Sociology, Scripture And The Supernatural -- By: Edwin M. Yamauchi

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 27:2 (Jun 1984)
Article: Sociology, Scripture And The Supernatural
Author: Edwin M. Yamauchi


Sociology, Scripture And The Supernatural

Edwin M. Yamauchi*

Though there had been earlier attempts to apply the insights of the social sciences, especially of sociology, to the interpretation of Scripture (such as Max Weber’s analysis of the prophets,1 and the interpretation of the NT by scholars from the University of Chicago early in this century), it has only been in the 1970s that we have witnessed a veritable flood of articles and monographs that have consciously employed sociological models to explain Biblical texts and the history of the early Church. John Gager, writing in 1979, remarked, “As recently as five years ago, scarcely anyone would have ventured to predict a revival of interest in the social history of early Christianity.”2

Particularly for those who may not be aware of this important trend, which has been hailed by some scholars as the wave of the future, I would like to do the following: (1) survey some of the most important recent contributions; (2) sketch the nature of sociological inquiry; (3) assess critically some of the results of recent studies; and (4) consider some positive developments and prospects.

I. Recent Contributions

1. Old Testament. Comparative and anthropological studies may help illumine the nature of OT geneaologies. A. Malamat has compared Biblical and Mesopotamian genealogies.3 Robert K. Wilson has used anthropological data to analyze the OT genealogies.4 He contends that genealogies were transmitted not for purely historical purposes but with certain social aims in view. They contain accurate data insofar as these goals were concerned.5

* Edwin Yamauchi is professor of history at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

In contrast to studies comparing the Israelite patriarchs with the pastoral nomads of Mari,6 Norman K. Gottwald has vigorously denied that the earliest Israelites were pastoral nomads. 7 He would prefer to see them as rural tribes opposed to the urban states.

Anticipating the revisionism of Gottwald was an article by George Men-denhall in 1962 that proposed that Israel was not formed by a conquest of Canaan from without but by an internal revolt of peasants within Canaanite society. 8 As developed in his magnum opus published in 1972, Mendenhall’s conclusions...

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