Jaroslav Pelikan: Whose Bible is It?

Jaroslav Pelikan had a remarkable life.  He was the son of a Lutheran pastor and became a Lutheran pastor and professor himself.  In his 70’s he entered the Eastern Orthodox church.  Look at this summary of his life.  It gives his most famous quote in full.

“His 1984 book The Vindication of Tradition gave rise to an often quoted one liner. In an interview in U.S. News & World Report (July 26, 1989), he said: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.'”

I have begun reading Whose Bible Is It? A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages (2005).

He published this book a year before his death.  So he must have been about 80 when he wrote it.  What I noticed most about what I read is the intellectual enthusiasm for his subject.  He writes like he has a great deal to say and can hardly wait to get it down on paper.  He takes some detours on his way to a point, but they are usually very interesting detours.

Here are two points from the preface and introduction.

First, he tells about his aunt Vanda, who escaped from the Soviet Union and then read voraciously many books that had been suppressed.  This included the Bible.  His book is in answer to a question she asked him once: “Tall me, vot do you tink of Bible?”

Second, he deals with the problem of what to call the Old Testament.  “Old” implies that it has been superseded by the new, updated, and better New Testament.  Many of us have decided that this does the Old Testament and Judaism an injustice.  Politically correct terms like “First Testament” and, the one I use myself, “Hebrew Scriptures” have come into play.  Pelikan opts to call it what the Jews themselves call it when they don’t just call it the Bible.  They call it the Tanakh.  This is an acronym for the three parts of those scriptures, the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.

I like this solution and may adopt it here in the future.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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