29 October 2008

A higher standard?

You are 17 years old and you stumble onto a website that says "Warning: You must be 18 or older to continue". What do you do?
Well, continue of course!

Someone (hat tip upon request) emailed me a link containing a recording of James Kugel discussing Bible criticism and his book - How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now.

(There was not much new in the recording but the book was a great read.)

Of note in the recording, Kugel explicitly warns people that his Bible Class "isn't for everyone".

Similarly, in his book, excerpted in the New York Times, Kugel states "...But there is one group of readers who must be cautioned about its contents. Precisely because this book deals with modern biblical scholarship, many of the things it discusses contradict the accepted teachings of Judaism and Christianity and may thus be disturbing to people of traditional faith. I should say that I count myself in this group, and some of the things I will relate have indeed been disturbing to me over the years. I hesitated for a long time before deciding to pursue modern biblical scholarship as my field of study, and I hesitated even longer before deciding to commit my thoughts on it to writing. If I nonetheless went ahead, it was because I felt that it was dishonest, and ultimately would prove impossible, to hide from the central question addressed by this book. Others, of course, may feel differently. It is up to them to decide whether or not to continue."

Two issues arise.

Is he for real about that warning? Is he really trying to dissuade some from reading his book and attending his class? Or is he really trying to entice them into his class? Or perhaps he's just posting a disclaimer in case irate parents come yelling at him that he corrupted their sheifaleh?

I don't know. But let's assume he is sincere in his warning.

But then, the opposite question arises. If he believes that modern Bible scholarship is true, or at least has some true things, isn't it his job as an educator to pass that on to students? Should biology teachers warn off creationist students from taking their classes? Should geologists warn off flat-Earthers? No, of course not. The Earth is round and anyone who thinks otherwise is the most in need of education. It bothers me that Kugel is so willing to compromise his teaching to baby the feelings of misled students.

On the other hand. I too am an educator. Or at least I was until my children grew up. I, like Kugel, am also interested in truth. Yet, I did not expose my family to this kind of material. I understand the analogy is far from perfect, but in the real world people have concerns that override truth. I know I do.

So, with regard to the truth, is it fair to hold Kugel up to a higher standard than I hold for myself?

What do you think?

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