Economics and biblical studies

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    In recent years, cultural anthropology, sociology, and psychology have been added to the tool kit of the historical-critical biblical scholar. Economics, and especially contemporary mainstream economics, has not been much utilized by biblical scholars for several reasons. For one thing, contemporary mainstream economics is less familiar to biblical scholars than Marxian or institutional approaches. It is also more mathematically demanding. A number of objections have also been raised to using economic models in this context. One is that the tools of economics are not neutral. However, this is true of any theoretical tool, including the alternatives to contemporary mainstream economic theory. Another one is that religion is a special domain outside the reach of economics. Economists would see this as an illegitimate claim by religion scholars to monopoly rights, and that granting it brings all the usual failings of a monopolized industry. The most common objection, discussed at length below, is that contemporary economic models are anachronistic and are not applicable to ancient societies. Rather than excluding contemporary economic analysis, however, one should see how it can offer new perspectives on texts. Economic tools have certainly illuminated contemporary religious behavior and institutions (see, for instance, Iannaccone 1998), so why not ancient religious behavior and institutions? The purpose of this bibliography is to make contemporary mainstream economics more accessible to biblical scholars, including the theoretical tools of rational choice theory, game theory, information economics, and behavioral economics, along with the most sophisticated empirical techniques in the contemporary social sciences. This bibliography excludes many important and interesting social scientific tools that economists have so far not engaged, such as work on cognitive dissonance theory (e.g., Leon Festinger, R. P. Carroll, Gerd Theissen), covenant rather than contract relations (Richard Horsley), kinship in Mediterranean culture (e.g., Bruce Malina, Kenneth Bailey), anthropological studies of taboos (e.g., Mary Douglas), sociological theories of revolution and large-scale social change (e.g., Weber, Durkheim, Norman Gottwald), and postcolonial theory (e.g., Mark Brett). This bibliography draws on a presentation titled “Using Economics in Biblical Studies,” which was presented at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco, a seminar at the Centre for Early Christian Studies at Australian Catholic University, and a seminar in the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University in Sydney. Thanks to Julien Ogereau, Jacqui Grey, Chris Forbes, Mark Brett, and Roland Boer for discussions and suggestions, with the usual caveat that this does not imply agreement with the views expressed here.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationOxford Bibliographies in Biblical Studies
    PublisherOxford University Press, USA
    Number of pages18
    Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2015


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