Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Is the Bible History or Fiction?

I posted this today on Bible and Jive.

As we read the stories of the Hebrew scriptures we may wonder if are reading historical reportage of events or if we are reading stories of creative imagination. We may decide that somewhere between these poles the truth is found. Most of us would see the story of Adam and Eve in the garden as a myth rather than an event of history. What about the stories of Abraham, Moses, and David?

There is much debate on this theory among biblical scholars today for both the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian New Testament. The debate is called, somewhat inaccurately, the maximalist-minimalist debate. Maximalists generally affirm that the Bible is accurate historically and minimalists affirm that it is not and that it never intended to be read as such. Most scholars fall somewhere between these poles.

Archaeology and literary and rhetorical criticism have come of age in the past couple of decades to show that the Bible is a work of theology more than history. Archaeology has shown that there is very little evidence for the "events" recounted in the Bible. Literary and rhetorical criticism has helped us see these stories as works of art.

This may lead to the next question of realism. Is there something real and true about the theological claims in the Bible if we view them as imaginative creations? That is an important question. Do these stories in some way, tell us the truth about the human condition and about the nature of reality itself?

For example, is the character YHWH, more than a literary character, a projection of artistic imagination on one hand, and more than an actual being who acted this way in history on the other? Is their a reality to YHWH even if the stories about him are not real in the historical sense? This question will require of us who find the Bible as the normative text for the church to enter into these stories and let the Bible confront us even as we confront it.

Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, has spent a great deal of time thinking about these kinds of questions.

A helpful book is his
Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. He goes through the Hebrew Scriptures, book by book, with a fresh look at these texts.

For more discussion on the maximalist/minimalist debate, you might find these Essays on Minimalism helpful from the on-line magazine, The Bible and Interpretation.