Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Historicity of the Bible

The controversy over the historicity of the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, is a major issue in the Christian world. Fr. John Breck's "Scripture in Tradition" is wonderful at getting at an Orthodox view of Scripture and its place. However, there seems to a major weakness in many Orthodox commentaries which seem to accept the historicity of the New Testament- against the likes of Spong- but deny the same to the Old Testament. What is the basis in Orthodoxy for this allowed change? Is it a new "dispensation"? Do the Fathers, the liturgical or iconographic Tradition teach a difference between the Old and New Testaments' factuality? The three patristic levels of reading Scripture- literal, typological, and allegorical- obviously allow for more than a simple literal reading of the OT, and more than typology which the NT itself explicitly teaches, but they do not seem to allow for less than a reading which embraces all three levels. The Fathers, the iconographic and festal tradition of the Church, as well as the New Testament itself, seem to argue for a literal plus typological and allegorical reading of the events and peoples of the Old Testament, and not simply either a solely literal or an exclusively "spiritual", non-literal reading of the same.

Is the Orthodox Church simply punting on the question? Is the Tradition clear in treating the events as historical as well as typological (prophetic)? Where do the Fathers and the Church speak otherwise regarding historicity, and where do they allow for the real meaning to be only the "spiritual" and not the literal? Specific references to primary texts would be appreciated.


Blogger aaronandbrighid said...

It seems to me (a cautionary way to begin a comment, I realise) that the basic historicity of the Old Testament is never questioned in the Orthodox Tradition (as opposed to contemporary academic Orthodox 'theology'), but that OT history, qua history, is simply not considered important for Christians. In his fascinating article, 'The Old Testament and Rationalistic Biblical Criticism', Fr Michael Pomazansky writes that 'history' does not 'comprise its essence for a Christian', but rather the 'testimony concerning Christ'. For this reason, he writes, 'Many of the Fathers of the Church teach us to prefer the spiritual aspect of the Bible to literal interpretation.'
Nevertheless, in another article, 'The Old Testament in the New Testament Church', Fr Pomazansky decisively rejects the notion that the 'historical' books of the OT are merely 'a collection of pious legends' and discusses archaeological evidence for some previously suspected biblical accounts.
I for one would not feel comfortable in discounting specifically the historicity of any of the OT, even if, on the basis of writers like Fr Pomazansky, I can perhaps accept the fact that not everything may be dead-on historical. As a layman I feel like I can get away with suspending judgment, but an Orthodox Christian who also happens to be an academic OT scholar has a tougher road to hoe (is that the right spelling? I've only ever heard this phrase used orally).
I know I've not really answered the question...sorry!

6:13 PM EDT  

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