Tag Archives: Fundamentalism

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.

Fundamentalism of the Sources: A Problem with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 3

What kind of diversity?

Well, let’s recall the very nature of the method. The method seeks to uncover original sources behind the final product. The critic posits that contradictory accounts are evidence of diverse sources created or developed by distinct authors. (We can save the greater complexity of communal development vs. individual authors for another occasion.) Why posit this? Again, because it makes little sense to contend that one and the same man could affirm contradictory things.

Ah! We have found a major player in the diversity studied. The critic considers one major kind of diversity to be contradiction.

What is contradiction? Contradiction is the relation between two statements both of which cannot be true. One must be true and the other false. For example: It is raining. It is not raining. These cannot both be true. Indeed, one must be true and the other false.

How, according to some of these critics is contradiction present? By implication or indirectly. Example. Gen 7:2 “Of all the clean animals you must take seven of each kind, both male and female.” Again, Gen 7:8 “Of the clean animals and the animals that are not clean … two of each kind boarded the ark.” And Noah “did all that Yahweh ordered” (Gen 7:5). So what is it, one pair of each clean animal or 7 pairs of each clean animal? Seven pairs and one pair are not in immediate contradiction. But, since “7 pairs” includes the implication “not just one pair” and the affirmation “one pair”  seems to imply “just one pair,” say some critics, one account contradicts the other. The same man cannot affirm both statements. Ergo, there are in the final text at least two original sources.

Other diverse characteristics are also observed, lining up with the text of 7 pairs and that with 1 pair. The net result looks like this: one set of texts has characteristics A, B, C, D. The other has characteristics G, H, I, J. And this duality of sets of characteristics  shows up in other texts, such as those of the creation accounts. The inference is reinforced: There seem to be (at least) two primary sources behind the final text.

Analogy. Say our civilization comes utterly to be destroyed, because it has abandoned its one true God and his one true Savior who gave us the one true religion which we also have spurned. Say we are diversified and confused, in the midst of our building our own Babel. Say our efforts to unite as one, under one government, quite top heavy, without any appreciation of the family, friendship, local authority, place and pilgrimage. Say technology falls into oblivion, etc. In hundreds of years, we work our way back to technology. We happen to re-invent digital CDs. Then, someone unearths an old copy of the Beatles song, “A Day in the Life.” Someone listens with a “historical critical” ear to the song. He discerns that there are parts of the song with a certain kind of melody and beat and voice, and other parts of the the song with a diverse kind of melody and beat and voice. He infers that this apparently one-authored song is actually dual-authored. He would have no actually separate instance of these two sources. He simply infers it with his insight into this diversity. As a matter of fact, he would be correct. There are two authors: Lennon and McCartney.

This is in a nutshell what the source critic is doing with his enterprise. Examination to follow.

Fundamentalism of the Sources: A Problem with Some Practices of Source Criticism – Part 2

I’m sorry these posts have taken so long to get going. Have been enjoying good time with family.

Example of Source Criticism at work. Look at Genesis 1-2:4, on the one hand, and Genesis 2:5 through chap 3 on the other hand.

  1. In the first chapter, God is called God (Elohim in Hebrew). In the second chapter, God is called Yahweh God (Yahweh Elohim).
  2. In the first chapter, God is transcendent and almighty, not exactly distant but at the same time not intimate. In the second chapter, God is earthy, works with clay and walks, breaths, etc.
  3. The first chapter shares poetic affinities. The second is clearly narrative.
  4. The first mentions sabbath rest. The second doesn’t.
  5. God simply states in the first chapter. God and man interact in the second chapter.

We could go on and on. We can also observe these kinds of character differences in other parts of Genesis and in Exodus, esp. It is most useful to observe these differences in texts that treat the same topic, such as the flood scene, the creation scene, and the exodus scene.

We owe it to source critics for highlighting all these interesting features of the text, the “final product” as it is called. This insight is no small thing for which we can be grateful. Indeed, it is a thing of beauty.

Now, the motives of the source critics may not have been so lofty as our “spoiling” of the fruit of their labors may suggest. Indeed, we must study the roots of this method and of the eggs who constructed the method. I recommend Scott Hahn’s and Benjamin Wiker’s study, Politicizing the Bible for a detailed and responsible treatment. Numerous other scholars have written on this topic.

Back to the method. Suffice it to say that you have two sets of characteristics that show up again and again, and which are diverse. But what kind of diversity have they?

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

Source Criticism is one of the three major “higher-critical” methods of reading scripture. The so-called “historical-critical” method is often used to refer to this or the other two major “higher-critical” methods, namely, redaction criticism and form criticism.

Here, we consider source criticism. The treatment is brief, while the tomes about the subject are immense and legion. But the treatment is also meant to go the heart of the matter in a suggestive, provocative way. It is the beginning of a question, an incisive interrogation.

Source criticism inquires whether the final product – say, the Gospel of Luke, or the Book of Genesis – was indeed always a single literary unit or rather a plurality of literary units put together. Source critics usually think in terms of written sources, although it is not alien to the method to think in terms of oral sources. If the final product is a construct of several, then these “sources” are primordial, anterior to the final product that we see.

There are numerous examinations one can undertake to ascertain answers to these questions. One of the most noteworthy examinations involves the question: Are there contradictions in the final account? In fact, this question analogically runs through every examination. Stated so baldly, it stands on its own. However, other interrogations presuppose this primary question. Such other interrogations include: Are there diverse names for God? Diverse conceptions of God? Diverse conceptions of man’s relation to God? Of the monarchy? Etc. Diversity presupposes the contradiction “this is not that.” Hence, the note of contradiction is primary.

Example. In reading Genesis, one can ask whether there are contradictory accounts of the flood. At first studied glance, it seems so. One set of texts reads “a pair” of animals while another set reads “seven pairs”. Since one is not seven, there seems to be a contradiction. But the same man cannot reasonably affirm a contradiction. We take it the man who wrote was reasonable. Ergo, there must have been more than one author.

more to come.