Archive for the ‘Hermeneutics’ Category

Well I’ve just drawn a random winner for the $100 book prize. I used http://www.miniwebtool.com/random-name-picker/ (just once – no cheating!), and here is what it came up with…

Screenshot 2016-03-30 10.51.13

So Kaye is the winner!

And now here are my own interpretative comments on the poem. In a subsequent post I’ll offer some hermeneutical reflections on what all this illustrates about interpretation. And then I’ll go back to my blogging hiatus!

Interpretative comments

In writing this poem, I didn’t have the end in view at the beginning. I had a sense of what I wanted to explore, but the meaning of the poem came about as I wrote, rather than having an initially clear message that I wanted to dress up in opaque flowery poetic clothes.

I wanted to use a simple rhyming meter, at first because I wanted this to be the sort of very simple poem that anybody could write, but then I came to like the idea of juxtaposing an ambiguously serious subject with a jovial, almost infantile, rhyme. A few of the commenters picked up on this.

One element that became stable during the brief reception history of this poem (i.e. among the commenters) was that it was, at some level, about chickens. This is a solid observation. What you might not know is that we have three pet chickens who live in a nice coop with their own enclosed backyard. But sometimes chickens go broody – that is, they sit in their nesting box 24 hours a day, and refuse to eat or drink. If left in this situation, they will die. (This is particularly true of Silky Chickens, our breed.) The only way I have discovered to shake them out of this broody state is to ensure that they have no opportunity to return to their nesting box, or to create a makeshift nest. So when our chickens go broody, we put them in a rather harsh-looking secondary  coop, made up of bare bars and chicken wire. It’s nowhere near as nice as their regular coop, but after a few days in this cheerless environment, they get shaken out of their death-wish broodiness, and can return to their proper home. We call the harsh coop ‘detention.’ While they are in detention, they are willing to eat and drink… but they act psycho – especially Mandy, who darts around the place, wishing she could go back to her nest.

But there is more to the poem than this. A number of commenters recognised that the language of the poem seemed intentionally evocative of human incarceration – whether prisoners or refugees in detention. There was a clear recognition that the tone of the poem is not happy. Words such as ‘detention,’ ‘bars,’ ‘harsh,’ ‘forbidding,’ seem to go beyond what is required in speaking about chickens. Also, a number of commenters noted that the final line, ‘a little paradigm,’ seems to demand that  the situation with the chickens and the dove be seen as a picture of some bigger reality. These are good insights. That final line is admittedly inelegant, but it attempts to force the reader to go bigger than the chicken/dove scene. If I were to try a second draft of the poem, I would perhaps attempt a more subtle way of doing this than ‘a little paradigm.’

So what ‘bigger reality’ is hinted at here? Given that it’s a poem, there is room for interpretation. Those who pointed to refugees in detention are on the same track as I was in penning the poem, though I have to say that my own sense of how the chicken/dove situation was paradigmatic was hazy as I wrote. I was certainly aware of the ‘peace’ connotations of the dove, and this explains why I referred to it as a ‘dove’ rather than a ‘pigeon.’ In reality I don’t know if those birds that frequently try to share our chickens’ food are doves or pigeons… or even if there’s any difference. But I had a sense – and this has become further clarified as I’ve read others’ comments – that there was something crazy about these death-wish chickens being annoyed that a harbinger of peace would want to share their space by coming into detention. And there might be some similar craziness about Australians (or others) being annoyed that refugees flee here to seek to share our plenty. I’d be more than happy for readers to run further with this in their own readings of the poem – indeed, that was my hope in penning my hazy thoughts.


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This is an exercise in hermeneutics. I’ve had an ongoing interest in hermeneutics, which seeks to explore how interpretation and understanding take place. The key value of hermeneutics is listening to the other. I’m curious to explore this further, and I invite your input by offering comments on the poem below that I’ve just written.

So, how do you win a book worth up to $100 of your choice? Well first, let me limit that a bit: it has to be in one of the following fields: history, philosophy, hermeneutics, theology, religious studies, biblical studies. That’s a LOT to choose from! You can be based anywhere in the world for this, so long as Amazon delivers there.

Well, what you need to do is twofold:

  1. Offer an interpretative comment of at least 80 words in the comments below. This could be as basic as saying that you don’t understand the poem at all, and pointing out the bits that you find confusing, or why you find them confusing. Or it could be a fully fledged commentary. Your comment could also take the form of questions – ‘What does this bit mean?’/’Could it be referring to such and such?’ I’m NOT hoping for a ‘right’ answer here, so no interpretative comment will be thought of as silly. I’m just interested to see how people interpret it, and what reasons they give for their interpretations/lack of understanding.
  2. Draw attention to this post, either by Twitter, Facebook, or a blog.

If we get at least a dozen such comments, then – after a couple of weeks – I’ll choose one of the commenters at random, and you’ll win yourself any book from the above categories. I’ll have it posted out to you, brand spanking new, by Amazon.

Without further ado, here’s the short poem:

Feeding Time

I went to see the girls,
But they were in detention.
I guess I should have known,
But Bec had failed to mention.

I went and peered through bars,
And saw their stubborn faces.
These girls are hard to shake
With harsh, forbidding places.

I offered them some scraps,
Which they accepted gladly.
Then Mandy did her laps,
While others stood there sadly.

A dove came in to share –
This happens all the time –
They scared the thing away;
A little paradigm.

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Mary Margaret McCabe (‘Plato’s Ways of Writing’ in Fine, Oxford Handbook, 99) rightly sees that Plato’s dialogue form constitutes…

a philosophical claim: that theoretical discussion can only be carried out within a particular culture

This has obvious resonances with philosophical hermeneutics in the tradition of Schleiermacher – Heidegger – Gadamer – Ricoeur. I think that the influence of Plato on hermeneutical thought has perhaps been under-recognised when it has been taken up in the field of biblical studies. All of the major players in philosophical hermeneutics have been strongly influenced by Plato. Schleiermacher, for example, translated and edited Plato’s works. But sometimes in biblical studies, the impression is given that Schleiermacher started the modern study of hermeneutics by simply reflecting theoretically on what had been going on in practice in Judeo-Christian traditions of Bible reading. This is only partly illuminative. Plato should be recognised as an important influence.

On the other hand, it is certainly the case that the Hebrew Scriptures can be seen to express Plato’s later conviction that wisdom is found through dialogue with the wise, rather than through the making and reading of countless books. So it’s not out of place to reflect on Judeo-Christian interpretative practices in considering the (pre-)history of hermeneutics.

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This looks interesting – a major (600+ pages) new book on hermeneutics by Craig Bartholomew, due in November. I know what I’ll be bringing back from SBL!

You can find it here.

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This week, my two classes on 1 Corinthians began – one looking at the English text, one looking at the Greek. Teaching 1 Corinthians is always good fun, because I always find it interesting, and I always learn new things. This week in our classes, I tried to draw attention to the value of considering our own locatedness as interpreters. We considered different features of our own identities, and pondered how these might attune us or blind us to things in the text. I made the point that God has not made us as neutrally objective robots – rather, those who are interpreting the Bible are real humans, in real time, place, history, culture, skin, gender, etc. Our createdness in space and time is God’s gift to us. I then pointed to the current trend in producing ‘located’ biblical commentaries, foregrounding the locatedness of the interpreter. This can be very fruitful, as well as having a few hazards. For an example of this approach applied to 1 Corinthians, see my review of the Texts@Contexts volume on 1 Corinthians here.

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The final chapter of All That the Prophets Have Declared is by Rory Shiner, and is entitled, ‘Reading the New Testament from the Outside.’ Here’s a quote from it:

Perhaps… there is something disingenuous with the idea of a Gentile Christian ‘starting’ with the OT and reading forward toward fulfilment. A Gentile Christian ‘starts,’ as [Donald] Robinson would put it, with ‘gospel’ and ‘apostle,’ by which an ambassador of the newly reconstituted Israel comes to them (literally, in the first century, or via the NT ever since) with the message of the Creator God of Israel and his call for them to turn from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven. In this way is a Gentile included in the Messiah – not by imagining themselves to  have been under the privileges and trauma of the Torah, but as late-comers, included by grace and rescued, not from the curse of the Torah, but from idolatry. (196)

And here are my comments in the conclusion of the book:

The volume concludes, perhaps surprisingly, by questioning the extent to which current day Gentile churches may appropriate Israel’s scriptural story as their own. This chapter, by Rory Shiner, focuses in on one historically situated reader of Scripture, to consider how the questions raised in this volume might be pondered: is it in fact the case that largely Gentile churches are to consider themselves invited into Messianic Israel’s re-reading of her scriptures? Do Gentiles read these scriptures as ‘insiders’ or ‘outsiders’? As readers of this volume witness the serious grappling with such questions in this chapter, they may find themselves articulating their own answers – perhaps with fresh insights and terminology from the volume itself. (205)

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Chapter 11 in All That the Prophets Have Declared is by me. Here I think about how the macro-structure of Hebrews seems to evidence the remarkable conviction that Scripture is spoken by God, by Jesus, and by the Spirit. In drawing this out, the author of Hebrews renegotiates those Scriptures in important regards, in the light of the Christ event. Here’s my summary, from the book’s conclusion:

Matthew R. Malcolm’s chapter moves to consider the book of Hebrews. Adapting certain terminology from the field of cultural linguistics, he describes the hermeneutical phenomenon under discussion as involving the three stages of initial readings of Scripture prior to Christ; the crisis of the Christ event; and the post-crisis renegotiation of Scripture that ensues. With regard to Hebrews, this can be seen in the way that ‘suggestive Scriptural figures have been renegotiated, post-Christ event, as the triadic utterers of divine speech: God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit’. Such a remarkable re-reading of Scripture attests to the major transforming impact of the Christ event upon the writers of the New Testament. (205)

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