Does Higher Criticism Attempt to “Destroy the Bible”? II
In the first post of this… I guess, “series” is the best word for my… uh, stream of consciousness musings, I began to consider whether the purposes, assumptions, and aims of biblical criticism are to “destroy the Bible!”
The first assumption of scholars I noted was that historical critics maintain that the texts which comprise the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament have not existed forever. From this assumption comes the attempt to locate a date for the composition of a text. Many questions, social and political issues, and methodologies are brought to bear on such an assumption, but at the end of the day, basically: a text did not exist, then it existed, so when did this happen? There you have it. Assumption number one: The texts of any canon did not always exist. Shocking, dirty, and evil stuff those liberal scholars come up with!
The second assumption is almost as horrifying. Assumption number two: all texts, by their very nature, have to be written in a certain literary genre, and that genre can inform a reader as to some meaning of the text.
Now, I could bore you with a bunch of hermeneutics, with preunderstandings and presuppositions which become the fore-structure to interpreting any written text, but basically: writers choose a certain ‘genre’ for certain literary tasks. Writing in this genre sets reader expectations and aids in the reading of any text. Therefore some texts start, “Once upon a time,” another “It was a dark and stormy night,” another “Dear John,” another “Roses are red.” These are all cues to the reader as to how the text is to be read.
We do not read the comics in the back of the newspaper the same way we read page one of the news. A historical novel is not approached the same way as a comic book. A user manual and a murder mystery have completely different reader expectations.
Biblical scholars are widely read and familiar with the different genres of ancient literature to have their fore-structure adequately prepared for interpretation within the ancient categories. Cosmologies, wisdom literature, prophecy, law codes, covenants, proverbs, etc. and etc. These are all genres the scholar tries to familiarize himself or herself with in order to ‘hear’ what the text might be saying in their original context. There is a lot of literature from many of the neighbors and cultures that surrounded the composition of the biblical texts, and from a wide range of history as well. The task in familiarizing oneself with it is not small.
Conversely, not having these categories or any familiarity with the other ancient literature, many modern readers are left reading the different genres of the Bible under one genre: the prophetic genre. Within this understanding the varied forms of the literature are reduced to, “what is the Bible saying to me?” Unfortunately from this approach the many forms, voices, and conversations within the literature are muted into an individualistic, modern, and severely truncated story.
Certainly, from these much different approaches the conclusions of scholars will differ from those who think the Bible was written “for them” and lack the categories to recognize some of the different forms in the Bible. However, at this point, I hope (really hope) that it is clear that what scholars are doing is not attempting to “destroy the Bible” because so far we have two assumptions: one, texts have not always existed; two, the literary genre of a text can help us understand a text better. These are methodological approaches that have nothing to do with trying to destroy the Bible or being anti-spiritual. In fact, as far as I can tell, these assumptions have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with a wish to “destroy the Bible.”
Up next, assumption three: a human being (or more than one!?!) was involved in the composition of the texts.