In Defense of Scholars

I AM GRATEFUL for Ann Monroe's reflection on Jack Miles' book, God: A Biography ("Honest to God," May-June 1998). But as a professional biblical scholar I am distressed by her characterization of the profession. Monroe writes that while most thoughtful believers appreciate biblical scholars, "by those same scholars I am held in something perilously close to disdain."

Unfair! Monroe bases this claim on her visit to the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting. The SBL is an academic society, with a membership that includes people of all faiths, non-faiths, and anti-faiths. At the annual meeting, speakers expect to converse with other professionals in a largely non-confessional context.

In that light, Monroe's anecdotes provoke some suspicion on my part. After one scholar presented a technical paper on Hebrew syntax, Monroe asked her how those who don't know Hebrew could understand it. The answerù"Learn Hebrew"ùwas not an insult to laypeople. Instead, it reflected a basic fact of any profession: The gap between technical details and application can be enormous. Monroe might as well have asked an electrical engineer to explain why her home is wired as it is, without wanting to learn mathematics or physics.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1998
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