Historical-critical methods

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"Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ" (St. Jerome, ~345--420 AD).

We have nothing to fear from the truth.

Jesus is King of Truth.

Historical-critical reading of the Scriptures, in principle, is meant to learn the truth about the historical events in salvation history, the history of the development of the Scriptures, the original meaning of the language used in the Scriptures, and the effect of various literary techniques used by the authors on the proper interpretation of the texts. It is one of the forms of Biblical criticism popularized in the last two centuries, all of which are related, in turn, to the advocacy of critical thinking in the humanities.

Many scholars who use the methods of historical criticism are Modernists. They systematically distort the gospel message by driving a wedge between history and revelation. They take a tool which, in the right hands, can open deeper meanings in the Scriptures and use it as a weapon against the faith.

The work of historians and linguists is irreplaceable in determining the original meaning of the Scriptures. We cannot use our modern meanings of words nor our modern context; we have to develop a good sense of the ancient meanings of the words used in Scripture and the historical contexts within which the books were written.

One of the dangers of the historical methods is that they can focus too much on the original meaning of the texts and blind readers to a later, extended meaning recognized by the Church. Moreover, even though the authors of Scripture were people of their day, it does not follow that their thought was determined by their culture--any more than our thought is determined by modern culture; to teach otherwise is to fall into one of the many traps of historicism.

Critical questions

  • What likelihood is there that the story, in whole or in part, reflects real events?
  • When was the story first told?
  • Who first wrote it down?
  • How many versions of the story are there?
  • Do the different versions support or contradict each other?
  • What was going on in the world of the tellers, recorders and editors of the story when they made their contribution to the text as we have it now--in other words, what was the sitz im Leben (life-situation) of the text as it developed?
  • What extra-biblical sources are there that might confirm or contradict the Scriptural accounts?

Biblical archeology

James Pritchard (1910-1997) was one of the great biblical archeologists. He found hundreds of sites mentioned in the Bible in an effort to prove that "every word in the Bible was factually correct." I don't think he succeeded in that effort, but he showed that there are unquestionably a multitude of historical truths in the Bible.

Church teachings

Verbum Domini--2010 Apostolic Exhortation by Bendedict XVI.

To do:

  • Handout on exegesis.
  • Examples.