2 ago. 2011

There Is No Such Thing As Biblical Literalism, And It Is A Good Thing Too

There are three mains problems with what is badly termed "biblical literalism":

People who try to observe the Law quite scrupulously depend very heavily on complex layers of hermeneutics. The more strict the observance, the more interpretation is involved. If the Law were clear on its literal face, then there would be no schools of complex Talmudic commentary. Most so-called literalists, however, are Christians and don't even attempt to follow the letter of the Law.

Secondly, the Bible has always been read allegorically. The Song of Songs has no religious significance at all on its literal level. All those parables? Pure allegory. The Book of Revelations? Nothing literal about that, surely. That's not even to mention everyday metaphors like "the kingdom of heaven." To even read the "Old Testament" as a being about Jesus Christ is a totally allegorizing move, because Isaiah and those folks were not even thinking about that. Once again, an extremely complex hermeneutics that developed in order to interpret meaning that is not at all available at the literal level. The middle ages perfected this kind of tropological reading, in which a single passage event could have four separate meanings, only one of which was literal if my memory of Dante class does not deceive me.

The third problem is one of historical, archeological, and scientific evidence. This is what is usually meant by literalism, believing the earth was created in six days and the like. People who read so literally are forced to interpret the world itself according to an impossible apologetic hermeneutics, in which fossil fuels are the remains of non-existent fossils from an age before the universe existed.

So there are three problems, one having to do with the observance or non-observance of the Law of Moses, one with reading the text for its religious significance and trying to make it more coherent than it is, and the third with the fact that a supposedly literal reading doesn't square with reality itself. Only the third sort of literalism has the merit of actually existing. The other two simply aren't.