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.