Saturday 27 July 2013

Hermeneutical huffery puffery

What's wrong with this statement?

My methodology is very simple; I will try to interpret Scripture the way that Jesus did. This is precisely what Christians should mean when we speak of interpreting the Old Testament in the light of Christ. Ironically, then, it is no longer old at all, but always fresh and contemporary! If Jesus himself is our interpretive key, it will allow you to take Jewish texts and history more seriously than ever before, and to appreciate the honest context from which Jesus spoke.

So writes Richard Rohr in the Huffington Post (nod to James McGrath who reposted it).

A methodology that's not so simple perhaps?

What about the integrity of the Old Testament writings? In their historical and cultural context?

What of the multitudinous problems in establishing how Jesus interpreted scripture? How does Richard know about this? Is he a gospel literalist clutching a red-letter Bible?

Or the problem of knowing exactly what constituted scripture in Second Temple Judaism? As he surely knows, the Hebrew canon was still in flux then.

How exactly does "Jesus himself is our interpretive key" unpack?

And does Richard actually mean "in light of Paul" instead of Christ (interesting that he doesn't say Jesus)?

Beats me.

Rohr continues:

To take the scriptures seriously is not to take them literally. Literalism is invariably the lowest and least level of meaning. Most Biblical authors understood this, which is why they felt totally free to take so many obvious liberties with what we would call “facts.” In many ways, we have moved backwards in our ability to read spiritual and transformative texts, especially after the enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when religious people got on the defensive and lost their own unique vantage point. Serious reading of scripture will allow you to find an ever new spiritual meaning for the liberation of history, the liberation of the soul, and the liberation of God in every generation. Then the text is true on many levels, instead of trying to prove it is true on just the one simple, factual level. Sacred texts always maximize your possibilities for life and love, which is why we call them sacred.

Uh huh... 

"Sacred texts always maximize your possibilities for life and love." Nice. But clearly untrue, unless you're prepared to completely redefine 'sacred texts'. "Always"? Our sacred texts include texts of terror in Judges and Revelation, not just the beatitudes. No amount of hermeneutical replastering and wallpapering can change that.

These ancient documents have gathered unto themselves two thousand years of hermeneutical accretions and commentary, granted. But that does not mean that their intended meaning was, in many (most?) cases, anything other than what appears on the surface. The writers and redactors of scripture were, Rohr implies, high-minded literary sophisticates, Iron Age versions of Gore Vidal. 

Sadly this reality seems to have escaped most readers before the nineteenth century. 

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