Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review

I was educated by professors and mentors who were steeped in the historical-critical method of interpreting the Bible. Most of what I learned about understanding the Bible came through the lens of the historical-critical method. Marc Zvi Brettler attempts to make the insights of the historical-critical method accessible in his book How to Read the Bible. Brettler is Jewish and his book only deals with the Jewish Scriptures or what Christians know as the Old Testament.

Ultimately, Brettler fails in his attempt to make the historical-critical method relevant. The problem is not with Brettler but with the historical-critical method itself. I must first admit that I am a strong believer in interpreting the Bible in the light of insights gained by modern scholarship. I think it is important to understand the sources that lay behind the text because in doing so illuminates hard to understand passages and gives insight to the original purposes of a particular text.

I do not reject the historical-critical method but I feel I have moved beyond it. What makes the Bible the Bible is what it does. It provokes, it questions, it comforts, and it confronts. It tells a story about God, humanity and the interaction between the two. The Bible invites us into a dialogue with the it; a dialogue that at times can be very argumentative. It is a dialogue that occurs in the present and draws our attention to the future. The critical method of interpreting the Bible can help clear away some of the clutter to hear the voice of the text but it is not the message of the text itself.

I define myth as a story whose truth is greater then sum of its facts. The Bible is a myth. However, the historical-critical method is not a substitute for a real engagement with the text because the historical-critical method often ends up making the Bible to be no more than the sum of its sources.

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