Freedom of Interpretation?

This cartoon by David Hayward seems to me to illustrate well the situation we find ourselves in as interpreters – whether of life or of texts. The danger is when we genuinely believe that we are free, having managed to loose ourselves from the influence of upbringing, tradition, personality, and so many other factors.

And of course, there are plenty of ways that we can be prisoners of such things, beyond in matters of interpretation.

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  • Polihronu

    That’s one reason (actually three, even four reasons) why an atheist, unaffiliated theologian would make the best interpreter of any “scripture” :)

  • Geoff Hudson

    James, do you know if Vermes is a Jew?  I believe he was once a Catholic.

    • James F. McGrath

      Geoff, Vermes grew up Catholic because his family had adopted Catholicism to avoid persecution at some point, if I remember correctly. Prior to that they had been Jewish, and he rediscovered his Jewish roots.

      • Geoff Hudson

        Well Vermes seems to have more than his fair share of baggage.  It beats me why he writes articles for Standpoint magazine which can be commented on by others, yet he does not bother to respond.  What does one make of such a one-sided approach?  Is his attitude take-it or leave it?      

  • Brad Matthies

    Great cartoon. It illustrates well the current mythicism discussion that is occurring on this blog. Even those who try to be objective don’t always succeed. You could even add a few more chains to the image: “My Politics”, “My Standard of Acceptable Evidence”, etc.

  • James F. McGrath

    Indeed, those who have to at least some extent freed themselves from a belief system or worldview they once adhered to are particularly prone to wrongly believing that their interpretations and views are free from constraints, influences and tunnel vision that affects others.

    We all have influences and other baggage.

  • Geoff Hudson

    I was amused by this video some years ago.

  • JDatty

    The Blind leading the Blind.

    Nothing new under the sun.

  • Geoff Hudson

    May be Vermes is too tired to respond to anyone.  But he does write books with other younger folk at Oxford such as Martin Goodman who is another historian in the same literalist mould. Neither really question the writings attributed to Josephus which is the only source of any history related to the time when Jesus is supposed to have existed.  

    The same problem of interpretation of Josephus occurs with other historians such as Robin Lane Fox who glibly writes on page 531 of The Classical World (without a reference): “However, her (Poppaea’s) choice as governor, Gessius Florus, was a tactless choice, by origin a Roman knight from a Greek city.  He gratuitously enraged his subjects and helped to provoke a major Jewish war.”  Fox does not consider that he could be referring to material that had been interfered with.  Interference was highly probable.  For example, post Nero’s death, who  else would the Flavian editor blame for the cause of the ‘war’ but Nero’s wife.  And I question that Gessius Florus was ever appointed Governor of Judaea.                

  • Geoff Hudson

    The biblical historians hermeneutic: If Josephus says it, it must be true.