In our previous session we looked at a medieval hermeneutic or way of reading the Bible, and I also mentioned one modern method, the historico-critical approach. Another modern method is ‘form criticism’ which focuses upon the diversity of forms or genres of writing. Since different genres tend to follow their own fixed forms they also have their own laws of style, and thus it is important for biblical criticism to make use of literary techniques to appreciate this.
An influential aspect of this method is the concept of a ‘life setting’, the cultural perspective which gave the original sense to the text for the community who produced it.
Of the following passages we asked:
Which book is it from?
What genre or style of text is it?
What function did this passage have when it was written?
What function does it have now?
“Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it.”
“Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.”
“Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.”
“Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her haemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, ‘Who touched me?’ When all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.’ But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.’ When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’”
“As an apple tree among the trees of the wood,
so is my beloved among young men.
With great delight I sat in his shadow,
and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house,
and his intention towards me was love.
Sustain me with raisins,
refresh me with apples,
for I am faint with love.”
“Yahweh God planted a garden in Eden, which is in the east, and there he put the man he had fashioned. From the soil, Yahweh God caused to grow every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
“Comfort, O my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.”
“At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. There shall be a tie of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
1 is from Leviticus. It is law so it is definitely non-fiction. Blood was seen as sacred because it was the stuff of life and hence meddling with it was ‘playing God’. The strict rules about hairstyles were about preserving the identity of the tribe to prevent the culture from dying out. Similarly, tattoos were marks of other tribes (and their corresponding cults). And of course there would have been health and safety issues with these before modern medicine. Today we could read this as advocating respect for the same underlying values: preserving identity, health and safety.
2 is from Luke but is found in Mark and Matthew too. It is a Gospel narrative, and a miracle story in particular. It refers to a woman who has something wrong with her periods, which would have been incredibly taboo in Hebrew society. Hence Jesus is presented as breaking down social barriers and embracing outcasts. So today it asks us to do the same, and to also investigate now, as then, who this person is with such power. It speaks also of the power of faith, comfort and healing.
3 is from the Song of Songs– so it is a song! It could also be termed erotica, as such it was suggested that its function could be to get adolescent boys interested in reading the Bible! It also tells us about its author, King Solomon. Originally the function would have been to be sung at wedding celebration. In the Christian era it has been seen as a parable about love.
5 is from Isaiah and is a song. It recalls God’s promises and gives encouragement to those exiled.
6 is from Daniel, an example of apocalyptic literature. It is prophesy rather than narrative, and the function is giving hope against oppression.