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The Bible Now
Shawna Dolansky; Richard Elliott Friedman
Oxford University Press, 2011
220 pp., 27.95
The Bible Then
In The Bible Now, Richard Elliot Friedman and Shawna Dolansky set out to clarify "what the Bible has to say about major issues of our time." They believe that on a range of "controversial matters: homosexuality, abortion, women's status, capital punishment, and the earth," appeals to biblical authority are routinely based on misreadings and misunderstandings. Moreover, they say, these distortions are not limited to one side on this or that issue. What's needed, then, is the bright light of "critical biblical scholarship." At the same time, Friedman and Dolansky say in their preface, they seek to address
orthodox and fundamentalist readers with courtesy and respect. And as long as we keep to the facts and to honest method, what we have to share from our research should be useful to both traditional and critical, religious and not-religious, readers.
Friedman is an eminent scholar, widely published; his coauthor, Dolanksy, is the author of a book on magic and religion in the Hebrew Bible. When they talk about the Bible, they explain at the outset, they mean exclusively the Hebrew Bible,
because that is the area of our expertise. We have had the experience of people asking us all sorts of questions about matters that lie outside our area of expertise: about the New Testament, about rabbinic Jewish texts, and much more. Don't go to a gynecologist for a broken leg.
That's disarming. How does it play out?
You can get a pretty good idea from the first chapter, on homosexuality. An oft-cited verse from Leviticus (20:13) says that men who participate in homosexual intercourse shall be put to death. Friedman and Dolansky's treatment of this verse is learned, lengthy (though not tedious), ingenious, and complex. A key point, for instance, is a distinction they make between an act that is "offensive" to someone and an act that "is wrong in itself and can never be otherwise." They claim that a technical term in the verse in question has the former meaning, not the latter. "So," they ...