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New meanings for ancient texts : recent approaches to biblical criticisms and their applications

Stanley E. More Info Add To Wishlist. Larry Stone. Old Testament scholar Ernest Nicholson says that by the end of the s and into the s, "one major study after another, like a series of hammer blows, Studies of the literary structure of the Pentateuch have shown J and P used the same structure, and that motifs and themes cross the boundaries of the various sources, which undermines arguments for separate origins.

However, while current debate has modified Wellhausen's conclusions, Nicholson says "for all that it needs revision and development in detail, [the work of Wellhausen] remains the securest basis for understanding the Pentateuch. In New Testament studies, source criticism has taken a slightly different approach from Old Testament studies by focusing on identifying the common sources of multiple texts.

This has revealed the Gospels are both products of sources and sources themselves. This is called the synoptic problem , and explaining it is the single greatest dilemma of New Testament source criticism. However, two theories have become predominant: the two-source hypothesis and the four-source hypothesis. Mark is the shortest of the four gospels with only verses, but six hundred of those verses are in Matthew and of them are in Luke. Some of these verses are copied verbatim. Most scholars agree that this indicates Mark was a source for Matthew and Luke.

There is also some verbatim agreement between Matthew and Luke of verses not found in Mark. In , the religious philosopher Christian Hermann Weisse developed a theory about this. He postulated a hypothetical collection of Jesus' sayings from an additional source called Q, taken from Quelle , which is German for "source". Comparing what is common to Matthew and Luke, yet absent in Mark, the critical scholar Heinrich Julius Holtzmann demonstrated in the probable existence of Q well enough for it to be accepted as a likely second source, along with Mark, for Matthew and Luke.

This allowed the two-source hypothesis to emerge as the best supported of the various synoptic solutions. This indicates additional separate sources for Matthew and for Luke. Biblical scholar B. Streeter used this insight to refine and expand the two-source theory into a four-source theory in While most scholars agree that the two-source theory offers the best explanation for the Synoptic problem, it has not gone without dispute.

The Synoptic Seminar disbanded in , reporting that its members "could not agree on a single thing", leading some to claim the problem is unsolvable. There are complex and important difficulties that create challenges to every theory. Form criticism began in the early twentieth century when theologian Karl Ludwig Schmidt observed that Mark's Gospel is composed of short units. Schmidt asserted these small units were remnants and evidence of the oral tradition that preceded the writing of the gospels. Form criticism then theorizes concerning the individual pericope's Sitz im Leben "setting in life" or "place in life".

Based on their understanding of folklore , form critics believed the early Christian communities formed the sayings and teachings of Jesus according to their needs their "situation in life" , and that each form could be identified by the situation in which it had been created. Form criticism, represented by Rudof Bultmann, its most influential proponent, was the dominant method in the field of biblical criticism for nearly 80 years.

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However, Old Testament scholar Rolf Knierim says contemporary scholars have produced an "explosion of studies" on structure, genre, text-type, setting and language that challenge several of its aspects and assumptions. The general critique of form criticism came from various sources, putting several areas in particular under scrutiny. The analogy between the development of the gospel pericopae and folklore needed reconsideration because of developments in folklore studies; it was less easy to assume the steady growth of an oral tradition in stages In the early to mid twentieth century, Bultmann and other form critics said they had found oral "laws of development" within the New Testament.

Sanders argued against the existence of such laws. Oral tradition is more complex and multidirectional in its development. Long sums up the contemporary view by observing that, since oral tradition does not follow the same developmental pattern as written texts, laws of oral development cannot be arrived at by studying written texts. Additional challenges of form criticism have also been raised. For example, biblical studies scholar Werner H. Kelber says form criticism throughout the mid-twentieth century was so focused toward finding each pericope's original form, that it distracted from any serious consideration of memory as a dynamic force in the construction of the gospels or the early church community tradition.

Form criticism assumed the early Church was heavily influenced by that culture.

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Sanders, as well as Gerd Theissen, sparked new rounds of studies that included anthropological and sociological perspectives, reestablishing Judaism as the predominant influence on Jesus, Paul and the New Testament. New Testament scholar N. Wright says, "The earliest traditions of Jesus reflected in the Gospels are written from the perspective of Second Temple Judaism [and] must be interpreted from the standpoint of Jewish eschatology and apocalypticism.

Bultmann has been personally criticized for being overly focused on Heidegger's philosophy in his philosophical foundation, and for working with a priori notions concerning "folklore, the distinction between Palestinian and Hellenistic communities, the length of the oral period, and more, that were not derived from study but were instead constructed according to a preconceived pattern". Campbell says:. Form criticism had a meteoric rise in the early part of the twentieth century and fell from favor toward its end.

For some, the future of form criticism is not an issue: it has none. But if form criticism embodies an essential insight, it will continue. Two elements embody this insight and give it its value: concern for the nature of the text and for its shape and structure If the encrustations can be scraped away, the "good stuff" may still be there. Redaction is the process of editing multiple sources, often with a similar theme, into a single document. Redaction critics focus on discovering how the literary units were originally edited—"redacted"—into their current forms.

Biblical criticism

Redaction criticism developed after World War II in Germany and in the s in England and North America, and can be seen as a correlative to form criticism. Where form criticism fractures the biblical elements into smaller and smaller individual pieces, redaction criticism attempts to interpret the whole literary unit. Redaction criticism deals more positively with the Gospel writers restoring an understanding of them as theologians of the early church.

Since redaction criticism was developed from form criticism, it shares many of its weaknesses. For example, it assumes an extreme skepticism toward the historicity of Jesus and the gospels just as form criticism does. Redaction criticism seeks the historical community of the final redactors of the gospels, though there is often no textual clue, and its method in finding the final editor's theology is flawed.

Further, it is not at all clear whether the difference was made by the evangelist, who could have used the already—changed—story when writing a gospel. One of the weaknesses of redaction criticism in its New Testament application is that it assumes Markan priority.

Redaction criticism can only function when sources are already known, and since redaction criticism of the Synoptics has been based on the Markan priority of two-source theory, if the priority of Matthew is ever established, redaction criticism would have to begin all over again. Literary criticism shifted scholarly attention from historical and pre-compositional matters to the text itself, becoming the dominant form of biblical criticism in a relatively short period of about thirty years.

New Testament scholar Paul R. House says the discipline of linguistics, new views of historiography, and the decline of older methods of criticism opened the door for literary criticism. It became influential in moving biblical criticism from a historical to a literary focus. By , the two methodologies being used in literary criticism were rhetorical analysis and structuralism.

Rhetorical analysis divides a passage into units, observes how a single unit shifts or breaks, taking special note of poetic devices, meter, parallelism, word play and so on. It then charts the writer's thought progression from one unit to the next, and finally, assembles the data in an attempt to explain the author's intentions behind the piece. The s saw the rise of formalism , which focuses on plot, structure, character and themes. Reader-response criticism , which focuses on the reader rather than the author, was put forward by the Old Testament scholar David M.

Gunn in New Testament scholar Donald Guthrie highlights a flaw in the literary critical approach to the Gospels. The genre of the Gospels has not been fully determined. No conclusive evidence has yet been produced to settle the question of genre, and without genre, no adequate parallels can be found, and without parallels "it must be considered to what extent the principles of literary criticism are applicable.

Canonical criticism has both theological and literary roots. Its origins are found in the Church's views of scripture as sacred as well as in the literary critics who began to influence biblical scholarship in the s and s. Canonical criticism responded to two things: 1 the sense that biblical criticism had obscured the meaning and authority of the canon of scripture; and 2 the fundamentalism in the Christian Church that had arisen in America in the s and s.

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Canonical criticism does not reject historical criticism and sociological analysis, but considers them secondary in importance. This begins from the position that scripture contains within it what is needed to understand it, rather than being understandable only as the product of a historically determined process. It uses the text itself, the needs of the communities addressed by those texts, and the interpretation likely to have been formed originally to meet those needs.

The canonical critic then relates this to the overall canon. Canonical criticism is associated with Brevard S. Childs — , though he declined to use the term. James Muilenburg — is often referred to as "the prophet of rhetorical criticism". The rhetorical scholar Sonja K.

Foss says there are ten methods of practicing rhetorical criticism, but each focuses on three dimensions of rhetoric: the authors, what they use to communicate, and what they are trying to communicate.


Biblical rhetorical criticism asks how hearing the texts impacted the audience. It attempts to discover and evaluate the rhetorical devices, language, and methods of communication used within the texts to accomplish the goals of those texts. Within narrative criticism, critics approach scripture as story. Narrative criticism began being used to study the New Testament in the s, [] : 6 and a decade later, study also included the Old Testament. However, the first time a published approach was labeled narrative criticism was in , in the article "Narrative Criticism and the Gospel of Mark," written by Bible scholar David Rhoads.

It is purely literary. Historical critics began to recognize the Bible was not being studied in the manner other ancient writings were studied, and they began asking if these texts should be understood on their own terms before being used as evidence of something else like history. Narrative critics choose to focus on the artistic weaving of the biblical texts into a sustained narrative picture.

The Quest for the historical Jesus, also known as life of Jesus research, is an area of biblical criticism that seeks to reconstruct the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth by critical historical methods. The quest was a product of the Enlightenment skepticism of the late eighteenth century and produced a stark division between history and theology. They saw the purpose of a historically true life of Jesus as a critical force that functioned theologically against the high Christology established by Roman Catholicism centuries before. After Albert Schweitzer's Von Reimarus zu Wrede was published as The Quest of the Historical Jesus in , its title provided the label for the field of study for the next eighty years.

However, Bible scholar Stanley Porter asserts that there has been one fluctuating, but still continuous, multifaceted quest for the historical Jesus from the beginning. Sanders explains that, because of the desire to know everything about Jesus, including his thoughts and motivations, and because there are such varied conclusions about him, it seems to many scholars that it is impossible to be certain about anything.

Yet according to Sanders, "we know a lot" about Jesus. Sanders' view characterizes most contemporary studies. At first, biblical historical criticism and its deductions and implications were so unpopular outside liberal Protestant scholarship it created a schism in Protestantism. William Robertson Smith — is an example of a nineteenth century evangelical who believed historical criticism was a legitimate outgrowth of the Protestant Reformation 's focus on the biblical text. He saw it as a "necessary tool to enable intelligent churchgoers" to understand the Bible, and was a pioneer in establishing the final form of the supplementary hypothesis of the documentary hypothesis.

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A similar view was later advocated by the Primitive Methodist biblical scholar A. Peake — Yamauchi , Paul R. House , and Daniel B. Wallace have continued the tradition of conservatives contributing to critical scholarship. Monseigneur Joseph G. Prior says, "Catholic studies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries avoided the use of critical methodology because of its rationalism [so there was] no significant Catholic involvement in biblical scholarship until the nineteenth century.

Two years later he funded a journal, spoke thereafter at various conferences, wrote Bible commentaries that incorporated textual critical work of his own, did pioneering work on biblical genres and forms, and laid the path to overcoming resistance to the historical-critical method among his fellow scholars. It declared that no exegete was allowed to interpret a text to contradict church doctrine. The Jesuit Augustin Bea — had played a vital part in its publication. Meier , Bernard Orchard , [] : 89 and Reginald C.

Hebrew Bible scholar Marvin A. Sweeney argues that some Christian theological assumptions within biblical criticism have reached anti-semitic conclusions. This has discouraged Jews from engaging in biblical criticism. Levenson described how some Jewish scholars, such as rabbinicist Solomon Schechter b. The growing anti-semitism in Germany of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the perception that higher criticism was an entirely Christian pursuit, and the sense many Bible critics were not impartial academics but were proponents of supersessionism , prompted Schechter to describe " Higher Criticism as Higher Anti-semitism ".

Schwartz states that these perceptions delayed Jewish scholars from entering the field of biblical criticism. The Holocaust led to Christian theologians rethinking ways to relate to Judaism, and the entry of Jewish scholars into academic departments from which they had formerly been excluded aided that process. The first historical-critical Jewish scholar of Pentateuchal studies was M.

Kalisch in the nineteenth century. Hoffman wrote an extensive, two-volume, philologically based critique of the Wellhausen theory , which supported Jewish orthodoxy. Bible professor Benjamin D. Sommer says it is "among the most precise and detailed commentaries on the legal texts [ Leviticus and Deuteronomy ] ever written.

Mordechai Breuer , who branches out beyond most Jewish exegesis and explores the implications of historical criticism for multiple subjects, is an example of a contemporary Jewish biblical critical scholar. Socio-scientific criticism is part of the wider trend in biblical criticism reflecting interdisciplinary methods and diversity. Using the perspectives, theories, models, and research of the social sciences to determine what social norms may have influenced the growth of biblical tradition, it is similar to historical biblical criticism in its goals and methods.

It has less in common with literary critical approaches.

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  • It analyzes the social and cultural dimensions of the text and its environmental context. In the s and s the term postmodern came into use to signify a rejection of modern conventions. Postmodernism has been associated with Karl Marx , Sigmund Freud , radical politics, and arguments against metaphysics and ideology.

    Adam says postmodernism is not so much a method as a stance. In textual criticism, postmodernists reject the idea of a sacred text, treating all manuscripts as equally valuable. Feminist criticism is an aspect of the feminist theology movement which began in the s and s in the context of Second Wave feminism in the United States. Post-critical biblical interpretation shares the postmodernist suspicion of non-neutrality of traditional approaches, but is not hostile toward theology. This produced doubts about the text's veracity. The theologian Hans Frei writes that what he refers to as the "realistic narratives" of literature, including the Bible, don't allow for such separation.

    Psychological biblical criticism applies psychology to biblical texts; it was not until the s that it began to have an influence among the new critical approaches. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article is about the academic treatment of the Bible as a historical document. For criticisms made against the Bible as a source of reliable information or ethical guidance, see Criticism of the Bible. Canons and books. Tanakh Torah Nevi'im Ketuvim. Christian biblical canons. Deuterocanon Antilegomena.

    Authorship and development. Authorship Dating Hebrew canon. Pauline epistles Petrine epistles. Translations and manuscripts. Biblical studies. Hermeneutics Pesher Midrash Pardes.

    New Meanings For Ancient Texts: Recent Approaches To Biblical Criticis –

    Allegorical interpretation Literalism. Gnostic Islamic Qur'anic. Inerrancy Infallibility. See also: Historical criticism. Topics include cultural criticism, disability studies, queer criticism, postmodernism, ecological criticism, new historicism, popular culture, postcolonial criticism, and psychological criticism.

    Each section includes a list of key terms and definitions and suggestions for further reading. Andrew Kille, Hugh S. Pyper, Linda S. Steven L. That is the main impetus behind the present volume, which is offered as a textbook for those who wish to go further than the approaches covered in To Each Its Own Meaning by exploring more recent or experimental ways of reading. Schearing Valarie H. Pyper 8 Psychological Biblical Criticism D. See All Customer Reviews.