April DeConick posted yesterday her “Ten Commandments” of historico-critical interpretation. Part of her post was meant to address the incompatibility of historico-critical methodology and what she calls “confessional” scholarship (I use “devotional” or “faith-based”). I thought the list made a lot of sense, although I find myself agreeing with James McGrath regarding reporting history. I think some texts prioritize history, even if the ideology is a very close second. (I also believe ideology is often prioritized over theology, but I’m not here to engage this argument.)
Today April responds to what I conclude must be some misrepresentations of her point:
What did I say yesterday? I said that as a historian I find the combination of historical-criticism, literary criticism and social-scientific approach to be the most advantageous. I said that I felt that nothing can replace historical-criticism and if we are going to recover history this is not going to be done via literary criticism alone.
What I find particularly important is what follows:
We must continue to train our students rigorously in historical-criticism even though post-modern interpretation is sweeping the academy. . . . There is no neutral text, and there is no neutral interpretation as I have said countless times (so often in fact that I am getting tired of needing to continue to write it, but I guess I do because other bloggers keep criticizing me for missing this very point?!). However, this does NOT make all interpretations equally valuable for the historical endeavor. This is where I draw the line on theological interpretation and confessional perspectives. They are fine for certain discussions, as long as they are not being paraded out as historical or confused with the historical.
I think these are important points. I believe historical criticism is a foundational interpretive methodology, and it should be rigorously emphasized in the classroom. The better grasp the student has of the principles April outlined yesterday (i.e., no neutral text; always context before, during, and after text; author has viewpoint and is engaging opposing viewpoint), the more critically they will be able to approach a given text and the more integrated their work will be into the goals of the acadamy.
So the biggest “new” piece to the historical-critical puzzle which I included yesterday in my ten principles, is that the historical-critical method I use has been opened up to be aware of the marginalized histories, that – as my mom used to say – there are always two-sides to a story. As a historical-critic, I recognized a long time ago that the dominant story we are told in most of our texts is not the way things were (or for that matter ‘are’).
This is the call of our generation – to understand our past more fully and appreciate the variety and complexity of it. We need to give proper credit to the marginalized histories for their own sake, but also with the recognition that the dominant stories would not be what they are if those it marginalized had not lived.
This is an often overlooked aspect of biblical scholarship. The texts that come to us through the accident of preservation are the products, for the most part, of the winners of history. They are the work of the aristocracies, the royalty, and the dominant worldviews. Often veiled from our view are the less popular ideologies (unless they come into direct conflict with the popular ones), the ethnic minorities, the economically disadvantaged, the women, and the other historical also-rans. These groups often form the contextual base of whatever culture is under investigation. The future of biblical scholarship will depend to a large degree, I believe, on the integration of these groups into the larger discussion.