Thursday, September 18, 2003


One of the mixed blessings of writing about religion on the web is the correspondence that comes your way. Any letter with the word 'prophecy' in the header is always a good warning in itself, since it invariably announces the writer's conviction that they hold some special key to unlock the 'meaning of the Bible' and (inevitably) the end of the age. It is such patchworks of de-historicized texts and half-baked, retrojective regarblings of current events which have, for many thoughtful people, confirmed the suspicion that Christian and Jewish scriptures are little more than primitive playgounds for the deranged religious imagination.

Those who deploy historic texts in this way are (without intending it) showing the deepest possible disrespect for them. Understandably, most serious biblical scholars just ignore this stuff -- and meretricious nonsense such as 'The Bible Code'. Of the scholarly challenging of misunderstanding there is no end: and since the 'answers' that the Bible pundits seek are to do with human certainty (not the contingency in which open faith deals), the grounds for conversation seem pretty sparse. The trouble is that this leaves a huge gap between those who learn and those who leap.

One of the few scholars who seeks to fill this particular void is Craig C. Hill, Professor of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. His book 'In God's Time' (and the website created to promote it) is a model of patient wisdom. Likewise, but at a more rarified level, Peter Ochs of the University of Virginia demonstrates what is at stake in scriptural reasoning, even if he is, perhaps, a little too dismissive of historical-critical methodology. The Society for SR, of which he is a leading light, has a stimulating electronic journal. Another treasure is Stephen Fowl's book, 'Engaging Scripture: A Model for Theological Interpretation.' Different perspectives are offered by 'The Postmodern Bible', ed. George Aichele et al., (Yale University, 1995) and 'Voices From The Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the third world', ed. R. S. Sugirtharajah (SPCK, 1991).

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