This post is part of an ongoing series examining whether or not God commanded Israel to commit genocide in the conquest of the Promised Land.
How Do We Read the Bible? : The Importance of Context
Many Protestant Christians talk about reading the Bible “literally.” But I often don’t understand exactly what that means. Webster’s defines “literally” as “in a literal manner or sense; exactly.” When applied to the interpretation of a written text, this type of reading would seem to indicate that you take the text at its simple face value. But there are many portions of the Bible that even those advocating a “literal” reading of the Bible do not suggest should be interpreted woodenly. Consider, for example, the parables of Jesus. Is it possible that the Parable of the Sower or the Good Samaritan were actual events that Jesus was merely repeating for his followers? Possibly. But most people who have read or heard these stories have understood them as parables–stories that Jesus told to make a point and teach a truth–and not as historical narrative. But parables are not the only parts of scripture that should caution our desire to read the Bible “literally.” The Wisdom literature of the Old Testament (the central portion of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes) and the Psalms are two additional chunks of Christian scripture that most people are hesitant to interpret “literally.” Continue reading
Model of the Second Jewish Temple
Since the earliest days of the Jesus Movement, Christianity has proclaimed Jesus of Nazareth as the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people. What exactly did this proclamation mean to those who heard it in the context of the Roman Empire and Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem? Much recent scholarship has attempted to assess the theological and political expectations of the Jewish idea of Messiah in the immediate context of Jesus of Nazareth and his follower’s claims to his place as the “Anointed One” of Israel. This paper will examine the general contours of scholarship surrounding the general view of the Second Temple Jewish people concerning the coming Messiah. In examining this issue, one will see that throughout the diversity of Jewish expectations and contexts, there emerged expectations of a messianic figure from God who would restore Israel in some fashion. Continue reading
This post is part of our ongoing series examining interpretations of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
We now turn to the examination of our second perspective in the interpretation of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the view of Richard L. Rohrbaugh, which provides us with an example of parable interpretation from the perspective of the social sciences. With regard to methodology, Rohrbaugh approaches the text of the New Testament primarily from the perspectives of sociology and anthropology, arguing that one cannot find proper interpretation of the stories contained in the Gospel accounts apart from their socio-historical context within the Ancient Mediterranean Jewish context. While essentially skirting past any substantial critique formed by literary or redaction criticism, Rohrbaugh bases his parable interpretation out of the received text of that parable found in Luke, arguing the likelihood that at least a portion of both the Historical Jesus and Lucan audiences would have contained the characters that Rohrbaugh employs to situate his interpretation: the ancient Mediterranean peasant. In basing his interpretation out of the world of the typical Mediterranean peasant, Rohrbaugh makes a notable assumption, namely that the contexts of the historically delivered parable and the literary parable were essentially the same. Such a perspective may seem to sit at odds with the long-held understanding of Luke’s gospel to have been written with an imperially informed and non-Jewish community. However, Rohrbaugh’s main concern in his interpretation of Luke 15 lies with the supplemental information that it presents in contrast to and in conglomeration with the traditional interpretation of this parable as one of repentance, forgiveness, and a stubborn older brother. With the social sciences as his primary tool, Rohrbaugh relies heavily upon the works of those scholars who have sought to reconstruct the socio-historical world of First Century Palestine. This interpretation provides very little by way of direct evidence for the socio-historical claims made, with far fewer primary or even secondary accounts being utilized in the construction of the social world that is presented as the norm for the parable, making it difficult to weigh Rohrbaugh’s socially located claims against interpreters who would argue for a different set of social norms. Rohrbaugh’s methodology remains situated within the framework of the historical-critical model by its use of social-scientific and contextually oriented investigations of the socio-cultural world in which the parable was first delivered. Continue reading