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A professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of California–Berkeley quit the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), voicing concern that North America's leading organization for biblical scholarship had welcomed "the views of creationists, snake-handlers, and faith healers."

In an op-ed in the July/August 2010 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Ronald S. Hendel complained that SBL had ended its annual joint conference with the American Academy of Religion (AAR) after 2007 and reached out to "evangelical and fundamentalist groups" to boost its numbers.

"The battle royal between faith and reason is now in the center ring at the SBL circus," Hendel wrote, accusing some attendees of proselytizing at the conference.

The piece caused a miniature tsunami on academic blogs, eliciting a mix of outrage and amusement from evangelical scholars. (SBL disputed Hendel's claims but hosted an online debate over its membership standards.) Coincidentally, not long after the article appeared, SBL and AAR announced plans to resume their joint conference in 2011.

Hendel now says he might revise a few sentences of his article, but stands by his main position. "The SBL has a commitment to the standards and practices of academic inquiry.  The best of the evangelical scholars understand this," he said. "The problem is that these standards have become blurred, and practices befitting a non-academic context have come to be tolerated and even normal at SBL. This must change if SBL wants to continue to be recognized as a learned society. If it wants to be a National Council of Churches, then it should continue its present course."

The question of evangelicals' role in organizations such as SBL and AAR is a perennial one.

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Scholars and 'Snake-Handlers'
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September 2010

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