible to equate higher criticism with antisemitism because it was a bunch of antisemites who created it, a bunch of antisemites who were perpetuating it, and a bunch of antisemites who were benefitting from it. It would be pretty hard for even a completely dispassionate soul to see past that and recognize any eventual future benefits.

As it is, it's a legitimate question: how much of the foundation of modern critical Biblical studies is rooted in antisemitism? The answer is: uncomfortably, quite a lot. Those foundations thus need to be addressed. And there's room for that in the field, too. Trying to shut down discussion of it by belittling the connection, as some have, is counterproductive. For heaven's sake, people are still using Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, with its antisemitic articles intact! And they don't even realize the issue.

The Gerdmar book looks to be the first monograph devoted to it in extensu. My copy's on order, and I'm certainly going to post on it once it arrives.

I've also got the related Aryan Jesus by Susanna Heschel to go through, either before or after the Gerdmar. We'll see.

Haim, I'm glad you posted that quote. That's exactly the part that I found so snappy. "Higher antisemitism" indeed!

Creative Commons License
Ishim V' Shittos by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at