Pernicious Propensity

I just handed in my paper for next week’s colloquium, and as I was roughing out the last bits it occurred to me that among the difficulties that beset biblical interpretation, few may be as toxic as the the disciplinary proclivity toward esotericism. I don’t mean that all biblical scholars shop in the sort of bookstore that gives Chris apoplectic paroxysms; I mean that biblical studies tends to focus its disciplinary energies on that which cannot be detected by a casual reader. The same inclination affects other, perhaps all, interpretive fields, too. It is especially pronounced, however, in biblical studies, and that inclination militates against biblical scholars reading well the text that they study. Worse still (and some of you knew I would get to this), by adopting a practice that endorses the premise that “the real meaning” involves something other than what was said, the esoteric impulse in biblical scholarship tends obliquely to support such intellectual miasmas as The da Vinci Code.
I do not endorse a facile literalism (still less, the King James variety). On the other hand, sometimes authors express themselves exoterically: they mean what they say. At such points the expositor’s job is not to seek out further obscurities, but to say, “Yup, that’s pretty much what it means. You didn’t need a biblical scholar to tell you that, did you?”

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