Literary Study of the Bible
The previous chapter elaborated on the theological dimension present in most nineteenth- and twentieth-century biblical scholarship and made a case for reconsidering the partnership between religious interests and rational methods that is characteristic of theological interpretation. Historical reconstruction of biblical persons, events, and traditions is an entirely legitimate activity, but possibly less fruitful for theology than the newly emerging literary approaches. These offer more points of connection for the theories of religion and reality which seem to be necessary if secular methods are to yield theological interpretations.
That suggestion does not detract from the traditional disciplines of biblical scholarship. The student of ancient literature can never have enough factual information about the languages, history, literary conventions and genres of the culture concerned. But this indispensable spadework can lay a base for several modes of interpretation, and some of the different ways that interpreters read a work of art today may prove more suggestive for theological interpretation than a historical scholarship which is less interested in the aesthetic and moral significance of great literature.
Whether or not this diagnosis is accepted, and whether or not theological interests are still strong enough to carry through a partial reorientation of biblical teaching, the suggestion itself serves the purpose of an introduction to biblical interpretation by providing a perspective on its different dimensions. It is simpler to describe the task of biblical interpretation than to survey all the contemporary theology, hermeneutics, and biblical scholarship that it involves. So much detail could obscure as much as it revealed. A