Saturday, June 6, 2009

Quote of the Day: Ziony Zevit

I find Zevit's analogy here illustrative for much of what hinders our progress in biblical studies.
[We] are too comfortable with viewing biblical religion through prisms of living religious traditions that have interpreted these texts for us; traditions that we accept or reject, or to which we feign indifference, or to which we are indifferent. Having been informed by these traditions, however, we are influenced by them and somehow look back through them, as through a glass darkly, to seek ancient Israel. (Sometimes, without realizing, we confuse our reflection with what lies beyond the glass.) This is a handicap to be overcome.

[Emphasis added.]

Zevit, Ziony. 2003. The religions of ancient Israel: a synthesis of parallactic approaches
Continuum, p. xiii.


  1. 1) can it be overcome? I doubt. Scholars struggle to understand their colleagues (I take the reception of Childs to be a case in point).

    2) is it so desireable to jettison the traditions that grew out of, in whatever fashion and including whatever dialectics, the Bible? On my understanding, the Bible's subject matter is not the religious principles of the authors who wrote it (important background information as that is), but the living God who broke into their reality, shaped it, and guided/guides them in a particular journey.

    On that take, religio-historical analysis may well be done and come up with various interesting hypotheses about the development of Israelite religion. They will no doubt help us read the Bible more accurately. But ultimately it is God himself, mediated through the community of faith he called into being through the text and history, who can guarantee that we actually are wrestling with what the Bible is really all about. And for that, we need to be active members of a community of faith.

  2. Phil,

    I don't think jettisoning the traditions is the answer. I think what Zevit was aiming at was keeping them separate. That is, realizing there is a difference between what the text says and what we think it means when we read it mediated by centuries of tradition. It's an important distinction to maintain because there are multiple communities of faith all looking back at the same text and seeing different things.

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. Thanks. I was just about to add that there is a place what Zevit is saying, but a qualified place.

    I still would choose a different word than "keeping apart;" I would say "struggling to relate rightly."

    I appreciate your posts, by the way. I've reached that stage of my studies where i have to look at more concrete Biblical issues rather than broader hermeneutical ones, so your wrestling with the OT will be helpful for me :)