An Uninterpreted Bible?

Some might consider the “Humor in Science and Theology” thread a more appropriate place for this post, my choice is here.

From The Bible For Normal People, Peter Enns and Jared Byas’ Interview with Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Brettler: “How Jews & Christians Read the Bible Differently”:

  • Jared: … But maybe let’s take a step back and just talk about what you mean by an interpreted Bible and how that impacts how we come to the text.
    Marc: Well, there’s no such thing as an uninterpreted Bible.
    AJ: Unless it just sits on your shelf, right, for decoration. That’s an uninterpreted Bible.
    Marc: Yeah. There’s a wonderful story of a Hebrew Bible colleague of mine, Ed Greenstein. He taught for many years at Jewish Theological Seminary then at Tel Aviv University and Bar-Ilan University in Israel where his students – I’m going to get this story almost right – where his students used to complain that he cared too much about theory and that they just wanted to hear the text speak. But one day he came to class, he walked in at the appointed hour, he opened his Bible and went silent for five minutes. The students, you can imagine, were getting more and more perplexed. Then finally he explained, well, I was trying to let the text speak for itself.

From The Bible For Normal People, Peter Enns and Jared Byas’ “Interview with Benjamin D. Sommer: Jewish Views on the Bible”:

  • [29:30] Jared: So Ben, what, … what allows–so I’m trying to , kind of channeling a lot of the Christian tradition where the authority of the text starts to break down if you allow for this the fact that the text itself is debating this ambiguity is built-in–so what kind of components of a Jewish faith whether it’s Conservative, Orthodox, or otherwise, allows for celebrates or promotes this idea that the text can still be central, meaningful, authoritative, and yet have these disagreements built into them and …"
    [30:06] Benjamin: Gotcha! You don’t. To answer that, let me step back for a second, and we point out really a core difference between a Jewish conception of the Bible and a Protestant conception of the Bible. And this is going to be true of really of all Jews. It’s certainly very, very true of Orthodox Jews; this one is not specific to one movement or another, and in Judaism the Bible is sacred alongside a whole additional set of books—a whole additional literature that you might refer to as being tradition—and the Bible and tradition worked together to be the sacred literature of the Jewish people. We don’t have any idea of Sola Scriptura.
    30:58 - For us, tradition in particular, the works of rabbinic tradition, books like the Talmud, the Mishnah , there’s a whole the whole other set of bookshelves. Those are also sacred and authoritative. So, in this regard, Jews are much much more similar to Catholics and to Eastern Orthodox Christians, for whom tradition—whether it’s Aquinas or Augustine, or Chrysostom
    are very, very important, alongside the Bible. Similarly, for Jews, the Talmud is enormously important right alongside the Bible, and the truth of the matter is that, on a practical level, the way we observe Judaism is much more based on the Talmud in rabbinic literature than on the Bible. A lot of the specific laws, especially that Orthodox and Conservative Jews obey, are actually spelled out in Talmudic literature much more clearly than they are in biblical literature and some of them aren’t found in biblical literature at all. So for us, for Jews generally, you might see … I don’t know, you really could almost say Scripture includes not just the Bible, but a whole lot of other later works written by the classical rabbis, that, if scripture is what is sacred and authoritative in Judaism that’s not just the Bible. That’s, that’s also, and, in some ways, even more so, rabbinic literature. So, somebody said that maybe we should pause here, but I had to kind of get that piece of information out there before responding to your question, Jared. But maybe I should pause and just see if you want to follow up on this this one point before I go on to your question. I just want to make sure you don’t miss that second point, but if people go ahead …
    Peter: Nope my point can wait.
    Benjamin: Good. So, oh yes, … so going to, so going to that question: “What allows us to hear debate in the Bible, …here, disagreement in the Bible, and not get all freaked out?” Well, here, first of all, here, I am going to go back to answering more from a specifically Conservative point of view. I think many Orthodox authorities would say that: “No, the Bible–especially the
    five books of Moses come from heaven. Therefore, they don’t engage in debate, because debate is, in some sense, is a sign of falliability, right? You don’t debate something unless you’re not sure, and presumably, God was sure. So for Orthodox Jews who believe that at least the five books of Moses–and to some degree the rest of the Bible—was really written by God, then they’re not going to necessarily be happy with the idea that the five books of Moses have more than one author, and debate with each other and, therefore, betray a certain human side, insofar as they’re unsure about some things they’re fallible about something. So, at this point, I’m going to go back to give you a more specifically Conservative answer. I think that for—at least for myself, as a religious Jew—the reason that I’m not really upset by the idea that the Bible debates with itself, … that biblical authors disagree with each other, is that most Jewish sacred literature is found in rabbinic text, … is found in the Talmud and related rabbinic works, and rabbinic literature is famous for constantly being full of debate and argumentation. I mean, there’s the famous, you know, the famous idea that if you’ve got two Jews in a room, you’ve got three opinions–the Jews love disagreeing with each other—that you know, if a Jew is stranded on a, …on a desert island, at least they find him, you know, twenty years later, he kind of shows them around, and like, shows what he’s built: and there are two synagogues; and they ask: “Well, why did you build two synagogues?” And the guy says: “That’s the synagogue I pray in and that’s the synagogue I wouldn’t step foot in if you paid me.”

[A sidebar comment from me: I now believe I understand why Atheists tend to prefer fussing with Christianity. Jews fuss within Judaism, where’s the fun in fussing with them?]

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Anyone who reads the bible is interpreting it be it literally (face value) or with some kind of slant. To confirm, literal reading is an interpretation. So anyone who criticizes an allegorical view because it is an interpretation is being hypocritical.
In my (not so) humble opinion, anyone who tries to read the bible at face value without thought about culture, history, or context is foolish.
Richard

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