Tim suggests that there are two ways of reading the Bible; from the outside (as a scholar or critic must) and from the inside (as we do when we read a novel). Tim writes: "Each basic direction of reading offers several different options or styles. But the basic question facing a reader of any text [is] whether to read as critic or as reader. “Readers” must offer the text a willing suspension of disbelief."
But which is the 'right' choice when it comes to the Bible? When I read high-stakes non-fiction I read critically. If I'm relaxing with a space-opera Sci-Fi novel I joyfully enter the game. It's pretty much either/or. So which is the most appropriate strategy for reading the Bible, or are we supposed to somehow use both simultaneously, and how would that work?
|Holy Writ too?|
My best suggestion is that a reading 'from the inside' must be subsequent to one 'from the outside.' An 'outside reading' isn't just for the scholar or critic in an age where knowledge is being increasingly democratised. In other words, if I want to enter the story on its own terms - maybe the second chapter of Genesis - I need to have first honestly engaged (and acknowledged!) the issues around an 'outside reading.' If not, I either end up spouting dogmatic blather (as a fundamentalist does) or mystical blather (for those with more refined literary sensibilities). The trouble is, ignorance provides a higher octane rating for preachers and evangelists, who by and large are not fond of either qualifications or nuance.
But who, apart from a few ivory towered individuals, is going to bother with dubious distinctions and strategies like these anyway? Maybe somebody can help me out here by suggesting another category of literature that requires this stereoscopic (schizoid?) approach?
Maybe the problem is that the vast majority of Christians are ignorant of literary genre when reading the Bible.ReplyDelete
Genesis is neither a novel (fiction) or nonfiction (history). I believe Van Seeters identified it as historiography, a genre that uses both history and fictional stories to express the identity of a national culture.
You can read the Bible however you want, but you can't pretend it is something it isn't and still make sense of it.
This really is a difficult problem.ReplyDelete
The closest comparison I can up with is String Theory -- same kind of stuff. Just when you think it might work, the uncertainty principle kicks in and no one finds anything really useful or real in it.
Some technologists are suggesting that even if you consider 3D TV a waste in watching television, it might be useful to watch two things at once simultaneously without ever having to switch channels. Gamers would have a fine time of this, playing in different realms and levels at the same time. It's a good way to keep both hemispheres of the brain fully occupied.
As for the Bible... well, some things actually work. For example, II Timothy 3, where the author gives the characteristics of Armstrongist leaders and then says, "from such turn away".
Now there is something I would take without reservation from the inside.
You're on your own.
I'm not sure putting a label (historiography) on the Bible, or parts of the Bible, solves the problem. The Oxford simply defines the term as "the study of the writing of history and of written histories." Genesis seems, at least to me, to be a somewhat different fish requiring something more than a bare historiographical approach.ReplyDelete
Herodotus - which is a fascinating read in a modern translation - may be a better subject for historiography, but no-one regards it as scripture. Certainly Herodotus is subject to critical analysis, as is Homer. The Iliad and the Odyssey are a mix of tall tales and ripping yarns, and you could read them without worrying too much about whether the Trojan War really happened, but then they don't make exclusive truth claims. I'm not sure you could read the Bible as a Christian in the same way.
"The Iliad and the Odyssey are a mix of tall tales and ripping yarns, and you could read them without worrying too much about whether the Trojan War really happened"ReplyDelete
In my experience, one should take the same approach in reading the bible.
"but then they don't make exclusive truth claims". There's the rub. Many places in the bible make a claim to divine truth. Yet it's clearly full of things that can't be literally true, contradictions between verses and outright errors like saying a person had eight sons and then listing nine.
"I'm not sure you could read the Bible as a Christian in the same way." Maybe not as a WCG christian, or a fundamentalist christian. But the Catholic church pretty much reads the bible this way.
I do derive pleasure, education, and spiritual enlightenment from the Bible. However, knowing what I've learned over the past ten years, there is no way that I can utilize it to support legalistic behavior. What I do believe, is that every day we get up to experience what is God's will for us for that particular day. We ought to seek His guidance, and to do our best not to do any harm or damage, to treat others as we would hope to be treated ourselves. Basically, those, along with the knowledge that Jesus saves, are the undeniable nuggets which we can distill from the book.ReplyDelete
When I was a WCG member, I was totally unaware of so many facts. I certainly had no idea that the Old Testament had been edited and backwritten during the Babylonian exile. And I'd never seen a literal word for word translation of either Hebrew or Greek, nor realized that so much interpretative translation must be done to make the result readable, and to deal with idiomatic expressions, vastly different grammatic structure amongst languages, and to approximate proper punctuation.
The Bible does not appear to be a perfect document, but I do believe there is just sufficient information contained between the covers to help us know the character of God, and to guide us towards an eternal relationship with Him. It's all supposed to flow naturally and correctly in our lives, not to used to enslave us, to trip us up, or to render us exploitable by man.
If Noah lived before the law was revealed to Moses, how did he know how to distinguish “clean” and “unclean” animals?ReplyDelete
Simple: The inventors/writers of Genesis were living in a time after "the law" was already in existence.
I don't think it would be wrong to suggest that all the stories written in the Pentateuch are allegories concerning the law and covenant, including Noah's flood and the tower of Babel.
You ask: "Maybe somebody can help me out here by suggesting another category of literature that requires this stereoscopic (schizoid?) approach?"ReplyDelete
What about any book written more than a generation ago? Especially one that makes considerable intertextual reference and cultural allusion, like e.g. Alice in Wonderland or Gulliver's Travels or Aristotle's Poetics (to be sure no one things I am only choosing "fiction" ;)
The Bible does not appear to be a perfect document, but I do believe there is just sufficient information contained between the covers to help us know the character of God, and to guide us towards an eternal relationship with Him. It's all supposed to flow naturally and correctly in our lives, not to used to enslave us, to trip us up, or to render us exploitable by man.ReplyDelete
Then why doesn't it do what it's supposed to do and why is it used to enslave us, to trip us up and render us exploitable by man?
And what do you think of the character of God as revealed in all the genocide and slavery passages?
Corky, one of your questions seems easy, the other much harder. So, I'll answer the easy one ;)ReplyDelete
"Then why doesn't it do what it's supposed to do and why is it used to enslave us, to trip us up and render us exploitable by man?" The classic Christian answer to this appeals to Gen 3 and the doctrine of original sin, we live in a world broken by human sin, because the world is thus broken even God's good gifts can be and are misused. This does not just apply to sex, drugs and rock and roll but also to Scripture :(
It strikes me as rather funny that when need be, to keep from looking like an idiot, Genesis 3 is metaphorical but when trying to explain away an imperfect world, Genesis 3 is literal.ReplyDelete
However, if there was an "original sin" it had to have happened in the Rift Valley in Africa where the first humans are from and not in a garden in Mesopotamia some 200,000 years later.
Gavin said: "a reading 'from the inside' must be subsequent to one 'from the outside.'"ReplyDelete
Right, Gavin, I agree that this is inevitable today - and this greatly complcates the simple insider/outsider distinction.
Revealingly, Tim acknowledges that the example he gave for his "insider" reading itself relies on historical-critical knowledge. I.e. his conjecture that "there was perhaps a cultural practice of distinguishing clean and unclean animals even before the law was revealed to Moses" itself "depends on a historical hypothesis". So even here where Tim is distinguishing "outsider" from "insider" readings, the alleged "insider" is already reading the text as an historical critic.
Moreover, his suggestion that the distinction of clean from unclean animals reflected some ancient cultural practice is an apologetic attempt to deal with the historical-critical problem - which is not what any ancient reader would do (he or she wouldn't have seen such a problem!). As such, the "insider" reading Tim advocates seems more influenced by very modern concerns than he acknowledges.
I suggest we are only fooling ourselves to think we can return to a naive reading of these words today. It is, however, possible and profitable to read both emically and etically at once. If we conclude that Genesis 6-9 was written well after the introduction of priestly laws (I would place Genesis around 300 BCE, but maybe a bit earlier in the fourth century), we can both acknowledge its composite nature according to diachronic criticism, while an appreciation of how it was tailored for an early Hellenistic audience also provides insight into the particular emphases of its composition and the way it was intended to be received. So, I think there is more mutuality between historical critical and synchronic approaches than others are prepared to admit, and that they combine to provide a fuller understanding of its meaning.
Unfortunately, there are toxic false teachers, and fake trips.
I threw away the concept of the all knowing one source guru when I left Armstrongism in 1975.
There are, however, educational resources to ponder. A personal relationship with God gets rid of the middle men, allows usage of the God-given brain, and enables one to escape exploitation.
Bob, I think you could make better use of educational sources by first NOT ASSUMING that there are gods.ReplyDelete
Corky, I am not clear why you seem to think that I ever imagine that Gen 3 is "literal". It is an origin story, such narratives are never told with the intent of primarily relaying information about events that once happened.ReplyDelete
By 'original sin' I was not thinking of the idea that there was once upon a time one particular sin that began it all, but rather the common Christian doctrine that all humans (indeed all parts of creation) are broken, warped and twisted and so inclined to evil.
If original sin is not literal then why would you need a literal sacrifice? And, how would sin committed by humans cause the suffering of everything else. In other words, why would the world (all parts of creation be broken, warped and twisted?ReplyDelete
Baloney, I say. The "creation" is the result of mindless, uncaring natural forces that humans are only now beginning to understand. No amount of sacrificing and prayers will change natural forces because, unlike caring Jesus, natural forces don't care what we emotionally want to believe.