Old Testament Scholarship And The Man In The Street: Whence And Whither? -- By: Eugene H. Merrill

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 54:1 (Mar 2011)
Article: Old Testament Scholarship And The Man In The Street: Whence And Whither?
Author: Eugene H. Merrill

Old Testament Scholarship And The Man In The Street: Whence And Whither?*

Eugene H. Merrill

* Eugene Merrill, distinguished professor of OT studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, 3909 Swiss Ave., Dallas, TX 75204, delivered this presidential address at the 61st annual meeting of the ETS on November 18, 2010, in Atlanta, GA.

I. Introduction

This paper proposes to address three interwoven topics: (1) the Bible— specifically the Old Testament—and the media; (2) OT scholarship and the general public; and (3) the obligation and mission of evangelical scholarship vis-à-vis the public at large, the church, and the academy.

Until recently, the arcane topics of OT scholarship were of only marginal interest to persons outside the guild of specialists in the field. This is no longer the case. Best-selling books, articles in popular magazines, television specials, and screen scripts appear bent on slaking the seeming never-ending thirst for matters pertinent to the Bible.1 At times these productions are transparent diatribes against the Scriptures, undertaken, one suspects, with the iconoclastic agenda of challenging belief systems alien to the epistemological and cultural mindset typical of much of the entertainment industry. More positively, sociologists report an increasing trend toward individual spirituality and religious interest in the abstract despite a corresponding disinterest in the church and institutional religion.2 Media attention to the OT as part of the broader spectrum of a revival of fascination with religion and spirituality should thus not be surprising.

II. Relevance

Much popular preoccupation with the OT obviously springs from its audacious claim to be a revelation from God, a belief, cherished by both Jews and Christians, that it is an authoritative text for instruction and behavior. But even apart from parochial considerations there exists a broad consensus in secular America that the OT is one of the important foundation stones supporting the superstructure of Western civilization, its absence of religious authority in the popular as well as academic imagination notwithstanding. Indeed, the assertion that the OT has profoundly shaped the history, culture, politics, and mores of both religious and secular institutions in American life is readily acknowledged.3

Quite clearly, mutual interaction between the media and the public is at work here. Print and electronic outlets, sensing an upturn in religious and spiritual interest, provide grist that gen...

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