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Preface On April 13, 2001, the headline in the Los Angeles Times read, “Doubting the Story of the Exodus.” The accompanying article described a sermon that had been delivered by the rabbi of a prominent local congregation over the holiday of Passover. In it the rabbi had said,“The truth is that virtually every modern archaeologist who has investigated the story of the exodus, with very few exceptions, agrees that the way the Bible describes the exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all.” It must have been a dramatic moment in the life of that congregation; however, as Rabbi David Wolpe himself acknowledged, his sermon contained nothing new. The theories he described in that sermon had been common knowledge among biblical scholars for more than thirty years. It is even possible that he had learned about them decades earlier as a student at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Yet it was his sermon in early 2001 that captured worldwide attention. What the philosopher Franz Rosenzweig observed in the 1920s—that “What the sparrows chirp from the rooftops of intellectual Germany, still seems terrible heresy to us” (On Jewish Learning [New York: Schocken Books, 1955], 60)—remains true today, an ocean and nearly a century away. Most of the archaeological discoveries that relate to the Bible took place in the last part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth , yet few people outside the profession know their relevance. The names Hammurabi and Gilgamesh may ring a bell, but not many have any idea of their relevance to the Bible other than some vague sense that they prove or disprove what it says. The facts are actually more complicated than that. Moreover, there has been a veritable revolution, and possibly more than one, in biblical studies over the past generation. Scholarly debate is no longer limited to the reliability and authenticity of the Bible, but extends to the very existence and nature of Israel itself: Was there actually a nation of Israel in any meaningful sense during what is somewhat peculiarly called “the biblical period,” and if so, what experiences did it xi undergo? Those kinds of questions have led to a dramatic reexamination of the very nature of the biblical account, including both its literary quality and the ideas expressed in it. These challenges did not emerge in a vacuum. The concerns they raise reflect issues that plague our society as a whole. During the past generation , all kinds of accepted social norms have come under question: Should races be treated the way they have been? Can the government be trusted to tell the truth? Are the sexes different in the way we thought? In such an environment , it is no wonder that the Bible has come in for extraordinary scrutiny, nor that the views of its authors on topics such as women and minorities are now being reexamined. Over the past century, the center for such study has moved into secular settings. As universities have taken a more central role in examining various aspects of religion, the way that religion is studied and understood has been dramatically affected. In such an environment, the Bible is not likely to receive the privileged treatment it enjoyed in religious settings. Instead, university professors are likely to raise the same kinds of questions that are directed at other cultural phenomena. Meanwhile, the fact that the Bible plays a significant role in several quite different communities forces those studying it (at least to the extent that they interact) to think about how it is treated in each tradition. And so the Bible’s role within religious communities has itself become a topic of inquiry as much for those within such communities as for those outside them. The goal of this book is to share these conversations, which have been going on in academic circles for decades, with a larger audience. The authors are all experts in the areas of biblical studies they describe. They have national and even international reputations. Here they report recent developments in the areas of their expertise and assess the current state of scholarship on these issues. None of them would claim that their accounts are the last word; they are all too familiar with the constantly changing state of the field. But they have tried to lift the curtain on contemporary scholarship so that the public can hear the discussion and debates that are currently taking place, while...


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