The Literarian Creed (or, a creed for literary critics of the Bible)

Ok, it’s really just a creed about me.  Meant in jest.

One of my dear friends and colleagues is of the historical-critical methodological persuasion (don’t judge me by the company I keep!!!  ha!).  We will often razz one another on matters of method.  I basically say his method is inherently circular, deconstructive, overly skeptical, and highly prone to over-interpretation.  He responds that my literary-theological methodology is simply an aversion to questions of how the text came to be.  He’s not entirely wrong on this . . . but I would clarify.  For me, questions of the tradition and redaction history of the biblical text are fascinating indeed; put simply, though, they are not my primary questions.  I can employ these methods with competence and have in some of my earlier work and even a small bit of my more recent work.  But again, they are not questions that define my scholarship.  That is another post for another day.

So yesterday my friend emails me the following, which he titled the Literarian Creed.  To clarify a few points, in the off-chance someone doesn’t get the fact this is a joke:
1) Yes, my methodology is literary, and theological.  I do, however, see a great value in historical-critical methodologies.  I just wish they were handled more responsibly oftentimes (see my criticisms above).
2) Yes, I do very much respect and appreciate Brueggemann’s work.  I find it to be an honest, thoughtful, and serious engagement with the text, and one that does not attempt to smooth over tensions.  Rather, tensions are the locus of meaning.  Let it be said, however, that I do disagree with Brueggemann on several matters.
3) Perhaps most important, the final part of what I am about to quote from my friend seems to imply the Bible is a bit of an afterthought for me.  I think (hope!) he would recognize this is entirely not the case.  In fact, the biblical text–given my methodology–is by necessity front and center.  Truth be told, I also think it should be the basis from which comes one’s faith.

Regular readers of this blog will likely find this quite a bit more humorous than those who may just be beginning to follow me.  Either way, here is a parody, from a colleague of mine, of . . . well, me (and note that I say parody . . . satire . . . ).  Ok, enough preamble . . . here it is:

Literarian Creed (Inspired by the Nicene):
I believe in literary readings,
     the irrelevance of historical-critical methodology for all biblical texts,
          whether in heaven or in earth;

An in Brueggemann its foremost begotten son,
     scholar of scholars, reader of readers,
          retired, but not dead, and icon of predominant American biblical  scholarship;
     In light of whom all biblical texts must be read,
          By scholar and theologian alike;
     And whose tome was written in postmodern spirit,
          suffered neglect, but will rise again for a third unrevised edition,
          and against which all scholarship will one day be judged;

Oh yeah, and in the Bible (which is an important book, too),
     Which proceedeth from someone, somewhere, some time, and somehow, and for some purpose, but none of which I know, nor do I care to try to find out.


13 thoughts on “The Literarian Creed (or, a creed for literary critics of the Bible)

  1. Doug Chaplin says:

    I was just going to refer you to my blog, but I notice that while you might take a fairly good guess from my running a series on the Anglican 39 articles what my affiliation is, I don’t actually say so explicitly. I need to edit the About page.

    Oh, yes, Anglican.

  2. Doug Chaplin says:

    And idiot – I’ve left that comment on the wrong post by mistake. If you’re able to transfer it and delete this comment, I would consider it a kindness. I don;t want everyone knowing what a lazy plonker I am.

  3. mike says:

    so here’s a follow-up thought:

    you said your friend is “of the historical-critical methodological persuasion,” and that you are literary-critical. i found those labels interesting. to what extent, though, are really more methodologically eclectic? that is, if you are primarily a literary guide, what other tools do you use and to what extent do you use them? i consider myself more historical-critical, but i’m also concerned with issues of literary structure, rhetorical force, narrative criticism, etc.

    i ask this, by the way, presuming that you are “primarily” a literary guy. i suppose it’s possible that one could be ONLY a literary critic . . . nah, actually i don’t believe that’s possible.

    anywho, just being curious

    • John Anderson says:


      I think methodological eclecticism is a fine thing, and we all need to have these tools in our bag of tricks in order to be competent biblical scholars. That said, I would describe myself as largely (almost exclusively?) a literary-theological reader of biblical texts. Yes, I can read a text and see evidence of redaction, or various traditions or sources being joined together. I have those skills. I can avail myself of historical-critical methodologies. I do not, though, do so in my own scholarship and publishing. I find literary questions far more interesting, relevant, and refreshing. It is important to interpret the text we have, not some text we reconstruct.

      If you want sound examples of my methodolgical leanings, I would suggest looking at Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative or Meir Sternberg’s The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, or even Walter Brueggemann’s massive OT theology (though methodologically he and I are a bit different). I do not write on historical-critical matters. They interest me very much. But at present I don’t do them myself. Personally, I think literary readings are still quite new (despite being some 20-30 years old, it seems we are still only scratching the surface).

      I will say, though, that I am methodologically aware; we all should be. But I do step out of my literary focus when I look at other issues that are of interest to me: i.e., composition of the Pentateuch (yikes! talk about a hairy issue!), and how one constructs an OT theology, or even socio-literary approaches to the metanarrative of the Psalter.

      I hope this is helpful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s