Reading The Old Testament In Postmodern Times -- By: Craig G. Bartholomew

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 049:1 (NA 1998)
Article: Reading The Old Testament In Postmodern Times
Author: Craig G. Bartholomew

Reading The Old Testament In
Postmodern Times

Craig Bartholomew


This article explores the impact of postmodernism on Old Testament studies by looking at the recent proposals of Rendtorff, Brueggemann and Clines. Rendtorff discerns a crisis in Old Testament studies with the demise of the Wellhausenian paradigm. He argues for a methodological pluralism in the present. Brueggemann stresses the epistemological shift that postmodernism entails and argues for a hermeneutic that funds postmodern imagination. Clines welcomes the pluralism of postmodernism and articulates a consumer hermeneutic while favouring ideological critique of the Bible. This article argues that some form of metanarrative shaping one’s hermeneutic is inevitable and that at its best postmodernism re-opens the debate about a religiously shaped hermeneutic.

I. Introduction

In virtually every discipline there is a growing body of ‘postmodernity and…’ literature. Old Testament studies is no exception. Central to the postmodern turn is a crisis of the philosophical foundations of modernity,1 and these philosophical tremors are being felt throughout the academy, not least in biblical studies. Thus Anthony Thiselton writes:

These perspectives constitute the most serious and urgent challenge to theology, in comparison with which the old-style attacks from ‘common-sense positivism’ appear relatively naïve. Theology has more at stake than perhaps any other discipline because, although philosophy and some other disciplines share the

same loss of truth, theology serves to establish critically-informed trust, whereas the postmodern perspective rests on suspicion.2

For the past two hundred years the extent to which biblical studies should share the ‘trust’ of theology has been controversial. It became commonplace in the university to assume that biblical exegesis should take place in isolation from theology and that it should not be related to Scriptural proclamation. Francis Watson3 refers to C.F. Evans’ proposal that we should strive ‘to ensure as far as possible that exegesis is studied in such a way that it does not issue in proclamation.’ This rigid drawing of boundaries between exegesis, theology and proclamation is now open to question in ways that it was not some twenty years ago. Either way, however, post-modernism represents a crisis for biblical studies, casting aspersion, as it does, upon all metanarratives, whether theological or secular modernistic.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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