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hermeneutics

How Richard Elliott Friedman Re-Wrote My Bible

Another reason I eventually chose to attend seminary can be traced back to the Documentary Hypothesis.  I didn’t know back then that that is what it is called.  But the popular work of Richard Elliott Friedman changed my world in 2001.

I had only been back in church for about a year and was a member of a congregation that highly valued Bible study and daily Bible reading as a form of personal devotion.   I was reading whatever I could get my hands on.  I picked up a copy of Who Wrote the Bible? and, as it turned out, I got more than I had bargained for.

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Kudos to the Quakers!

quaker-flagGenerally when we discuss constructive theological issues, its important to establish the authorities recognized by the participants, be it Revelation, Tradition, Scripture, Reason, or Shared Experience.

In many discussions, both scripture and traditional interpretation of scripture head up the list.  Once those authorities are recognized, theological arguments often fall victim to cherry picking of select verses to back up a point.
 
Recently while looking over a Quaker response to the Lima text (aka Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, a publication of the World Council of Churches) from the London Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, I found a great paragraph in their discussion of that sort of biblical proof-texting:

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Barabbas and the Messiah as Heard by Matthew’s Church (Matthew 27:11-23)

Modern biblical scholars are in general agreement that Matthew’s gospel was written for an audience of early Jesus followers who were primarily of Jewish origin.  Thomas G. Long proposes that Matthew’s audience was struggling with questions of identity as newly formed Jesus people. Wondering whether they should abandon their Jewish faith and heritage, Matthew’s Gospel presented them with a Jesus who is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Long 2).  With his audience in mind, Matthew constructed his gospel from original Markan and Q source materials and added his own unique content including about 40 quotations and allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures (Davies and Allison I.29).  Many of his innovations, while meaningful to his original audience, were lost on later Gentile Christians and, sadly, often remain hidden to the majority of Christians even today.  Among these passages is the scene in which Jesus is tried before Pilate, Barabbas is released and the people demand the crucifixion of Jesus with the notorious cry, "His blood be on us and on our children!" This haunting scene has been used for centuries to justify anti-Semitic violence perpetrated by Christians.  But how might Matthew’s Jewish church have heard this passage?  [Instructor’s comment: well phrased]

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Proof-texting as Violence

During a lecture this past year, Anna Carter Florence of Columbia Theological Seminary told a story about the gay students at her school. Tired of being assaulted with the same handful of Bible verses over and over to "prove" that homosexuality is wrong, they were seeking out their own texts to defend themselves and their positions. In the war of words Scripture had become ammunition and the debate was nothing but a firefight of accusation and defense. I was struck by Anna’s remark:

Proof-texting is a form of violence: it is violence against one another and it is violence against the text…

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Ideological Readings

Fueled by the philosophies of the Enlightenment, modernist approaches to biblical interpretation have optimistically presupposed an objective, scientific detachment as both possible and desirable when interpreting the biblical narrative.  However, beginning with the development of postmodern thought in the second half of the twentieth century, scholars have begun to question whether it is possible to achieve such a goal (Newsom 502).  As a conscious understanding of our own cognitive framework and its role in our perception of reality has emerged, scholars have begun to understand two things.  First, the authors of the biblical texts shaped their stories according to a set of assumptions about the nature of reality.  Second, readers filter the biblical narrative through a subjective lens that is shaped by their own assumptions about reality.

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