Polar Tension…

Last week was a very good week, especially for my CV.*  First, on Wednesday I heard back from the editors of a collection of essays to which I’ve contributed a paper with the news that they were accepting my 4th revision for publication.  Yay!  Second, on Friday I heard back from a peer-reviewed journal saying that after the review process they are accepting my submission to the journal for publication, with some relatively minor revisions.  Double yay!

As much as this is all very happy and exciting news, the acceptance of these two particular papers in the same week has caused me to reflect on a rather odd tension in my academic work.  The first paper, the one that’s being published in a book of essays, is an analysis of the historiography of the Animal Apocalypse of 1 Enoch (title: “(Re)Visionary History: Historiography and Religious Identity in the Animal Apocalypse“).**  It’s a pretty standard biblical studies paper.  It’s methodologically eclectic, but mostly focuses on literary, historical, and sociological concerns.  The second paper is being published in the Journal of Theological Interpretation and is about the hermeneutics of allegorical interpretation…it’s kind of an apologetic for interpreting according to the spiritual sense, though in a weirdish way.  It’s a really hard paper to describe in a couple of sentences (title: “Scripture as Semiotic: Theological Interpretation and the Multiple Senses of Scripture”).***

These two papers are almost polar opposite in approach and intent, and this is pretty representative of a lot of my academic writing thus far.  I do work that’s focused on literary and sociological (especially sociolinguistic) analyses of ancient literature (especially HB/OT, but also broader 2nd Temple era stuff), and I do work that tries to engage the Bible as Christian Scripture, including questions about canon and theological hermeneutics.  Here’s the thing…I’m not really all that sure how these things fit together.  I have a deep suspicion that they do.  I think about it mostly in terms of different levels of abstraction.  But, I also know that at least some (maybe lots? or even most?) of the biblical studies guild sees these as two opposed and incompatible kinds of work.  Some people argue that biblical studies is meant to be a secular endeavor focused on history, literature, and sociology (and related concerns), and other people argue that biblical studies is meant to be a theological activity performed for the community of faith.  These get presented as polar opposites.  Maybe they are polar opposites.

If they are polar opposites then I think I’m going to have to get used to the tension between these two poles, because I’m not really willing to stop doing either kind of writing.

*The CV thing is important because I’m in the process of applying to a couple of biblical studies positions, so getting to add two lines to the “Accepted for Publication” line is happy news.

**The book began as last year’s Canadian Society of Biblical Studies session on ancient Israelite historiography.  The final product will include the essays from the session, and several invited papers.  The title is Prophets and Prophecy in Ancient Israelite Historiography.  Should be out in the next year, and I think will be well worth a look.

**Ironically both the collection of essays and the journal are published by a single publishing house: Eisenbrauns.  Maybe I’m not the only one feeling the tension here.

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2 thoughts on “Polar Tension…

  1. Well I, for one, am delighted you are doing both. Having read the Aquinas paper, I’m pleased to see someone with a modern biblical studies competency willing to ask fundamental theological questions. I ask those too… but I haven’t earned my stripes as a biblical scholar. Keep up the good work, friend.

  2. Yeah, I like it too. Wrestle those tensions to the ground and then run with whatever limp it gives you and we’ll all be better for it.

    I wonder if it is fair to say that the theological/faith community reading is quite simply informed by the secular reading because the faith comes to us from the Spirit by means of “earthy” things, even while not being restrained to or reachable by them? So attentiveness to the one requires attentiveness to the other, but there is an asymmetry of allegiance. The Spirit is always free, but reading the Scriptures will be always also be bound up with what it means to read. Not because God is reachable by human means of reading, but because God has condescended to be so heard. So your experience of tension is palpable because of its manifestation in this technically precise way, but it is that same tension that all Christians feel (and yet perhaps fail to differing degrees to admit or grapple with). Does that make any sense?

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