I love opinionated non-PC people. This blog is to vent my opinions on life, the universe and everything. Which is 42 which in gematria is "My Heart" (LBY) according to Rabbi Abulafia. The Divine Heart is the centre of everything.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Bricolage and Biblical Criticism: A Hebrew Catholic Approach

One needs to be aware that any attempt at a critical examination of the Biblical text is one in which we bring our own subjective biases and understandings with us. So many of us think we are being scientific and objective but are in fact we are examining the text in the subjective light of the ideas of a certain school of academia or theology or philosophy that appeals to us. Many of those in the Wellhausenian tradition[1] examine the Biblical text through the prism or paradigm of certain modern literary theories and then critique the ancient text according to these literary theories.[2] This is very different than those academics who examine these texts in the light of actual historically verifiable literary genres of the ancient Near East and those textual experts, such as Emanuel Tov, who examine the ancient manuscripts in a scientific manner.[3] While reading and critiquing the sacred texts at the literal and historical levels is important, to limit its meaning to either is to impoverish the exegesis of the texts to a form of fundamentalist literalism or modernist historical criticism based on imaginary literary theories of modernist scholars.
              In recent times there has risen a movement called “canonical criticism” in Biblical scholarship. “Canonical Criticism” desires to restore a balance to Biblical scholarship. Julio Barrera writes: “Canonical criticism” claims to be a further step in the development of modern criticism and goes beyond the study of sources, forms, traditions and redactions.”[4] It intends to move away from fragmenting the Biblical text into small portions in favour of bigger sections and the whole of the Scriptures. This movement desires to return the Scriptures into the hands of the living church community. Luc Zaman critiques “canonical criticism” and is concerned that it may separate the canon from its historical roots. Zaman feels one should examine the early stages of the development of the canon of the Scriptures as much as the period of its final acceptance.[5] One could also be concerned that such an approach may lead to a form of Gnosticism cut off from its Jewish and historical roots. However this method also has much to recommend it if used with other methodologies of exegesis and a perennial rootedness in the Jewish sources. In fact a form of this is the approach used by both Rabbinic Judaism and early patristic Christianity with their emphasis on the 'four senses' of Scripture which also have multi-layered levels within each 'sense' or category.
While a vertical argumentative and polemic critical exegesis to the interpretation of Scripture may aid academic understanding (usually with much acrimony and hurt to the other), a more lateral gleaning and sharing of wisdom approach to the Biblical text and textual criticism may be more enriching, meaningful and fruitful. This gleaning of wisdom approach is called ‘poststructuralist bricolageby Altes.[6] A similar approach is also used by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov [7]and is called Likutey in Hebrew (gathering, gleanings). Emmanuel Levinas, the famous Orthodox Jewish French philosopher, writes of “a wisdom older than the patent presence of a meaning in the writing. A wisdom without which the message buried deep within the enigma of the text cannot be grasped.”[8] This may also be seen as a kind of multi-layered or multi-dimensional literary icon.[9] This iconic bricolage and Levinasian approach to the text creates a creative and ethical space for a broader landscape that allows for a multi-layered exegesis to enrich one's understanding and one's encounter of the Scriptural text while respecting and treasuring the mystique and mystery (enigma) of the sacred texts. In turn this approach allows for one's rendezvous and sharing with 'others' in their encounter with the Biblical text. This may open up new ways for Jews and Christians to enrich the 'other' in a critical sharing that remains ethically respectful and appreciative of the deeply held insights and beliefs of the 'other' in the context of the full panorama of their person and cultural traditions.
There are many deeper levels of understanding the surface text of the Scriptures which can enrich the spirituality of both Jews and Christians. However using the messianic and Christian insights into the First Testament Scriptures as a form of polemics or apologetics in order to ‘convert’ Jews or win arguments is rather superficial and ultimately empty. Instead we should encounter the insights of the ‘other’[10] even if our insights differ. My version of the concept of bricolage owes much to the phenomenological and romantic insights of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov[11] and the so-called post–modernist philosophical and Biblical insights of Emmanuel Levinas.[12] This approach may allow for a broader and richer appreciation and critique of Scripture with perennially fresh Torah insights (bi’ur) flowing forth like the spiritual waters of the well (be’er) of Miriam or the river flowing from Eden.[13]  

[1] See Julius Wellhausen. Prolegomena to the history of ancient Israel. Peter Smith Pub Inc, 1983.
[2] Such as the literary creations of Edward Schillebeeckx and Dominic Crossan. See , Edward Schillebeeckx. Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (London: Collins, 1979) and Crossan, John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography Harper: San Francisco, 1994.
[3] Such as Kikawada, Isaac M., and Arthur Quinn. Before Abraham was: the unity of Genesis 1-11. Abingdon Press, 1985 and Emanuel Tov. Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, Minneapolis; Fortress Press; 2012.
[4] Julio T Barrera, trans. By Wilfred G Wilson, Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible: An Introduction to the History of the Bible (Boston; Brill Academic Publishers;2007),417.
[5] Luc Zaman, Bible and Canon: A Modern Historical Inquiry (SSN, 50; Leiden: Brill, 2008),3-5.
[6] Liesbeth Korthals Altes, “A Theory of Ethical Reading” Theology and Literature: Rethinking Reader Responsibility (Palgrave Macmillan; Gordonsville VA, USA, 2006), 17.
[7] Chanani Haran Smith, Tuning the Soul; Music as a Spiritual Process in the Teachings of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav, (IJS Studies in Judaica; Volume 10; Brill Academic Publishers; Boston; 2009), 59.
[8] Emmanuel Levinas, In the Time of the Nations (London, Athlone Press, 1994), 38.
[9]  Elena Volkova, “Literature as Icon: Introduction”, Literature & Theology, Vol. 20 #1 (UK: Oxford University Press, 2006), 1-6.
 [10] In the Levinasian meaning of face to face encounter of the other.
[11] The founder and Rebbe (Tzadik) of Breslov Hasidism and great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov (Besht) the founder of modern Hasidism. He died in 1810.
[12] An orthodox Jew and famous French philosopher and Talmudist (1906-1995). Many Christian theologians also use some of his concepts in their own theological writings. See Glenn Morrison, A Theology of Alterity: Levinas, von Balthasar and Trinitarian Praxis Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, 2013. Levinas is considered as part of the movement known as post-modernism but it is a form of post-modernism that is neither skeptical, atheistic, relativistic or nihilist but is intensely ethical.
[13] Melila Hellner-Eshed, A River Flows from Eden: The Language of Mystical Experience in the Zohar, (California; Standford University Press; 2009).

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