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Modern Approaches to Biblical Study
Transcript of Modern Approaches to Biblical Study
Traditional Historical Critical approaches
What information does this text tell us about either the
behind the text, or the
out of which a text arose?
How did a text function for its original audience, as a communicative event?
"ambiguous details of texts are unresovlable....leading to an indecidability of texts meaning"
"there is nothing outside the text"
Gerhard von Rad
Traditional Historical critical approaches
How does the text teach,
, critique, or argue?
What features of the text allow us to answer this question?
James Muilenberg, SBL 1968
texts not so much as written sources, but used formulaically in different settings:
Theory of reading (meaning): attempt to explain how certain interpretations are more valid than others
: repetition at beginning end to signal framework
: ordered set of inclusios
(the middle element, stands alone)
An attempt to understand how literature works...
What are the recurring patterns in the biblical text?
"woman at the well" (Gen 24, 29, Exod 2) as conventions of Israelite-story telling,
, "underdog true king" (Saul and David)
: "wife-sister stories" Gen 12, 22, 26
"Is the Bible an intricate interconnected unity, or a patchwork of frequently disparate documents?"
What is the place of Method? Is there a "right" method? Can't we just read the Bible?!
process of discovery, finding out
texts mean by establishing
Theory of reading (meaning): explains how meaning can rest with the reader, not simply the text alone. (e.g., gaps...Exod 2)
this could mean several things...the texts makes no contribution to the outside world, but Derrida probably intended it in a stronger and more alarming sense that there
no 'world' outside the text at all."
"there is nothing but text...the world is characterized by textuality"
"It makes as much sense to say that a text reads me as that I read a text; we are both caught up in the play of signification that is human life/textuality" - J. Barton
"texts deconstruct themselves"
"every text always and necessarily undermines or contradicts the philosophy on which its own plausibility relies" J. Barton
(e.g., J. Crossan; reading Ecclesiastes as a
the author takes the posture of a sage to say that wisdom is vain
"there are no overarching theories of anything, all theories are 'valid' only for a given time and in a given context..."
not many biblical scholars apply this seriously, but many draw insights from the way one can have fun with and play with words.
Methods in Biblical Scholarship
Barton suggests focusing on "mapping" biblical criticism, working towards what he calls "meta-criticism"
Sitz im Leben
Critics begin with intuitions about what one author could have reasonably written, then proceed to divide the text into smaller parts as necessary
Karl Heinrich Graf
Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP)
These fragments, whether written or oral, must have been arranged by someone into an intelligble order.
How did the redactor intend his audience to read the finished product?
weaving together of blocks of Israelite tradition into a larger whole
scholars looked for repetitions, inconsistencies
* helped to explain collections of unrelated sayings
showed how even geneaologies were theolgoically significant
(e.g., Gen 10-12, link of "universal history" with history of Abraham)
same deity created the world and directed its history
What theological ideas does the text communicate?
Crisis: The historical-critical methods essentially cut off the relevance of biblical texts for modern faith communities
proposal to interpret the parts in light of the whole
the canon provides the proper context for interpretation
problem: who's canon?
While intending to make gains for theology, this approach had much in common with various streams of developing literary criticism.
The outcome was a shift towards the text itself as a primary location of meaning, not the author or historical context
E.g., Psalm 8
Is this text found elsewhere in the canon?
Are similarly themes found elsewhere? Reverberations? Echoes?
"New Criticism" Movement of 1920's
literary text is an artefact, (e.g., poems tell us nothing about he soul of the poet "built")
author intention is a fallacy
a text functions as part of a larger "canon" of literature
Hans W. Frei
Whether English scholarship (historicity) or German scholarship (ideas) the text was believed to exist as
Great... but how much of the Bible was written as "narrative" to be read as "narrative"?
Rise of European rationalism, 17-18th c.
"I hold that the method of interpreting Scripture is no different from the method of interpreting nature, an is in fact in complete accord with it."
some parts are of pure historical interest
a book like any other
Observations, arising out of close readings of the text, that needed to be explained in new ways
literary criticism: “a way of bringing out a texts inner coherence, techniques of style and composition”
reverse engineering of writing processes in ancient world
scholars began to see that texts were part of a whole culture, arising out of life situations, (following the discovery of great Akkadian epics, etc.)
Example of Modern "oral genres." What setting do these describe?
• “I name this ship prince of Denmark. May God bless her and all who sail in her.”
• This this ring I thee wed.
• Not Guilty.
Mosaic Authorship of Pentateuch?
– multiple versions of the same event, is it reasonable to think that one author wrote both?
– Moses is referred to in 3rd person
– In Deut 34, Moses death is included in Deuteronomy, and ironically!
– striking differences in style, language use, syntax, and idiom (e.g., names: God vs. YHWH, Horeb vs. Sinai, Jethro vs. Reuel, etc).
– Different versions of the same law code when comparing Lev and Deut, as well as different festival calendars.
are mentioned in Abraham’s herd, but weren’t domesticated until around 1000 BCE.
• Gen 12:6 “
at that time
, Canaanites were in the land,” which means that they weren’t at the time of the writing of Gen 12.
• Gen 36:31 “these are the Kings who reigned in the land of Edom
any king reigned over the Israelites” points to a time after Kings did in fact rule Israel...long after Moses.
“until we assign a biblical text a genre, however ill-defined and in need of later refinement...we cannot really read it at all.”
pushed this method further: for the first time scholars could reconstruct the great festivals of ancient Israel....and in fact much of Israelite institutions and society!!
W. F. Albright
Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy
Postmodern Theological/Ideological Intepetation