As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I need to turn my attention to other things for a while. But I did not want to leave my postings on Israel Knohl’s The Divine Symphony without reflecting a bit about it.
You could read Knohl for what he says about how the factions reflected in the Tanakh led directly to the factions among the rabbis in latter Judaism. To me, this whole concept is based on a lot of assumptions, leaps, and arguments from silence. If his dating of the Holiness Code is wrong (and there are plenty of alternatives), then much of his theory comes apart.
So I have focused on examples of where he has identified discordant voices within the Bible. These probably do represent factions or theological schools. Those of us who believe the Bible is a vehicle for the word of God need to look for unity in this diversity. Knohl’s attempt is useful. In fact, I find it exciting. I am just not entirely persuaded.
It is useful and exciting because we need a new way to read the Bible. So many today read the Bible as a repository of authoritative doctrines. Fundamentalists read it that way. And reverse fundamentalists, who get satisfaction out of arguing with fundamentalists, read it that way too. Both miss the point. The Bible clearly is not a book of doctrines and laws, although you can find those things in there too. Knohl’s way of reading lets the various books speak for themselves.
In my church the pastor often offers membership classes for pre-teen youth. I found that youth that age really learn well by memorizing facts. Ask boys that age about baseball statistics, for instance. So I would teach them basic facts about the Bible. The main one–that I would get them to repeat over and over is that the Bible is a library. It is not one book; it is a bunch of books. I had a handout of the books sitting on a bookshelf. I counted the way Protestants do: 39 books on the upper shelves representing the Tanakh and 27 books on the lower shelves representing the New Testament. Although, we speak of the Bible as the good book, it is really not one book. It is many books, many voices.
So Knohl’s image of the Bible as a symphony seems right on. It is not a place to mine proof texts from here and there; it is a whole orchestra of different instruments and different sounds. Some of the sounds are counterpoints.
People concerned about the unity of Christian or Jewish teaching worry that such an approach is too free and open to different interpretations–as though conservative interpretation does not produce doctrinal conflict. It seems to me, though, that Christian I can’t speak for Jewish) orthodoxy arose from people who did try to listen to the whole thing. It is just that each generation needs to listen again.
The fear of chaos that many feel about this was well explained by seven of nine.