Speaking of God...

February 18, 2000

It was gratifying to see a British university department (biblical studies at Sheffield) receiving justifiable praise ("Greatest story ever told", THES, February 11).

Puzzling, though, was the statement that "theology students try to understand the Bible as if it were a source of knowledge about the ancient world".

Theologians do, of course, make use of history. But in their dealings with bibles (as Jews or Christians) their main concern is to address the question of how to use these texts to speak of God (and thus also of truth, reality, how to live and so on) today. Theologians will differ radically as to how easy or difficult it may be to use biblical texts in this way. But the responsibility to try to do this cannot be side-stepped, given that bibles function as scripture within living religious traditions, and are read by real people in real communities. The notion that theological interests in biblical studies inevitably lead to "pseudo-scholarship" is surely misplaced. Is it not rather the case that biblical studies relates indeed to philosophy, history and literature studies, but also to religious studies, and there will be people in all these disciplines prepared to engage in God-talk as something worth doing, as well as those who think it clouds the issue? Simply being anti-religion, or anti-theology, is scarcely a scholarly position. There is a profound irony in the fact that Philip Davies's work proves very useful for theologians, who have long recognised that the Bible is not simply history.

Clive Marsh Senior lecturer in theology College of Ripon and York

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