Tuesday, July 21, 2009

OT texts are theological history?

Today in OT class, we are being shown Longman and Dillard's definition of stories found in the OT:

"[history] refers to events that have taken place in the past...biblical history is not objective history-that is, uninterpreted history-but rather, history narrated with a divine purpose. For this reason, commentators have referred to biblical history as "theological history"..." (Longman & Dillard, p.19)

Our lecturer dated the compilation of Genesis stories in the Exile period, 586BC-538BC. The reason for that was to remind exiled Israelites of their origin and to strengthened the ethnicity of the diasporic.

On one hand, if the dating of the compilation is correct, then the primary function of the text was for ethnography purposes rather than writing history per se. On the other, we do not have certainty that such stories are historical accurate for the transmission involved more than a thousand years.

So with these two aspects, I don't agree the definition of those stories in Genesis is theological history. Longman & Dillard's confident to define it as some sort of history is suspect. At best, what we have in Genesis are ethnocentric myth for that is its primary function.

I brought this up to our lecturer during the break time. She has no problem with my thoughts. She told me that we Christians believe that these stories are inspired, hence they are historical. But my disagreement is that by using Longman and Dillard's definition in the class is painting a wrong picture of the text to the students. Now I think my classmates think that those stories found in Genesis are some sort of history. A conclusion which overturns what we were told in the introductory class: to be critical with the texts.


akikonomu said...

Hi there, I think there are several layers or approaches possible that we have to differentiate between.

What is theological history, how historically objective are the records as presented in the Bible?

1. Textual inerrancy - every single account and record is taken literally as is.

2. Theological history - from Longman and Dillard, this would be an account of mostly factual history repackaged or retold for nation-rebuilding purposes.

3. Ethnocentric or racial myth. This goes beyond saying that the accounts were somewhat true but repackaged to saying that much of these records are just simply moral tales whose historical objectivity may or may not be there, but are spiritually edifying.

As I understand, the Dei Verbum on inspiration and inerrancy does not imply that the Scriptures contain no historical errors, but only no errors that would distort its religious message of salvation.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi aikikonomu,

Thank you for your comments. Yes, there are a few perspectives on those stories found especially in Genesis.

Well, some people argue that the story of Adam and Eve has to be historical because if not there is not original sin, and that will devalue the function of Christ in dying for us. So Dei Verbum's definition or guideline for understanding Scripture is too broad and vague.

reasonable said...

Some see those OT text as historicised FICTION; some see them as fictionalised HISTORY.

The love story between Rose and Jack is historicised FICTION.

The point/purpose of telling a fiction could be the same as that of telling a history.

The OT can be one big FICTION and it should not damage the Christian faith (though it may damage the faith of certain "fundamentalists").

Sze Zeng said...

Hi reasonable,

I think we should not lump up all the books in the OT as the same genre. Each have to measured by themselves. So there are some books which are more like historicized fiction, and some fictionalized history.

I take your point that even if some books in the OT are fictional, that doesn't invalid the entire Christian faith with one stroke.

reasonable said...

In case some readers do not know, my sentence "The love story between Rose and Jack is historicised FICTION" refers to the love story in the movie Titanic.

I recognise the OT comprises various different genres (I did not lump all d documents into one single genre); what I said means that EVEN IF the OT is one whole FICTION, it still does not harm the Christian faith unless one is a fundamentalist. Hence I said the OT "can" be one whole fiction and it does not cause damage to our faith. ["can" not "is"]

If the key stories in the OT are indeed substantially fiction, then those of us (including me) who accept more or less N.T. Wright's narrative approach (Act 1, Act 2, and so on) would have to treat the initial part of the narrative as non-historical myth and there might then be implications on the reason for Jesus' ministry with respect to Israel's plight.

Metta & Shalom :)

reasonable said...

Perhaps some who have not explored may like to explore:

Fundamental OT narratives: Theological History or Historicised Theology?

In those parts where the stories give an appearance of history but which may not be history, were the writers' minds more on history or more on theology or both?

Authors & Editors & Compilers of those Hebrew Scripture were distorting historical events to create a story to achieve certain purpose (such as to strengthen Israelites' faith in Yahweh during their crisis period)?


Hi Joshua,

Are there students in class who were uncomfortable with the ideas that those OT narratives (discussed in class) could be non-historical?

Some students may even complain that the lecturer is a liberal. Hope it does not happen in this batch.

Israel Lee said...

Josh, how do you define history?

Sze Zeng said...

Hi reasonable, well the class took it very casually. So no complains being lodged.

Hi Israel, I stick with Longman and Dillard's definition of history. That is 'reference to events that happened in the past'.