I’ve been catching up on episodes of the NT Pod over the past week or so. I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed Mark’s series on the Synoptic Problem, especially the more complete picture provided through the extended episodes. I’ve come to realize that I’m a Hebrew Bible person primarily because it’s the fountainhead for all later biblical interpretation, and what really interests me is the history of interpretation. To that end, I’m trying to be a well-rounded generalist in Second Temple Judaism, New Testament, and classical Judaism.
One thing struck me out of Mark’s discussion of the Synoptic Problem that I think is relevant for many many many issues in biblical studies. He talked about how most NT introductions never really present the student with the problem when they discuss the Synoptic Problem. They start with one of the solutions and filter all the pertinent data through the solution. (By the by, Mark, I’m not a NT expert but you’ve convinced me in your case against Q anyway.)
Filtering the data seems to be a common way for unexamined consensus positions to get passed on intact to the next generation of scholars. We all take away a certain perspective on the biblical data from our teachers. That perspective often works like a filter preventing us from seeing the data in a fresh way. I try to be as aware as possible of my own filters, or rather, I try to be aware of when a particular perspective or presupposition is coloring how I interpret the data. It’s hard to do, but it might be a good exercise for us all to think through how we might be filtering the data when we read the Bible or study any particular problem in biblical studies.
I can think of two perspectives that I’ve gained from my teachers that color how I approach my scholarship. First, in Qumran studies, I first learned about the Dead Sea Scrolls from a non-consensus scholar, so it would probably take nothing short of an angel from heaven revealing to me that Essenes did, in fact, live at Qumran and compose the sectarian scrolls there for me to accept the validity of that consensus. Second, in biblical studies, I learned to keep theological conclusions about the truth claims of the text from overrunning what the text itself actually says. That is, I learned to identify it when I or any other interpreter has come to the text peering through a particular theological lens. The result is that I am not a fan of unexamined consensus positions, and I draw a hard line between apologetics and critical scholarship.
Well, have you thought about it? What are your filters that affect how you read the Bible? Do you think of them as strengths or weaknesses?