Friday, April 26, 2013

Characteristics of a Hermeneutical Community - A Bibliocentric Community, but What About Illiteracy?; In the series: GEMEINDETHEOLOGIE: Who & How?

It is important to note that identifying Scripture and scriptural knowledge as essential to a hermeneutical community broaches the topic of literacy and its role in the process.[1] Stock notes that "the question of oral versus written tradition need not be framed in inflexible terms. What was essential for a textual community, whether large or small, was simply a text, an interpreter, and a public. The text did not have to be written; oral record, memory, and reperformance sufficed."[2] While, as mentioned above, Calvin strove for a biblically educated commonwealth, Holder does admit that Calvin's assumption was that at least some members of the congregation were reading the Scriptures.[3] It is also appropriate to mention again that even illiterate Anabaptists had intricate knowledge of Scripture. The Book of Martyrs presents many disputations between Anabaptists and their persecutors where even illiterate Anabaptists are described as being able to argue their Biblical hope in front of and to the amazement of their judges. Illiteracy was not then and is not now a barrier to a community's having as its focus the text of Scripture and interpreting it communally. On the contrary, it would seem that the Anabaptists' communal focus was an impetus for the memorization of large portions of Scripture by those who were illiterate,[4] ultimately helping to make Scripture central to the community.
And what of tradition then? We'll talk about it next time.

[1]Roth, for example, in Roth, "Community as Conversation," 43, discussed the oral and visual nature of early modern Europe, in contrast to the print nature of our age. He notes that "many Anabaptists first encountered Scripture through the spoken word -- sermons, disputations, discussions -- rather than in the written word, and in a communal context of conversation and debate rather than as individuals engaged in silent reading and study." Consequently, he questions how this predominantly oral setting could have shaped the understanding of Scripture.
[2]Stock, Listening for the Text, 37. Here, Stock presents Pierre Valdo, the father of the Waldensian movement, as an example of an interpres (the one who was the contact between the illiterate culture and the literate culture), for he "memorized and communicated the gospel by word of mouth." Later in his book, Stock goes on to make a parallel argument when he argues that the Jewish and Christian attitude toward the text "is true for Scriptures that are actually read as well as for those that are memorized and recited, such as the oral gospel and the oral Torah. This recall is a type of reading" (149-50).
[3]In his commentary on 2 Tim 2:15, Calvin writes: "Has not every person an opportunity of reading the Bible?" (John Calvin Commentaries on The Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon 2 Tim 2:15). Holder, in Holder, "Church as Discerning Community in Calvin," 274, identifies four other evidences of this assumption in Calvin's writings.
[4]Ens, "The Hermeneutical Community," 76n26. 

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