walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Why Oh Why Can't They Be Exegetes Like Me? A few more complaints about _Religious Literacy_

Prothero tells the story of a 1995 jury. One juror hauls out a Bible and reads a passage from Leviticus about an eye for an eye and encourages everyone to go home, get their own Bibles out and contemplate this. Jury is unanimous for death penalty, overturned some years later by the state supreme court which said, hey, the Bible should not have been brought into this (extraneous prejudicial material, IIRC).

What is Prothero's complaint about this? We are not told if the Bible in question is the Tanakh, or the Christian Bible. We are not told if the juror in question was Jewish or Christian. Prothero apparently doesn't think it is relevant, altho it sure changes the tenor of what comes next in his analysis. Prothero points out that this passage is explicitly rejected in the New Testament (turn the other cheek). Then Prothero says this (which neatly supports his "confused" self-description):

"The purpose of citing this passage is neither to provide divine sanction for nonviolence nor to forestall a reading of the Bible in favor of capital punishment, but simply to offer yet another case study in the dangers of religious illiteracy. Were any jurors aware of Jesus' refutation of "an eye for an eye" -- his invocation fo a new morality of "turn the other cheek"? Might this defendant have been spared a decade on death row if they had been?... The moral is rather that if jurors are going to consult scripture -- and, court rulings aside, they doubtless are -- then those jurors should at least have the decency (and the piety) to try to get the Bible right."


He's not saying it's wrong to read the Bible as favoring capital punishment. He's not saying it's right to read the bible as sanctioning nonviolence. Yet he somehow thinks what the jurors did was "wrong" and that there is a "right" way to "get" the Bible that the jurors should have aspired to? Would he have preferred the jurors spend a lot of time thrashing out theology in the jury room, perhaps coming out with a Bible commentary instead of a sentence?

What happened in that jury room wasn't a "case study" in religious illiteracy. It was a room full of people who were trying to make a group decision, rallying what shared ideas they had to one side or another. But Prothero more or less said he's not taking a side in that debate. He just wishes the debate had included a fuller accounting of the contents of the holy writ invoked. I guess he can do that (hey, his book, and he got _paid_ for it; I'm just a blogger), but I don't see how that's supposed to convince me he should be allowed to direct our educational dollars in pursuit of that silly a goal. I used to work in software. We called the local equivalent of him "code queens". And we didn't mean it in a good way.

To be fair, back in the day, I understood the temptation to massage code to be Purty and Perfect. I did. But I also understood that our customers and our bottom line dictated Quick and Dirty. And honestly, I'm all over being Pissed as Hell over crappy rhetoric. I yell at columnists and the TV all the time. Bad Rhetoric is Lame. I do not, however, suggest that young'uns should be indoctrinated in my particular pathology as a virtue.

ETA: I'm having a lot of trouble understanding why other people aren't complaining about Prothero. My working theory at the moment is that there are three groups of people out there: the vast majority do not give a rat's ass what Prothero says; a minority of people are overwhelmingly pleased to read Prothero advocating more more emphasis on religion and another minority of people are taken in by the emphasis on technical/exegetical/detailed analysis that _looks_ good unless you know the subject matter. Which they don't. If Prothero were somehow magically successful, he wouldn't be for long.
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