Friday, October 26, 2012

on the place of intuition in biblical studies

John Barton's Reading the Old Testament is beautifully honest, carefully worded, and lucidly written. I wish I had read it years ago. His aim is to show that no one method in biblical studies can trump all the rest. Like an experienced tour guide, he leads students beyond the first impressions of youthful naiveté to forgotten hallways and shadowy basements of biblical criticism, showing tunnels that lead from one edifice to another as well as places where the foundations have cracked or shifted over time. Barton’s analysis is sometimes surprising and often uncomfortable, but his overall thesis is persuasive.

Barton has the courage to say what scarcely sounds "academic" enough to make it in the scholarly world: Bible reading is intuitive. Some intuitions, of course, are better shaped to handle the biblical text than others. A "perceptive reader" has what it takes.

"The primary thesis [of this book] is that much harm has been done in biblical studies by insisting that there is, somewhere, a 'correct' method which, if only we could find it, would unlock the mysteries of the text. . . . Instead, I propose that we should see each of our 'methods' as a codification of intuitions about the text which may occur to intelligent readers" (5).

So, in essence, that's what we spend a lifetime doing—shaping our intuitions so they can guide us more reliably in our reading of sacred Scripture. I will never get tired of doing it. What rich rewards await the patient and perceptive reader!

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