Monday, 12 November 2007
My Response to Kugel's Critique
Yesterday I posted on Kugel's critique of confessional Christian approaches to the Bible. It would appear that Christians respond to the challenge of historical criticism by qualifying its apparently destructive findings with a "yes, BUT ... ", followed by arguments that the Bible really is special after all. Apparently, it seems that in order for the Bible to be preserved as Sacred Scripture, some kind of special property has to be attached to the Bible itself, such that it really is unique in the Ancient Near East, or that it really is great literature.
Whether Christians really do respond in this way or not, I think it misses the point. As always (well, for now at least) ,I use B.S. Childs to orient myself on these issues.
For Childs, the Bible has a special function within the church, namely the 'canonical' one of offering "a critical theological norm for the community of faith on how the tradition functions authoritatively for future generations of the faithful". As "critical theological norm", it would seem to be rather irrelevant whether the Bible is literarily and theologically distinctive from other ancient sources. Even the vague concept of 'superiority' is secondary to this critical function of the Bible. So what if it's literature is poor or sophisticated, profound or shallow, unique or typical? It is the confession of the church that the God of the universe has come to us in Jesus, and that the prophetic witness to this Jesus is the matrix in which he is understood. Aesthetic or moral judgements come second to submitting to whatever form this textual witness to our Saviour makes. What ever makes the Bible 'great' is its ultimate subject matter, not its surface presentation.
Having said that, on a personal note, I have recently been experiencing the Old Testament narratives in a rather profound way (for me at least). It comes in phases; sometimes the Bible really is incomprehensible to me. At other times, I feel that I've been situated in such a way that the narrative world of the text and my own confused horizon seem to fuse, such that I find my own situation inexplicably illuminated by that which I read. I'm not just saying this because that's what some confessional theologians say happens, I really do experience this.
Who knows, maybe I just haven't read enough. Maybe, once I start submerging myself in the world of ancient pagan literature, I'll start having the same illuminating and convicting experience with Marduk as I currently have with the Lord. Who knows. Maybe.
Ancient Hebrew Poetry makes other criticims of Kugel and provides a directory of current blog-debate on the man.