January 31, 2006

NPR Interviews Marc Zvi Brettler

NPR recently aired an interview (archived version available) with Marc Zvi Brettler, author of How to Read the Bible and a professor of biblical literature, chair of the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University.

It’s quite interesting to hear his views, however I think he’s frankly unduly critical of not only the text, but of others. For example he talks about being annoyed by people saying “the Bible” says ... since he believes they are picking out a particular point, and ignoring what the rest of the Bible (something he views more as an anthology then a complete unified work) says.

I think that’s unfair, it maybe the case that someone is quite justified in saying that statement as long as they are not simply “reading a bible verse” but instead bringing together their knowledge of the texts and forming a balanced view, or in the case of some things simply stating what is clearly in the text to start off with. Its funny how quick Brettler is to tell us what the Bible is, or is saying --- or that it “says nowhere in the Bible” --- yet is annoyed when others do essentially the same thing. He then sort of contradicts himself toward the end, and basically says no one can say what the Bible says.

I get the feeling he’s playing the ‘feminism’ card far too much to get some traction (however he is further led in questioning by the host.) For example, Brettler talks about viewing the Gen 1 and 2 as separate accounts, seeing major differences in there construction, and a different “order” of Creation (mainly in respect to when man and woman are created.)

He points out Gen 3:16
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
Somehow Brettler seems to have forgotten Gen 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

While I argree they are differant accounts, I don't know that they are differant events so to speak. It's clear that the Gen 1 Creation account as a condensed one, while the Gen 2 account a more detailed. He especially argues they are not the same picture of God due to the differences in “details” so to speak --- of course there simply aren’t many details in the Gen 1 account so his argument really falls flat to me.

Brettler gives his views on Intelligent Design, of which I’m frankly a little confused about his view on ‘Myths’ as being true, but not literally true. He gives an example, but it’s not very strong.

The host was pretty ignorant of concept of ‘the Law’ so Brettler speaks a lot about the Ten Commandments, and gives some interesting thoughts on how to view the commands on coveting (is it a sin to think those thoughts, or to act on them?) Clearly, on Jesus’ view --- many Jews of that day understood the commands to merely be acting, while Jesus states a thought alone can be sinful.

In any case its interesting to get Brettler’s perspective, its worth a listen.


At January 31, 2006 8:55 PM, Blogger Isaac said...

Justin- I think that there is a pretty wide understanding of "myth" as being different than "fairy tale". A quick google shows that there are a lot of sites out there that juxtapose myth and history, but since Bultmann, I don't think that these terms need to be in contrast. I think it's this wider understanding of myth as a conveyer of truth that MZB was getting at. By the way, Terry Gross has her strong points, and theology is not one of them

At January 31, 2006 9:34 PM, Blogger Justin Jenkins said...


I do think he made a good distinction between the 'American' idea of Myth and what a Myth really is --- however what confused me was his view of it being true, while not being literally true.

I'd rather just say it's metaphorical or analogous --- it just clears up confusion.

At February 01, 2006 3:13 PM, Blogger Isaac said...

I still am not on board with you. I believe something can be true, but not historicially true. For example, Mark 5 and 6 has the accounts of a woman with a hemmorage for 12 years, the healing of a girl, and the sending out of the 12. In Luke 8 and 9 we have the same accounts. In this gospel we have a 12 year old girl, a woman with a hemmorage for 12 years, and the sending out of the 12. The number 12 is significant. A 12 year old is not an adult, while a 13 year old has different rights/responsibilities. 12 represents a sense of unity in diversity, as in the 12 tribes equalling 1 Israel. When Jesus sends out the 12, he is asking them to preach the gospel and to heal, so he is actually saying to do what he has just done; to bring physical and spiritual restoration. I doubt that there was an historically 12 year old girl (Lk added the age to make a literary statement, neither Mt or Mk have it), but it expresses a spiritual truth that Jesus brought life and restoration that are related to the meaning of the number 12. So to say that the girl is 12 is meaningfully true (not a metaphor), even if there was never a little girl, or if the girl was 8. You still may not buy it, but this is the type of NT example I thought of when I heard MZB make the comment. I'm sure he would approach the Genesis accounts (Noah for exmaple) in the same way. Doesn't matter if they are a myth, they are true.

At February 01, 2006 6:26 PM, Blogger Justin Jenkins said...

I've responded more or less here.


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