I’m trying to map out my forty minutes for Saturday’s Chicago Society of Biblical Research meeting. I know I can fill the time; the key (as I learned last spring, in the difference between a presentation at Notre Dame and my Winslow Lecture) boils down to organization, as Seabury’s Writing Group veterans can testify.
Some points I want to make:
- Some perspective on controversies over “legitimacy” and “illegitimacy” in biblical interpretation, especially in light of Michael Fox’s recent essay on “faith-based scholarship”
- My [still-too-casual] angle on semiotics and interpretation
- How my angle affects the ways we think about theological interpretation
- Main point of talk: The same way of thinking about semiotics/interpretation that helps me make sense of “theological interpretation” also helps me understand and articulate the value of secular interpretation of the Bible. I’m at home in that discussion, not because I believe less what the church says of the Bible, but because I respect and know the rules of the signifying practice of technical biblical scholarship (and academic discourse in general). One doesn’t need a totalizing rationale for the nature of Truth and textuality to warrant secular biblical interpretation — one need only the rare virtue of good, close reading. One doesn’t need to assent to the latent premises of literary discourse in order to admire and to interpret them well; one need not unite oneself to a theological tradition in order to read that tradition’s texts well.
- Also helps explain our dowdy clothes (a professional colleague whom I shouldn’t quote without permission has referred to the Society of Biblical Literature as “the society of middle-aged white men who can’t dress themselves”) and unbearable ugliness of Volvos
That’s the basics of what I want to propose, perhaps even ending with the offensively utopian suggestion that we let go of feuding over whether biblical interpretation requires or proscribes theological commitment for its legitimacy. Rather than dressing up personal antipathies in disciplinary garb, we work toward enhancing the quality of one another’s readings on their own terms, and let God, or Time, or Nemesis, or who- or whatever adjudicate the legitimacy of our work.
Of course, I also have to write out all the stuff in between, and prepare for Wednesday’s and Friday’s classes. At least I’m not preaching in the next few days.