Thursday, February 08, 2007

Kierkegaard on hermeneutical thrombosis

How many no longer want to read this post because of the offputting title? Would it make a difference if I had said 'Kierkegaard on how not to read the Bible'? Thrombosis is where circulation of the blood is slowed or stopped by a local hardening/coagulation of the blood flow.
How not to read the Bible

...the Bible has often had a harmful effect. In beginning a deliberation, a person has certain classical passages fixed in his mind, and now his explanation and knowledge consist in an arrangement of these passages, as if the whole matter were something foreign. The more natural the better, [however, particularly] if he is willing with all deference to refer the explanation to the verdict of the Bible, and, if it is not in accord with the Bible, to try over again. Thus a person does not bring himself into the awkward position of having to understand the explanation before he has understood what it should explain, nor into the subtle position of using Scripture passages as the Persian king in the war against the Egyptians used their sacred animals, that is, in order to shield himself.

-Søren Kierkegaard (or rather, his pseudonym: Vigilius Haufniensis), The Concept of Anxiety: A simple psychologically orienting deliberation on the dogmatic issue of hereditary sin, 40.

This is a great image: in the siege of Pelusium, Cambyses, the Persian king, placed animals sacred to the Egyptians in the front of his army. Sometimes, we take key biblical passages hostage as sacred animals in order to thwart attacks on a cherished theological position. Haufniensis wants instead a more 'natural' reading, where we submit even our long-established beliefs to 'the verdict of the Bible' time and time again. This means looking at problem passages and letting them loosen our grip on those we feel we know and love. This seems to be the complement to the usual hermeneutical principle of reading difficult passages in light of easy ones: re-reading familiar passages in light of difficult ones.
Ten points for the name of this famous ancient copy of the Bible. And ten for being able to pick the passage.
I've joined a new reading group attempting to tackle Kierkegaard/Haufniensis' Concept of Anxiety. We've set up a blog for the group to discuss the text here.
In other news, Barth CD II/2 arrived today.


Anonymous said...

What no purple passages!

Next you'll be saying that we have to listen as much as we speak!

Anonymous said...

Could it be the Codex Sinaiticus in the British Library? Perhaps open to the final page of Mark's gospel.

michael jensen said...

yes, but: does difficult here mean personally challenging, or intellectually difficult?

Was he not railing against those Lutherans who wouldn't read James along side Paul not because of the intellectual problems but more because of the existential ones?

Matthew Moffitt said...

Nice to see Charlie has finally got his "rebel book club" happening. Has he got you to watch his Hybels video yet?

michael jensen said...

Hey, I have devised a rough DB Hart reading plan, if you want to get started on it...

byron smith said...

MPJ: Sure, send it through. Though what happened to email?
I think he means personally challenging. As for context, you may be right. I'm certainly no Kierkegaard expert.

Moffitt - no, not yet. I'll have to ask him about it.

Matheson - good guess, but no.

Cyberpastor - stranger things have happened.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm just going to keep guessing til I get this right. I'm pretty sure we are in the British Library. On closer inspection, is it the Codex Alexandrinus? And is it open to the final page of Matthew's gospel? (I think I can see the beginning of Mark in the final column.)

psychodougie said...

interesting question isn't it: how do you get started when you aren't to read texts as you had understood them, to safeguard against presupposing the exegesis?

that is to say, if you want to think thru a topic, and there are some puple passages in your head, do you deliberately vie away and start elsewhere?

i would guess he's not saying not to go there, rather to make sure you're not presupposing what the text will say. it just sounds quite artificial, otherwise!

Martin Kemp said...

And its the MTC copy.
As for the text...I'll have to have a closer look.

byron smith said...

Matheson - Ten points for passage (end of Matt/start of Mark). But it's not Alexandrinus.

Marty K - Ten points for Vaticanus. But it's not the MTC copy, but was taken in the Vatican.

psychodougie - yes, I think it's about an attitude rather than a method. And he's making an important point about our ability to blind ourselves to how ingrained certain readings are.

Martin Kemp said...

really?? I thought no-one outside Vatican officials had seen Vaticanus since the middle ages? Don't they keep it hidden away?

byron smith said...

Yes - the original is kept hidden away (although I'm not sure about no one seeing it. That was true until - not sure when, but I'm pretty sure scholars can get permission to see it), and so this is a photo of a facsimile.