when scientism in Hebrew analysis?

Discussion about the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, Talmud, Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeology, etc.
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StephenGoranson
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Joined: Thu Apr 02, 2015 2:10 am

when scientism in Hebrew analysis?

Post by StephenGoranson »

This is a new thread prompted by a comment in the "Current State of Samaritanism..." thread, but about Hebrew Bible interpretation more broadly.

In the "Samaritanism" thread Russell Gmirkin wrote, in part (Wed Nov 09):

"....Knowledge-based cognition starts out with facts and evidence, builds a model, argument or theory that arises out of that evidence, and as appropriate infers reasoned conclusions. This is the approach used in science. It is very learning-friendly and introspectively critical, since it always seeks to improve its understanding of the world by seeking out new facts and information, testing its models, theories and arguments, challenging its own conclusions to see if they hold up, and making appropriate adjustments accordingly. It considers it a win if it learns something new, improves its model, or refines or rethinks its conclusions. It seeks out the criticism of informed peers, since the correction of its arguments or conclusions means a better objective grasp of the world. The intellectual expense of constant self-examination and occasional revision of conclusions is seen as worth the outcome of improved understanding....."

He identified himself with this approach. I consider myself to be pro-science, when done properly. But RG writes in such a tone of certainty, sometimes officiously, as if anyone not agreeing with his conclusions must be stupid. In other words, despite professing being open to "occasional revision of conclusions," his conclusions are sometimes presented by him as if they were final and unimpeachable.

Scientism and positivism--though perhaps sounding reasonable--are words that have also pejorative senses, when, for example, applied to history research, which some see as an art as well as a science. Because facts, though always to be welcomed, are not always available for all history questions. For example, when did the Odyssey and the Iliad begin to take recognizable shape? Relying overmuch on external corroboration would likely give an implausibly late date for "Homer"--whether or not he was the author, or sole author. If we relied on writing alone, Cherokee traditions might seemingly not exist until Sequoyah invented a Cherokee writing system. (An Exploration of Writing by Peter T. Daniels, 2018, is good on the subject.)

Historians ideally might need to have a sense of a plausible trajectory, which may be more important that seeking something totally new. As if research is a contest to be the greatest "post-maximalist."

The Torah books appear to be an accumulation edited over considerable time.

In contrast, to use an admittedly imperfect comparison, because it is much more recent, the US Constitution was written in a relatively short time, or one may call it a then-contemporary text for which we have extensive documentation. The negotiations included aiming to avoid contradictions. One example is the odious agreement to define enslaved humans as three-fifths human for purpose of counting for number of representatives in Congress.

Whether or not elements seem to clash, the Torah, which is not a once-contemporary committee report, on the other hand, it seems to me, preserves diverse and ancient Hebrew traditions.
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