Finally I have found a biblical scholar who clearly states the issues with much of the “postmodern” literary criticism of the Bible. Kudos.
A Brief Critique of New Literary Criticism
My own misgivings about the new literary critical approach to texts concern primarily the following:
- Its determined “anti-historical” stance, for which I find no justification.
- Its promise of superior results; but does this approach truly edify us, or merely entertain us?
- Its lack of sophistication, despite its claims, particularly in its inchoate theories of “literary production.” These are usually borrowed from other disciplines long after they have become obsolete.
preoccupied with questions of ideology and power and political discourse that may be totally foreign to the text.
- Its stress on the “social context” of all knowledge, but its ignoring the original context of the text itself.
- Its minimalization of the importance of philological, historical, and comparative-analytical competence; its “know-nothing” attitude toward, or denial of, any original context.
- Its contradiction in insisting upon the “isolation” of an individual text, but at the same time arguing that “intertextuality” is essential in reading texts.
- Its positing that a text must be “tested,” but producing no criteria by which that might be accomplished.
- Its denial of “authorial intent,” which defies common sense.
- Its ultimate cultural relativism, which makes the text mean anything the reader wants. This is no different from the distortion and exploitation of texts of which they accuse both Fundamentalists and the liberal religious establishment in the past.
- Its fondness for “posing questions” of the text, but its lack of any answers.
- Its elevation of the reader’s subjective concerns to the status of final arbiter of “meaning,” which I find arrogant and self-indulgent.
- The oppressively ideological and polemical character of the entire movement, which substitutes slogans for sustained rational argument.
- The superiority of this approach is often asserted, usually dogmatically; but its actual reading of texts often borders on the fantastic.
- A typical postmodern stance is assumed as essential, but it is rarely defended. Is the latest fad (for that is what it will in time be seen to have been) really the best?
William G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 15–16.