Sunday, March 09, 2008
Fact and Meaning in Biblical Studies
What is the relationship between an event and theological/moral/existential meaning? The Kantian paradigm that heavily influenced post-enlightenment philosophy makes a sharp bifurcation between "Fact" and "Value" so that the two are ultimately related but cannot be equated. In terms of biblical studies this bifurcation can be seen to have two major effects:
(1) It influences the two-stage model of biblical theology which is inherent in Krister Stendahl's differentation between what the text "meant" and what the text "means". This assumes that "facts" are inherently value neutral but meanings are inherently unfactual and often pluriform. This, however, might not be the case, esp. if facts come with their own intentional interpretations in-built.
(2) In more radical terms this can lead to the creation of meaning and value wholly independent of [historical] facts. This is seen most cleay in Crossan (in)famous saying: "Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens" (Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 197). A formulation Bultmann would have been proud of! Here Easter is not an event that happened in history, but is a a vertical encounter with God, and could even be said in platonic terms to constitute the narrative climax of the "brilliant myth" that Christian theological structures are based upon. What I find most interesting is that Markus Bockmuehl notes how this was the pagan view of reality as well (Seeing the Word, 69 n. 61). Sallustius, the friend of the Emperor Julian the Apostate, in his manual on neoplatonic paganism said that "These things never happened, but always are" (tauta de egeneto men oudepote esti de aei) in On the Gods and World 4.9.