Yeshwanth Bakkavemana

Home » 2018 » April

Monthly Archives: April 2018

Hebrew Bible and Archaeology

 

I. Introduction

Hebrew Bible (HB) has strong archaeological evidences that establish its authenticity as a religious document that is dexterously preserved and transmitted. In order to support the aforementioned claim, the paper focuses on the variants and versions as witnesses to the Hebrew Bible. So, firstly, we would briefly look at some selected variants and their significance as a witness to HB. Second witness, the paper presents is the transmission of the text. Here we would briefly discuss how meticulously the text has been preserved. Thirdly, the paper briefly outlines some extra-biblical evidences. Finally, we would discuss vitality of these archaeological evidences in order to establish the authenticity of the HB. In the appendix, few archaeological findings were provided which throws light into events and also the text that were recorded in the HB.

II. Archeological evidences in relation to Hebrew Bible

A. Various witnesses to the MT

When it comes to the archaeological evidences or witnesses for the Hebrew Bible, we mostly rely on the ancient manuscripts. Glenn Archer outlines these manuscripts based chronological order. The earliest of all these manuscripts is Qumran scrolls (300 BC) belong to Pre-Christian era.[1] Post-Christian manuscripts consist of British Museum Oriental (850 AD), Codex Cairensis (895 AD), Aleppo Codex (900 AD), Leningrad MS (916 AD), Leningrad MS B-19 A (1010 AD), Samaritan Pentateuch, and Torah Finchasiye (1204 AD).[2] Besides these, there are printed editions like Bolonga Edition of the Psalter (1477 AD), Soncino Edition of OT (1488 AD), and Second Bomerg Edition (1525/26 AD).[3] In addition to these, we have Greek versions like Septuagint (250-150 BC), Aquila’s version (130 AD), Symmachus’ version (170 AD), and Theodotion’s version (180 or 190 AD).[4] Furthermore, we have Targums like Targum of Onkelos (200 AD), and Targum of Jonathan be Uzziel (300 AD).[5] In addition to these, we have Latin and Syriac verisions as well.[6]

1. Significance and Contents of the ancient manuscripts

i. Qumran Scrolls 𝔔

These scrolls were discovered in the caves near Dead Sea in 1947. The discovery of these scrolls is considered to be the greatest discoveries of all times. One of the reasons is because these scrolls were dated to between 3-1 B. C.[7] Another reason is that these scrolls shed light on the scribal work in relation to the process of transmission of the text.[8] The significance of these materials is that they are several centuries older than any material that we possess now.[9] McDowell points out that there is 95% of closeness with Masoretic text (𝔐) that we possess now and 5% can be considered as “slips of pen.”[10] This only shows accuracy in the transmission of the text. For our purposes we will briefly see three manuscripts.

Regarding the content of these scrolls, we have two manuscripts that belong to the book of Isaiah. One is Isaiah manuscript from Cave 1 (1QIsa = 𝔔a) which consists of Isaiah cps 1-33, 34-66. Second one is Isaiah scroll (cps 41-66). Both Archer and Würthwein agree that this scroll has more closeness to 𝔐 compared to 𝔔a.[11] In addition to this, Edwin Yamauchi points that manuscripts of Qumran belong to the MT tradition though it has variations which does not issue in change of the text.[12]As a result of this, LXX (𝔊) has been superseded by 𝔔.

Another scroll that was discovered in the Cave 1 was the Habakkuk commentary. It consists of Cps 1-2 with comments inserted in between. Here also the text of Habakkuk stands very close to 𝔐 than other variants.[13]

ii. Codex Cairensis (C):

This Ms contains former and later prophets which are believed to be copied by Aaron ben Asher in 895 A. D as pointed out by Archer.[14] On the contrary, Wurthwein suggests that it was written and pointed by Moses ben Asher.[15] Whatever it is, we can say that this Ms was from Ben Asher’s family. This Ms also shows a great affinity with 𝔐.

iii. Aleppo Codex

This is another Ms from Ben Asher family. This is the oldest complete Masoretic manuscript of the entire OT. It dates from first half of 10th century A.D. It was It was Aaron ben Mosheh ben Asher added punctuation and Masora. It was first situated in Jerusalem, and then later to Cairo and eventually settled at Cairo.[16]

iv. Codex Leningradensis (L):

This is the oldest surviving manuscript of the whole Bible from Ben Asher family.[17] This text is dated at 1010 A. D which is considered as a “faithful copy” of another MS (980 A. D) which was lost.[18] This text became a basis for Kittel’s Biblia Hebraica today.

v. Samaritan Pentateuch (⅏):

Samaritan Pentateuch is often regarded as a “sectarian” text.[19] The reason for this is the schism between Samaritans and Israelites. Würthwein suggests that the climax of this schism took place in 4 B. C which has been long process.[20] However, the current research is suggestive of Hasmonean period.[21] A form of ⅏ was discovered by Pietro della Valle in Damascus in 1616 A. D. It has some 6000 variations from 𝔐. Out of which 1,900 variations agree with 𝔊 against 𝔐. It also constitutes Samaritan biased insertions in the text. Nevertheless, ⅏ also may be considered as a “witness” or a version of Pentateuch.

vi. Septuagint (LXX 𝔊)

Septuagint is often considered as a witness to 𝔐. The significance of this text lies in the New Testament’s dependence on LXX. Furthermore, the early church fathers also depended on LXX.[22] Pentateuch was translated into Greek by the Alexandrian Jews in Egypt in 3 B. C while other books were translated by the end of the following century. However, with the church regarding LXX as their Bible, Jews renounced it and started to develop their own Greek versions.[23] Here I would like to just outline them. They are Aquila (€), Symmachus, and Theodotion which are independent translation done by Jews. In third century B. C there are three Christian translations of LXX. They are Origen, Hesychius and Lucian.[24] Therefore, these translations with their long history of transmissions and translations do bear the marks of the Hebrew Bible. In that case they also stand as a witness to the Hebrew Bible.

B. Textual transmission and fidelity of MT

So far we have considered few documentary witnesses that stand as evidences to MT but how to measure the fidelity of MT? Why the documentary witnesses are to be considered as strong archaeological evidences? The answer to that question is to investigate how the textual transmission has been undertaken and who are those responsible for such titanic task?

1. The scribes

The following are to be considered as various Jewish scholars who are committed to standardize and preserve the biblical text. We will mainly discuss very briefly about three such scholars.

The word ‘sopherim’ means ‘scribe.’ These are Jewish scholars and they were the custodians of the text between 5-3 B. C.[25] It was under Ezra the Scribe, this group had its beginning.[26] They were given a responsibility to standardize a pure text of the Hebrew text and then to pass to the “hypothetical revision committee” for approval.[27] They devised a system of “cross-check” method by counting all the verses, words and letters of each book in the Hebrew Bible and then record them at the end of the respective book.[28] In this way, they can judge which book or copy has errors or not.

After Sopherim, comes Zugoth (pairs of scholars) who were committed with the task of guarding the text. After Zugoth, the third group is Tannim (repeaters or teachers) who accepted the task of being custodians of the text till 200 A. D. In addition to preserving the text, they were involved in writing Midrash (textual interpretation). The fourth group is Talmud (instruction) who appeared in ca. 100-500 A. D. Talmudist were given the responsibility to preserve the text and it was probable that they were responsible for the versification of the text.[29] However, versification does not necessarily mean verse numbering and the division of the chapters.[30]

The fifth group is Masoretes. These Jewish scholars existed between 500-950 A. D. They gave the final form to OT.[31] After the destruction of the temple in 70 A. D, Jews were scattered. This gave an impetus to standardize the text by introducing punctuation and use of vowels for correct pronunciation and standardized consonantal text.

2. A Breif History of Textual Transmission

The text from the Sopehrim period during which Ezra involved, was passed on to the Talmudic period and later on transmitted to Masoretes. Masoretes who received unpointed consonantal text from the previous guardians inserted vowel points to preserve the pronunciation. In doing so, they not only developed vowel system but also a Ketib and Qere system to preserve the oral tradition of the text. This process of Ketib and Qere is reflected in the Masora of the text.

Three major schools are to be considered among the Masoretes—Babylonian, Palestinian and Tiberian. The most famous of these is Masoretes living at Tiberius in Galilee viz., Ben Asher family. It is this Ben Asher text— the standard Hebrew text today which is represented by Codex Leningrad B 19 A and Aleppo codex which we have already discussed.

Now the earliest manuscripts awaited the confirmation until the discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls. It was with the discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls which are older than the existent MT, and with its greater affinity with the same has established the accuracy in transmission and fidelity of MT.

D. Extra-biblical evidences[32]

McDowell outlines few extra-biblical evidences that refer to the composition of the Hebrew Bible especially its sections. For instance, the Prologue to Ecclesiasticus (130 B. C) mentions the three fold division of the Torah. Also, Philo of Alexandra—a Greek historian, refers to the same. Likewise, Josephus, a Jewish historian, spoke about tripartite division of Torah. Another historian Eusebius in his book “Ecclesiastical History IV. 26” refers to Melito who enlists the first known lists of OT books.

III. Bearings of archeological evidences on the Hebrew Bible

Archeological evidences with its substantial documentary proofs for the Hebrew Bible have shed light on scribal transmission. In addition to this, it also have revolutionised biblical criticism. Especially, with the discovery of Dead Sea Scrolls, the Hebrew Bible was even more authenticated for its accuracy in transmission. Moreover, the historical process of the transmission was well corroborated by the archaeology while comparing with versions and manuscripts of 𝔐.

These findings are very significant for us because of mainly two reasons. Firstly, the text that is transmitted to us is the Word of God. The accuracy of the text in transmission can be considered to be almost a miracle. Secondly, it sheds more light in the field of textual criticism and historical criticism. In that a gap in reconstructing the text and Biblical history can be filled with the available archaeological evidence.

IV. Conclusion

In an attempt to outline the archaeological evidences to the Hebrew Bible, we have first started with briefly examining witlessness to 𝔐. In addition to this we also have discussed how these witnesses are significant for us today. While comparing these witnesses with each other, we can see their mutual affinities in terms of the text transmission. Another witness we considered was the textual transmission itself. We have briefly seen how meticulously the text has been transmitted. All the above, archaeological evidences establish the authencity of the Hebrew Bible in terms of its text. Therefore, we can be lest assured the text that we hold today, indeed the Word of God which has been miraculously passed on to us!

Endnote

 

[1] Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Revised. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), 42.

[2] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 42.

[3] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 42.

[4] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 42.

[5] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 42.

[6] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 42.

[7] Ellis R. Brotzman, Old Testament Textual Criticism A Practical Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 45.

[8] Brotzman, Old Testament Textual Criticism A Practical Introduction, 43.

[9] Ernst Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament An Introduction to the Biblica Heraica, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes, Second. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), 33.

[10] Josh McDowell, The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict (Secundrabad: Om-Authentic books, 2006), 77.

[11] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 33; Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 44.

[12] Edwin Yamauchi, The Stones and the Scripture An Introduction to Biblical Archeology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1972), 130.

[13] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 44.

[14] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 47.

[15] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 35.

[16] Würthwein , The Text of the Old Testament, 36.

[17] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 36.

[18] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 48.

[19] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 48.

[20] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 45.

[21] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 45.

[22] William W Combs, “The Transmission-History of the Septuagint,” Bibliotheca Sacra 146, no. 583 (1989): 256.

[23] Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 54.

[24] Chaim Pearl, “The Bible: Transmission–Interpretation,” Jewish Bible Quarterly 24, no. 2 (1996): 256.

[25] McDowell, The New Evidence, 73.

[26] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 67.

[27] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 67.

[28] Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 67.

[29] Brotzman, Old Testament Textual Criticism A Practical Introduction, 47.

[30] The division of chapters, according to Würthwein, was introduced by Stephen Langton (1150-1228) which was later adopted by Latin Vulgate in 14th century A. D.,Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, 21.

[31] McDowell, The New Evidence, 75; Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 70.

[32] McDowell, The New Evidence, 28–29.

An Essay on Biblical Criticisms: Methods to Old Testament Interpretation

I. Introduction

This is a brief survey of approaches to Old Testament interpretation. The approaches basically can be categorized under three sections. They are historical critical methods, textual methods, and contextual methods. These three approaches have three different emphases. Historical- critical approaches emphasis on intent of the author. Textual methods emphasize on the text itself. Contextual methods emphasize the context of the reader. This essay will elucidate these approaches along with some critical observations.

II. Historical–Critical Methods

Historical–critical methods (HC) can be categorized as “diachronic” approach (through time). HC is an integrated approach. It takes into consideration several approaches to exegete the text. It is author–centered approach. In that these approaches goes ‘behind’ the text. These methods are concerned with the origin, transmission, original intent of the author and original readers. Christopher J. Wright likens this approach to a ‘window.’ So, through the window we can see the outside world—the landscape, and the horizon. It also means that the light from the outside world enters through window as well. In other words as we see through the window of text in to the world of text, the world of text also illumines our understanding of the text. There are four main methods under this approach. They are Source criticism, Form criticism, Tradition criticism, and Redaction criticism. We shall see discuss these methods briefly.

A. Source Criticism (SC)

Source Criticism (SC) was active during 17th and 18th centuries. It was first Jean Austruc who suggested that Moses used different sources to compile Pentateuch. So, this approach assumes that there are sources behind the texts, and these sources were composed by different authors. SC goal is to identify sources behind the text, reconstruct them and then assign them the dates. It was Julius Wellhausen who systematized earlier work and proposed ‘documentary hypotheses in which he suggested four sources J E D and P with the dates. According to him J is Yahwistic source from 10 B. C, E is Elohistic source from 9 B. C, D is Deuteronomistic source from 7 B. C, and P is Priestly source from 5 B. C. These sources are indentified based on the stylistic differences, repetitions, doublets, different theonyms, theological, and narrative differences.

B. Form Criticism (FC)

Form Criticism is a reaction against SC. It was first proposed by Herman Gunkel. This method assumes a pre-literary stage in which the text is transmitted in different forms such as sagas, stories, narrations, and poems. These forms arose in different life-settings (sitz-im-leben) and the function of these forms varies according to their respective life-settings. Therefore, this approach constitutes analysis of the genre, its sitz-im-leben, and its function in different life-settings. For example, Psalm 2 is categorized as royal enthronement Psalm used as a cultic poem in the covenant renewal ceremony.

C. Tradition Criticism (TrC)

Tradition or Tradition history (TrC) is an offshoot of FC. The main proponent of this approach was Gerhard von Rad. According to this approach, text has traditions behind the text. These traditions constitute different stories, legends, narrations, and poems. These traditions in turn may have been used for different purposes in different life-setting. This is the reason an exegete is concerned with tracing the history of traditions in the Scripture. For example, Jacob’s narratives in Gen 28, 32, and 35 are different in function when compared with Hos. 12. An exegete will trace the history of Jacob’s narratives in different life-settings in the Scripture to form one consistent tradition history. Martin Noth using this approaches proposed Deuteronomistic history whereas von Rad proposed tradition history of Israel.

D. Redaction Criticism (RC)

Redaction criticism (RC) is basically concerned with the editorial work of the redactor or the redactor of the text. It assumes that the redactor/editor made some changes to the text according to his or her theological orientation. The editorial work involves changing of some words, phrases, and arranging the material that reflects theological framework of the scribe. So, an exegete will try to analyze the text to see the intention behind such editorial changes made to the text. For example, in Gen. 26, redactor is clarifying the flow of the text by inserting his/her comment as he found the same type of story reflected in Abraham narrative elsewhere.

III. Textual Methods

Textual methods arose in the context of HC. There has been a growing frustration regarding the fragmentary view of HC method. As a result final form approaches emerged. These approaches can be catalogued under “synchronic” category (same time). Their main focus is on the text which is seen as a final product. These approaches can be likened to a “portrait.” In that we would focus on the aesthetic values of the portrait—its textures, colors, and the meaning of the portrait itself. This means that the meaning of the text lies in the text itself rather than behind it. The following methods will be discussed briefly.

A. Structuralism

Structuralism deals with the meaning of the text that is enshrined in the structures of the text. De Saussure, first used this approach in the field of linguistics. For him the meaning of the word is in the context of the text rather than in the etymological survey of that particular word. Later James Barr used this approach in the field of Biblical studies. For him, the meaning of the word does not lie in the comparative philology but in the syntax of the text. In other words, the meaning of the word lies in the relationship of that word with other words in the syntactical sentence. So, there is a shift from diachronic way understanding the meaning of the word to synchronic way of understanding the same. This approach is used in biblical anthropology. For example, a structuralist understands the table of nations in Gen. 10 and food laws in Lev. 11, to see Israel’s position among other nations.

B. Rhetorical criticism

The art of rhetoric is a classic discipline started with Aristotle. It is an art in composing a language to be more attractive, descriptive, interpretative, and persuasive. It is art of public speaking. Rhetorical critics are concerned about what a text communicates, what and how the text communicates to the reader or listener, how one is persuaded towards certain praxis.

Rhetoric criticism as an interpretative tool was first introduced by James Muilenberg in 1968. He appreciated form criticism for uncovering various forms (guttungen). However, he criticised FC for overemphasising similarity of forms and for not focusing on the formulation of the form. According to Muilenberg, rhetorical criticism is concerned about understanding nature of Hebrew literary composition which exhibits as structural patterns used and fashioning of literary units, discerning many and various devices, predictions formulated and ordered to a unified whole. Here in this approach, words are analyzed syntactically which reveal thought patterns of the writer. Muilenberg did not propose any set of methods for rhetorical criticism. V. Robbins proposed “socio-rhetorical” method. Later George Kennedy combines Muilenberg and Robbins. According to Kennedy text should be studies from the author’s or editor’s intent. He seems to incline to historical criticism a bit. Kennedy proposes following steps for Rhetorical criticism viz., delimiting rhetorical unit, finding context of the text, identifying rhetorical arrangements, techniques, and effectiveness.

C. Narrative criticism

The focus of narrative criticism is setting, plot, characters, suspense, patterning, and world play. It makes uses of poetic art which constitutes parallelisms, metaphors, imagery and climax. These tools help to uncover different layers of meaning which were artistically designed, and patterns woven by the original authors.

Narrative criticism distinguishes between a “story” and “narrative.” Story is abstract and becomes concrete when it is given utterance through a medium of narrative. Since story can be told and re-told in many ways, a narrative critic undertakes a close reading of the text to discern narrator’s concerns. R. Alter’s book “The Art of Biblical narrative” (1981) stimulated much interest as he presented distinctive features of Hebrew narrative. Narrative criticism is extended to Pentateuch as whole as well. For example D. J. Clines argues the entire Pentateuch is unified by a prominent theme i.e., the partial fulfillment of the promises to the patriarchs.

D. Canonical criticism

Canonical criticism uses the canonical shape of Scripture as a lens to interpret the text. Two leading figures of this approach are to be noted. First, it was J. A. Sanders, who was the first one to coin the terms “canonical criticism.” He has two primary interests—canonical process and canonical hermeneutics. The former has to do with the way in which Canon was formed and the later examination of the interpretation of the canonical texts. The second one is Brevard S. Childs. He is less concerned with the process of canonization. He interprets Scripture in the light of final form. Childs opined that HC has been less fruitful. For him, final form of the text can profitably be interpreted. Childs supports the use of other critical approaches. However, he was often criticised for ignoring HC.

IV. Contextual Methods

Contextual methods are reader-centered approaches. They are likened to a “mirror.” This means the meaning of the text arises from the reader in the “act of reading.” Therefore, the focus is not on the text but on intentions of the reader. These approaches are influenced by post-modernism. These methods emerged as a reaction against the ‘atomic’ view of the Scriptures by HC. HC does not address the contextual problems of the readers. So, the focus of contextual methods is to address the existential problems of the reader. Under this method, we have liberation hermeneutical approach, Post-colonial hermeneutics, Dalit hermeneutics, and Feminist hermeneutics. In these approaches we have actual reader—original audience, and implied reader—foreign nations. Later redactors gathered, edited, and canonized these texts. After canonization, Jewish Christians read these texts. Now, we the contemporary readers, read the text. We bring our own assumptions to the text and read the text with various contextual lenses. In other words, there is no objectivity in these approaches. Interpreters are affected by their own socio-cultural and Psychological factors. For example, a Biblical interpreter in India brings his/her own contextual experiences such as marginalization, Dalit and adivasi struggles to the text. These experiences would shape the interpretation of the text. In other words, the text becomes alive in the act of reading.

A. Liberation Hermenuetics

Liberation theology was first pioneered by Gustavo Guitèrez in America in 1970. This is based on Black American struggle against racism. Later Black feminists and Dalits used this as their framework. Liberative reading constitutes of preferential opinion of the marginalized and emphasizes active role of the church towards emancipation of the marginalized. They take Exodus as a paradigm of salvation by which God liberates all kinds of oppression. Rowland and Corner opines that Liberation reading awakens an exegete to his/her own contexts. Two important critical tools are used—Hermeneutical circle and hermeneutic of suspicion. The hermeneutical circle begins with experience of the interpreter; and then to ideological/theological suspicion; to exegetical suspicion, to new interpretation which gives feedback to interpreters experience of reality which will modify his/her conception of reality and then starts the process anew. Hermeneutic of suspicion deals with tracing the history of interpretation to expose bias reading of the text. The following are some examples of liberation hermeneutics.

 

B. Feminist Hermenuetics

Feminist hermeneutics as distinct discipline started in 19th century. It was first Huberten Avelert coined the term “feminism” in 1882. This term is associated with women’s struggle for political rights.

Feminist interpretation of the Bible is rooted in feminist critical consciousness that men and women are fully human and equal. Lelty M. Russel opines that this new approach undertaken by women because Bible is mistaken to promoting and authenticating dominance and supremacy of man.

For example, feminist theologians use various approaches and methods in order to challenge the view that Bible is the product of patriarchal undertakings. Rosemary Redford Ruether apprals that women’s experience should be taken into consideration to interpret the text. The focus should be given to women characters in the Bible. In that the positive qualities of women should be identified and re-imagine Biblical stories with women characters. By doing so, the women can be written back into the history of Israel in which voice of women is made to be heard in the andocentric texts.

Another example is Elizabeth Schuessler Fiorenza’s approach. She uses rhetorical feminist model. Her approach constitutes first, hermeneutics of experience. In that the experience of the marginalized should be considered in interpreting the text. Moreover, the oppression of women should get due attention. Secondly, hermeneutics of domination and social action also should be considered. It deals with how one act in a specific situation and how one expresses in those situations. A critical evaluation of the social location of the interpreter is needed. Thirdly, hermeneutics of suspicion must also be used. The texts are andocentric and needs to be approached with suspicion. Fourthly, hermeneutics of recuperation deals with recovering from the Bible different forms of patriarchal misinterpretations. Fifthly, hermeneutics of creative imagination deals with imagining the new world of justice and well being and employs aesthetic methods such as role play, bibliodrama, pictorial arts, dance, and story-telling. Sixthly, hermeneutics of resistance emphasizes on being a resistant reader than an assisting reader. In that a male mind in us is exorcised.  Seventhly, hermeneutics of remembrance and reconstruction will search and bring forth the forgotten stories and nameless women alive in order to contribute to the struggles of women today. Finally, hermeneutics of reconstruction deconstructs andocentric layers in the Scripture and reconstructs the text with a positive outlook towards women.

C. Post-modern criticism

Post-modern criticism is against any attempt of objectification. Post-modern critics consider objectification is an illusion. It believes that there are pluralistic ways of understanding the text and interpretation. Human thoughts are changeable. Truth and truth claims are relative. They are changing according to changing context. There is no single approach that can be normative. Its significance is in contextual, local and pluralistic interpretation in the Bible.

D. post-colonial criticism

Post-colonial criticism emerged from third world context—the nations which were formerly colonised by imperial nations. These colonial nations used Bible as their major tool to subjugate natives. Post-colonial criticism gained its momentum with the work of Edward Said’s critique of Western constructions of the orient in his book “Orientalism.” He explains how the West colonised and treated the ‘orient’ as the ‘other’ as an object of knowledge waiting to be dominated. Keeping this in mind, post-colonial reading is an effort to interpret the Bible that resonate with the indigenous cultural values and highlights the issues of imperialism, experience of conquest, colonization, and migration. The aim of post-colonial criticism is to scrutinize and expose colonial domination that embedded in the Biblical texts. This approach applies hermeneutics of resistance. In that a critic of this approach would identify colonial ideologies in the text, deconstruct them and reconstruct the texts that reflect indigenous values of the natives and seeks to emancipate them from colonial dominance.

V. Critique on the methods

A. Historical-Critical Method

Historical-critical methods are not concerned with the context of the interpreter. The results of these methods are mostly hypothetical in nature. Moreover, it has fragmented Scripture so much so that theological understanding is left out. These methods are reductionist in nature. In that HC brings out meaning ‘behind’ the text but shifts the attention of the exegete to pre-canonical stages. These approaches tend to doubt the divine inspiration of the Word of God.

B. Textual Methods

Textual methods arose out of the frustration because of historical-critical methods. Their main focus is the finished product i.e., the text itself. However, the context of the reader is not adequately taken into consideration. It main focus is “what the text meant” but it does not talk about “what it means to the reader.”

C. Contextual methods

Contextual methods removed the limits of interpretation. In that reader becomes the starting-point for interpreting the text. It takes the context of the reader very seriously. It is true that oppression of the marginalized is a reality. It is also evident that Bible is also used as tool to subjugate other. However, these approaches tend to very subjective in nature. Bible is treated as a ‘proof-text’ to support one’s own ideology. This leads to eisegetical reading of the text.

VI. Conclusion

This essay outlined different approaches towards Old Testament. These approaches are basically divided into three sections viz., historical-critical, textual, and contextual methods. We have also discussed the different approaches under the respective approaches. Under historical methods, we have discussed source, form, tradition, and redaction criticisms. Under textual method, we have discussed structuralism, rhetorical, narrative, and canonical criticisms. Under contextual methods, we have liberation hermeneutics, feminist, post-modern, and post-colonial methods. Historical methods are compared to a ‘window’ in which the meaning of the text lies behind the text. Textual methods are likened to ‘portrait’ in which the meaning of the text lies in the text itself as it is considered as finished product. Contextual method are similar to ‘mirror’ in which the meaning of the text arise in the act of reading by the reader.

All these approaches have their own merits and demerits. Scripture is rich in diversity of the material. To address this diversity we need to critically use the approach to bring out the meaning of the text. So, it is a task of an exegete to constantly engage in evaluating the approaches in order to apply them for an effective use.