Gabe posted some thoughts on Orthodoxy and historical criticsm a few days ago, which I only got to this morning. What’s interesting is that I was having a similar discussion with a friend just this past Sunday.
The general notion is this: biblical studies, the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation, and the like, is something in which Orthodox have little expertise. One will not find on the Seminary Co-op bookshelves massive tomes on Q or intertestamental apocalypgtic or multi-volume biblical commentaries on Ecclesiastes put out by Orthodox scholars. To the degree that there are Orthodox commentaries on biblical books, they run more along the lines of St. John Chrysostom, or demonstrably lack a well-wrought critical approach. One gets something like sermonizing or a simple restatement of the text: in today’s view, hardly a commentary. This is the general notion at least, and though I don’t have a lot of connections with modern biblical scholarship and Orthodox academics, I am sure whatever exceptions there are to this generalization, they prove the rule.
I have personally, due to my educational background, probably had slightly more exposure to these matters in academia than has Gabe (though infinitely less than his very intelligent wife). Nonetheless, like Gabe, I probably tend to approach these matters along the lines of Fr Seraphim Rose (one of my patrons) or Fr Michael Pomozansky (whose book on Orthodox theology from St Herman’s Press is a wonderful volume). That is to say, I tend to take the approach that a generationally-renewed understanding of how the Church has interpreted Scripture and the Church’s view of Scripture is far more important than memorizing our Wellhausen and reconstructing our Q.
So the problem for Orthodox is this: if it is the case that Orthodox simply do not have the capability to engage in these sorts of activities, do they still attempt to continue to do so or do they retreat into some level of insularity? And is it worth it to even attempt to develop Orthodox expertise in modern biblical studies? Do Orthodox develop a rigorous biblical studies methodology that is uniquely Orthodox (assuming that the foundations in St John Chyrsostom, St Augustine et al do not rise to the level of a science of “Orthodox biblical studies.” And by science here I do not mean what is popularly thought of by “science” as a mathematically exact enterprise, but rather I mean simply an organized and coherent body of thought.)
Which brings me to my discussion with a friend on Sunday and the Orthodox Study Bible.
Let me first say: I like the OSB. Although I’m not like perhaps many OSB users in that I have the ability to read the original biblical languages and so can “double check” translational issues on my own, the OSB is the English Bible I use primarily. And I get so very tired of the many posts in the blogosphere trashing the OSB. Whether or not the criticisms are valid (and some are), the spirit of many of the posts doesn’t seem quite right.
But, I do admit the OSB has problems. And as I articulated it to my friend, I think the problem with the OSB (at least insofar as the Old Testament is concerned) is it was the attempt to do two massive projects at once: to achieve an adequate translation of the canonical OT into English and to compose a useful study Bible. I think it is generally agreed that overall the translation efforts fell below the mark, and the notes, while perhaps better than the original NT notes, still end up lacking.
Argument has been made as to whether the whole “study Bible” approach is even Orthodox. I’ll leave that question to the blogospheric dilettantes. But I will say that those responsible for the OSB, if they were wanting to put out a product competitive with other Protestant versions, should have had the patience to follow the general trajectory of Protestant study Bibles: first focus on an adequate translation. Then prepare a useful study Bible.
It has been intimated, and I hope it’s true, that the production of the OSB, with its flaws, was more a prudential matter of finance and marketing than anything else. And that the present edition lays the groundwork for substantive revisions and improvements for later. I certainly hope the revisions and improvements do come.
In the meantime, the question remains as to whether the Orthodox should pursue the science of biblical studies. If they do I think it obvious that it not be simply the Orthodox entering the arena of modern biblical studies and trying to “stand athwart” it yelling stop, nor trying to “Orthodoxize” it up. But, rather, to formulate a uniquely Orthodox methodology that is at once rigorous and faithful. Whether that can be done anytime soon is the question.