And the debate continues

Over at the Dunedin School, Deane Galbraith responded to my previous post with:

What they used to call “literary criticism” in older usage was a virtual synonym for historical criticism (or literary-historical criticism). That’s because literary critics, a century or so ago, used to be mainly into philological and source criticism (in Homeric studies, etc). But literary criticism has branched out since then. This results in the strange result in biblical studies that the modern approaches have now taken the term “literary criticism”, in distinction from anything to do with sources, by adopting the modern meaning in opposition to the older meaning. This is yet another complication. It’s messy, and there isn’t any simple answer. I agree that defining your precise approach is the way to go. But a label like “rational criticism” sounds like some Kantian Enlightenment project.

So, in response:

Actually, Deane, your last post has hit the nail pretty much on the head, without a thumb too close by. They did call it ‘literary criticism’, since they borrowed the assumptions from other literary critics outside biblical criticism. The problem from there is twofold: first, the approach became ossified within biblical studies, so much so that when I speak with historians or literary critics today, they find it a strange beast, locked into outmoded assumptions concerning both history and literature. For all their great work, varied scholars like Niels Peter Lemche, John van Seters and John Barr are all beholden to this warped tradition. Second, somewhere along the road it was forgotten that the approach arose through a process of borrowing. So when other biblical critics continued – or perhaps began anew – to find out what literary and historical critics were doing in other disciplines, they were and are accused of applying anachronistic methods, of abandoning proper biblical criticism and so on.


7 thoughts on “And the debate continues

  1. Now you’ve got me agreeing completely. What is good about (what I’m calling) “historical criticism” (for want of a better description) is its critical spirit, and this critical spirit is lost whenever it gets locked down into a particular form. This is obviously so when its notions of “the editor” disappeared in classical studies in the first half of the twentieth century (as Van Seters wrote a book about).

    Actually, I’ve come up with “critical reading”.

    1. James (brother of John?) Barr argued for a similar thing, suggesting that operative word is ‘critical’, not ‘historical’. The catch is that the so-called ‘postmodernists’ have been exercising this critical spirit of late far more than historical critics, or at least they do until that perspective becomes ossified. However, the great bogey of critical interpretation is the allegory that preceded it by a millennium or so. However, rather than valorising one or another approach, I prefer to ask another question: what are the socio-economic conditions under which various approaches emerge and become dominant?

      1. Yes again – the most critical and interesting ideas are in feminist, postcolonial, queer, Marxian, reader response approaches.

        I don’t think it is realistic to reduce analysis to the socio-economic. Ideas play a material role in determining the nature of society, not just economics – despite any ossified “critical theory” to the contrary.

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