Remnant of Giants, pure motives and structure

Remnant of Giants has recently had to defend itself for suggesting that there are deep rooted ideological issues relating to the archaeological site Tel es-Safi (“Gath”) and the removal of Palestinians from there in 1948. RoG set out the issues clearly but, in response to criticism, had to make it clear that the issue at hand was not politicized individuals but structural issues (“This – to be clear – is not to say that the inherently political nature of archaeology in Israel is the fault of individual archaeologists or individual surveys. Instead, it is fundamentally a result of political power structures that already exist in the region”).  It is frustrating that RoG even has to make this sort of defence. Isn’t it obvious that power structures frame all sorts of ways we all think, whether individuals know it or not? It should be and that’s a kind of basic point for any understanding of ideology you’d think.

There is a peculiar logic to the argument, or assumption, that if the individual is morally upright then there can be no wider political problem affecting the individual. This peculiarity can be illuminated by a very simple example: if someone writes about how Jews are like stereotype x, y or z but personally believes that Jews are wonderful then does that make us ignore what has been put into print because said person is a very nice person? Or, why not take this quotation as an example which apparently holds true as a generalisation useful for understanding the world of Jesus and the Gospels:

“…personalization of problems goes so far in the Arab countries that even material, technical difficulties accompanying the adoption of elements of Western civilization are considered as resulting from human malevolence and felt to be a humiliation…Where the Arab encounters an obstacle he imagines that an enemy is hidden. Proud peoples with a weak ‘ego structure’ tend to interpret difficulties on their life path as personal humiliations and get entangled in endless lawsuits or throw themselves into the arms of extremist political movements. A defeat in elections, a risk that every politician must face in a democracy, appears to be such a humiliation that an Arab can thereby be induced without further ceremony to take up arms against the victor and the legal government… [italics original] (B.J. Malina, The Social World of Jesus and the Gospels [London: Routledge, 1996], p. 63, citing Raphael Patai)”

It might be reasonable to assume that this sort of statement is one that buys into some deep rooted Orientalist tendencies. But let us now assume that the author in fact has very strong pro-Arab sympathies (whatever that might mean, but bear with me), does that mean the above statement now suddenly isn’t part of deep rooted Orientalist tendencies and stereotyping of Arabs? Clearly not. Apparent purity of motive does not override structural problems.

This is all a very basic part of any ideological reading of culture yet the problem keeps coming up among biblical scholars (from blogs to SBL). So, by way of analogy: if someone comes to historical Jesus studies and wants to bypass the basic historical methods/criteria without any awareness of, and flatly contradicting, what has been written for decades on method or if someone digs something from the ground without any basic grasp archaeological methods, would  that be acceptable? Presumably not, so here is a plea: any basic ideological critique in biblical studies (or elsewhere) should at least not ignore the very basics of the ways in which ideology functions. It’s only fair.

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3 responses to “Remnant of Giants, pure motives and structure

  1. Good post. I think this problem is especially ripe in biblical studies because of the already deeply rooted ideological structure of the discipline. The ‘intentional fallacy’ is to suggest that to know what the author intended–what he had in mind at the time of writing–is to know the correct interpretation of the work. Seeking the original intention of an author is seen as common sense in BS. Dialectical approaches that are more honest and self-critical about the politics of interpretation are sometimes caricatured and demeaned (see this post here, for example, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/bibleandculture/2012/03/15/post-christian-new-testament-studies/), or even worse, tolerated. The BS emphasis on authorial intention, however, mitigates the (political, social, ideological) effect that a text or interpretations of a text can have. This fallacious mode of reading, then, is systemic to the discipline, and as you identify, makes its way into the interpretation of scholarship.

  2. Pingback: Sheffield Biblical Studies comments on The Tel es-Safi (“Gath”) Excavation: “Apparent purity of motive does not override structural problems” | Remnant of Giants

  3. Pingback: Rafi Greenberg on the “Universe of Denial” in Jerusalem Archaeology | Remnant of Giants

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