I held onto AKMA‘s “Faithful Interpretation…” for a week or so. It was tough reading. I bristled and groaned. I grumbled and moaned. Dr. Weinberger suggested I start with AKMA’s 1995 volume, “What is Postmodern Biblical Criticism?” I ordered that book too.
Saturday we had twenty adults and six children here for a Quakerly retreat, a lengthy period (two and a half hours seated in silence) of silent worship, a wonderful lunch, and an afternoon of “worship sharing” — a few more hours with each of us reflecting on a couple of queries regarding faith, religion, and community.
I had an interesting exchange with a Friend from Dubuque. It was complicated and I can’t do it justice here, but my friend suggested that knowledge and common understanding are not absolutes, that the word a-p-p-l-e is not an “apple” and that it doesn’t mean “apple” the same way biting into a crisp and juicy McIntosh does, and in fact that each of us experiences that in a subtly different way. I thought he would enjoy AKMA’s book.
Toward the end of the day most of us went out into the drizzly gray afternoon and walked the labyrinth. Molly played football with the kids. Then we all came back together in the living room, centered again into silence, thanked each other for a wonderful day and went each our own ways.
So, I gave away my copy of “Faithful Interpretation…” to the Dubuque Meeting, and after our friends had departed I went to the mailbox to collect Saturday’s mail. There was “What is Postmodern Biblical Criticism?”
One of the ways of taking “Faithful Interpretation” is to assume that one of the questions it raises halfway through in fact helped generate the entire book. (I wouldn’t presume to know if that’s how AKMA’s thought process actually worked.) AKMA looks at the incompatible ways serious and thoughtful scholars have interpreted any particular Biblical text. How, AKMA wonders, can he let himself be put in the position of saying that person B,C…Z are wrong when they are in fact so smart and devout? But, that’s exactly the “game” the usual view of interpretation demands of us. If meaning is _in_ a text, then those who fail to unearth it are wrong. If person A is right, then B-Z are wrong and mistaken.
Similarly, AKMA notices that it seems to be an empirical fact that we are never all going to agree on even the rudimentary principles of Biblical interpretation. Do we treat the text as an historical accounting, as myth, etc.? We’ve had 2,000 years or so to agree on this, and it hasn’t happened. We should accept this, AKMA says.
So, on the basis of love and empiricism, AKMA looks for another way to understand the text and to respect those devoted to interpreting it. That’s what I think “Faithful Interpretation” is about. (He also deals with how to avoid having to say “Everyone is right and no one is ever wrong.”)
Those same impulses guide “What is pomo biblical criticism?” as well, I believe, although I don’t think he expresses them explicitly. (It’s been a while since I read it.)