Saturday, September 19, 2009

Repeating the history of the mistakes of historical criticism

Why should we be skeptical about the nineteenth century historical criticism of the Bible that led to liberal theology?

In Theology of the Old Testament, Bruggemann, writes (page 47):
In order to understand the crisis of biblical theology at the end of the twentieth century, we must pause to understand what was entailed in this singular preoccupation with the historical, as it enthrallled Old Testament scholarship. It is best perhaps to recognize Hegel's articulation of "absolute history", which reflected a convinced Eurocentric view of all human reality. That is, history, in any practical reckoning, consisted in European history and reflected the uncritical hegemony of the writers of that history. Two other facets of history are readily noted in the work of Old Testament scholarship in the nineteenth century. First, history was considered as moving in a single, developmental line, again reflective of a hegemonic perspective. Second, in a mood of positivism it was widely believed that an objective investigation could recover history "as it happened," with no ambiguity. And indeed, there need be no interpretive playfulness about "what it meant".
I hate to say it, but this does help me understand better how in such an intellectual climate many theologians could end up supporting Hitler.

It also seems how some conservatives today are letting these "historical" preoccupations set the agenda for their reading and interpretation of scripture.

Brueggemann then starts to discuss the value (and some limitations) or sociological approaches and rhetorical criticism. However, much of this seems to be making the same reductionist mistake: trying to reduce theology (or at least Biblical scholarship) to a different discipline (history, sociology, literature, ...). But, as Barth emphasized, the subject under study (the triune God whose revelation Scripture bears testimony to), by its very nature, is not amenable to
such reductionism.

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