In response to a few who've wondered about how "historical context" matters to the Bible (in relation to my Dec. 21 column) — they ask if the Bible is supposed to mean different things at different points in history.
Well, no. And yes.
While the meaning intended by Biblical writers has not changed over the centuries, the meaning readers absorb from those passages has. Modern readers pore over the Bible with their own perspectives and prejudices (not to mention a bank of human knowledge that Ezekiel couldn't fathom).
So without knowing the historical context of the writers (and the society, mores and norms that influenced their metaphors and allusions) we can't possibly hope to understand their verses and chapters. Reading the Bible outside that context leads folks like you and me to pull out a much different meaning than what the writers put in.
Adding that key component makes the task of unraveling scripture less simple, to be sure. But we're gifted with brains. It'd be a shame to waste them.
Of course, the whole thing's moot if you believe the writers were merely metaphysical hand puppets. But besides trampling sticky concepts like free will, that's just creepy.