Just puttin’ it out there

Wellhausen’s demonstration that Judaism was the inventor of νομος παρεισηλθεν—the Law that sidled in, interrupting the true spiritual development of Israel—made it unnecessary for liberal Protestant thought in Germany to reassess any traditional judgment of Judaism. Indeed, as Leo Baeck showed in his critical review of Harnack’s Das Wesen des Christentums, Judaism could continue to be for the liberal Protestant the dark background against which the incandescence of the religion of Jesus could ever more brightly shine, once it had been purged of the dross of dogma. What had been dogmatic was now scientific. Of the consequences of this I shall not write.

Lou Silberman, “Wellhausen and Judaism” (Semeia 25: 75-82), 79.

Silberman ends his article on the low note of the consequences of the result of the anti-Judaism of Wellhausen and all prior German liberal Protestant Biblical scholarship having been pronounced and perceived to be scientific fact. Voices to the contrary earlier in the nineteenth century that did speak out against such anti-Jewish beliefs were ignored or silenced, and the opportunity was lost to nip in the bud the development of a “scientific” anti-Judaism and its evil child. For within a matter of years after the publication of Wellhausen’s magnum opus, “scientific” racial antisemitism appeared and was promptly established not only as the opinion of the intellectual elites, but was eventually enshrined as law. To quote Silberman: “Of the consequences of this I shall not write.”

Those who will support the methodologies of de Wette, Graf, Wellhausen, Baur and the rest need to recognize this connection and its ethical nullity. The circular reasoning of an invented dialectic of devolving Jewish religion (and later, devolving Jews) giving rise to methods of Biblical study that are designed only to support that dialectic, which are then used to “prove” the validity of the dialectic, needs to be recognized. The ethical failure of liberal Protestantism in nineteenth and twentieth century Germany needs to be recognized. The ethical failure of ignoring these ethical failures needs to be recognized. There’s plenty of recognizing to be going on. Any truly rational person can recognize that the Germans of the eighteenth through twentieth centuries ought to be the first people in the world to be ignored when the subject came to the Jews.

And will it ever happen? No, it won’t. Maybe some very few will change. Rather, the whole perverse engine will keep rolling on, oblivious to its intellectual, ethical, and spiritual failings. Its supporters and defenders will continue to belittle any detractors as “fundamentalists” or whatever the insult du jour may be. That changes nothing. The whole of the fields of Old Testament and New Testament studes are teetering tenements of tacit denigration erected on thoroughly vile anti-Jewish, antisemitic foundations. They should be demolished, the old foundations torn out, the ground levelled, new foundations laid, and a new superstructure built.

But no, that won’t happen.

After all, it’s only Jews….


  1. Thank you for your blog and for this post in particular.

    As an undergrad, I studied the OT and the Iliad at about the same, albeit with different professors. I commented once to my OT prof that I didn’t understand why, in English class, we simply read the text of the Iliad, tried to understand the plot and the character–but never examined (as we did w/the OT) the archeology of the text. For my troubles it was suggested I read Brevard Child’s work on canonical criticism. So I did and his work change if not my life then my view of OT studies.

    In the years since that question in class, I have come more and more to the conclusion that you do above–that there is something decidedly anti-Jewish at the core of much OT criticism. For reasons that were never clear to me, in my OT classes we saw contradictions and narrative shifts that the author either (a) never saw or (b) never cared about. After I while I became disillusioned with historical and form criticism as it was presented to me because it seemed to me to assume that I was smarter then the author of the biblical text.

    In any event, thanks for the above. I found great consolation in your observations.

    In Christ,


  2. Thank you for your comment. I’m happy to have helped you in any way at all.

    Brevard Childs’ work stands head and shoulders above the mired swamp of Biblical criticism precisely for that approach to the Book of Books that we have, the only one that we know is real. Robert Alter (in his The Literary Guide to the Bible, and The Art of Biblical Narrative especially) has also advocated for a return to a literary reading of the Bible. I recommend you to look through Philip Sumpter’s blog, Narrative and Ontology, for he’s very familiar with Brevard Childs’ work.

    While there may be some few instances (as in the Septuagint with the Book of Ieremias) where we can detect some alternate textual history, these are very few. “Lower criticism” that deals with such observable issues is as far as certainty can be taken. All “higher criticism” (this terminology being a kind of lie, a false advertisement seeking to enhance prestige) is work of the imagination, built solely out of the presuppositions that “critics” (who often display no krisis, no discernment) bring to the text. They are no better than the fundamentalists mentioned above, forcing their own opinions and readings on the works in question, and forcing the texts to conform to their bizarre ideas. From even a rational perspective, these approaches are a travesty.

    From a spiritual perspective, they are deadly poison.

    Part of the problem with higher criticism is the academic machine, requiring students to come up with something new, however preposterous it may be, and the stolid stagnancy of “the accepted critical approach.” It was around the middle of the nineteenth century that the terminology related to “critical” study of the Bible was, through the efforts of those anti-Jewish liberal Protestant German Biblical scholars, usurped solely to their own interpretation, with “historical criticism” being the term for exactly that dialectic of the devolution of Jewish religion that was crystallized by de Wette. Such are incontrovertibe, if uncomfortable, facts.

    In any case, thank you for your comment!

  3. You should read Temple Theology by Margaret Barker for a new approach that is not anti-Semitic. By analysis of the Pseudepigrapha and the other early Jewish texts and Targum she uncovers the themes hidden under the surface of the Old and New Testaments. Just what you said, a new foundation is laid. She has many books and articles. Temple Theology is a good summary of and introduction to her research.

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