We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Beyond Modernity

Joseph Sold into Captivity
In his commentary on Genesis (Genesis, John Knox, 1982), Walter Brueggemann argues that the final narrative of the book, the "Joseph Narrative" (Genesis 37-50), is fiction rather than history.  It is a story or composite of stories written as a bridge to carry the Israel's story over the gap between Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Exodus.

By treating the Joseph Narrative as fiction rather than as history, Brueggemann does not lose the value of the stories in it.  He makes it possible, rather, to focus on the story itself rather than the actors.  The tendency otherwise is to give our attention to the actors and attempt to psychoanalyze them—figure them out.  The story, when treated as history, is not important in and of itself but for what it reveals about it characters.  If the story is fictional, however, our attention shifts to the author and the story itself.  It shifts to a deeper level of meaning in which the story becomes a witness to Israel's faith in the era of Exile when it was likely written.  And there is the added value of laying aside the need to defend the Bible's factuality at all points, which so often obscures its deeper meanings and spiritual value by forcing us to worry about superficial issues such as demonstrating that Jonah could survive for three days in the belly of a fish or proving that David really did write the psalms attributed to him in the Book of Psalms.

Equally to the point, the Joseph Narrative is just as historical whether it be treated as literature or as a factual account of actual events.  It gives witness to the faith of its author and its times and thus reflects the historical experience of the Jewish people.  It is as true spiritually and no less inspired.  Treating it as literature, in truth, helps to awake us from the dreamworld of modernity with its narrow understanding of reality and its obsession with factuality.