Category Archives: Bible

Hebrew or LXX? Or Both?!

In general, Hebrew is more polyvalent than Greek. Thus, the Hebrew text of Scripture is often ambiguous and could be taken in various ways. We might say that without further information we are not sure how we should take it. For example, Ex 3:14 could mean, “I am who am” or “I will be who I will be.” Could be present tense or future tense.

Now, the New Testament more often than not cites not the Hebrew text but the Greek translation called “Septuagint” (LXX for short). In face, the NT cites the LXX 5 out of 6 times. Unsurprisingly, the LXX often disambiguates the Hebrew. Example: Should we read Is 7 as “virgin will give birth” or merely “young lady will give birth”? The LXX specifies “virgin.” Again, is the upshot of Gen 3:15 “they (the seed) will crush your (serpent’s) head” or “he (a coming male) will crush your head.” The Hebrew does not make the discernment; many scholars therefore conclude that “they” conveys the meaning better, “they” meaning the “sons and daughters of Adam.” The LXX, however, unequivocally states “he” (masculine pronoun referring to the neutral “seed”).

A tension may arise. Someone will pine for the plasticity of the Hebrew while another may prize the specificity of the LXX. We may, in fact, hold both but differently.

Regarding Gen 3:15, the LXX happens to give the Christian specificity before Christ: “he will crush your head.” Christians believe that only Jesus Christ, God and man, can crush the head of the serpent with his own power. However, the plastic force of the Hebrew is not thereby nullified. It can still carry through its potential ambiguity, ordered or disciplined by the Greek specificity. The LXX, read in light of the NT, specifies the chief conqueror, Christ Jesus. But the Hebrew allows us also to read “the sons and daughters of Adam,” on the proviso that these are “in Christ” crushing the serpent with him. Note: Several of the Targumim reflect exactly this kind of synthesis among the Jews!

Perhaps, also, the Hebrew in Is 7 can indicate both virgin and “young lady.” It clearly means “virgin” because of the NT confirmation. Perhaps, also, it can be a word of consolation, a sign, already for the king, promising him a son (Hezekiah). Still, this sign is not exactly “as deep as hell, as high as heaven.” Thus, even the Hebrew text signals something more remarkable than a mere sign to Ahaz. It is unreasonable to read the text as regarding merely a “young lady,” as Justin the Martyr pointed out centuries and centuries ago.

Still, the Hebrew ambiguity cannot always carry through. God reigns above all times, not being at all bound by measurement. Thus, we ought not read “I will be who I will be” in the natural sense such a locution suggests, namely, that God is in time.

Did Paul Read “Wisdom”? Food for Thought

There are some striking resemblances of Wisdom and Romans. This does not “prove” that Paul read Wisdom, but it may suggest it.

FIRST: The Bible does say that belief in God is so correct and available that one is a “fool” who does not believe in him. But only in two places does the Bible teach that God’s existence can be known from the things he has created. Those two places are Wis 13 and Rom 1.

Wis 13: “All men who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know him who exists, nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works; but they supposed that either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of the stars … were the gods that rule the world…. If me were amazed at their power and working, let them perceive from them how much more powerful is he who formed them. For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator…. Even they are not to be excused.”

Rom 1: “What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse…. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.”

SECOND: Wisdom speaks of God’s mercy sparing all, so that they may repent: “You overlook men’s sins, that they may repent” (Wis 12:23).

Rom 2: “Do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

THIRD: Wisdom 12 offers a theodicy for God’s judgment against the nations. Each nation was offered the chance to repent, yet they did not. God is not to blame. Only those deserving of punishment are condemned. Romans 2 offers a similar theodicy, with less detail but broader (indeed, global) scope.

FOURTH: The themes of excuse, judgment, condemnation and reward, death being deserved, are present in each text (Rom 2 and Wis 6 and 12).

Fundamentalism of the Sources: Problems with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 10

Also, just consider the following. Gen 1 is ascribed to the “Priestly” author and Gen 2-3 are ascribed to the “Yahwist.” The authors’ names are rooted in the characteristics of the texts inferred to be written by diverse authors, as stated in a previous post. For the Yahwist is called such because he calls God Yahweh. But if this mode of procedure dominates in me, I may have a strange approach to Satan’s words. For Satan says to Eve, “….”.

OBJECTION: It nowhere says “Satan”! It says only “serpent”. Who are you to say that it is Satan? After all, the New Jerome Biblical Commentary (NJBC) even states that the ur-source for Gen 2-3 used the ‘serpent’ as the bad guy in order to indicate the possible reason why we humans seem to have a native fear of snakes. Wow! Really guys? What a profound reading of the text. I didn’t realize the text was all about serpent-phobia. Cool.

To the contrary. Such a reading ranks up there with the Tabloids in the Grocery store. So much for deep meaning. I bet if they all went to work on the classical epic Gilgamesh they’d manage to turn that profound piece of literature into the trash heap of a praise for the lotus leaf. What nonsense! Instead of proving themselves wise as “etiological inferrers” they prove themselves clueless to the depths of mystery in their own breast! I refute the utter banality thusly with this kick in the pants.

But back to the Satan. I assert that this is Satan because Almighty God does. How so? He gave us the lexicon in Rev 12, which identifies all these: Satan, Ancient Serpent, Dragon, Deceiver, Devil, and yes Accuser (‘who accuses them day and night…’). Do I need to add a major premise from Vatican II to be convincing? All that the human author asserts the Holy Spirit asserts. Thus spoke Dei verbum.

So, then, back to Satan. The serpent speaks of God not with the word “Yahweh Elohim” but simply with “Elohim.” And, notably, Eve does the same.

How shall we approach this lofty text? If we let source critical concerns dominate, we may well be running around trying to do damage control. “This is the Yahwist. Or is it? Yada yada.” But none of us would be listening. Let us listen, then. Why does the Devil say “God” only? Why does Eve do this also? Could alienation be part of the story?

The point – at this point – is not to say that the findings of the Mosaic source critics are false. I’ll let real bible scholars discuss that. (Such as the important critic Cassuto; check also this one.) The point is to examine the guts of the enterprise, as it is very frequently practiced and taught, and show up the logical status of the inferences and evidence. To point out the definite errors that some make, contrary to the faith of the Church, and lastly to warn about the distortive influence a domination of source critical questions brings to the experience of reading.

Lastly, on this note: There is one scientific item of major note for all practices of source criticism. It is this. There is not yet, to my knowledge, even one piece of manuscript evidence for any single source critical claim, with the possible exception of the important texts that lack the Logion at the end of Mark. But None for the Books of Moses. None for Psalm 51. None for Isaiah. None for Matthew and Mark and Luke (the so-called Q and special Mt and special Lk). Etc. This indeed raises a significant question mark regarding the stability of the quaking reed inferred. Not that it crushes the bruised read. But it does cast its shadow, this lack of light.

There are, I think, much healthier first principles one ought to establish. There are sound guidelines long proven in the tradition.

And one of the chief of these is the division of the literal sense into the proper and improper. And that division regards: words, phrases / sentences, and even whole units or books. E.g., a psalm is definitely a literary device of note. And there are various kinds of psalm. Yes, yes, yes.

At the same time, the Church’s major rule is wise: Because we are not a fabulous religion but a true one, because our God acts historically and really and not mythically, each passage ought to be read in the proper literal sense unless there is manifest reason not to do so. One clear example of manifest reason is God walking. It is philosophically demonstrated and also a truth of faith that God is purely spiritual and incorporeal. Ergo, he has no legs.

Sometimes, the ‘manifest’ reason is not a demonstrated fact but an opinion so widely held and so nearly universally considered true, while not being manifestly opposed to the faith, that it can be taken as true – hypothetically – and thus serve as principle of interpretation. Example. That the sun stays still relative to the earth seems to have the whole world behind it. Ergo, let’s take it as true. (Let us also note that it is not verified demonstratively in the strong sense of that word.) If it is true, then the passages about the sun staying still should be read as in the improper literal sense, reflecting the truth of the way things appear. Nothing wrong about this. After all, you still say, “At sunrise, I shall fish.” We speak in this mode. It is fine. It is just improper, if indeed the earth is not the center. While bracketing this as hypothetical may make one a laughing stock in a certain generation, it is nonetheless a true bracket if we examine the status of the knowledge. Thus, if we have a longer audience in mind (say, 500 years hence), we more prudently bracket the matter. It is not a reflection of suspicion. It is a sign of the very status of the knowledge, just as almost all claims in contemporary particle physics have the status of hypotheses being verified.

So then, one goes to work, utilizing such founding reasons as ways to approach the mystery of the text. All the while, the text is believed rightly to be inspired and inerrant. One is seeking the meaning as a disciple, not as its pedagogue.

Fundamentalism of the Sources: Problems with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 9

Next, we can consider the distortions in readings that occur on account of many practices of Source Criticism.

It often happens, in a college or even high school course on the Bible, that the very first thing broached in a reading of Genesis or Exodus or Isaiah or the “Deuteronomic Histories” or Mark or Matthew or Revelation, is the issue of source criticism. It is as it were the way in which one expounds the first principle of interpretation. The lens that dominates all the rest.

Once the initial, and indeed interesting, observation of the sets of characteristics that seem at first blush to be neatly paired is beaten into the students, then much of the subsequent labor is in service of following out these observations, sniffing around for similar findings. In short, the whole text is put through the meat-grinding process established by the source critic. Often, exceptions are either explained away or else result in qualifying the exceptional text as in fact authored by the author who has been defined as bearing those marks. Example given last post: If a text that is pro-Temple is found in “First Isaiah,” then it is quite often thrown into “Second Isaiah.”

What I want to reflect on at this juncture is the domination of the field of questions by source critical inquiry. Again, let’s state the a priori and nearly totally banal truth: It is not necessarily the case that source criticism is illegitimate. Perhaps it has its use. Why? The principle is this: The legitimate use of human reason is an aid to theological work. But some exegetical insights borne of human inquiry are legitimate uses of human reason. Indeed, the ‘source’ question is one such. Ergo. I accept the banal truism. Nor do I rule out the possible instantiation of meaningful practices.

But what is of chief interest in the actual world is not empty truism but reality, actually practices. As a matter of fact, if we dig into the origins of source criticism, we find almost nothing but venomous asps. Of course, now and a rare again you find a (foolish) priest contributing to source criticism, out of a foolish and monolithic apologetic desire to prop up ‘Tradition’ against the Protestant focus on Scripture alone. (E.g. Fr. Richard Simon from the 18th century.) But such foolishness it is not wise to emulate. When you ally yourself with the enemy of an enemy, which former is also your enemy, you not seldom drink poison. Remember Ahaz. (This is a warning to all those who presently ally themselves with anti-classical-liberal postmodern fideists. Make such your ally, you will likely be bitten by the foul serpent, if you haven’t already need to look upon the Wisdom of the bronze one.)

We should return to the origins of source criticism. Perhaps anon. Meanwhile, read J. Morrow and Scott Hahn et alia on this. (Is Hahn a mere ‘popularizer’? Is he an academic joke? He is often dismissed in ‘academic’ circles as just this. Well, let’s set the record straight. The man’s mind is quite voracious. His erudition is second to not many. I submit that he has in all likelihood read more, and with greater comprehension, than most of his critics. But let’s point out also that he has a large tome at Yale Press. How many boast that?)

Meanwhile and more importantly: Think of how distorted one’s reading is when source criticism is the first and enduring guide into the Sacred Text. How lamentable. Why not read the text as the whole that it is presently? Who ever thought to do so? The fathers and the medieval doctors.

Fundamentalism of the Sources: Problems with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 8

At long last, I must justify the title: Fundamentalism of the Sources. Why this title? In short, because the critic practicing in the manner stated previously reads each source as a fundamentalist would read the bible as a whole.

How does a fundamentalist read the bible as a whole. Well, there are many facets to such a reading, and different kinds of fundamentalism. One thing that shows up frequently, however, is failure to grasp the mode of discourse in the text. Nowadays people say that someone is in error because they are “literalists”. The word is ill chosen, but it gets the job done sometimes. But the Tradition has a better way of diagnosing the problem.

The Tradition distinguishes holds (1) that the literal sense is always true – because God is the primary author, but that (2) the literal sense sometimes works in a (a) proper way and sometimes in an (b) improper way. In short, the Tradition distinguishes the proper literal sense from the improper literal sense.

The basis of the distinction is this: Is the term (or locution) being employed in the full sense of the term; that is, is there no noteworthy literary device? Or is the term (or locution) not being employed in the full sense of the term; that is, is there a noteworthy literary device? If there is a noteworthy literary device, if the term or locution is not employed in its full sense, then the literal sense is improper. If there is no noteworthy literary device, the literal sense is proper.

Example: If I say, “He walked across the street,” the sentence is in the proper literal sense. If the ship captain says, “All hands on deck,” he uses “hands” in an improper sense. He means all persons who are able bodied. Here the definition of “hand” does not convey what the captain really means but only part of what he means. He is using “synecdoche,” whereby the part stands for the whole. Hyperbole is similar: “I bet you a million dollars that….” Well, not really a million. Maybe ten cents.

Now, Scripture has many locutions and terms in the improper literal sense. Not all. But not none. Indeed, not a few.

Example. “God walked in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen 3). Well, the definition of walk refers to legs, but God has no legs. Ergo, God cannot, properly speaking, walk. But he can accompany. He can be present with. Thus, in a beautiful, but poetic (or improper) manner of discourse, Scripture expresses God’s intimacy with Adam. The author is not asserting by implication that God has legs. He is not an idiot. He is inspired by God; his mind is loftier than ours, more than likely. As elevated, it most certainly is loftier than ours. We bow before the loftiness of Scripture. We do not drive a German Tank over it. We take our shoes off when we read Scripture. We do not sully its pristine snow, its gorgeous flowers with our boots. In this reverent mode, we know always to read Scripture in the loftiest possible way. Thus, when it attributes walking to God, we do not crawl along the dirt as the accursed serpent, finding the lowest meaning and attributing to the human author some anthropomorphic idea. Far be it from us to do so. Rather, we allow Scripture to give us wings, so that we may see here the most marvelous description of God’s tender mercy, accompanying the sinner. (And of course, not just saying to the sinner, “That’s ok. Hey, there is no law anyway. Why don’t we all just go to heaven?” No. He asks a gentle, but very searching question: “Where are you?”)

So, how do some practices of Source Criticism fall into fundamentalism?

Well, they attribute characteristics XYZ to one author, and ABC to another. Further, they see these characteristics as in contradiction. One author portrays God as “earthy and walking”, while the author portrays him as “lofty and transcendent”. One author says “one pair, not seven” while the other says “seven pairs, not one”. What the critic is doing in each case is reading the text as though no literary device is being employed. When he says “walking” he means something darn well close to walking. At the least, he means something non-compossible with “saying ‘Let it be’.” Thus read, this text contradicts that text. Further, the non-compossibility of both assertions is the leverage for the inference that there are two authors.

In short, and cutting through all the camouflage and subtlety that really is there in this or that practice, I am submitting that some practices (a logical “some,” standing in fact for many) of Source Criticism are based on fundamentalist readings of the so-called primary sources, which fundamentalist readings fail to take stock of the nuance of the actual text itself and indeed even at times posit error in the originary source. In short, the ur-sources are read as though written by sloppy thinkers. “Some thought there was some ‘vault’ in the heavens, like a saucer!” [Audience responds: Ha ha ha! Man I’m glad for Galileo and Steve Jobs!]

Then, after the inference is drawn and the ur-texts are taken as Gospel truth, all the exceptions observed – for life indeed is messy, especially in the Bible – must be account for and accounts are offered.

For instance, the first inference for Isaiah is that Isaiah the First runs from 1-39. But upon inspection, there are too many things in Isa 1-39 that contradict the anti-temple views of the supposed Isaiah. Thus, the critics say that these pro-temple passages belong to Isaiah the Second. (I know the proper lingo, Second Isaiah. I am adding a touch of irony here.) After these passages are shuffled to Second Isaiah, then the inference has more consistency.

The reasoning in the cleanup job looks circular.

But more things follow. The Redaction Critic comes and posits all his theories on the basis of the upshot of the state of the question according to Source Critics. The Dating is also dependent in some not insignificant measure on Source Criticism. Also, the interpretation hangs in the balance.

How should we interpret the juxtaposition of Gen 1 and 2? Especially if they are held as contradictory? Well, perhaps they are contradictory on the surface, but the author just meant to intend something very basic and banal. Worse, perhaps the authors indeed contradicted and thus teach us nothing, but invite us to think for ourselves. Or perhaps the juxtaposition just shows us that there were rival Jewish bodies of thought, and that no one nowadays should be dogmatic. (Note: That is how the alleged real contradictions in the views of the monarchy are read: As warring factions of schools of thought. Then the Critic tells his students, perhaps even without words dis-evangelizing them: “Come to me, all you who now are confused. I will seduce you the more. Welcome to the Machine of Post Modernity.”) More frequently, the same message as the previous is more softly presented in this fashion: “Each source is like a theological text. It purports to explain the transcendent mysteries in words. But the mysteries are lofty. The words, lowly. Just as he tried his best, so we try our best. Everyone has his model for God. You can come up with one too.”

Fundamentalism of the Sources: Problems with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 7

Ah! In the ComBox, John has been raising the persistent question regarding “Dictation Theory.” In prepping for a class (soon to take place) on revelation, I had occasion to re-read Leo XIII, of most happy memory. His immortal Providentissimus Deus is must read.

And Lo and Behold! He chastises me for my choice of words. Now, I did define “Dictation Theory” as “Without the freedom – i.e. intellectual creativity etc. – of the human, secondary author.” So ubiquitous are the tentacles of modernism that no one questions the criticism of Dictation Theory. No one except John in the ComBox. Well, a thank you to John.

Leo – and indeed the First Vatican Council – stress the primacy of God’s authorship so much that they indeed drill home the notion that the Holy Spirit intimately, and to the very depths of conception and expression, guides the process of writing. Not as a Deistic First Cause. But as Pure Act, author of all, supernaturally acting here to produce the Divine Scriptures.

I let Leo correct the previous post then. Not my definition. But rather the flippant use of terminology that in fact is approved by the greatest authority on earth. I retain the point that the overriding of freedom is a false conception. (Except for certain passages, such as divine oracles. And these do not override freedom; but they do seem to come as pre-formed, one might say.)

Thus Spake Leo:

For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost; and so far is it from being possible that any error can co-exist with inspiration, that inspiration not only is essentially incompatible with error, but excludes and rejects it as absolutely and necessarily as it is impossible that God Himself, the supreme Truth, can utter that which is not true. This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and of Trent, and finally confirmed and more expressly formulated by the Council of the Vatican. These are the words of the last: “The Books of the Old and New Testament, whole and entire, with all their parts, as enumerated in the decree of the same Council (Trent) and in the ancient Latin Vulgate, are to be received as sacred and canonical. And the Church holds them as sacred and canonical, not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority; nor only because they contain revelation without error; but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author.”(57) Hence, because the Holy Ghost employed men as His instruments, we cannot therefore say that it was these inspired instruments who, perchance, have fallen into error, and not the primary author. For, by supernatural power, He so moved and impelled them to write-He was so present to them-that the things which He ordered, and those only, they, first, rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth. Otherwise, it could not be said that He was the Author of the entire Scripture. Such has always been the persuasion of the Fathers. “Therefore,” says St. Augustine, “since they wrote the things which He showed and uttered to them, it cannot be pretended that He is not the writer; for His members executed what their Head dictated.”(58) And St. Gregory the Great thus pronounces: “Most superfluous it is to inquire who wrote these things-we loyally believe the Holy Ghost to be the Author of the book. He wrote it Who dictated it for writing; He wrote it Who inspired its execution. “(59)

Fundamentalism of the Sources: Problems with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 6

Does this mean that a priori all practices of Source Criticism fall afoul of the Catholic Tradition? No. Why not? Because it is not inimical to the faith to suggest that this or that text from the bible has prior sources. Just see the opening remarks of the Gospel according to St. Luke.

But it does mean that we must study how its concrete practices are undertaken. We must take, one at a time, each iteration of the method calling for examination or evaluation. We can draw up a number of criteria.

Criterion 1: If the method presupposes genuine contradiction—where X and not-X are affirmed in the with respect to the same at the same time—in order to get off the ground, then it is fundamentally flawed; indeed, it is opposed to the faith. Consider our example from the creation accounts. If the critic supposes that these one account affirms X and the other, not-X, then his method is flawed at its roots. He is attributing contradiction to the two authors he will go on to infer. But everything that the human author affirms is affirmed by God (Dei Verbum; not to mention, the entire Tradition). Hence, God himself will be affirming a contradiction. This is an intolerable position.

Criterion 2: If the method presupposes that a purported announcement of the future is indication that in fact the author lived at the time of the announced event, the critic is temerarious. If the critic insists on the point, he must be presupposing the impossibility of someone having foreknowledge of the future. But (1) God has knowledge of all things, past present future. Indeed, this is de fide definita (Vatican I). And (2) Man is such that he can receive revelation from God (also de fide definita). Finally, (3) There is nothing repugnant to man receiving such a revelation of the future from God (This is the entire Tradition of the Church, not to mention the explicit teaching of Scripture). Hence, such a persistent critic is opposed to the faith. Example: Among the arguments for more than one author of Isaiah is the announcement of Cyrus as Messiah in Is 45. The lurking presupposition: “What man could possibly say, more than 100 years ahead of time, indeed close to 200 years, who some political figure would be, much less predict his character?” Ah. Examine that question. “Predict”? Predict is what hedge fund managers do. It is not what Almighty God does. God’s omniscience is not a reading of the future through immanent causes. Why not? Because there is no absolute determination of the future through immanent causes. This claim is true (a) because of freedom and (b) because of the non-absolute determinacy of physical causes. Solar eclipses and things can be predicted. But the total movement of the total set of matter in the universe cannot. But at any rate, let’s stick to basics. God sees the future he does not guess about it. He is not the great Weatherman! So, the entire question exhibits that the critic has ignored the fact that Almighty God is the primary author. The critic is so worried about “Dictation Inspiration Theory” that he runs off the cliff in the other direction. Dictation Inspiration Theory, writ global, opposes the humanity of the human author, since it denies that the human author uses his mind and creativity, etc., in writing. He is like a pure vessel, a mindless pen that scribbles God’s dictation. That theory is also opposed to the faith. But don’t run off the cliff in the opposite direction because the mystery of inspiration is difficult to fathom!

These are only some of the criteria. We could add many others.

Fundamentalism of the Sources: Problems with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 5

Now that we have taken stock of the fundamentally tenuous character of the inference to more than one source, let us briefly consider all that is built upon this foundation.

First, there is the question as to how these fragments were put together into a single literary work, say, the Individual Books of the Law (or the whole set) or a given Prophet or a given Psalm or a given Gospel. (Or is any of these a single work?) This question is the impetus for “Redaction Criticism.” Presupposing that there are various sources of the final text, the redaction critic asks various questions concerning why and in what ways they were put together into one document. Second, there is the question of dating. Which source is dated when? Also, when was the final product put together? Third, on the basis of these two inquiries, there is influence on how to interpret the final document. This issue I wish to stress presently.

Recall that the genesis of the inference that there are diverse sources is that there are contradictory affirmations in the final text. Well then, are there contradictions in the final text? Many historical critics say so. Take the following citation from the International Biblical Commentary as example:

The OT gives us three substantially irreconcilable insights into creation (one: Gen 1:1–2:4a; two: Gen 2:4b–25; three: Isa 51:9–10; Job 7:12; 9:13; 26:12–13; Ps 74:12–17 etc., these last involving mythic combat)…. We might say that in principle there is hardly a faith position taken in the OT that is not open to the possibility of being contradicted by another faith position that might equally be taken in the OT.[1]

Ouch. Ouch. The first and second creation accounts contradict each other. Further, (though this involves two human authors), Genesis and Isaiah contradict each other. Again I say, Ouch.

Recall that the original presupposition was that the same man cannot affirm contradictions. Somehow, the redactor does not fall into this presupposition. Perhaps he lost his mind. Or perhaps the ancient religion didn’t really care about truth. Or perhaps truth is just the battle of antitheses, which balance each other out. Or perhaps there really isn’t much content in the bible. We are only invited to offer our own opinions. We are only given the subjective impressions of authors. These are some of the various outs suggested to explain the mindlessness affirmed by the redactor.

Now, how does the original observation and the final conclusion – that there are fundamental contradictions in this text and that – square with the faith? The 5th Lateran Council declares:

“And since truth cannot contradict truth, we define that every statement contrary to the enlightened truth of the faith is totally false and we strictly forbid teaching otherwise to be permitted.”

Here, the Church condemns every claim from reason that contradicts revelation. But God forbid the Church permit that revelation can contradict revelation. No indeed. In fact, the first clause excludes that: Truth cannot contradict truth. Therefore, no two affirmations in Scripture can contradict each other.

Pope Leo XIII underscores this:

“Let them loyally hold that God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, is also the Author of the Scriptures – and that therefore nothing can be proved either by physical science or archaeology which can really contradict the Scriptures. If, then, apparent contradiction be met with, every effort should be made to remove it. Judicious theologians and commentators should be consulted as to what is the true or most probable meaning of the passage in discussion, and the hostile arguments should be carefully weighed. Even if the difficulty is after all not cleared up and the discrepancy seems to remain, the contest must not be abandoned; truth cannot contradict truth, and we may be sure that some mistake has been made either in the interpretation of the sacred words, or in the polemical discussion itself; and if no such mistake can be detected, we must then suspend judgment for the time being” (Providentissimus Deus).

[1] Antony Campbell and Mark O’Brien, “1–2 Samuel,” in IBC, p. 576a (italics mine).

Fundamentalism of the Sources: A Problem with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 4

Although the inference to two musical composers of the song “Day in the Life” was in fact accurate, the character of the inference as such was by no means indubitable. It is not impossible for the same composer to have two different stamps of creativity. Consider only the early and late John Lennon. The transition at the album Rubber Soul, but even more pointedly at the song “Tomorrow Never Knows,” is palpable. What comes before is quite different.

So, let’s take another song with two quite distinct moments. “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who. Its soft melodic musing in the first 2/3 is quite contrasted by its thrashing in the last 1/3, which closes with a bookend reprise of the first 2/3. The melodies are quite different. The beats. The vocal tone. The lyrical themes. We find in fact a schema similar to that which we found with “A Day in the Life.” Part 1 has characteristics R, S, T, U. And Part 2 has characteristics V, W, X, Y. However, in this case, an inference to two composers would in fact be false. Another example of a similar case of single authorship of a song with two distinct parts is Stairway to Heaven.

My apologies for the lamentable character of the lyrics of the songs of the examples. Had I a better musical history in my teen years, I could reference Bluegrass. Alas. But one could also think of the Second Movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. So utterly distinct from the Third Movement.

The point of today’s reflection is to take sober stock of the limitations of the character of this kind of inference.