THE NOTION OF
A SACRED TEXT
We are no longer as we were. No longer are we sustained within a biblical matrix; or at least not solely so, and not without an acute awareness of competing claims on our spiritual and cognitive integrity. The labor of many centuries has expelled us from this edenic womb and its wellsprings of life and knowledge. And so if essayists like Matthew Arnold and poets like Wallace Stevens have billed the poet as the modern day avatar of priest and rabbi, is this not because the Bible has lost its ancient authority to provide moral guidance and spiritual insight, and to differentiate the sacred and the profane? And further, if modern literary critics still struggle with notions of an integrated text, and such phrases as "sacred text" or "literary canon," are not these too the cultural afterbirth of notions of a sacred Scripture once believed to be a seamless web of integrated meanings ?
To be sure, there are those who regard the desacralization of the Bible as the fortunate condition for the rise of new sensibilities and modes of imagination. I will not address this issue here—not because I find it irrelevant or perverse (I do not), but simply because I do not wish to delay discussion of a topic too regularly deferred in modern discourse. What I am concerned with, of course, is the very notion of a sacred text for those of us who do not unreflectingly talk the language of religious tradition, or who cannot—and with whether this notion of a sacred text is at all retrievable at this historical hour.
Since this question affects our innermost cultural being, and traces our relationship to the foundational text of our religious and cultural origins. there is no choice but to speak personally. This choice is reinforced by my deep conviction that genuine questions are those that seize us and from which there can be no honest evasion. In this respect I am very much a disciple of Franz Rosenzweig. But how can this notion of a sacred text be encountered—given our present alienation from such matters and the fact that we come to this topic through a mix of modern notions regarding texts, their status, and the role of a reader? I have no unilateral solution,