Friday, March 28, 2008

Interpreting the Bible

This is yet another post on the thinking out of a hermeneutical process stimulated by Iyov. We are very fortunate to have scholars - many of them - willing to struggle with the expression of history and faith to those of us who have read less. I too struggle to express - and in writing, I learn what it is I wish to say.

The focus of this blog is the psalms. The posts from the last 20 months reflect that slow lift-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps learning process. In the gear-change between my first full pass of translation and learning Hebrew and my second full pass at notes on the ancient texts using both the Hebrew and the LXX (gotta learn Greek now!), we have had a session of several posts on approaches to reading and interpreting these works. 1 2 3 4 5 6

In the early days of my first classes in Hebrew, I was introduced to PRDS in an art-show at our local Synagogue. What a lovely story it is. And our favorite, Rabbi Akiva comes out in peace. As Iyov explains, the fourfold approach to Scripture is in these steps:
  • Peshat -- "plain" -- the plain meaning of the text
  • Remez -- "hints" -- the allegorical (or "deep") meaning of the text
  • Derash -- "seek" -- the homiletic meaning
  • Sod -- "secret" -- the mystical meaning

If I were to summarize my thoughts briefly, I would say that the twofold division of Neale (plain and mystical = Christological) can use the P and the R-D-S to explore the unfolding of his second component, perhaps to see if the anointing can be more universal than exclusive.

The story connected with the acronym, Iyov also summarizes - so much in so few words:

The four entered the Pardes by meditating on God's name. Ben Azzai gazed at the Divine Presence and died. Ben Zoma gazed and became insane. Acher "cut down plants in the Orchard", that is, he became a heretic. Rabbi Akiva entered in peace and left in peace.

If we dare enter the Garden, what will become of us? Ben Azzai, שמעון בן עזאי if his name is etymologically related to azazel, he must die. Ben Zoma בן זומא is also a Simon - one who hears. His name seems to be unrelated to anything, perhaps device or plan. I suppose paradise cannot be planned. Acher אחר had to 'remain behind' to cut the plants down. Who is it that can go in and out freely and find pasture, surely the one whose interpretation of the Song has moved me so. Akiva עקיבא was also I believe a late starter. His name, from 'follow at the heel', seems to be etymologically related to Jacob. I wouldn't put planning out of mind, but perhaps his diligence amounted to the kind of 'waiting' קוה that is prized and rewarded.

I think there is a danger for me that I will cut the plants down. Perhaps as reductionism, perhaps also I will wait for growth. All of me has died already. There is certainly a risk of madness. I was once told that no direct approach to God is possible except through the Son - especially not 'through' the Spirit. That way lay madness, he said. (I don't remember his name - he was the stationery clerk at the Information Systems Department in Don Mills at IBM in the period 1974-77. He was open-table Brethren and the only person who ever spoke to me plainly about the bridal aspect of faith - things he would never utter in the assembly.) We are told to work in the Spirit and by the Spirit and that the Spirit is in us. Do I exclude anyone? No - for he has poured out Spirit on all flesh. Will I go in and out freely and find pasture? How could it be otherwise?

Appropriate variations in preposition reveal a native speaker. Here, we all suffer limitations of language. The one tree still standing in my garden is in a post I wrote yesterday here. Does it not combine death, madness, reductionism, and ecstasy?

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