Wednesday, 5 August 2015

"Suspension of Belief": Just Because It's Difficult, Doesn't Mean You Shouldn't Try, Post-Modernism Be Damned!

There are things that I often ponder.

1. Why do I bother getting into these discussions with believers? I understand getting into these discussions with other academic biblical scholars, but believers? Where is my head? I suppose that old habits die hard; I miss the academic arguments of my Master's and PhD - there is no one where I am now that has any academic biblical historical critical (or for that matter, broad philosophical) training, much less the old style training in the importance to attempt "epoché" in all that one does:
  1. Epoché (ἐποχή epokhē, "suspension") is an ancient Greek term which, in its philosophical usage, describes the theoretical moment where all judgments about the existence of the external world, and consequently all action in the world, are suspended.
We used this term to describe what we try to do when we anaylse biblical texts. We divest ourselves as much as possible of our ingrained belief systems and view the texts as if we had never seen them before or heard them interpreted. It comes out of the phenomenological philosophy of Edmund Husserl, described sometimes as phenomenological reductionism.

Why do people think that everyone else's belief affects their translations, but not their own analyses - even when they don't go to the primary sources? Not that there is one definitive ancient Greek, Aramaic, ancient Hebrew text of the different books of the "Christian" Bible. There is no "original". Even if we could lay our hands on the actual original handwritten text of, for example, the Gospel of John, and the written documents of the historical narrative within it (the basis around which many of us agree that the Gospel of John was built) and where it was written, what would, and would not, this tell us:

  • for me, the biggest would be the ur-text - what a goldmine that would be (just saying)
  • we could follow the changes in the text throughout the western historical tradition more clearly (I can always dream)
  • we would have more definitive answers (maybe) about the mindset of the original author
  • we would have a greater understanding of the community out of which it came
  • we would have greater understanding of the development of the belief system that became Christianity, and it's move away from the Judaisms of the first two centuries
  • however, it would tell us nothing about "truth"
  • it would not explain whether or not Jesus was divine; it would only tell us that a group of people had ventured further down that murky slope of integrating Greek and Roman mindsets with Jewish mindsets, and then started to argue (rather cautiously, I would suggest) that Jesus was divine
What does it matter, actually, whether the translation is "Jesus (the Word) is "a" god or Jesus (the Word) is god? On such things, heresy is always born. (Gospel of John 1:1-18)

Of course, the caveat is that I don't believe that Jesus was in any way shape or form "god". He was an (Israeli, Jewish, Palestinian, Galilean - take your pick) prophet in a long line of prophets (the Isaiah school/tradition?) . That he spoke "truth to power", I have no doubt. That is, after all, what a prophet did. His tradition led him in a certain way, in much the same way as the Buddha's tradition formed the structure of his dissent with the faith. The one was Jewish, the other Hindu - but they were both men.

Then again, if we're "proof-texting" this, one only has to go to the Gospel of Matthew (at least the ur-text one could say). Matthew 1:1-17 makes it clear that there are 42 generations between Abraham and Jesus. including David and Solomon. So, apparently, Jesus was descended from the kingly line of David biologically. This means that Jesus can only be the biological offspring of Joseph, but wait ....... Of course, shortly thereafter (v. 18 ff) we get the Holy Spirit story of Mary's pregnancy. I don't have time (nor the inclination) to go into the wherefores and whys of biblical criticism on the subject. Suffice it to say that there are plenty of commentaries, articles, and books dealing with the issue, if one were so inclined to follow up on this topic

Then there is the difference between exegesis and eisegesis - I'm not going down that rabbit hole right now - probably later - stay tuned.

Why this post?

1. Triggered by a conversation that I had last night.

2. Avoidance of writing the review of Sacred Witness that has been burning a guilt hole in my mind. It deals with all of these issues.

3. Avoidance of writing the reviews of Ray Donovan that are also burning a hole - but a different kind of hole, more emotional than anything else. The third season has started. I began my post yesterday morning and it sat there all day. It is call "Disconsolate". I wrote a few things, then it kept rolling around in my head - all the things that should go into the post. I just couldn't get around to writing them down - avoidance, emotional pain. Needless to say, but it was a difficult first two episodes. The next two have been easier. It will be up soon.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I stumbled on to this while trying to find something I read several years ago. It was about a particular bias people could have. "If they had never seen something happen, they had a "bias" against it being possible." The article said there was a name for it.

Still searching.