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Scripture between Identity and Creativity : A Hermeneutical Theory Building upon Four Interpretations of Job

By Pieter Martinus Wisse


The interaction between religious canonical texts and the contexts in which they are interpreted is the subject of this study. The central question addressed is whether and how the context of the interpretation influences or determines the meaning of the text. This question is divided into a descriptive and a normative question. The descriptive question is: what happens when religious believers interpret their canonical texts? Does anything occur which is typical for religious interpretation in contrast to secular interpretations or not? The normative question is: what does the nature of religious interpretation of canonical texts imply for the viability of rules for correct interpretation that are commonly formulated in hermeneutics? The descriptive question is investigated on the basis of four examples of the interpretation of Job: (1) the Testament of Job, a Jewish haggadic retelling of the story of Job from the first century CE. (2) the sermons on Job by the sixteenth century Protestant reformer John Calvin; (3) the music on Job by one of the masters of sixteenth century Flemish polyphony Orlando di Lasso; and (4) the book On Job: God Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent by the twentieth century ‘father’ of liberation theology Gustavo Gutiérrez. \ud On the general level, I argue that context plays a crucial role in an interpretation process. Any attempt to strip the ocean of different interpretation down to one and the same phenomenon overlooks the complexity and diversity of the reading process. More specifically, I argue that religious interpretations of a Scripture share certain aspects that non-religious interpretations of ordinary books do not. The function of Scripture as an identity constituting phenomenon and its roots in a specific ancient context lead to two incompatible needs in the religious community. On the one hand, the authority of Scripture needs to be retained. On the other hand, precisely in order to live up to its task, the message of Scripture needs to be adapted to the needs of the present context of the believer, so that those aspects irrelevant to or problematic in the present context fade away and those aspects that fit into it better come to the fore. I call this the ideological contradiction of the authority of Scripture. \ud On the normative level, the two poles of identity and creativity pose important limits on the viability of norms for correct interpretation. The contextuality of the reading process implies that there is no single universal set of norms for correct interpretation. The ideological contradiction of the authority of Scripture implies that in order to live up to its task, any normative account of interpretation must positively build upon the identity constituting function of Scripture, while at the same time creatively mediating the message of Scripture to the context of the community

Topics: Godgeleerdheid, Scripture, interpretation, hermeneutics, book of Job, John Calvin, Gustavo Guttérrez, Orlando di Lasso, the Testament of Job, authority of Scripture
Year: 2003
OAI identifier: oai:dspace.library.uu.nl:1874/606

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