Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hegelian Bible-ectic

Perhaps invoking the Hegelian method will clarify the state of Biblical interpretation.

Divine wisdom has arranged for certain stumbling blocks and interruptions of the historical sense... by inserting in the midst a number of impossibilities and incongruities, in order that the very interruption of the narrative might as it were present a barrier to the reader and lead him to refuse to proceed along the pathway of the ordinary meaning... thereby bring[ing] us, through the entrance of a narrow footpath, to a higher and loftier road and lay[ing] open the immense breadth of the divine wisdom.

-Origen (185-254) On First Principles
The valleys of biblical truth have been filled up with the debris of human dogmas, ecclesiastical institutions, liturgical formulas, priestly ceremonies, and casuistic practices. Historical criticism is digging through this mass of rubbish. Historical criticism is searching for the rockbed of the Divine word, in order to recover the real Bible. Historical criticism is sifting all this rubbish. It will gather out every precious stone. Nothing will escape its keen eye.

-Charles Augustus Briggs (1841-1913) General Introduction to the Study of Holy Scripture
False Synthesis:
The separation between a theological-religious experience of Biblical texts and a literary one is radically factitious. It cannot work. That is to say that the plain question of divine inspiration... must be faced squarely. The author of Job.. was not producing 'literature.' Nor were those who bore witness to the 'darkness upon the earth' the evening of Good Friday. A literary elucidation of such texts is legitimate and can be helpful, but only... if it tells us that that which it omits is the essential.

-George Steiner's critique of The Literary Guide to the Bible
Actual Synthesis:
What separates us from Origen is not his lack of historical-critical techniques. Were we to presume the scriptures to be the language of God, we would be able to retain every single specific insight of modern-historical critical study. But we would be obliged to restore in our minds a functional belief in the divine economy that could order the strange, diverse, complex, and even seemingly contradictory witness of the many ages and many communities represented in the bible in such a way that it testifies to a coherent - nay, beautiful and holy - plan. It may be an existentially deep and difficult ditch to recross, but I see no reasons other than the eccentricities of modernity why we cannot do so.

-R.R. Reno's Origen and Spiritual Interpretation
It's an exciting time to be interpreting Scripture. To recall T.S. Eliot (hat tip: kp),
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.