Oct 17, 2014

Avoiding Parallelomania and Parallelophobia

I have just started looking through Aaron Chalmer's Exploring the Religion of Ancient Israel.In his introductory discussion of ancient Near Eastern texts, he notes two terms which represent ends of a spectrum. The first, parallelomania, has been used in biblical studies since the early sixties (I believe). It is usually attributed to Samuel Sandmel, who attributed it to a French source from 1830 (“Parallelomania,” Journal of Biblical Literature 81 [1962]: 1). The second term, parallelophobia, is as far as I can tell, of a more recent origin. In any case, one encounters both phobias in biblical studies and I think that Chalmer's offers some sound advice concerning the application of ANE texts to the Hebrew Bible. Chalmer's writes,

“When approaching this potential source of evidence, however, we need to walk a path between parallelomania (widespread, uncritical comparison of texts from one society to another), on the one hand, and parallelophobia (general refusal to compare texts from one society with another), on the other. Both approaches can be problematic. Parallelomania often fails to realize that texts must be understood within the original context in which they were produced as surface similarities may, in fact mask deeper differences. Parallelophobia, in contrast, fails to recognize that various people groups of the ANE shared broadly similar intellectual and conceptual world-view, and thus texts may shed light on realities which extended beyond the borders of the society that produced them. Potential problems can be minimized by ensuring that texts are interpreted contextually and that any comparisons that are made are with societies that are as chronologically and geographically close to ancient Israel as possible. When approached responsibly, the use of comparative texts is a very valuable exercise” (Aaron Chalmers, Exploring the Religion of Ancient Israel: Prophet, Priest, Sage and People [Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012], 9-10).

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