Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The New Historicism

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The New Historicism

Article excerpt

The New Historicism. By Gina Hens-Piazza. Guides to Biblical Scholarship, Old Testament Series. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2002. viii + 94 pp. $13.00 (paper).

In this short volume, directed mostly but not exclusively to students and teachers of the Old Testament, Gina Hens-Piazza offers us a clear and winsome (but also wisely critical) introduction to a diverse set of interpretive practices that has often been called the "new historicism." In describing this movement Hens-Piazza, who is associate professor of Old Testament at the Jesuit School of Theology in the Berkeley-based Graduate Theological Union, writes mainly about her neighbors, a group of literary critics associated with the University of California, Berkeley. Though one can wonder, as Hens-Piazza does, whether these scholars actually hold to a common, definable methodology-the very word seems anathema to some of them-they nevertheless present a significant alternative to the "old historicism" that most of us still work with in seminaries and parish settings. This includes a concern for locating texts within a historical period (for example, the early monarchy or Second Temple Judaism), the features of which are assumed to be highly factual, as well as a close attention to the distinctive place within that period of a given author, which is thought to help us define authorial intention. The end product in "old historicism" usually emerges as a description of what probably happened "back then." It may or may not have meaning for today.

By contrast, interpreters identified with the new historicism, who share the deep skepticism voiced by postmodern thinkers about objectivity in the writing of history, tend to blur the lines between meaning "then" and meaning "now." They accent and even celebrate the interpreter's creative role in the artificial construct that we call history. They reject "the notion of history as equal to . . . real or lived experience" and refuse "to draw sharp distinctions between history and fiction" (p. 32). Typically practitioners of the new historicism devote themselves to examining anecdotal or marginal aspects of human experience, and nearly always with an eye toward exposing the socioeconomic-political power struggles to which texts witness, struggles which are thought to be the chief forces at work in the very production of texts. …

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