Wednesday, 14 November 2007

J. Kugel and the 'groaning' of New York

James Kugels approach to biblical studies and faith has also attracted the attention of the New York Times. You can read their review of his book, How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture Then and Now, here. What is particularly interesting are the concluding three paragraphs:

"How to Read the Bible runs through the entire Hebrew Scriptures,matching modern scholarship and ancient interpretation. The journey is fascinating enough to render frustrating the author's conclusion. Although he admired both approaches, Professor Kugel writes, they are "quite irreconcilable."

Is this conclusion as unavoidable as he makes it sound? Modern minds still seek deeper meanings and still want relevant instructions for living. As for the ancient worry about seamlessness, modern minds,sensitized to multiple perspectives, often find more coherence in contrasting accounts than perfectly harmonized ones.

The ancient interpreters' boldness in rewriting was motivated and justified, Professor Kugel writes, by a fresh apprehension of God and the corresponding need to flesh out the command, found in the Book of Deuteronomy and elsewhere, "to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. Is it so impossible that modern scholarship, too, could be put to that service?"

It would seem that Kugel's stark compartmentalization of interpretation into 'ancient' and 'modern' has left the Bible locked into a reality unable to touch that of the modern world. I wonder whether other approaches, such as Childs and Seitz's 'canonical approach', are able to still the frustration that this modern journalist is expressing? Isn't answering this longing part of what the Bible is about in the first place?

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