An Analysis of Michael Coogan’s Article “The Great Gulf Between Scholars and the Pew”
Michael Coogan’s article, “The Great Gulf Between Scholars and the Pew,” basically discussed and expounded in detail basically how people from different walks of life, particularly the scholars, and the lay members of the Church, understood and interpreted the Bible and its text. Basically, according to Coogan, the Bible, which has been long accepted as a symbol of perfect authority and absolute truth for it contains the word of God, is flawed in a lot of aspects due to its historical loopholes and inconsistencies.
Based on Coogan’s writing, both past and modern scholars have used these inconsistencies and loopholes, which is a method called historical-critical method, to surmise that the Bible itself is not a book by a single author, but “many books by many authors” (Coogan, n.
p. ) who also reflect their backgrounds and beliefs in their writings. However, as Coogan pointed out, this non-traditional understanding of the Bible, has very little effect on the way most people, whether religious or not, think of the book.
This led to a situation that Coogan calls a canon within a canon, a set of laws within a set of laws or more specifically, a set of Holy Scriptures within a set of Holy Scriptures. In this case, most people, despite the widely accepted inconsistencies on the Bible, still accept and adhere to certain parts of its texts. In other words, what Coogan meant by a canon within a canon is that people select certain texts or scriptures within the Bible despite their errors and contradictions to actual historical findings and consider them as absolute truths which they base their beliefs on.
More specifically, people such as lay members and pastors choose to believe these questionable texts and scriptures and use them to serve their personal interests. This, according to Coogan, is best shown in the way that politicians use quotes from the Bible as if they were truths, the way ministers preach the words of the Bible, and, most of all, the way students treat the Bible as an authoritative figure.
Certain prominent inconsistencies in the Bible include the question of whether Canaan was invaded by Israel through a military assault or a gradual assimilation or what was the true color of the robe Jesus was wearing when he was being tortured before he died or whether he was born in Bethlehem or Nazareth, among many others.. In addition, there are also Christian believers who accept a certain gospel, such as Paul’s but reject the words of James and the Gospel of Matthew, which have been shown to contradict Paul’s writings, while, in effect, rejecting dozens of other biblical texts.
The fact that there are inconsistencies between the writings of two of Jesus’ disciples and yet people choose to believe in one of them goes to show that the historical-critical method of understanding the Bible has been very influential. In short, despite these questions about important facts in the Bible, a lot of people still accept them as undeniable truths, which forms a canon within a canon Moreover, Coogan explained that the church tacitly accepts the use of a canon within a canon partly because it is their way of countering the results of the scholars’ historical-critical method of the Bible.
The church made it appear to its followers that results of the scholars’ studies is a direct challenge to their authority because most of its teachings are derived from the Bible itself. In other words, if the Bible is full of inconsistencies and errors, then the Church’s Episcopal letters and pontifical documents, which they derive from the Bible as well, are also flawed and questionable. This is also why the church accepts the use of a canon within a canon as it corrects the perception of the Bible created by the scholars.
They simply cannot allow an influential force that would question their authority as it would also taint their credibility and, in effect, their control over their members. Another reason behind the church’s tacit acceptance of a canon within a canon is that it does not trust people to correctly interpret and understand all that are written in the Bible. In other words, the church simply limited the exposure of people to the Bible because in truth, as Coogan stated in his article, there are certain texts and scriptures in the Bible that are subversive to the teachings of the church.
According to Coogan, certain texts that are conspicuously limited by the church to most people include the portrayal of the violent yet “divine” extermination of the people of Canaan in the book of Joshua, the depiction of sexual assault in Judges chapters 11 and 19, the eroticism in the Song of Solomon, and most of all the text of the book of Job which more or less challenges the predominant perception of a fair and caring God.
Meaning to say, the church firmly believes that if people are able to read the texts mentioned above, then there is a possibility that they may doubt the dogmatic views and teachings of the Bible which is embodied by the church itself. Furthermore, based on Coogan’s writing, in a way, biblical scholarship has also contributed to the use of a canon within a canon. According to him, for one, these biblical scholars, who have been committed to studying and deciphering the Bible for the past century or so, have failed to correctly translate what the original languages such as Greek and Hebrew of the book’s texts exactly mean.
Most biblical scholars, avoid shocking people by making it appear that the Bible is an internally consistent book rather than a compilation of doctrines that are full of errors and inconsistencies. Moreover, Coogan also noted that recent biblical studies were done primarily for self-righteous reasons rather than educational purposes and as such, the use of a canon within a canon or a set of widely-accepted and used scriptures within a set of widely-accepted and used scriptures has become more established and unchallenged throughout the years.