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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

More reception history 1: some responses

More reception history…

A couple of further questions have been raised since the last post and ones that are, I think, worth addressing.

1. Geoff Hudson (see previous post comments) suggested that the emergence of reception history ‘Seems like a great escape from the earliest history.’ It depends what Geoff means here but it reminded me of common suggestion made about reception history and one I have actually made myself from time to time, i.e. reception history is a safe place to work and avoid all the tricky questions of historical accuracy (I’m not sure if Geoff actually meant this but it’s a common enough point so let’s develop it). Put it this way, it wouldn’t surprise me if people did get into, or have got into, reception history because it avoids problems such as (and I caricature, but you get the point) Jesus not necessarily thinking he was God, the historical Paul not really meaning what this or that theological tradition claims he meant and so on. Rightly or wrongly, it is obvious enough that the earliest history really does matter for many people (why else would Wright write a massive Jesus book and not deny historicity once [to the best of my knowledge])? All this could well partially account for the popularity, interest and potential in reception history. But…

The idea of reception history as a refuge for the frightened is not necessarily a good or bad thing in itself. It might be if everyone ran off and stopped doing the earliest history but even though there may be limited things to say it is difficult to see that happening in the foreseeable future. The fact that so many are concerned with history probably answers that already. Moreover, at present there is so much polemic and interest groups in the area of Christian origins and so much importance put on historical context for interpretation (hardly a bad point!) that it is difficult to see this pool full of scholars being drained just yet.

And we might add, so what if people are frightened of the earliest history? If they can do good things in reception history all the better, right? If I felt naughty, I could add that it is better people doing good reception history than making things up.

And another thing, not everyone can be classed as scared etc. Berlinerblau – he of Secular Bible fame – has now written on the Bible and American politics. It’s difficult to account for him being scared off by history giving uncomfortable answers (indeed one of his points in Secular Bible was a willingness to accept whatever answer emerges from interpretation irrespective of whether the answer coheres with personal theological/ideological views). There are others like him but he’s a particularly appropriate example I think.

2. Jim West gave a response and I responded back. Details available here.

3. Doug Chaplin added this:
One question it seems to me James doesn’t address, but which might in some ways be the most interesting is how the study of the reception of biblical texts might / could / should be influenced by the ways in which the one doing the study receives the texts.

As a preface, the issue of should is not something that could be imposed (thankfully) but it is certainly an interesting question. This question could be taken in a number of different ways I think (maybe even fuelling Doug’s question more). One way would be to interact critically with the objects of reception. An obvious example would be the reception of the biblical texts which discuss and/or supposedly discuss the issue of homosexuality, a particularly relevant issue at the moment and an issue with which Doug is constantly engaging. Alternatively, the work I have been doing on reception has involved the selection of people who interest me for whatever reason rather than the biblical verses themselves (other than most being NT). I suspect a few more people do this too. In my case, I am not so bothered about how I interpret the biblical texts in relation to the people I have studied (it usually has little relevance) but more on the reasons why people I study interpret the way that they do, irrespective of rights and wrongs of interpretation or at least largely irrespective of whether it is a ‘valid’ or ‘correct’ interpretation. To state the blindingly obvious (as much of what I am saying, and will say, frankly is), it is often going to come down to little more than what sort of commitment the academic has in relation to the Bible.


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