Friday, December 21, 2007

The split that wouldn't stop

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.

1 comment:

Erdos56 said...

I'm less prone to challenge the beliefs of others insofar as they have no public manifestation (e.g., trying to change laws), but the notion of inerrancy in religious doctrine is, as you note, an interesting one from a philosophical perspective.

One problem here is that sophisticated scholars and theologians really don't accept literalism, yet so many pulpits preach it because it provides a convenient and thought-ending way of preserving a magical delineation between Bibles/Korans/Torahs and other works by the hands of mere mortals. Multiple translations alone should raise a flag of concern from an analytical perspective, but there is an emotional hardening I believe that makes questioning verboten for those who harbor such atavistic sentiments.