Friday, January 3, 2014

How to Read an Ancient Text

William S. Dever provides this list as the "traditional assumptions in approaching ancient texts... [:]

1. A text is a product of a particular time, place, culture, language, and it must be placed back in that context to be understood at all.

2. A text is written by an author with a specific intent, usually for a specific audience.

3. An original 'meaning' is inherent and is expressed in language that is both deliberate and potentially intelligible.

4. The reader's first task in approaching a text is to place himself and his situation in the background, attempting to be as 'objective' as possible so as to be open to the text's original (i.e., 'true') meaning in its own terms as far as possible.

5. Methodically, there is no substitute for mastery of the text's original language, geographical and cultural setting, and the light that other contemporary texts may shed.

6. Since there are, at best, always personal, subjective factors at work in interpreting an ancient text, these must be acknowledged, but they may then be usefully exploited.  These factors include intuition; an educated imagination; and above all empathy, or 'positioning oneself within understanding distance.'

7. Above all, the question of the modern appropriation of the perceived meaning of the text must be kept strictly separate during the initial interpretation in fulfillment of the requirement of 'disinterestedness.'"

(William S. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?, p. 16, emphases added by me)

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