Art Boulet recently graced my blog. He's a Peter Enns loyalist, who follows his master from behind, to carry the royal train of his hero and mentor.
To judge by his profile, Art has an impressive resume–as Editor of the Princeton Dead Sea Scrolls project. His stated interests include Hebrew, Akkadian, Ugaritic, Aramaic.
Yet this is paradoxical. To begin with, why should we care about the DDS? Why should we care about ANE languages and literature?
Well, one justification is that this helps us to understand the Bible. And, with due qualifications, that's true.
But that only pushes the question back a step: why should we care about understanding the Bible? Why should that merit out attention?
The conventional answer is a theological rationale: the Bible is God's word. That's why we take a particular interest in ANE history and archeology.
Problem is, after you reject the inspiration of Scripture, after you reject the revelatory status of OT Judaism and NT Christianity, the theological rationale slips off its foundation.
The logical alternative is a naturalistic explanation. The Bible is not God's self-disclosure to man, but man's opinion of God. Not the inspired record of what God is really like, but the fallible, only too human record of what primitive Christians and Jews imagine God is like. An essentially secular outlook. A world without divine revelation or intervention. A world in which "God" is not a divine self-revelation, but a human self-projection. Mind you, Enns lacks the courage of consistency. But if you take his position to a logical extreme, that's where it terminates.
Once you remove the theological rationale, the resources devoted to the DDS, Second Temple Judaism, or biblical archeology is vastly disproportionate. Why should we care what a little Jewish breakaway sect believed? Why pour over their writings? Why try to reconstruct the history of their sect? Fight over alternate interpretations?
What if the community at Qumran is the ancient equivalent of Scientology, Raëlism, the Order of the Solar Temple, or the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn? One of hundreds of long-forgotten cults and splinter groups which, through an accident of history, had some of its homegrown scriptures preserved and discovered?
Because what survives the ravages of time is so happenstance, it often receives attention out of all proportion to its historical or intrinsic significance.
Suppose Princeton was facing a budget crisis. Had to slash some programs. How would Boulet justify the DDS project? Would he try to justify the project on theological grounds?
As secularism and pluralism progresses, how can you defend this disproportionate investment in ancient Christian and Jewish literature? Due to its historical value? But why is that more important than Mesoamerican history and archeology (e.g. Incan, Mayan, and Aztec history and archeology)? Are Mayan hieroglyphics less interesting than the Amarna letters or the Nuzi tablets?
Same applies to Harvard and Yale Divinity schools. From a secular and/or pluralistic standpoint, that's terribly provincial and retrograde.
Why devote so much attention to a book you don't believe? Surely not for the purely literary values.