More construction

A quick clarification of the end of the last post.

I suggested that ‘identification of the meanings of the Bible’ might itself be a case of different communities with different ‘interests’ picking out different ‘objects’. I did not mean, however, that every differing interpretative claim – I claim that ‘Son of God’ should be read against such-and-such a Hebrew background, you claim that it should be read against a Hellenistic background – was simply to be traced to differing community interests. Debate about differing interpretations would then always be disguised (ideological) debate about our differing communities (conflicting) interests – the Bible no more than a proxy battleground for our real animosities.

Rather, I was thinking the rather vaguer (though no more original) thought that there is no one obvious thing that ‘interpretation’ means. Different communities with different interests play different kinds of games that I, abstracting in my study late at night, might decide to call ‘interpretation of the Bible’ – but those games might be as different as the games played by different investigators in my little story. The ‘Hebrew’ versus ‘Hellenistic’ debate about ‘Son of God’ is a debate within one of those games – and it is no easy matter to say how it relates to the games played with similar texts by those embroiled in fourth century Christological debates.

I’m forcibly struck by the banality of this observation (and the realisation that the only reason for the previous post was that I liked my silly little story :-)) except for the niggling suspicion that it is a lesson I have not yet learnt. On the one hand, I find it frighteningly easy to proceed as if ‘interpretation’ were one thing – and there were only more and less successful attempts at it. On the other hand, I still manage to proceed as if hermeneutics – i.e., the discussion of what sort of thing interpretation is and how it works – is a nice abstract discipline, rather than one that must feed on historical and social-anthropological attention to the widely differing constructions of materials, nature, origin and end of interpretive activities in differing communities. (Oh, and I should of course never have adopted this deeply misleading ‘community’ terminology in the first place – as if you could define and count the somehow discrete groups involved in interpretative activities.)

Oh dear. I’m having one of those ‘turning to ashes’ evenings: ideas that seemed to have something in them before I tried writing them down seem dull and clumsy when I’ve actually typed them. I’m hovering between the delete key and the publish button…

One Thought on “More construction

  1. One of the beautiful things about the game of biblical hermeneutics is that the rules of the game themselves are at stake in the playing. We can have an argument about how to read which is itself framed in terms of a close reading of an authoritative text. The Gospels at once tell the story of Jesus and attempt to establish certain rules for/privilege certain traditions of retelling the story of Israel. At the same time, this exposes Christian heremeneutics to certain forms of critique arising from, say, the prophets or even the rabbis. The inevitable conflicts among and within communities are reflected within the canon itself. Rowan Williams says in On Christian Theology that “The meaning of one porition of scriptural text is constructed in opposition to another.”

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