Text, Context, and Hermeneutics

Today I ran across this great citation in a great article by Joel Green on biblical/theological hermeneutics. It has long struck me that the force of biblical texts upon contemporary readers is not, despite frequent protests, constrained by the limits of their intelligibility, but rather by the intransigence of readers. Interestingly, in other avenues of interpretation, intelligibility seems far less problematic a concept. In the words of Umberto Eco,

“To make his text communicative, the author has to assume that the ensemble of codes he relies upon is the same as that shared by his possible reader. The author has to foresee a model of the possible reader (hereafter Model Reader) supposedly able to deal interpretively with the expressions in the same way as the author deals generatively with them.”1

So why do we chafe and squirm and equivocate over texts that are uncomfortable, not because they are unclear, but because they are?

  1. Umberto Eco, The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts, cited by Joel Green in “Practicing the Gospel in a Post-Critical World: The Promise of Theological Exegesis” JETS 47/3 (September 2004): 387–97.

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