Bible Review 7:2, April 1991

Is Everybody a Bible Expert?

Not the authors of the Book of J

By Richard Elliott Friedman

It is a strange fact that we biblical scholars always seem to meet people who are surprised that we really know things about the Bible. They assume that the study of the Bible is a matter of opinions and interpretations, with few verifiable facts one way or another. Even though the archaeological revolution is about a century old, even though the advances in language, text and history are reported in thousands of books of introduction, history and commentary, people just do not conceive of biblical scholars as having the kind of expertise that professionals in medicine or law—or even other scholars in the sciences or the humanities—have.

And so, oddball theories make the front pages of respectable newspapers and magazines. Archaeological discoveries are misinterpreted or blown out of proportion. Absurd computer programs are accepted as legitimate analyses. One view is as good—meaning as unprovable—as another.

There is also Exodus Fever, a term used for the phenomenon of persons from other fields who are attracted to explaining the events of the Exodus and the Sinai stories with what they believe to be new insights from their own areas of knowledge: geologists, astronomers, Egyptologists, oceanographers, psychologists, historians of other periods and places. The temptation to explain the splitting of the Red Sea, the plagues and the fiery mountain is irresistible. Everyone explains the Bible—and not hesitantly, or modestly, but like an expert. They are going to show us what the real experts have been missing.

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