One of the greatest pleasures of blogging is “meeting” people (and their minds) that one does not run across in everyday life. There are dozens of you who read this with whom I have had serious and valuable interaction over the last few years, but whom I (almost) never meet face to face. One of the more recent additions to that list is Gavin at Otagosh. We’ve been discussing hermeneutics recently. One of his recent posts has been niggling away at me over this busy period (the busyness is why I have not written before).
Stark choices (8) is part of a series drawn from Gavin’s reading of Thom Stark’s The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong, a book I haven’t yet read, but which seems (“listening” to Gavin read it) really thought provoking and often sensible. Reading chapter 9 Gavin poses the question:
So how do we deal with the “texts of terror” in the Bible, or even just the terminally embarrassing ones?
He then dismisses three possible approaches in turn. The first is allegory. Now when I was very young “everyone” was against allegory, such an approach to Scripture had no place in the modern world. Now, admittedly there are many dangers and problems with allegorical approaches. But can we dismiss them outright. Should we not ask of a terrible text why it was repeated, and why it was included (in the book and then in Scripture – for OT texts included by two different faith communities). If we ask that question we may (I think often should) come to the conclusion that the text in question was maintained precisely because it allows of an allegorical interpretation. If that is the case then how can we fail to read it allegorically?
[OTOH I am in thorough agreement with his quote from Stark: “such readings are profoundly disrespectful to the actual victims of genocide, and to their survivors and descendants… In effect it makes us the equivalent of Holocaust deniers.” At least I am if one changed “are” to “risk being” at the start of the quote – it is really important, it seems to me, that if one risks reading allegorically one commits to taking seriously the possibility that the text has a historical foundation and the consequences of that possibility.]
Thomas Muntzer (picture from Wikipedia)
He then dismisses Canonical Readings. Again there’s a good Stark quote: That such readings “seek to discover the macro-narrative that underlies the minutiae. The important thing is the forest, not the trees
“. Apparently, though Gavin does not in this post explain how, in such readings “the diverse voices of scripture are lost, and the problematic texts are swept under the rug
I really fail to see that this is the case, Childs bases his apporach precisely on spotting the different voices, and noticing how their editing together works in a process he calls “canonical shaping”. Or, thinking of another (much older) group of canonical readers (the Anabaptists) who stressed that we should notice the big picture and not get bogged down in minutiae. I’ve quoted Menno Simons
before, but this captures the thought well:
The Word is plain and needs no interpretation: namely, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and thy neighbor as thyself. Mt. 22:37, 39. Again, you shall give bread to the hungry and entertain the needy. Is. 58:7
But at the same time as Anabaptists were saying things like this Thomas Muntzer used the slogan “Bible, Babel, bubble”. Or less elliptically once wrote:
I affirm and swear by the living God: he who has not heard the righteous, living word of God out of the mouth of God, [and can discern] what is Bible and what is Babel, is nothing but a dead thing. However, the word of God penetrates the heart, brain, skin, hair, bones, limbs, marrow, juice, force, and power.
In such a way a canonical reading can both attend to the forest, recognise the trees, and even sometimes reject some tree (or perhaps merely someone’s understanding of that tree ;) in the name of the forest.
On the third approach he rejects, Subversive Readings, he again quotes Stark saying:
If Jesus’ language was a subversion of the official transcript, the reality is that his language has only been subject to counter-subversion by the ruling elites ever since.
As Gavin adds “Who could deny that?” but I don’t quite understand how the fact that Jesus’ (and more generally the Bible’s) subversive moves have been counter-subverted by the powers across the centuries should make such a reading unacceptable? (Maybe, when I have time, whenever that might be, I should read Stark myself ;)