The Exceptions Historians Make for Christianity
Laziness is common among historians. When they find a continuous account of events for a certain period in an ‘ancient’ source, one that is not necessarily contemporaneous with the events , they readily adopt it. They limit their work to paraphrasing the source, or, if needed, to rationalisation. — Liverani, Myth and politics in ancient Near Eastern historiography, p.28.
So far, historical research by biblical scholars has taken a … circular route …. The assumption that the literary construct is an historical one is made to confirm itself. Historical criticism (so-called) of the inferred sources and traditions seeks to locate these in that literary-cum-historical construct. (Philip R. Davies, In Search of ‘Ancient Israel’, pp.35-37)
I was involved in a big debate about Mike Licona. He, in a huge academic work, sensibly concluded that Matthew 28 was symbolic poetic writing. Remember, this is the claim, completely unverified or corroborated by any other human on earth, that all the Saints resurrected and flew over Jersualem. Amazing amazing instance that, if it had happened:
1) the other gospel writers would have reported it
2) bloody loads of people would have written about it or referenced it
So Licona, who is a good bloke and someone I rate (as far as apologists go) produced a well measured and highly probable thesis (no independent scholar believes Matt 28 as historical). what happened?
Norman Geisler got him sacked from his position, both his job as research professor of New Testament at Southern Evangelical Seminary and as apologetics coordinator for the North America Mission Board (NAMB).
John blogged about this topic a few months ago (a similar case where a NT researcher was fired for doing his job and arriving at an unpopular conclusion at an evangelical college) - overall, it seems obvious that biblical infallibility is just not a defensible academic position, but if an evengelical institute or university becomes a little too liberal, the sponsors will jump off and fund other institutes.
Seems to be a uniquely US-american problem to me, we had just one case here in Germany where a research theologian almost lost his job for expressing unpopular views (but quite drastic ones - he doubts the divinity of Jesus, which is obviously a very unpopular view among theologians). Source [misspellings are from original quote cited]
So this is what happens to 'objective' biblical exegesis?
So here we have the very real issue that, if any researchers deviate from the established status quo, they will LOSE THEIR JOBS. Not exactly an environment that encourages creative ferment...