ANY LITERATURE or history teacher can tell you that texts are situated in the place and time they were written. The vocabulary, the genre, the structure, every aspect of a work is influenced by the time and culture of its origin—not to mention the author. While recent works may meticulously cite dates of publication, names of authors, and references, ancient works require detective work to unearth even these basics. That’s what historical-critical reading provides.
Johnstone, Jonalu. Scripture Unbound: A Unitarian Universalist Approach (p. 41). Skinner House Books. Kindle Edition.
In an attempt to bring some sense of authority to religious texts many scholars engage in a historical exegesis. When was the text written, by whom, under what circumstances with what sanction and certification and how was it used by the communities that embraced it?
Meaning is not a matter of fact but of interpretation which can change over a period of time, contexts, and influence of power relations.
- If you were raised in a faith tradition which espoused a sacred text how has your view of the authority of the text changed over the years?
- Have you found yourself picking and choosing various interpretations of the text according to your biases?
- Have you found religious leaders attempting to persuade and influence people based on their interpretation of the meaning of the text?
- Have these religious leaders claimed they have the one, and only, and true interpretation and so should be accepted as authoritative?
- Have you ever used a religious text in this way to persuade, convince, and influence others?