Why is the religious dimension so often excluded from the academic study of religious texts? I’ve just read a chapter by Roland Deines, in which this issue is explored. In a volume devoted to the Hebrew Bible, Deines takes the example of the emergence of the New Testament writings (particularly Paul) to show that it is possible for religiously authoritative writings to arise not from established institutional hierarchy (at the time that Paul’s letters were received, he lacked the saintly authority that would later be ascribed to him), but rather from a widely believed experience of personal divine revelation. Deines suggests that the same sort of model provides a useful and persuasive account of the emergence of much of the Hebrew Bible. He writes:
It is therefore ultimately much more likely and in line with what the texts themselves claim that at their core stands an “inspired” individual rather than a professional clerk, scribe, bureaucrat, or other religious functionary. This person formulated the essence of what he saw, heard, or otherwise experienced as divine disclosure with the rhetorical and literary means within his reach. Most likely these would have included certain preconceptions based on the already available prophetic traditions, which might have helped and formed to a certain degree the recording of what was revealed. Historians of religion need not appreciate or regard these divine encounters as binding in any way, but they would do well to adopt a certain readiness to consider them… (315)
The chapter is: Roland Deines, ‘Revelatory Experiences as the Beginning of Scripture: Paul’s Letters and the Prophets in the Hebrew Bible,’ in Cana Werman (ed.), From Author to Copyist: Essays on the Composition, Redaction, and Transmission of the Hebrew Bible in Honor of Zipi Talshir (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2015), 303-336. You can find the book here.