Essays on Biblical Interpretation by Paul Ricoeur

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the time of his original permission for this Project to its publication and has. provided an illuminating reply to the introduction for which the Editor is. The editor thanks Northwestern University Press for permission to use the. essays Preface to Bultmann translated by Peter McCormick and Freedom in. the Light of Hope translated by Robert Sweeney both originally published in. The Conflict of Interpretations He also thanks Harvard Theological Review for. permission to republish Toward a Hermeneutic of the Idea of Revelation. translated by David Pellauer and Anglican Theological Review for permission to. reprint The Hermeneutics of Testimony translated by David Stewart and Paul. Reagan No attempt has been made to harmonize renderings of terms which. differ slightly from one translator to another, Sue Armendariz has cheerfully typed and retyped different versions of the. Introduction I am grateful for her decoding abilities and for her accuracy. Lewis S Mudge,Introduction by Lewis S Mudge, Beyond the desert of criticism we wish to be called again 1. So wrote Paul Ricoeur toward the end of The Symbolism of Evil 1960 This. longing is shared today by the many for whom historical critical method remains. indispensable but at the same time insufficient to bring us to a post critical. moment of openness to the biblical summons Is there an intellectually. responsible way through the critical sands always shifting sometimes abrasive. to an oasis where bedrock with its springs of water for the spirit once again. I THE PROMISE OF HIS WORK, Ricoeur s commitments associations perspective and program combine to make. us turn to him with hope Listener to the Christian message 2 occasional. preacher 3 dialoguer with biblical scholars theologians and specialists in the. history of religions 4 Ricoeur is above all a philosopher committed to. constructing as comprehensive a theory as possible of the interpretation of texts 5. A thoroughly modern man if not indeed a neo Enlightenment figure in his. determination to think within the autonomy of responsible thought 6 Ricoeur. finds it nonetheless consistent to maintain that reflection which seeks beyond. mere calculation to situate us better in being 7 must arise from the mythical. narrative prophetic poetic apocalyptic and other sorts of texts in which human. beings have avowed their encounter both with evil and with the gracious. grounds of hope, Ricoeur s work approximates positions often seen as poles apart With biblical. conservatives he shares reverence for the sense of the given text the last text 8. He is not concerned to draw inferences from the text to its underlying history to. the circumstances of writing to the spiritual state of the authors or even to the. existential encounter between Jesus and his followers 9 Indeed Ricoeur in his. own way takes the New Testament for what it claims to be testimony 10 to the. transforming power of the Resurrection Moreover all the literary genres of the. Bible not just certain passages of special theological import are media for this. revelation 11, On the other hand Ricoeur attracts liberals With them he opposes every form.
of dogmatic mythology 12 political or ecclesiastical authoritarianism. intellectual obscurantism or false consciousness Moreover he shares the liberal. concern that interpreters of the Bible should be in dialogue with all that has gone. on in the great romance of culture 13 and all that is happening in contemporary. experience in Ricoeur s hands interpretation is always confronted with the. perspective of counter disciplines physiology psychoanalysis sociology. anthropology linguistics the history of philosophy 14 The sense of the text is. taken seriously in the midst of other constructions of the human condition that. enter into dialogue with it, In this writer then we have a combination of elements which could be fruitful in. assisting a critical yet post critical biblical theology into being But the. expectations we bring to Ricoeur s work must not betray us into holding him. responsible for matters outside his professional vocation Ricoeur s chosen task is. not the exposition of the Bible within the community of faith It is rather the. rational clarification of human existence in the world The famous wager to. which Ricoeur has given currency is a philosophical wager that following the. indication of symbolic thought I shall have a better understanding of man and. of the bond between the being of man and the being of all beings And he. continues I bet at the same time that my wager will be restored to me in the. power of reflection in the element of coherent discourse 15 Yet biblical texts play. an indispensable role in this philosophical program They above all provide the. indication out of which Ricoeur s thought comes, We must not expect however that reading Ricoeur will be an experience. comparable say to reading Paul Tillich Tillich the theologian addressed himself. directly to problems of faith Moreover he often did this in a way accessible to. the general reader or at least to the student of religion or theology Ricoeur. particularly of late has written mainly about philosophical problems for the. philosophically trained His contributions to biblical hermeneutics must be. extracted from these sometimes difficult writings The difficulties of Ricoeur s. writing stem from his single minded pursuit with appropriate terminology of. whatever intellectual issue is at hand often beginning somewhere near the. middle of the argument Seldom does he pause to take stock or to explain his. overall perspective Often his essays and lectures traverse a field of complex. allusion Woe to the reader who does not at first recognize the set of concerns. packed into such a phrase as a post Hegelian interpretation of Kant He or she. will not be told at least not outright although the context will help The field of. reference which is Ricoeur s intellectual habitation ranges over the whole history. of Western philosophy Perhaps the most commonly mentioned names are. Aristotle Kant Hegel Husserl and Heidegger Spinoza Gabriel Marcel and Karl. Jaspers are not far behind One meets some theologically famous names too. Rudolf Bultmann Karl Barth Gerhard von Rad Jurgen Moltmann and others. The theologically concerned reader of Ricoeur will be helped if he or she can see. some paths through the philosophical thickets some relations between the. different Ricoeurian ideas some connections with familiar intellectual. landmarks This essay is designed to assist In the work of this uncompromising. thinker who is also in his own way a believer we may find important clues to. unraveling the conundrums of contemporary consciousness and particularly to. understanding how people today may be called again by texts which to their. surprise summon them to reckon with realities whose existence they had. II THE PROBLEM AND THE PROJECT, We are deaf to the Word today Why The root of the problem for Ricoeur lies. in a general loss of sensitivity to symbolic language in modern Western. civilization We construe the world in terms of the Cartesian dichotomy between. the self as sovereign consciousness on the one hand and an objectivized. manipulable nature on the other We conceive ourselves as authors of our own. meaning and being set in the midst of a world there for us to interrogate. manipulate and control We make language our instrument in this project in a. way that sees artful equivocation richness of meaning or metaphysical range as. a liability to be overcome rather than a gift to be treasured We dismiss realms of. meaning beyond the literal either as confusion to be cleared up by the logician or. as emotional embellishment to be kept in check It is hard for us to see scriptural. language full as it is of figure metaphor vision and myth as having to do with. What lies behind this literalism Not merely the need of science and technology. for precise terminology The language of empirical inquiry has its indispensable. place Behind our deafness to biblical language rather lies the fear that such. language alienates us from our hard won modern autonomy and freedom. Ricoeur repeatedly refers to a triad of writers Marx Nietzsche and Freud who. have taught us to suspect that religious language may not mean what it appears. to say at all that it may be a coded version of something else of which we would. prefer not to be aware The problems we have with the mythological vehicle of. the scriptural message with the cultural distance between ourselves and the. biblical texts are relatively surmountable in comparison with the fear before we. even begin to translate scriptural language into modern terms that there may. be nothing behind it but the ideologizing of the class status of its authors the. resentment felt by losers in a power struggle the outcome of oedipal conflicts in. persons whose desires are repressed by cultural prohibitions And even if. scriptural language is somehow exempt from such suspicious reductionisms we. suspect our own hidden motives for cleaving to it Details of the Marxian. Nietzschian and Freudian criticisms have since been revised and even. discredited on economic anthropological or psychological grounds But in their. basic thrust and convergence these thinkers have become part of our culture. They still accuse us and all transcendence language users of false. consciousness Marx Nietzsche and Freud continue to have power for us. indeed because they are instigators of a positive affirmation of the human which. we are bound if we are honest to respect In different ways they seek to. overcome the domination submission alienation syndrome of which religious. language in the past has been a vehicle In this they both anticipate and echo. Feuerbach who taught that we by articulating our consciousness in religious. language are in fact emptying our human substance into an illusory absolute. Theologically we should call this idolatry Hence we are bound to agree that any. new articulation of faith must pass through and beyond the hermeneutics of. suspicion not slide around it, But how is this to be done There are many contemporary forms of protest. against unidimensional interpretations of the human against the insistence that. all properly cognitive discourse must reflect a univocal subject object Cartesian. mentality Many of these forms of protest are theories of the interpretation of the. signs human beings produce in the business of being human poems dreams. fantasies myths works of art patterns of culture and so on The trouble is that. there are today so many conflicting theories of the interpretation of human signs. that we do not know where to begin The debate about the symbolic dimension. of expression about the relation between literal and figurative uses of language. is an academic battleground The realm of language Ricoeur writes. is an area today where all philosophical investigations cut across one another. Language is the common meeting ground of Wittgenstein s investigations the. English linguistic philosophy the phenomenology that stems from Husserl. Heidegger s investigations the works of the Bultmannian school and other. schools of New Testament exegesis the works of comparative history of religion. and of anthropology concerning myth ritual and belief and finally. psychoanalysis 16, We live in a time in which there are many different realms of hermeneutical.
discourse isolated from each other a conflict of interpretations of human. expression no one of which can grasp the human condition as a whole Thus. Ricoeur must not only seek through his own hermeneutic to open our ears to. the scriptural call He must work out his theory of interpretation in dialogue with. a hundred others He must search for something like a unified field theory of. the explication and understanding of texts, An early program for his attempt to do this appears in the final chapter of The. Symbolism of Evil Ricoeur there proposes a philosophical analysis of symbolic. and metaphoric language intended to help us reach a second naivete before. such texts 17 The latter phrase which Ricoeur has made famous suggests that the. first naivete an unquestioned dwelling in a world of symbol which. presumably came naturally to men and women in one possibility cultures to. which the symbols in question were indigenous is no longer possible for us But. we may approximate that state of course with a difference. For the second immediacy that we seek and the second naivete that we await. are no longer accessible to us anywhere else than in a hermeneutics we can. believe only by interpreting It is the modern mode of belief in symbols an. expression of the distress of modernity and a remedy for that distress 18. How can philosophy help In two ways First the philosopher so to speak. follows the believer through trying to model conceptually what is involved in. staking one s life on the message The philosopher adopts provisionally the. motivations and intentions of the believing soul He does not feel them in their. first naivete he re feels them in a neutralized mode in the mode of as if It is. in this sense that phenomenology is a reenactment in sympathetic imagination 19. Then secondly the philosopher tries to account conceptually for the lived. possibility of the believer s symbolic world In The Symbolism of Evil this. thinking on biblical hermeneutics available to a wider audience than has up to now been part of the dialogue Ricoeur has written few works for a general readership He has written no single work which comes close to summing up all facets of his thought on the interpretation of the Bible Many of his most important essays on the subject are available only in learned journals or in anthologies

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