Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Join the conversation

“Texts provide ethical guidance not only by eliciting conversations with their readers but also by eliciting conversations between their readers. A point made well by both Wayne Booth and Martha Nussbaum is that reading is most conducive to moral formation when it takes place in a community that can reflect together on their textual encounters. Because of the rich imaginative experience provided by narrative, it can be an especially useful forum for dialogue among readers, leading to their moral edification. There is ample evidence to suggest that the Hebrew Bible has been used in communal settings of this sort for almost all of its existence. To some extent in the biblical text itself and certainly in the rabbinic and early Christian commentaries, one sees communities gathered before the text, awaiting ethical instruction while recognizing that instruction frequently comes through conversation and interaction with the text and with one another.

“The Enlightenment taught interpreters to approach Scripture as an object with a single meaning available for extraction. The Hebrew Bible, however, stubbornly refused to elicit a singularity of meaning. Its ambiguities defied resolution. Although individuals who continue to hold onto Enlightenment ideals have contended that these ambiguities are grounds for objecting to the enterprise of Old Testament ethics, there is another way of understanding them. These ambiguities serve the essential function of prompting deep reflection and formational dialogue. Rather than rejecting the ethical value of texts like Genesis 34 that contain their share of ambiguity, one can understand these texts as (1) realistically presenting the ambiguities inherent to the moral life and (2) inviting the audience to draw its own conclusions about how individuals should act in similar situations. Lacking resolution, these texts invite readers both to discussion with the multiple perspectives they present and to ethical conversation with each other.”—From Fratricide to Forgiveness, page 131

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