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» Ship of Fools   » Special interest discussion   » Kerygmania   » James Kugel and Canonical Criticism

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Source: (consider it) Thread: James Kugel and Canonical Criticism

Ship's pest-controller
# 11435

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Canonical Criticism is associated in Christian circles with what I would describe as conservative non-fundamentalists (Brevard Childs being prominent). James Kugel is Jewish and although he self identifies as Orthodox, he is not fully accepted as such and his views as to how objective as reportage, the OT history is, are certainly not fundie, and are in line with mainstream OT scholarship as per von Radt etc. However.

He is very strong on the question of what makes any writing canonical, and takes the view that the community which accords it canonical status is a key player in this, even more than the person(s) responsible for the origination and development of the texts.

This involves the implication that if certain interpretations of passages were fully accepted by the canonising community even to the extent that if they were not so understood they would never have made it into the canon, then this interpretation should be taken.

For instance, and related to a current thread, according to Kugel it was the settled view of the Jewish community by the time the OT canon was established, that Isaac was a fully willing participant in the story of his sacrifice. IIRC he is quite open to the view that this interpretation is not the only or even best interpretation of the original, but he insists and seeks to prove (and does so to my satisfaction) that this was in fact the current interpretation.

So there was never, and would never be, any intention to canonize a story of human sacrifice. He takes a similar view of the Song of Songs - that it was canonised as a spiritual poem, whatever it's original intent (and after all San Juan's Cantico Espiritual is widely believed to be based on shepherd love songs).

I rather go with his view, especially the creative role of the community is establishing the canon, and the need to respect what that community was intending to canonize.

What do you think?

Schnuffle schnuffle.

Posts: 2538 | From: UK | Registered: May 2006  |  IP: Logged
# 9597

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So there was never, and would never be, any intention to canonize a story of human sacrifice.
Just to clarify, does this mean that because the Jewish community at the time of canonization thought Isaac was a willing participant in Abraham's act, they wouldn't have regarded the story as being about human sacrifice?

I have the power...Lucifer is lord!

Posts: 6574 | From: back and forth between bible belts | Registered: Jun 2005  |  IP: Logged
Nigel M
# 11256

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The issue thrown up is an interesting one – it has certainly interested me for some time. The question at the front, for me, has been: Where does ‘meaning’ lie? The question has important ramifications for a faith community, because meaning impacts lifestyle – the community depends on the meaning to guide how one should live.

The debate during the last century has been around three main options when it came to answering that question:
[1] Authorial intent
[2] Textual intent
[3] Audience intent

The form of Canonical Criticism set out in the OP seems to fall as a sub-set of [3] above. There was a point in time when a specific set of influential individuals determined the meaning of a text. That presumably could be the meaning of individual small-scale texts (verses, chapters, books) that built up into a canonical and systematic whole: the meaning of the canon.

It is an option. It does come at a price, though. Questions that sprang to my mind on this:

[1] What principle promotes the interpretation of the Canonisers, as opposed to those of an interpretation by a later collection of interpreters from the same faith community? At stake, for example, would be issues such as: most of the Church Fathers who argued for the Canon as we have now received it did not believe in the concept of the Trinity as later developed. On Kugel’s call (if I understand it correctly from the OP), we should ditch the Trinity in favour of something more binitarian, or whatever belief the earlier interpreters held

[2] Kugel, being Jewish, would presumably close the Canon with the Jewish scriptures. How does that impact the Christian interpretations? Should we, for example, change the order of the Old Testament to match that of the Jewish Canon? Does the fact that this is a question invalidate Kugel’s argument?

[3] What do we do about the differences in opinion between those who were involved in the debates on the Canon? They did not always agree with each other on the interpretation of texts in the Canon they argued for. Does this invalidate the argument?

That last one taps into one reason why I find authorial intention to be the best option for establishing meaning: the pluriformity resulting from interpretations when the audience does not agree. Reader response and reception theories struggle with this issue.

Posts: 2826 | From: London, UK | Registered: Apr 2006  |  IP: Logged

Ship's pest-controller
# 11435

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Yes, that is the idea. I read Kugel a fewyears ago but IIRC he cited a lot of evidence.

Schnuffle schnuffle.

Posts: 2538 | From: UK | Registered: May 2006  |  IP: Logged

Ship's pest-controller
# 11435

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Nigel M:
As to your interesting points.
1) I don't think their is any implication of ditching any doctrine, since it would generally be agreed that the fully developed trinitarian doctrine is not developed. The criticism would apply to specific texts. Thus, although I do not know if it is true, if it can be shown that the general belief of the NT church that all divorce was out, then we should beware of implying that Matthew teaches different (not that I do).
2) He stays away largely from discussing Christian views. Not 100% but I don't get the idea he is all that interested in what Christians do with the OT.
3) I think it must weaken the case.
But the main issue is the old one between those who think we take our faith from the community or from a book. If we take it from a book, the argument is weakened, because even if true, our belief would go back to the text, and if a book was only canonised because of a mistaken belief then this would not bind us to it.

If we take our faith from the church and take the scriptures as given for our edification by the church, we are more inclined to say that we should understand them as the church does.

But where I am quite in favour of this approach is that I think it is right to see each book as a finished product, and to judge it as a finished product. A lot of criticism obsesses about the text and the attempt to detect underlying earlier documents. Now I have no doubt that these existed, but I am not so convinced that this is as important as many think.

We see this all the time in daily life if we do any literary production, even anything so banal as a business case. I have done them and incorporated boilerplate from various sources, added bits of input from several people, but the end result is a document which I want to be judged on its merits. I would see little point in a reader exulting in having detected multiple sources (although I might worry if they were lawyers about to sue for copyright violation!).

Schnuffle schnuffle.

Posts: 2538 | From: UK | Registered: May 2006  |  IP: Logged

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