According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power
is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. - anon

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Bible as a "Memory-Narrative" or "Mnemo-Narrative"




[Wikipedia] Hermeneutics /hɜrməˈnjtɪks/ is the theory of text interpretation, especially the interpretation of biblical texts, wisdom literature, and philosophical texts.[1][2]
 
The terms hermeneutics and exegesis are sometimes used interchangeably. Hermeneutics is a wider discipline that includes written, verbal, and nonverbal communication. Exegesis focuses primarily upon texts.
 
Hermeneutic as a singular noun refers to a single particular method or strand of interpretation. (See double hermeneutic.)
 
Modern hermeneutics includes both verbal and nonverbal communication as well as semiotics, presuppositions, and preunderstandings.[3]
 
Hermeneutic consistency refers to the analysis of texts to achieve a coherent explanation of them.
 
Philosophical hermeneutics refers primarily to the theory of knowledge initiated by Martin Heidegger and developed by Hans-Georg Gadamer in his work Truth and Method. It sometimes refers to the theories of Paul Ricoeur.[4]
 
 
Introduction
 
The inclusion of biblical stories in the bible used to be thought of as Israel's "oral history." Or, as the disciples of Jesus' "remembered history" with Him. Now, the reconstruction of the Old and New Testaments are being thought of as a "Memory-Narrative" (or Mnemo-Narrative like the cute, orange, Disney fish by the same name). In past articles (see the sidebar under Bible - Development and Canon) we have talked about the construction of the OT through the centuries (and millennia) of Israel's long, long history; and here is yet another good reminder that the church's "literalistic" reading of the Bible may not be the most appropriate way to read its ancient narratives and histories. Why? By way of a simple example, think of how hard it would be to reconstruct what happened in your church fellowship group from a year ago without revising it according to those who are listening to you (what you think they may be interested in hearing), or the topics you may wish to emphasize (and think may be worth remembering to your listeners). The upshot? Remembering a story isn't as "objective" a process as you may think. And repeating that story might not have the same affect upon a different group of listeners, like say, a humorous story, that works for one set of friends but doesn't quite work in the same way for another set of friends, falling flat when told.

The reason for this is because we, the storyteller, can get in the way of a good story. Any Sunday School teacher knows this: should they recite a bible lesson factually? Or colorfully? Or even as a funny homily from a similar life experience? My first pastor, John White, was very good at embellishing his youth raised in the corn fields of Iowa and teaching some very fine lessons from the bible (it also would hold our attention because many were humorous). Mostly, to my way of thinking, God thought that allowing us to use our colorful retelling about Him and His works amongst the nations would be a more useful pedagogic tool than a straight, boring, recitation of dry, factual history (sic, what high school history teacher can you remember? My guess is "not many!"). Left with the choice of His Holy Spirit dictating event-after-event ad naseum, or with the retelling of those events from a human author's perspective (as inspired by the Holy Spirit), God chose the latter (and really, let's be honest, could He chose any other process than ourselves? Not really).

As a result of this process of "remembering of the biblical event" through subjective, personal narration, we get into the academic disciplines of historic reconstruction known as "historical criticism" and "redactionary criticism". The former takes a hard comparative look at world history as we think we know it today from archaeological finds, while the latter analyzes how an author places his - or her's - outlook upon the world within their remembered experience, or, the experience of another.... Speaking of which, how many times have you "remembered" someone else's experience and told it back to that same person who had experienced it first-hand and found out that that wasn't how they remembered it? Perhaps you - or they - making little embellishments or wholesale storyline changes on the second and third times around?

So, you can see the depth of the problem here when it comes to interpreting God's Word.... especially as inerrant history rather than as remembered narrational (not national, but narrational) history that is historical but told from a personal viewpoint. Or remember from a collective viewpoint (by Israel, by her priests, her tribes, her people, etc). But, you say, God's Word is without error! That's true insofar as we interpret it correctly allowing for narrational oversight, undersight, cultural contextualization, ancient historical and educational knowledge (Iron Age, late Empire), etc and etc. But the biblical reader would do much better in asking "why God said this," or "why God was remembered in that fashion" than to get into the mindset of flatly stating "God's Word is without error." This would be to confuse its inspired spiritual authority in our lives pertaining to all things salvific and redemptive. And trying to equate its historical recount as errorless. The former understands that within 1500 years of historical commentary development there may be room for interpretive freedom. When we do my argument would be that we gain a much more interesting, and more complex Bible, in the process. One that isn't so locked down by dogmatic or religious statements. One that can (and well) allow for movement within our own cultures and lives about how we think about God and His revelation to us as given through human agency. Especially as our cultures today have become more dynamically complex than they were in Moses' day, or in the disciple's day, given the massive populations living today as versus the much smaller human populations living back 2000 - 4000 years ago.

Moving forward... a third category (and there are many more as I will shortly suggest) would be "literary criticism" that looks at the speech and language patterns found within a text; the kinds of literary themes present; and even the ambiguity of language itself in delving into topics we seek to dogmatize  rather than leave open lest we unduly restrict God's Word. Much can be said about this but I will leave it open for now as simply another observation.

Another redactive category is that of looking at the Scriptures existentially through ourselves as a necessaryinterpreters of God's profound Word. Or, viewing it through our modern day cultures which may be more pluralistic, multi-ethnic, educated, and certainly quite unlike the socio-cultural contexts of the ancient societies found in the Bible. Or even, by our "era-specific contexts which means how the church in the Medieval, or Enlightenment, eras may have looked at various biblical texts differently than how we do now as Modern, or Postmodern, people of the 21st Century. Thus, individual and societal views do affect how we read the Bible and its meaning of Jesus and the gospel in our lives.
 
Consequently, interpreting the Word of God as a living document (rather than as a static, dead artifact) is not necessarily a simple a process, as many in-the-pews and pulpits today have made it out to be when using the approach of reading the "plain meaning of the word" within the Bible's historical pages. A literalistic, wooden reading of the Bible simply becomes unhelpful as we discover question-after-question that must lie unanswered by this method. An approach that can make God even more distant from ourselves when approached in this haphazard way. Mostly, our street-level, uninformed, pedestrian-way-of-thinking is unhelpful when interpreting the Bible as an ancient document that is believed to be relevant for mankind today. As such, we would do well to listen to the experts rather than using ourselves as reliable guides.

Too, we would do well to remember that Jesus is the Bible's center. Should our Lord and Savior become lost within the Bible's pages than we should consider some other process or interpretation that would see Jesus-theology as the focus of its history.... This would be known as a Christo-centric hermeneutic (or method of interpretation). If not, the Bible becomes a cold, impersonable, history book rather than as a living document for our spiritual lives (kinda like American history when remembered apart from its personal stories). The Bible is God's living word into our lives today. As Paul once said to Timothy, we must enter in carefully to the study of the Word lest we be found fools and false prophets, alarmists and unworthy shepherds. And this is good advice both for the Christian as well as for the non-Christian analyst who would tell us of the Jesus of our faith. I don't expect the non-Christian to be able to tell me of Jesus as my Savior.... Perhaps for that person Jesus may be seen as a political zealot, or as a Jewish insurrectionist, but to understand the God of the universe as become incarnate as my Savior and Lord, will be out of their reach. Which doesn't mean that they don't know what their talking about historically, but that its spiritual impact is beyond them. As believers we listen, we discern, we think, we ask questions at all times. Both to those outside the house of God as well as to those within the house of God. We are at all times culpable (accountable, but flawed) for our interpretation of God and life.

At the last, the Bible for the Christian must be as theological as it is historical, as personal as it is reflective. But it must be historical if it is to be theological. That is, the Jesus of history must also be the Jesus of my Christian faith. The trick is to know what kind of Jesus and Bible we as Christians read. Thus my plea today to divide God's Word carefully using all the resources at hand, and not just our favorite dogmas that reinforce our views (say a preferred church view, for example). For me, literalism doesn't work. It misleads. It misinforms. It doesn't quite fill out the complexity of God's story blending with His creation and with humanity's movement and change.

Hence, the external factors cited above are just some of the observed influences that help open-up and recreate a storyteller's story. By transference, by the time Israel began codifying its Hebraic canon (or Old Testament) in the Second Temple period (600-500 BC) many of its historical events, social movements, and personal experiences of God had already occurred as complete. By the time of its codification Israel had suffered exile into Babylonian lands and there God used this time of "wilderness experience" to teach His people again about Himself (thus the stories of the Exodus, and cycles of judgment in Judges and the prophetic books). These stories held RELEVANCE to Israel's shattered faith as it began to purposefully reconstruct what was left of her belief in God and disbelief in themselves as final anchors in the world of men. At the last, through Daniel and Nehemiah, God restored His people to the land of Canaan, but as a broken people broken into a thousand different pieces, belief groups, and religious viewpoints about God as found in her Intertestamental period between Malachi and Matthew (400BC - 6 BC).

Each of Israel's collective histories paid homage to her belief that God had not abandoned them. That He would lead them to a more sure salvation than by the works of her own hands. To a Messiah that would come, filled with the Spirit of God, declaring by word, deed, and very life, God's love and mercy, justice and wisdom, forgiveness and hope. Each of these collective stories having been preserved by the priests of the restored Second Temple wishing to tell about their God who redeemed them. Their recommitment to this God of their faith. And Israel's place in the world as herald-and-banner to the Messiah to come. As they reconstructed the Old Testament Scriptures they were reconstructing their spiritual beliefs and assurances. Which was not an easy task considering that the worship of God and His Word was not written down in whole, but in part (at best it resided in incomplete fragments and disseparate scrolls). Or dependent upon faded oral stories from long, long ago. Whose temple scrolls had been lost, or ill-preserved, or had undergone desperate times of regional/national upheaval in Israel's life. Times like being forgotten for decades - neither rehearsed nor practiced. Disobeyed. Lost by war, by pride, by Baal worship. And by dominating selective religious interests (sic, Aaron's desire to make an image of God; Joshua and Judges cycles of rebellion and doubt; Samuel's laxity as a great high priest before God; Northern Israel's separation from the Kingdom of Judah, etc).

This was Israel's history. A history filled with societal turmoil amid its spiritual development, and redemptive evolution, from Abraham to Jesus through 1500 years of historical formation. As an example, try retelling America's story of colonialization to its citizens living within the period of the Revolutionary War 350 years ago.... Our modern stories of America's birth will probably sound very unlike how those living in the 18th Century would have retold America's early history. What worked for those early American societies does not have the same impact upon us here today. Even so, Israel's view of itself had changed over the long years of its societal birth and formation. Let us, as readers of God's Word, become then more careful discerners to the Word of God, and not be so easily swayed by pulpit or press just what is, or what is not, God's Word.... My guess is that it is a lot more complex and forgiving than we would like to make it out to be by our pet theories or interpretations. My guess is that God is amazing even as His re-creation in our lives can be too. If anything, Israel's history is one of recreation at the hands of an amazing God. One they misunderstood and didn't count on. Of a God who lifted them up to praise His name even as King David had raised his banners to his God in Psalms, and hymns, and on musical instruments. This is the kind of redeemer God who is beyond our imagination. Who forgives our sin. Our shortcomings. Our disbelief. Who tells us that He loves us as no other. Who will give us life by His life in Jesus. And spiritual assurance. And presence when we had none but ourselves, lost and alone in our own wilderness of sin and turmoil. This is the kind of God that the Scriptures do testify of. To this we may only proclaim Amen, and Amen. Thus is Israel's testament to her own remembered history even as we do today with ours.
 
R.E. Slater
August 2, 2013
 
* * * * * * * * * *
 
 
 
Archaeology and the Exodus Story as a “Mnemo-Narrative”
(and no cracks about “finding mnemo” please)
 
by Peter Enns
July 30, 2013
 
Below is a half-hour video passed on to me a while back by an archaeologist friend of mine. It is of a lecture given by Israeli archaeologist Aren Maeir of Bar Ilan University.
 
The lecture is entitled, “Can Archaeological Correlates for the Mnemo-Narrative of Exodus be Found?” I think I embed the video properly, but if not, you can click the link above.
 

 
I find this sort of thing fascinating. Maeir’s main point is that the exodus story in the Bible is the end product of  narratives (plural) that came down to the biblical writer from different times and which he compiled into a narrative (singular). He compares the exodus story to an archaeological tell–dig down and you go further back in time to earlier stages of the story.
 
Part of Maeir’s lecture focuses on what he feels are misuses of archaeology by those who seek to find correlation between archaeological findings and the biblical narrative. One of the problems with that approach is that the “biblical narrative,” though still capable of depicting history, is nevertheless a memory–a “mnemo-narrative.”
 
Following the work of such scholars as Jan Assmann, Maeir points out that memories are not simply reports of events but reconstructions of events.
 
Common experience will bear this out when we think of how we recall the past as individuals. We, often unwittingly, shape our retelling of the past to reflect how we see the past and ourselves in general. We collapse together discreet events, we invent dialogue, etc., not to deceive but to in an effort to bring the past into our current experience of ourselves.
 
Understanding the biblical story of the exodus as a mnemo-narrative, Maeir argues, helps explain why there is no archaeological support for it–even though an event of this magnitude could not stay in hiding for long.
 
Based on how these things are normally handled in the ancient world, one would expect Egyptian sources not to ignore the departure of about 2,000,000 slaves and the crippling of the Egyptian power base (as in the plagues). They would need to explain it, i.e., they would have to spin it, as, say, an indication that their gods were angry with them for some failure. That is a common way that ancient cultures “explained” military defeat. The worse the defeat, the better an explanation was needed.
 
Maeir reasons that archaeology and the biblical narrative do not match up not so much because nothing happened, but because of the nature of the biblical narrative as a mnemo-narrative. The exodus story that we have is the result of a process of “remembering” the past through ongoing reception and appropriation over time. Those memories were–as are all memories–transformed and shaped by those very communities that embrace and transmit them.
 
Seeking correspondence between archaeology and the biblical narrative of the exodus is, therefore, misguided, for it treats the biblical narrative is a single-layered report handed down essentially unchanged from early on and that can be placed side-by-side with potential archaeological remains.
 
Put another way, the exodus story we have in the Bible, whatever its historical foundation might be, is a story that is not open to archaeological verification because the story reflects more how later Israelite communities came to understand the past in view of their present purposes for remembering.
On one level, there is nothing tremendously new here, though Maeir helpfully brings the study of memory to bear on the perennial issue of archaeology and the Bible.
 
Any thoughts on this, especially from those who might be abreast of biblical archaeology and the process of memory?
 
 
 
For Further Reading:
 
Reviews of Konrad Schmid's "A Literary History of the Old Testament" - How the OT was Compiled
 
 
 
 

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