I’ve been increasingly annoyed with theological readings masquerading as objective, non-ideological products of biblical studies.
This is most evident in work on the Historical Jesus or St. Paul. Because a scholar has already committed to a very specific representation of Jesus or Paul, they cannot even fathom the possibility that there can be counter-evidence or different approaches to a specific text. Contrary to what many believe, reading Jesus as an agent of resistance is not as absurd as thinking Jesus was merely a figment of Roman Imperial propaganda. But, attempts to think of Jesus as modeling a specific ethic of political apathy, for instance, is always bound up within a fundamentalist reading of history, one that cannot be qualified, and if qualified the additions or excisions are always already agreeable to one’s own theological agenda.
It’s just a rather usual example of confirmation bias. Qualifying data is thrown out if it at all threatens what the scholars believes. So, in the instance mentioned above, any scholarship that could fall within Empire Studies (as well as any postcolonial readings) would be regarded as, in some way, illegitimate, or simply ignored. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated it may be, it has already been determined to be illegitimate in the eyes of the creator of theologised readings of Jesus or Paul.
What I found most liberating early in my work was recognising my own bias, my tendency to fall into the Great Man myth with Jesus and Paul, to theologise their persons such that I wasn’t able to approach the text except through my very specific lens, one that molded Paul into a sort of figuration that followed my own political/ethical/theological proclivities. It wasn’t that I was naive to the problem, but I did my best to fight against counter-evidence by staking my claim instead on evidence that supported the Paul that mirrored my own reflection.
This isn’t to say that I think aren’t bound to ideology, that I think we can somehow loosen the shackles and escape into a purely objective reading of the text. In fact, it is often those who think so, or who edge toward thinking so, that, blind to ideological sway, theologise when they say they are merely doing ‘biblical studies.’
Instead, what I suggest is that we all are, already, stuck in this mode, and that it is only through acknowledging it that we can even begin to stop producing naive stories.