Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Deconstructive Biblical Criticism

Some people were wanting to see my outline for the little oral report/lecture I gave on Deconstructive Biblical Criticism. If you need my secondary resources on this, just leave a comment. So, without further ado, Ask and you shall receive:

I. Where did Deconstructive Criticism originate?
In the 1960's, the French philosopher Jaques Derrida coined both the term Deconstruction and the methodological criticism itself. This came as an outgrowth of the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche that desire of the writer and the reader for the certainty (or orthodoxy) of meaning results in the repression and subversion of other possible meanings. Deconstruction also reflects and draws upon de Saussure's theory of Structuralism, which held that language was a collection of signs in which meaning is transient and arbitrary and therefore uncertain (Although Deconstructive Criticism departs from de Saussure's insinuation that goes beyond “uncertainy of meaning” into the realm of “unknowability.”)
II. What is Deconstructive Criticism?
Deconstruction is a method of reading and criticism, not solely in the realm of biblical critique but also analyses of concepts, philosophies, systems, system theories, and instiutions of establishment. This criticism is based on the assumption that language is unreliable and “slippery.” The ultimate design of a deconstructionist reading and criticism is to seek out the contradictions in the text to prove that the text lacks unity and coherence.
It must be noted that Deconstructive Criticism (as explained by Derrida) is philosophically Post Modern, denying that Absolute Truth in the Aristotlian sense exists. Its intent does not necessarily set out to show that the text means the reverse or opposite of what it is believed to mean by standard convention or popular understanding, but that there can be no actual interpretation of the text that is “Truth,” in the traditional understanding that my view is correct and your view is wrong (The True/False dichotomy).
III. How does this apply to the Bible and Biblical Criticism?
Deconstructive Criticism in a biblical context attempts to break down the traditional “understanding” of a text passage, challenging the “monopoly of orthodoxy” in order to allow different or subverted truths will emerge, or in the very least, allow us to see if another meaning with which traditional understandings of a passage have not allowed us to see. To Derrida, to understand Truth is to understand oppression of thought. Only if we “deconstruct” our traditional understanding, can we begin to examine a text for alternative meanings. Even if by doing this we are led back to our original understanding of the text, we will have at least given ourselves the opportunity to see the “Other,” i.e. possible alternative meanings or interpretations by an examination of the slippery words that are actually used.
IV. What is an actual example of Deconstructive Criticism of a Biblical text?
Judges and Method gives the seemingly innocuous example of Judges 1:11-15. In this passage refers to a town called “Debir, formerly named Kiriath-sepher.” The traditional understanding is the pattern of Judges: the Israelites march against heathen City X, take City X, and the conquest of Canaan continues...” However, if we “deconstruct” that interpretation, we learn something different. The tendency of non-Hebrew speaking translators is to transliterate names of cities, reinforcing the Deconstructionist theme of “slipperiness of words.” The meaning of the name of the city is lost, as it might as well have been translated Gibberish-ville. Kiriath-sepher in Hebrew means “City of Books.” When the reader understands that, the meaning changes. Did the Israelites rename the city to avoid uncomfortable questions about the sack a city of learning? Deconstruction, in this way, “deconstructs” traditional understanding to find hidden meanings.

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