Saturday, May 23, 2009

Reading the Bible in 20 Months: summary

It's time to summarize my impressions of reading the Bible straight through over a 20-month period. My comments will focus on the Old Testament, as that book was a challenge to read. In fact, I discovered that there were parts of the OT I had never read, which surprised me a bit.

First, method. I deliberately read "naively." That may seem like an oxymoron but what I mean is that I tried as much as possible to set aside what I know of Biblical scholarship and historicity in order to read outside of that context and simply meet the immediacy of the text as it is. It's not entirely possible--although I'm aided by the fact that my knowledge of Biblical scholarship is, at best, crude--but clearly some knowledge informed my reading. I'm also not naive enough to think we find information "in" the text alone, but I was attempting, all the same, to do something akin to a New Critical reading in the sense of consciously excluding reliance on secondary source material.

There are several reasons for this. One, as we know, our Biblical scholarship is ever-changing, and how we interpret secondary sources and the light they shed on the Bible is filtered through the lens of our culture and our unconscious prejudices. I have seen too many people in my time over-rely on secondary sources to the point of distorting the Scriptures. For example, I've watched people treat Crossan's conclusions about the "historical Jesus," which he qualifies as very much his own opinions, as truth. More broadly, reading the Jesus Creed blog has brought home to me how until recent years (say, the last 60) often unconscious anti-semitism led Western Biblical scholars to read the New Testament through the lens of Greek thought, missing the obvious connections with Judaism. So I wonder what distortions we "read in" these days when we become overly reliant on the latest in scholarly thought.

Second, the Quakers would not have had the benefits of modern scholarship, and I wanted to read as an early Quaker would have, conscious, of course, of the very different cultural context I live in, but trusting that the leadings of the Holy Spirit are the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. I wanted this to be more of a lectio divina reading than a "two lines and four pages of footnotes" approach. This feeds into what I alluded to above, which is my sense that many people don't wrestle with the raw material of the Bible enough, but tend to fall back far too quickly on received authority, which dilutes the power of the word itself. I've found that's there a great deal to be mined just by reading the text in an engaged and active way.

I also understood that reading this way--which I call a "flat" way and visualize as a sort of Grandma Moses tableau, introduces its own distortions. So be it. I wanted to be smacked with the immediacy of the text itself.

In the next post, I will get to the text! My question is: How do you read the Bible? How much do you rely on scholarship, what scholars have the most credibility to you and how much do you rely on the text?

1 comment:

AbiSomeone said...

One of the very best experiences for me came in Tools class (shorthand for "Tools of Exegesis and Analysis"). The drill was that each week we had a different pericope to process, find words we wanted to study, etc.

Invariably, after I had done my week's work of thinking on my own, I would turn to a good commentary or dictionary and find that I had come to must the same conclusion.

I loved that class.... It is always best to put in the hard work to process the text personally and then read any kind of dictionary or commentary later. Always.

Good for you!