In Defense of Biblical Criticism
Abstract: If the Bible has a voice in contemporary intellectual discourse, it must, by definition, be one without institutional dogma or a privileged history of interpretation. As such, any turn to the Bible in contemporary intellectual discourse is an inherently Protestant project, because individuals can be asked to judge the Bible only by consulting their own consciences. This article questions the ultimate value of this approach and argues that this Protestant hermeneutic may be effective for using the Bible rhetorically, to shore up what one already thinks prior to reading it, but in the end it only mirrors the reader. In contrast, an historical approach distances the reader from the object of study, which may allow a true conversation to take place. For better or for worse, biblical criticism will not bring us beyond the age of the “historical spirit of Protestantism,” but it may provide insight into worldviews quite different from our own.
Biography: Leora Batnitzky is a professor of religion and director of graduate studies for the religion department at Princeton University. Her teaching and research interests include philosophy of religion, modern Jewish thought, hermeneutics, and contemporary legal and political theory. She is the author of Idolatry and Representation: The Philosophy of Franz Rosenzweig Reconsidered (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000) and Leo Strauss and Emmanuel Levinas: Philosophy and the Politics of Revelation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). She is beginning a new project on the relations between modern legal theory and modern religious thought. She is co-editor of the Jewish Studies Quarterly since 2004.