35. The methodological hegemony once enjoyed by the historical-critical method in biblical scholarship has been challenged on a number of fronts. What objections have been raised to that method? Describe one of the new methods that have been proposed in response to such objections. In contrasting the historical-critical method with the newer method you have just described, what do you see as the strengths and the weaknesses of each? What are your own thoughts on the topic of methodology in relation to the Hebrew Bible?Edit

Note: I didn't answer the final question as it is an individual response.

The historical-critical method

  • ·         embraces a wide range of actual methods that try to get at the world behind the text

o   e.g., source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, tradition criticism

  • ·         also known as higher criticism

o   The Journal of Higher Criticism (1995-2003) was devoted to this method

  • ·         Seeks to understand the Hebrew Bible in light of its historical origins.

o   provenance, dating, sources, the events, dates, people, places, etc., mentioned

o   main goal: Trying to determine the original meaning of the text in its original historical context

o   secondary goal: reconstruct the historical situation and recipients of the text

  • ·         general tenets:

o   reality is uniform and universal

o   reality is accessible to human reason and investigation

o   all events within reality are interconnected and comparable by analogy

o   our current experience of reality can provide objective criteria by which to determine what happened in the past

  • ·         Challenges (not inclusive)

o   If every event in history is unique, what is the point of analogy?

o   Can the meaning of an event be reduced to that which is objectively verifiable?

o   Is it even possible to be completely objective in your historical interpretation? And if not, why even try to attain such objectivity?

§  We can’t interpret history based solely on texts because the meanings of the texts themselves are indeterminate and thus their interpretation is mainly shaped by the norms of the interpreter’s contemporary society.

o   Also, it originated within Protestant Reformation ideology. Is it still rooted in reformed theology?

§  For example, both are concerned with the literal (i.e., original) sense of the text.


  • ·         Especially since 1945, the interests of biblical criticism in general have extended beyond just historical criticism.

o   methods concerned with the world of the text: e.g., structuralism, narrative criticism, rhetorical criticism

o   methods concerned with the in front of the text: e.g., postmodern biblical interpretation, reader-response criticism

Reader-Response Criticism

  • ·         literary theory that arose in the 1960s and 70s

o   sees the reader as an active agent who completes the meaning of a text through interpretation

o   the reader cannot be ignored; readers do not passively read

o   the text isn’t an object, but rather an event that occurs with the reader

o   important theorists: Stanley Fish, Wolfgang Iser, and Roland Barthes

  • ·         Individualists: focus on each individual reader’s response

o   The reader drives the experience

o   A common literary experience comes from shared techniques for reading/interpreting a text which readers use individually.

o   reader active: the reader controls the whole experience

o   ex. Stanley Fish (social reader-response theory)

§  our interpretations come from our interpretative community, with whom we share the interpretive strategies we bring to texts

·         interpretative communities evolve over time

  • ·         Uniformists: assume a generally uniform response from all readers (implied reader)

o   The text drives the experience

o   Common responses come from the text itself, not from reading techniques

o   bi-active: the text controls part of the interpretation and the reader controls part

o   ex. Wolfgang Iser

  • ·         You could also argue that all criticism that analyzes either the act of reading or the readers’ responses can be classified under this heading.

o   e.g., feminist criticism, structuralist criticism

Evaluation: The huge benefit of the historical-critical method as it began to develop in the 17th-19th centuries was that it was distinct from the traditional, devotional approach to biblical interpretation. Yet historical criticism itself was rooted in the Protestant Reformation, yet does not acknowledge that connection. It claims to be objective, arguing that we can recover the objective historical reality. With reader-response theory, the reader/interpreter is not glossed over as if s/he has no effect on the text, but rather is accorded agency in the texts interpretation. This allows for the reader/interpreter to be aware of their own bias, and make such bias clear to their own reader/interpreters.

As for the critiques of historical criticism about the uniqueness of historical events and the objectively verifiable meaning of an event, they are of no concern in reader-response criticism. Historical events are unique and are interpreted uniquely. However, the uniformist side of reader-response would argue that events are interpreted generally uniformly. And for all reader-response critics, there is no objectively verifiably meaning of an event, for the reader is an active participant in creating meaning for all texts.

However, reader-response theory tends to ignore the historical situation from which the text comes. Even when we try to use reader-response criticism to see how the interpretive community of the original audience would have read the text, we are limited by the non-historical aspect of reader-response. We would need to do some amount of historical work to be able to make claims about the interpretations of the community.

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