July 27, 2003

Textual analysis

Two good posts on the Newsweek article I linked immediately below -- the first from Zack at Procrastination, who concludes:

Faith-based reasoning does not work on someone who does not share that belief. We need to analyze Luxenber’s claim not on the basis of our faith but by using textual analysis, history and rational thought.

I think this is exactly right, and Zack, who undoubtedly knows a lot more about this than I do, discusses some of the claims referenced in the Newsweek article.

Speaking of which, I remembered something I wanted to mention last night, but forgot. The end of the article claims,

In the West, questioning the literal veracity of the Bible was a crucial step in breaking the church’s grip on power—and in developing a modern, secular society.

I think this is demonstrably wrong. Rather, it was a recognition on the part of Enlightenment thinkers that perhaps how their citizens worshipped wasn't the business of states. It was not that they questioned the veracity of the Bible per se, but rather that they recognized that choosing among differing interpretations wasn't the job of government. In any case, it is suggestive of the Newsweek author's bias.

Parapundit has more as well, especially on the regrettable need for scholars like Luxenberg to hide behind pseudonyms, which was a point that Tacitus makes as well.

Update: Razib has an interesting post on a related topic--a sort of Protestentization (his word) of American Islam, which it's probably better to read for yourself than for me to attempt to summarize. An aside: I was raised more or less in a Calvinist Church, and to be honest, I'm not sure that the average person would get anything out of reading Calvin on predestination.

Posted by Ideofact at July 27, 2003 11:57 PM

well, st. augustine warned against interpreting genesis literally circa 400, so the "literalist" interpretation of the scripture wasn't universal.

Posted by: razib at July 28, 2003 01:31 AM

Yes, Razib, exactly, Augustine about 1600 years ago:


We must be on our guard against giving interpretations which are hazardous or opposed to science, and so exposing the word of God to the ridicule of unbelievers (De Genesi ad litteram, I, 19, 21, especially n. 39).

Posted by: Randall Parker at July 28, 2003 11:35 PM

And the policy of the Catholic Church for years was to prevent the Bible itself from being translated into the vernacular, so that it would be more accessible to the layperson. That said, my point was merely that the power of the church (small "c") wasn't broken by scholarly textual analysis of the Bible. The Church (capital "C") began losing its grip thanks to the Reformation (which by and large insisted on a more literal interpretation of the Bible than the Church was ever comfortable with); Christian churches began to lose their grip on temporal power through secular, political movements (started, often enough, by otherwise very religious men). The American and French Revolutions, and the Napoleonic conquest of Europe, more or less finished the job.

Posted by: Bill at August 12, 2003 10:37 PM

I'm not sure where this idea comes from, but many people seem to be under the mistaken impression that the Catholic Church tried (or still tries) to hide Scripture from the lay person.

It is true that the Church is very serious about protecting the Word from poor translations. But this is hardly a sinister plot to hide the truth. The Church tries to ensure that its members have access to scripture, written or spoken, presented in a manner that leaves no doubt what God intended it to say.

If you actually go to a Mass anywhere in the world, you will hear at least four extended excerpts from the Bible; either in the same theme or illustrating a promise and a fulfillment - the first reading usually comes from the Old Testament, a psalm is then recited or sung, a second reading comes from the New Testament, followed by a reading from the Gospel. All of these readings are carefully scheduled in advance to cover all the major themes of the Bible over the course of a four-year cycle.

This is not just the pastor picking and choosing quotes he likes, this is a concerted effort to bring the whole of the Word to the people. Moreover, it does not assume that the churchgoers can read, a major issue in the past and in many parts of the world today.

Posted by: JP at June 7, 2004 01:28 AM