Saturday, August 2, 2008

Reading the Bible as a Whole

After reading Peter's Blog about Genesis, particular one of his responses to my own response, I thought I'd write a little about how I view the Bible. I'm not sure about blog etiquette, so I hope it is not out of line to comment on someone else's blog with my own. No harm is intended!

I find it interesting when students of the biblical text - and especially when scholars and professors of biblical studies courses - are critical of those who read the text as a whole. Of course, as a student myself, I am well aware that the text is not one story with numerous chapters. However, I am aware that life is a story with a variety of chapters, and that faith reflects life, and that the text is a text of faith.

If you want to read the text for what it is: a tool that is meant to underwrite a) Israel's claim to the promises made to Abraham and Sarah, and b) Israel's claim to the Land promised to Abraham, Sarah, and their descendants, then you read the text as a whole. As a whole, the text reflects the conflict that existed in the yahwist faith of many centuries Reading the text as a whole does not mean it speaks with one voice, or without conflict, or without ambivalence. It is reflective of a plethora of ideas about YHWH and inheritance and empire, but in the sixth through the first-century, such stories, whether canonical or not, were understood to be reflective of an ongoing, if not somewhat cyclical, story of God and God's people. Otherwise it would have made no sense in terms of faith. In ancient times, history was viewed as cyclical (like the seasons) and not linear, and the ancient literature was firmly rooted, not in a unified concept of how God was working, but a unified concept that God was, is, will be working as god always has, on behalf of Israel.

If you are reading the text without the lenses of faith, than you can read each story separately. There are separate stories in individual books, sometimes two versions of the same story, all with conflicting agendas. This reality may be great for those wanting to study Scripture as ancient literature, but it makes it very hard to discuss issues of faith, or even of life as narrative, if one is trying to separate Ezra from Ruth, or Kings from Chronicles by virtue of their anomalies. Of course they have different agendas, and that is what faith deals with...the conflicts that are inherent in our life of contradictions. But without question, each texts reflects the belief that YHWH rolls up the divine sleeves and reaches into history on behalf of God's people.

As for the text having no meaning without a community of interpretation, if this is bothersome to the intellect of some students, I simply suggest that they try to read any text without their twenty-first century western-world lenses and making honest sense out of any text. Even when fans argue about baseball statistics and and try to make allowances for a the era in which a certain record or accomplishment was reached, there is no unity of meaning. And remember, statistics don't lie!? But we do know that history does lie, and thus, when we read a text, it is always through a variety of lenses which color the original meaning. That is not really a problem with Moby dick, but if you are trying to make a text the center of your life, such as the U.S. Constitution or the Communist Manifesto, it requires that it be given meaning in order to make it relevant. History and texts are living, just as God is, and all living things grow together as part of Creation. Except, perhaps, Moby Dick.


Craig Dove said...

Re: blog etiquette, I think it's fine--and maybe appropriate--to post your longer, more considered thoughts on your own blog rather than leaving them as comments on someone else's blog. However, it would be nice if you had a link back to the post you're commenting on, for the rest of us.

Yvonne said...

I agree about the blog etiquette; I know lots of people who post extended comments on their own blog about someone else's blogpost. I do it myself.

Here are the links:
Part I: A freaky little book
Part II: A Convergent Conversation / Small Gods
Part III: The Human Face of God / And the LORD saw what He had made…
Part IV: A few things missing
Part V: An Evolving Covenant / The Initiatory Challenge
Postscript: The Expulsion from Eden
Afterword: Why does it matter?

I liked Peter's take on Genesis, it was really great to see someone reading it with no preconceptions and an awareness of Jewish religion (via a study of Kabbalah). But then I'm a Pagan too... I'd like to see a Jewish commentary on it.