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The Bible is alien to the modern and postmodern era

31 March 2015 / 10:03:09  GRReporter
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The exodus experience expressed in the Hebrew Bible dominates Israel’s self-understanding and its laws. We do find in the Old Testament the first texts in the history of our world which begin to relativize slavery and question its ethics. Again, the prophet Amos is one who reacts to the commercialization of humans. So anti-slavery action is the most natural outcome or response to the biblical text. Jesus identifies himself with the anti-bondage Yahweh and adopts the role of setting the captives free, not through military power or violence but through the establishment of a covenant community of radical love, and he reveals his programme in his synagogue reading: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are downtrodden, To proclaim the favourable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)

So yes, both the Old and the New Testament are behind my involvement with Anti-trafficking work. My inspiration comes from these texts, not just from human empathy. But it is more than mere inspiration. It is a conscious decision for participation in this way of being. 

How would you define the relation religiosity-scholarship?

Contrary to what many people usually think, the Bible is not a book that fell from heaven, it’s not a list of instructions dictated to a human prophet by God while the former was in a passive ecstatic state. The Bible is a grand narrative that is made up of the writings of many authors from different times and in different genres. Each writer brings in his own experiences of God, his own witness, his own wisdom, his own literary skill and his own emphases. This shows that the historical individuality of the agents is valued, respected and, in fact, necessary.

Since the Bible is written in history, in specific times, in specific geographical locations and in a specific language then any access to it would require the effort of approaching, with scientific methods, the message of this ancient text. Submitting to the text does not mean following blindly what the words on the page say. It means allowing it to speak in its own terms. It means stepping into another culture in order to hear it instead of imposing the ideas of our culture and dominating it. This is where language study comes in, including the study of the historical sociopolitical background of the scriptures. A Greek person may pick up the New Testament, for example, or the Septuagint, and assume that he knows what it is talking about only because he can recognize the words on the page. This is an illusion because words acquire the meaning of the context they are used in. One would need certain tools such as lexicons and concordances, grammar and syntax books in order to interpret it. 

However, while we can study the scriptures with our modern scientific methods we will hit a wall when confronted with its claims of revelation, of miracle, of a life beyond the visible one. What do we do with that? This is where presuppositions come in. The modernist is bound by his own presuppositions which dictate that what is true is only that which I can verify scientifically. So, if the resurrection, say, is scientifically impossible then it is not true, it cannot happen. The modernist does not monopolize rationality and the one who believes in the resurrection is not necessarily an irrational being without any credibility. These are two different kinds of rationality. The one thinks that resurrections are impossible therefore Jesus was not raised from the dead, and the other says that because Jesus rose from the dead resurrection is possible. What is different is the starting point of their thinking. It’s the rationality of Athens and the rationality of Jerusalem (Tertullian).

I think that while science is hugely important for the study of anything, the one practicing it must also be aware that even science cannot be impartial. It has its own presuppositions and starting points. This is a very valuable lesson postmodernity contributed to us. It safeguards us from silencing the voices we cannot understand.

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