Ancient Israel: The Old Testament in Its Social Context

By Philip F. Esler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Social-Scientific Models
in Biblical Interpretation

Philip F. Esler

It is now some thirty years since the thriving movement to explore Old and New Testaments using social-scientific insights began, even though, as far as the Old Testament is concerned, there are precedents for this going back to the nineteenth century (as Anselm Hagedorn and I demonstrate in chapter 2 of this volume). The use of social-scientific models in biblical interpretation has already attracted considerable attention.1 My object here is not to canvass the entirety of that discussion but to take up one central aspect of it, by explaining and defending the true nature of model use. Yet my aim is not simply to clear away misconceptions concerning model use in biblical interpretation, but also— with reference to the thought of Max Weber—to mount a positive defense of this enterprise of a kind that previously has not been essayed in detail.2


The Use of Models in Social-Scientific Interpretation

Social-scientific interpretation undertaken by the overwhelming majority of its practitioners is a heuristic process. It fires the social-scientific imagination to ask new questions of data, to which only the data can provide the answers.

Models are essentially simplifications, exemplifications, and systematizations of data used for comparative processes. Those who employ them in exegesis know they are merely tools available to enable comparison. It is senseless, therefore, to ask if models are “true”or

-3-

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