Monday, January 10, 2005

Toward a Definition of Maximalism

In the study of the Hebrew Bible today, the terms "maximalism" and "minimalism" are thrown around with great abandon. I personally believe the term "minimalism" has a meaning, but "maximalism" does not. Take this test and tell me what you think.

It's easy to find out if you are a minimalist. Just answer "no" to the following question:
Did King David exist?
But trying to find out if you are a maximalist is harder. Let us suppose you have answered "yes" to the above question, but "no" to these two questions:
Did Moses exist?
Did Abraham exist?
Are you still a maximalist? What if you answered "yes" to Moses and "no" to Abraham? Are you still a maximalist?

Let's stipulate that if you said "yes" to all three, maybe you really are a maximalist. But let's add a couple more names to the mix:
Did Noah exist?
Did Adam exist?
Now, if you answered "no" to those two, but "yes" to all the rest, are you still a maximalist? Do you have to answer "yes" to all to be a maximalist, or does that make you a "fundamentalist" (a word I hate, and almost never deployed without a subtext of polemic)?

The question about "Adam" is particularly thorny. Unless you believe the human race has always existed, then you must believe there was at some time a first human. But you might want to object that we are not in a position, historically speaking, to know the name of the gentleman (or lady).

In fact, I submit that it is impossible to define "maximalism." Even if one answered "yes" to David, Moses, and Abraham, as I do, one might still want to add "--but I don't necessarily believe every story told about him." What does that make you?

UPDATE: Thanks for your comments (me too, Dr. Cathey). Responses, appreciative and thoughtful, have also been posted by Jim West and Tim Bulkeley.


Jim said...

Was that a rhetorical question? If not, then my answer is - minimalist.

Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...

A very good post! You bring up some very interesting points here! I took the test and am a maximalist - of the old Albright - Bright sort.