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Tuesday, September 01, 2009
  Hard Times for Bible Readers
Julia M. O'Brien has another thoughful and provoking post, on Reading Novels, Reading the Bible. In it she notices a phenomenon that has long interested me. Extremists about the Bible, both fundamentalists and minimalists (with apologies to Jim W who does not fit this label in this context), make the same mistake, both reduce the Bible to information.1 In doing so they are thoroughly modern.

Modernity worships factuality. It reduces life to facts. Mystery and wonder are relegated to "entertainment". Moderns know "the price of everything and the value of nothing" (as Oscar Wilde2 said).

No wonder, then if the Bible is important it must be full of facts, or if it must be dethroned then it must be full of errors! This is the student's approach to the Bible, examine, test and discuss it's facticity. How different the reader! Julia quotes James Joyce3:
[in reading novels,]  we walk through ourselves meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love.  But always meeting ourselves. 
Readers of the Bible "walk through themselves" and in doing so not only meet themselves, but also meet God. What we need is more readers and less students of the Bible. For all students meet is information. But there's the paradox, our profession produces Bible students smilies/sad.gif

Dare we, dare I, adapt the way we teach so that we may be less good at developing biblical scholars, but better at producing Bible readers?



This post is an expansion of a comment I left on Julia's blog.

1. In "Le texte biblique et le contexte africain" Revue Zaïroise Théologie Protestante II, 1988, 11-17, I argued that "conservative and "liberal" approaches to the Bible "la trahissent au nom de l'histoire" [betray the Bible in the name of history].
2. Wilde, Oscar, and Joseph Bristow. The picture of Dorian Gray. Oxford University Press, 2006, 42.  (Bristow notes that Wilde adapted this pithy saying in Lady Windemere's Fan two years later, so he was perhaps as fond of it as later generations have been ;)
3. James Joyce, Ulysses. The Modern Library Edition.  New York:  Random House, 1934, p. 210

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