I spent some time listening to Ernest L. Martin (ELM) tapes back in the eighties. Martin left his job teaching at unaccredited Ambassador College in Pasadena in the mid-70s in order to follow his own star, drawing a significant number of people out after him. Lester Grabbe left AC some time later, but the difference between the two men was significant. While Grabbe went on to build a very real and deserved scholarly reputation, Martin established something called the Foundation for Biblical Research, and began issuing tapes and booklets to publicise his new teachings. These included a variety of universalism (of the sort promoted by A. E. Knoch's Concordant Publishing Concern), 'progressive revelation', and a number of dissenting positions from his years serving under Herbert Armstrong (Sabbath, tithing, prophecy etc.)
Martin's style was consistently approachable, perhaps largely because it had almost no historical critical content. To say he was popular among his target audience is to understate things, and he was widely regarded in the ex-Armstrong diaspora as a gifted scholar. Certainly he played the 'new truth' game extremely well. Every issue of his newsletter, The Foundation Commentator, seemed to trumpet an exciting new biblical understanding, often related to 'prophecy', thus keeping his followers focused and motivated. This enthusiastic approach was highly effective, however academically lightweight it may have been. Martin proceeded to issue impressive looking books under his own imprint, many of which are still available. Some regard his The Star that Astonished the World as the magnum opus, bringing together his fascination with the Bible and meteorology in an attempt to identify the "star of Bethlehem". It was credible enough to inspire displays in many planetariums.
Martin died in 2002. A group called Associates for Scriptural Knowledge carries on his legacy, and his son Samuel has another small ministry based in Jerusalem. Helping facilitate both (along with James Tabor's Original Bible Project) is an intriguing Pasadena-based online bookstore operation, CenturyOne Books.
CenturyOne Books ("The First Century's Biggest Bookstore") regularly advertises the ELM-inspired "Original Order" Bible in the Biblical Archaeology Review, and is now recycling Ernest Martin's rambling tapes in CD form. It was the sight of this full page ad in the May/June issue that created a jaw-dropping personal deja vu moment.
As I said at the beginning, I've heard a few of the ELM tapes. To imagine that they've been repackaged as an "exciting new [?] 6-volume, 40-CD" 'oral commentary' series on the Hebrew Bible is, well, remarkable. In fact, the thought of anyone spending all those hours listening to ELM is more than enough to make my eyes water. Those who can read between the lines will be able to judge the quality of the "scholarly reviews" offered. Take W. H. C. Frend's comments for example: "All neatly tied up, with other interesting speculations... Martin's reconstructions read convincingly." Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Nor is it likely that Frend, who died in 2005, was reviewing these 40-CD "capsule commentaries", despite the impression the ad gives.
The advertising copy in the BAR begins, "What better way to boost your 'Old Testament IQ'...!
I realise that it's a rhetorical question, but it wouldn't be too difficult to offer a fairly extensive list of suggestions...