Fanciful Form Criticism Takes Flight on the Pages of the New York Times
If you have never had the experience of dealing with biblical scholars who embrace form criticism then the July 21, 2018 on the opinion page of the New York Times was your day.
That day, Dr. Idan Dershowitz, who is simply described under the by-line as a “biblical scholar” gives the world, and every liberal Christian who seeks to abandon any meaningful or consistent biblical sexual ethic, a tickle in their liver. In his article, titilatingly titled,”The Secret History of Leviticus,” Dr. Dershowitz spins a fanciful tale that would make any form critic proud. He writes,
No text has had a greater influence on attitudes toward gay people than the biblical book of Leviticus, which prohibits sex between men. Before Leviticus was composed, outright prohibitions against homosexual sex — whether between men or women — were practically unheard-of in the ancient world.
I mean there’s a great deal of truth and a great deal of falseness in that statement. Without a doubt, a survey of the relevant cultures notes,
[Many] cultures were ambivalent regarding forms of homosexual behavior. While it may have been tolerated under certain circumstances, it was not the norm and was not necessarily accepted by the population that upheld the value of heterosexual marriage and family relationships in which children played an important role.
Dershowitz, focuses specifically in on Leviticus 18, writes,
Like many ancient texts, Leviticus was created gradually over a long period and includes the words of more than one writer. Many scholars believe that the section in which Leviticus 18 appears was added by a comparatively late editor, perhaps one who worked more than a century after the oldest material in the book was composed. An earlier edition of Leviticus, then, may have been silent on the matter of sex between men. (emphasis added)
By the use of the modal verb “may” necessarily implies supposition and not fact. And having access to a pre-published form of his scholarly article shows no evidence of the “many scholars” who supposedly believe that Leviticus 18 was somehow edited.
Dr. Michael Brown writes of Dershowitz’s article that its, “…without equivocation that this is nothing more than scholarly fabrication. It should be rejected as complete and utter nonsense.”
So, what exactly should the thinking Christian make of this type of scholarship?
As I noted, I have access to a pre-publish version of the full academic article—one of the benefits of being on staff at a research university—and I can say that he references a few sources that I’m familiar with and have read, and I find them interesting and even compelling, but Dershowitz’s argument is pure speculation. It’s a liberal’s wet dream come true: a published scholar slipping one through in an attempt to legitimize sexual rebellion.
The thinking Christian has to be on the lookout for mere assertion and broad generalizations, these are usually signs of a scholar getting ready to trot out the bull. Dr. Brown notes in his article that,
[Dershowitz’s] argument is entirely without textual support (something that needs to be repeated over and again). It’s also bizarre to argue that in ancient Israel, men could have sex with as many men as they desired, without penalty, so long as they were not close blood relatives. Yet they could only have sex with the woman (or, women) they were married to, and at that, with certain purity guidelines.
I think that seals the deal.
Dr. Brown discusses the article on his radio show