Putting the Criticism Back into Bible Criticism

Little to nothing has changed since the 19th century in the way ancient Jewish scriptures are analyzed and understood. Prof. Hindy Najman, professor of scriptural interpretation of the Bible at Oriel College, University of Oxford, is on a mission to eradicate outdated “Protestant” and “parochial” approaches to Bible criticism, and introduce contemporary approaches to the field.

Subscribe To The Podcast

Previous Episodes

 

SponsorsVLJILogoBlack

This season of the Tel Aviv Review is made possible by The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, which promotes humanistic, democratic, and liberal values in the social discourse in Israel.

Support the show on Patreon

Receive extra segments, book discounts, and other patron-only perks by supporting the show on Patreon. Click to find out how a handful of dollars a month can help.

2 comments on Putting the Criticism Back into Bible Criticism

  1. Dear Folks,
    I have 20 years research into something missing for over 3000 years and it sits in the Yemeni based text of the Hebrew Torah. Now I may not be a Jew, but I know of what I am writing, Please, if you would pass this site address that I have put out for veiwing on the web (“www.colunga-hernandez.com”) to Ms. Najman, and while you are at it – Please look at the site yourselves. 2018 will hopefully see this research properly presented in digital book form. I wish you Peace – and a better New Year than we could ever hope for!
    The Torah is something that needs to be seen in our day in the proper light of our day!… it isn’t something dead and past. ~8) Be ready to be surprised.

  2. Greg Pollock says:

    “We ourselves are fragments of that past…”

    — Prof. Hindy Najman, in interview

    1. Material objectivism and a science of sociality.

    Scientists have ontological commitments, commitments so strong that they can sunder friendships, destroy careers, and, very occasionally, lead to suicide (I believe one individual advocating a mathematical link between micro and macro thermodynamics did so, asking that his integrating equation be placed on his tombstone). I cannot see a scientist progressing without such commitments, and all our later analyses of what such were really doing, how their culture influenced their vision, is rather beside the point during science creation. Philosophers of science I see as cultural critics. They have much to say after the fact, just as a biographer does; they can loosen our own chains of history, provide room to maneuver, dance–but mind the slack so as not to fall down in jerk. But how many of us would cart our biographer around with us in our lives, pausing to ask exactly how such and such will be seen, or why we did this, not that? Perhaps Woody Allen, but he is no scientist. And if we did cart that speaker, would we not have to cart another watching our interaction with our biographer, mute to us so as to avoid an infinite regress in which all of matter is converted into commentators of our lives and those commenting on our lives? Truncation, blindness, is part of creation, and what we think we leave is not always what is picked up by the future, Newton’s alchemy all gone save for specialists in their bliss. Indeed, working scientists do not care much for the intimate history of past failures and can find stumbled successes amusing in light of present theory. We take what you produce and care not how you produced it.

    I think anthropology shows that an analysis may be prohibitively destructive if imposed on its subjects. It can be so even for the religious. Should not a Christian, encountering a mother dying, she having seen her children dead before her, confident they are with Allah, yet not urge her to accept Jesus for eternal life, thereby accepting that her children, adhering to the pillar of Islam which says God neither begets nor is begotten, are damned for untimed eternity to objectively save herself? Surprisingly, many Christians will say no, don’t force that upon her, thereby violating their own ontology–their very technology of salvation. God has emergency clauses we know not. For the social scientist, understanding, such as it may be, can force silence. Contentment is not understanding.

    The mechanisms of lived life have an objective reality, surely in physiology–I see no cultural critique trying to argue cancer away as an imposition of values–and in social strategies. But the promulgation of a social strategy can employ discourse even at odds with its material effect and maintenance. A strategy need only replicate itself, not do so in a way consistent with any discourse it might use as a mechanism for replication; the discourse is simply a mechanism, not a self aware mechanism, let alone a psychoanalyzed self aware mechanism, so to say. In this sense social science, as a strategy set, tries to do what has never been done, a collective Freud risking faint in self awareness.

    My own view is that global knowledge is impossible, for each of us is naught but a node in a knowledge network. Universalism rests only in the fact that other networks may observe me as I observe them, but this is a false promise of reaching the view from nowhere, for we are ever on the path to somewhere in our network walks. No one person can claim totality, nor even one network. I do not think humanity human any more than I think an ant colony identical to a worker ant within it. But while colonies are discrete, networks can overlap, this latter giving the illusion that all can be grasped if another thread can be followed. Even the science of physics is like this. That a physicist might be able to replicate some theory does not mean that she understands it beforehand, and even then no one masters high energy theory and experiment combined. I believe the religious understand this, seeing God as the only marker of totality, true, full knowledge denied to us. Those without God know in unease that scientists have created something called knowledge which lives beyond any one person. “We now know” is a common phrase; it is a lie. “Someone can access” would be better. But not me; I can neither access nor know. Some other is not me, nor you, mostly. I think a science of sociality possible, and that it will use us as much as we think we use it precisely because there is no single we.

    We are fragments of the past, examining the past; but there is no single we so doing.

    2. Constitutionalism, originalism, and backward projected relativism.

    Constitutional originalism holds that a text has a clear first meaning. Globally, this is false. A constitution is an instrument of contention leading to compromises of vagueness; you get votes for passage of clauses into the final document by not being absolutely clear on what they mean; worse, a majority vote passing a constitution does not imply every clause, when voters are not the drafters, would get a majority vote. Legislative or constitutional convention intent is of no single voice. Conservative originalism is mostly a lie, for it asserts otherwise. People can vote for the same clause precisely because they differ in its inferred later meaning. But the range of meanings is restricted to time of promulgation; an asserted interpretation must have been plausible at ratification.

    Abortion probably birthed absolute originalism. I cannot see how due process and liberty interest assert a right of abortion; I think the conservatives right on that–the interest is wholly imported after the fact in a shock to the conscience test. But they are wrong that the US Constitution has no implication for banned abortion. The 13th Amendment prohibits involuntary servitude. A woman near three months pregnant might want to abort. Force her to term and then force adoption, she will be fine. But by the time of birth the woman’s brain chemistry has changed: she may no longer want, with searing pain, to give up the infant. Fine, we say, keep it, aren’t you glad we forced the issue upon you. But the woman of three months wants this not, even if she understands her later probable change in brain chemistry. Thereby we sentence that woman of three months to the unwanted servitude of future motherhood. Before the court stands the three month woman, not the birthed mother; her case is decided, not the woman to be, for if ever there is a “liberty interest” it is of that before us now. I conclude that the 13th Amendment biases against banning abortion with no talk of “due process liberty interest” at all. More could be said, but I defer.

    This argument imports science which could not be in the “Framer’s” minds. A written constitution provides the tools for a geometry of legal life; it creates a space for life to come. But the space is unarticulated until objects are thrust into it. The argument on a woman’s change in brain chemistry enters that space, thereby unfolding the space’s geometric rules. But the geometry cannot predefine the outcome before the object enters its space; different objects evoke different parts of the geometry.

    This geometry is not well defined in splendid isolation. It refers to objects outside of it which themselves import rules for the geometry. In the US Constitution, “jury” is imported without internal definition, so the jury’s function in common law must be imported to define the term. This implies that jury nullification is indeed constitutionally primary–but just watch a judge’s face if you say so. A man like Scalia disliked jury nullification, but his originalism would seem to lead exactly there. And in this, too, originalism lies.

    There is no reason to assert that drafters or voters of constitutional text understood the full geometry that text may reveal. That would be like saying the creator of a mathematical geometry must have understood all possible theorems in the system. Textual originalism does not freeze life; it simply restricts the creative tools of life for consistency and consensus. Crucially, it restricts the power of the judicial mind to retain the power of the judiciary. Deciding a case because it is socially right was used by the Nazis as well. A constitution is a check on all views not constructible from its words. But that is still a very large space for contention and thought, as I hope the 13th Amendment view I sketched above shows.

Leave a Reply to Greg Pollock Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *