Distinguishing Between Devotional and Critical Sources
All scholarship has an agenda. The people who produce research cannot separate their “academic” research from their personal beliefs. That being said, this research assignment asks us to develop skills in identifying the presuppositions that inform writing about the Old Testament and, in the process of discerning the difference between critical research and devotional research, we will learn to practice scholarly, critical research and writing that integrates a range of sources.
Critical Scholarship – This research attempts to approach the text from an academic, critical vantage point. Critical scholarship favors multiple interpretations rather than one single interpretation, it entertains ambiguities and diverse possibilities as a method of appreciating the aesthetic achievements of the texts, it tries to situate the Old Testament in its historical context, and it avoids unilateral truth claims.
Devotional Scholarship – This form of writing starts with presuppositions about the Bible as an “inerrant” or “infallible” text, and it won’t relinquish this view, regardless of any historical, archeological, literary, anthropological, or social analysis provided. Devotional writing also mines the text and sees it as “insight for living,” basically, a self-help book. Devotional scholarship can masquerade as critical scholarship because it may use many of the same conventions (i.e., footnotes, appeals to original languages, and extensive bibliographies). It’s important to recognize the ultimate purpose of all scholarship. Is it conversionary, or does it uphold presuppositions about the text as infallible? You can usually gleam this information by recognizing the press that publishes it.
• Presses that you should seek out: Any university press, Doubleday, Palgrave, Routledge, Sheffield, Ashgate, Brill.
• Presses that you should use with caution: InterVarsity Press, Baker Books, Eerdmans Press, Westminster John Knox Press, Fortress Press, Paulist Press, or HarperCollins.
• Presses that you should avoid in this class because of their specifically (uncritical) Christian agenda: Moody Publishers, Zondervan Press, Thomas Nelson Press (exception: Word Commentary Series), Tyndale Press, Multnomah Press, or Crossway Books.
Ideally, your research will include a range of peer reviewed sources that consists of books, commentaries, dictionary entries, and academic journals.
Research Tools at our Disposal
1. Print Resources – These often get called “books.” The William T. Young Library contains millions of them that well help you develop a literary critical approach to the Old Testament. Here are a few specific suggestions:
• Anchor Bible Dictionary BS440 .A54 1992 (reference source)
• Anchor Bible Series – commentaries, textual analysis, interpretative possibilities
• Books in the library – University Press books, Religious Studies / Theological studies books
2. University of Kentucky Library Databases – The University pays millions of dollars each year for access to online databases. We should make use of them. Here is a list of the databases that will be most useful to our research.
• EBSCO Host Religion and Philosophy collection
• MLA International bibliography
• Oxford Scholarship Online
I encourage you to seek out specific journal titles by searching with the E-journals tool on the Young Library homepage. If you’re lost, start with the leading biblical studies journals: Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Jewish Quarterly, Journal of Biblical Literature, etc.
3. Seminary Libraries in the Area – As you might know, we have two significant seminaries in the area, Lexington Theological Seminary (located right across the street from Memorial Hall) and Asbury Seminary (located in Wilmore, about 20 minutes south of Lexington on Rt. 68). Because the seminary is right across the street, the W.T. Young Library might not purchase the books you will need for this assignment (because they know LTS already has them).
• Bosworth Memorial Library (Lexington Theological Seminary) Bonus Advice: the librarians are very helpful here. If you have problems figuring out where things are, ask for Barb Pfeifle. UK students can borrow books for free. If you plan to write a well-researched essay, you should plan a trip across the street.
• Information Commons (Asbury Theological Seminary) Bonus Advice: The Asbury library is more or less the same as the LTS library, so save yourself a 20 minute drive and walk across the street if you can.
4. The Course Blog – The blog not only contains .PDF links to the articles we’ve been reading in class (which are perfectly good sources to use, by the way). It also contains list of websites that are useful starting points for research and a selection of links that might help jumpstart your thinking.
5. NetLibrary – The University of Kentucky libraries provide access to NetLibrary, where you can get full access to electronic text books.
• http://www.netlibrary.com – Note that you must be on UK’s network to use this link as it’s presented here.
6. Google: The Internet isn’t a completely unreliable resource to use, as long as you use it wisely. Never do a “quick and dirty” search on Google’s homepage, but instead make use of their specialized resources:
• Google Books
• Google Scholar
Ways to Research by Theme
1. Examine “Secular” Literary Critical Methods – As you develop your topic, you might be interested in applying a literary critical method, like structuralism, feminist theory, or anthropological criticism. Locating some sources to identify the types of questions these approaches ask is a great research strategy for this assignment. Here are a few ideas:
• Brief and cursory (about 100 pages, or so) “Introduction” books
o Oxford University Press “Very Short Introduction” Series
• Introductions to biblical criticism
o To Each Its Own Meaning: An Introduction to Biblical Criticisms & Application
o Handbook of Biblical Criticism
o Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation
2. Research Biblical Hermeneutics – Providing some background concerning the history and challenge of biblical hermeneutics is a great research idea. You can examine the work of well-noted theorists on hermeneutics (Richard Rorty, Paul Ricoeur) or famous literary critics who have dealt with the Bible (Harold Bloom, Frank Kermode, Northrop Frye, and Robert Alter).
3. Use Commentaries Wisely – Commentaries can be a useful tool when researching. You’ll get detailed analysis of individual texts, and you’ll likely get ideas for possibilities in interpretation. However, you must especially beware of the purpose of the commentary you’re using. Further, we are trying to address issues of broad cultural import in this essay, so remember not to get bogged down with myopic details. To be safe, I recommend limiting yourself to the following series:
• The Anchor Bible series
• Hermenia Series
• Jerome Biblical Commentary
If none of these tools, methods, or suggestions seem to be helping you, feel free to visit my office hours, where we can talk more about these methods and look more closely at the research resources.