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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Reception of the Bible

Since I am boycotting SBL along with Dave and Peter et al. I am going to try and catch up with a couple of conversations that have whipped right by me on John's blog and elsewhere. To start with the most recent conversation which interests me, John has written about the history of the reception of the Bible in a post about James Kugel.

While acknowledging the importance of a history of interpretation, John takes exception to Kugel's choice of a normative interpretation and writes,
    First of all, it must be emphasized, neither of the two eyes available to a modern interpreter - pre-traditional and traditional -€“ are his own. They are not eyes so much as lenses. It requires effort and training to read the Bible with either of the lenses. It is especially rewarding to read the Bible through both. A rich and unique perspective on the text is thereby laid open.

    The history of reception of the Bible in its entirety will interest a contemporary interpreter of the Bible. Kugel is exactly wrong to suggest that we cast one available lens aside, and be satisfied with the one he prefers.
This topic of the history of the reception of the Bible came up earlier in a comment by Iyov,
    Kugel's major contribution, in a series of books, has been to present a detailed reception history of the Scriptures.
In fact, what I have been attempting on this blog most easily fits into reception theory. One of my early contentions on joining this blog was that we are now going through a revolution in Biblical interpretation today in the English-speaking church as a whole to the effect that no individual English translation is normative. I would like to suggest that this is comparable in effect to the transition of the 16th century from Latin to vernacular language translations. Although the two transitions are not identical they have some characteristics in common.

In the last few decades, the KJV and RSV have been supplanted by a wide range of translations which compete for dominance, the (N)RSV, (T)NIV, NASB, ESV and NJKV to name a few. None of these have these have the features necessary to make them normative even within the narrow confines of evangelical Christianity, let alone across major denominational divides and different faith traditions. The academic community is somewhat better off with the NRSV occupying a place of general acceptance. The Jewish community has the NJPS and the Catholics, the NAB and NJB. Kevin Sam provides more detail in this insightful post.

While the present divergence is fascinating to study, it has been much more illuminating for me to explore the shifts in biblical interpretation in the 16th century. While I have not previously expressed an interest in Reception of the Bible on the blog, I have set about attempting to access some of the earliest versions of the Bible to be produced at the time of the Reformation. Fortunately, Coverdale recorded his use of four Bibles as the basis of his translation, Tyndale, Luther, Pagnini and the Zurich Bible of 1530. This outline is somewhat helpful.

The Blackwell Bible Commentaries provides a broad definition of the study of the reception of the Bible,

    The Blackwell Bible Commentaries series, the first to be devoted primarily to the reception history of the Bible, is based on the premise that how people have interpreted, and been influenced by, a sacred text like the Bible is often as interesting and historically important as what it originally meant. The series emphasizes the influence of the Bible on literature, art, music, and film, its role in the evolution of religious beliefs and practices, and its impact on social and political developments. Fundamental to the aims of this series is the conviction that what people believe a sacred text means, and how they actually use it can be studied with the same degree of sensitivity and rigour as its ‘original meaning’. By its nature, the emphasis of the series is emphatically an interdisciplinary project.

    Until quite recently this whole dimension of biblical studies has been for the most part totally neglected by modern biblical scholars. The goal of the commentary writer has been to get behind the centuries of accumulated Christian and Jewish tradition to one single meaning, normally identified with the author's original intention. The most important and distinctive feature of this new type of commentary is that it will present readers with many different interpretations of each text, in such a way as to heighten their awareness of what a sacred text, can mean and what it can do, what it has meant and what it has done, in the many contexts in which it operates. The Blackwell Bible Commentaries will consider patristic, rabbinic (where relevant), and medieval exegesis, interpretation from the Reformation and early modern period, as well as insights from various types of modern criticism, acquainting readers with a wide variety of interpretative techniques. Where relevant, reference will be made to questions of source criticism, date, authorship, and other historical critical and archaeological issues, but since these are comprehensively covered in existing commentaries, such references will be considered briefly as part of the history of interpretation.
This kind of study is not intended to compete with the quest for the author's original intention, but from my perspective it illuminates certain shifts in "Bible-based" doctrines, both how these are derived from contemporary Bible translation and interpretation, and these doctrines then feed into the next generation of Bible translation.


At Thu Nov 15, 11:54:00 AM, Blogger Tim said...

From a Catholic perspective, along with the NAB and NJB there are many of us who use the RSV-Catholic Edition. Currently, the most popular version is produced by Ignatius Press in San Francisco. About 3 years ago, the did a minor revision of the RSV-CE, which included elimination of the "thee" and "thou" of older English, along with minor translation changes, like following the LXX of Isaiah 7:14. This version seems to be gaining in popularity here in the US among Catholics who attend Bible Studies and take courses at local seminaries and universities.

(Perhaps this was a bit off topic, but I figured it might be interesting to some of you.)

At Thu Nov 15, 12:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this isn't related to the post...

but I thought that this article might be helpful for you guys...regarding the "parallel" blog to this one:

At Thu Nov 15, 07:33:00 PM, Blogger exegete77 said...

Tim, thanks for those comments. As Lutheran, I had purchased that particular revised RSV-CE about 6 months ago. Not only is the text revised, but the font/paper choice makes it a very readable Bible. In fact, my wife and I have been using it for our nightly devotions for the past few months.

At Wed Nov 21, 04:53:00 PM, Blogger Sam said...

Why the SBL boycott?

At Thu Nov 22, 04:00:00 AM, Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Sam, see this post which started the SBL boycott, but don't take it too seriously!


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