OK, so I said I'd review the book I've been reading, but I do so with a bit of trepidation. It is what I thought it would be, but it's not the way I thought it would be. The book is:"How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now" by James Kugel.
First of all, Professor Kugel is a wonderful writer. This is almost a 700 page book with 900 or so end notes. (It's not for the casual reader!) However, I found myself going to bed early to get a little more reading time in and spending more time in the morning with it than I normally give a book. It's one of the best books I've ever read. It's obvious that he loves God and enjoys his work, this comes through in every section and sentence of the book.
Now to the meat: The Author does a masterful job of tearing out every foundation you thought you had in believing what Evangelicals believe about the Bible. He states in the beginning four filters that are in place as ancient interpreters (and most people today) read the Scriptures that have guided our interpretation of the words written. The four are:
1. The Bible is cryptic - it doesn't always mean what it says, there are foreshadowings and hidden meanings that we must discover.
2. The Bible is a book of lessons directed to readers in their own day - it isn't just a historical account, we are meant to learn something from it that applies to our own current situation.
3. The Bible contains no contradictions or mistakes - therefore if there seems to be a contradiction or mistake, it must be there for a reason or is explainable.
4. The Bible is Divinely given to man - it is inspired by God.
These four assumptions are put aside by modern scholars to try to get to the actual meanings as written and the author compares this method with the method of the ancient interpretors in a way that does not favor either method. However, there are some conclusions that he comes to that lean toward the modern interpretations.
I think I'll leave my own conclusions aside for now, I'm still chewing on some of the meat in this book. There is one section though that resonated with me fully, though. In the last chapter which is entitled "After such knowledge..." (very appropriate) there is a section that explains the fundamental difference between the ancient and the modern viewpoint. Here's a glimpse:
"As modern biblical scholarship gained momentum, studying the Bible itself was joined with, and eventually overshadowed by, studying the historical reality behind the text (including how the text itself came to be). In the process, learning from the Bible gradually turned to learning about it. Such a shift might seem slight at first, but ultimately changed a great deal. The person who seeks to learn from the Bible is smaller than the text; he crouches at its feet, waiting for instructions or insights. Learning about the text generates the opposite posture. The text moves from subject to object; it no longer speaks but is spoken about, analyzed and acted upon. The insights are now all the reader's, not the text's, and anyone can see the results." (italics are the author's)
I'll let you chew on that.
I wouldn't probably recommend this book to everyone, but those of you due for a "spiritual sharpening" should probably pick this up and give it a few weeks of your reading time.
Am I sharpened? Well...not yet...apparently I was duller than I thought and this make take some time with the Master Sharpener to work out.
Pops Blair, 2007