Wednesday, August 11

The message matters

For myself, when I become interested in a topic, I investigate the primary sources. If I hear that, as an example, the government says 'X', I go and read the original release from them. When the latest row erupted about climate change, I read the IPCC report...all 15.9 gazillion pages of eye-glazing minutiae. Further, I am intimately aware that scholarship changes over time. As my grasp of classical latin and greek is tenuous at best, acquiring a translation which incorporated the most accurate and current scholarship was important.

So, it should come as no great shock that, when I decided to investigate Catholicism, I went and corralled a copy of the 'Catholic' Bible. WOW...look at all the extra books. Gee, this text and that verse reads very differently than I learned growing up. Attempting to understand how these differences arose, I went and read about translations and interpretations. That's when I ran across the historical-critical method of scriptural interpretation....and the world exploded in a champagne supernova.

You see, I've been doing serious historical scholarship in the medieval period for years and the historical-critical method is the most logical and reasonable way of understanding primary source documents. Once I saw that there were people out there applying this eminently reasonable method to scripture, it only made sense. This got me thinking recently about the 'lesser' texts - the deuterocanonical and non-canonical texts and have me thinking about what they are saying. Some are substantively at variance with the remainder of scripture not just in the story but also in the underlying meaning (the book of Enoch and the Gospel of Judas, for instance). Others, while having a different story or emphasis, enrich the base message of the scriptures and provide valuable insight and a greater understanding of the people in that place and time (i.e. - the three additions to Daniel and the Gospel of Mary).

So, what does all of this mean? If we agree with Paul that scripture is useful to teach, correct and show us how to act in the manner which God desires (I would explicitly add 'inspire' in addition to the last), then one should look at the message being transmitted. Is what is being said, especially on a deeper level, in accordance with the larger corpus of the extant sources. Does it provide additional insight? Then the provenance of the teaching is really of secondary importance, it is the message that matters.

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