At it’s core, biblical scholarship is a discipline about texts.1 It’s primarily about particular texts that function authoritatively in Judaism and Christianity. But it’s also about texts ancient and modern that can potentially help interpret the core texts. All of this, of course, means that reading and interpreting what you read are core skills for biblical scholarship.
How You Understand Languages
In that reading, you read biblical texts, and to do so, you learn languages like Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. As you learn these languages, you inevitably reflect on the way you read them.
You might focus on cementing your knowledge of morphological patterns or syntactical constructions. And in ways like these, you hope to improve the way you read these texts. You hope to become a more skillful reader.
The same dynamics apply when learning other languages so you can read more widely what others have written about biblical texts. As you learn a language, you regularly reflect on how you’re understanding the language. You consider whether a text you’re reading makes sense. And when it doesn’t, you look for ways to improve your understanding of that language.
How You Understand Texts
You might also think about questions of hermeneutics. Why do you interpret a given text as you do? Why do others? What might stand out in the text if you read it with a different lens?
The more you’re aware of these kinds of issues and able to pose these kinds of questions to yourself, the more you increase your readerly self-awareness. And biblical scholarship isn’t primarily about biblical scholars understanding ourselves. But being more self-aware does make us more clear-eyed readers—never completely clear-eyed but still demonstrably more clear-eyed.
In particular, there’s a discipline to trying to understand how someone could be right in what they are saying, even if, in the end, you decide to disagree. And that discipline of trying to avoid misunderstanding is no less pertinent when you’re reading texts by authors who are still alive than it is for those who have been long dead.
Such ways of thinking about reading are pretty standard fare for biblical scholars. Maybe these issues could be thought about or practiced better, but they’re generally acknowledged and valued.
But amid all of this, something central to the task tends to go missing—namely, the body of the reader.2 And that body shapes the task of reading in some important ways.
Header image provided by Marjhon Obsioma. For helping me to frame the posts in this series, I’m indebted to the suggestive comments of Thomas Mc Laughlin, Reading and the Body: The Physical Practice of Reading (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). ↩
See Mc Laughlin, Reading and the Body. ↩