In the late 1800’s scholars finally began analyzing Biblical texts with the same tools they examined all other texts. In 1893 a Papal encyclical limited study of the Bible.1 But the study went on, of course. And then thanks to Atheists and agnostics and even some brave Christians, critical biblical studies continued.
Many of those interested in the Bible are not even aware of these tools. When discussing the Bible, it is important to understand how your tools of analysis differ from you discussion partner. Sometimes, neither party is actually aware of the history of the tools of Biblical Criticism. Remember, in Christian minds, the reasons for these limits still exist. For though many Christians may entertain analytic study of scripture they always go in with one or all of the following and thus have no intent to be objective in their analysis:
- The inerrancy of their scripture
- The authority of their scripture
- The final truth of their scripture (even if little errors are found)
- The unity of their scripture (their god was behind it all)
Thus, rather than Biblical Critical methods, many Christians prefer a “Devotional method” or an “Applied method” which are not critical but faith based. Devotional and Applied “methods” are the non-critical ways believers in all faiths read their scriptures.
Below I list several genre of Biblical Criticism and some texts in that genre. I will expand this list as I learn from readers and other sites, which texts may be helpful in learning about Biblical Criticism.
General Texts on Biblical Criticism:
- Haynes, Stephen R., and Steven L. McKenzie. To Each its Own Meaning. Westminster John Knox Press, 1999.
Textual Criticism: (“lower” criticism) Comparing the many extant manuscripts to discover errors of transcriptions with the goal to reveal the original text. “Higher” criticism came after this and is among those below.
- Metzger, Bruce M., and Bart D. Ehrman. The Text of the New Testament. Oxford University Press, 2005.
Historical Criticism: Uses the insights of historical settings to analyze the text. Source and Form Criticisms are sub-genre of this.
Source Criticism: To examine the sources behind texts. The Marcean Hypothesis and others.
- Friedman, RE. Who Wrote the Bible. Harper Collins, 1987
- Cassuto, Umberto, Joshua Berman, and Israel Abrahams. The Documentary Hypothesis. Shalem Press, 2006. (lectures from 1941)
- Goodacre, Mark S. The Case Against Q. Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002.
Form Criticism: Breaks bible down into stories (pericopes) and analyzes by genres. Then theorizes on “Sitz in Leben” (“setting in life”), the social context in which it was composed and thus its use.
- Buss, Martin J. Biblical form criticism in its context. Continuum International Publishing Group, 1999.
Redaction Criticism: Examines how and why the text arrived at it current form through modifications, merges and editing. It view the editor (redactor) having a purpose in the editing. This helps reconstruct the community and purpose(s) of the author(s) of the text. Thus related to Source Criticism.
- Perrin, Norman. What is Redaction Criticism? Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1970.
Rhetorical/ Literary Criticism: Elucidates the style works and how the rhetoric functions in discourse when considering the original audience.
Narrative Criticism: Treats the text as a unit. Focuses on narrative structure and composition, plot development, themes and motifs, characters and characterizations. Narrative criticism assumes the text is capable of more than one interpretation and can have several meanings — ambiguity.
- Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Narrative. Basic Books, 1983.
Canonical Criticism: How, why, when did a text gain ‘canonical’ status as a sacred text. How does it function as such?
1. In 1943, after 50 years of scholars ignoring Pope Leo XIII’s Providentissimus Deus , that Pope Pius XII issued a counter encyclical, Divino Afflante Spiritu, allowing limited use of modern biblical criticism. Then in 1965 a vatican II document called “Dei Verbum” further addressed Biblical interpretation issues.