SWCCL*: Spinoza and Literary Criticism

In live blogging this conference, I am following the conventions for conference blogging.

Travis Frampton
Hardin-Simmons University

“Dueling Discourses: Spinoza’s Contribution to Biblical Interpretation, Literary Criticism, and Scientific Methodology”

early modern science brought new theological problems
Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo took apart Platonic and Aristotelian science

Was the biblical world the same as what was unfolding?
What would tribes in the Americas and Africa, not listed in Genesis, mean?
How would a heliocentric worldview change?

Three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism… Really?

Spinoza said:
Bible spoke of God imaginatively. Prophets wrote according to their own understanding.

Wanting to study the text with fresh eyes, wanted to show that Bible was historical and contingent. That it was a canon. Very core was rooted in and formed by history. A compendium of works from different vantage points, languages, cultures…
Created the Bible as a natural thing.
Protestant view that Bible would interpret itself was false.
Reader passive or active?
Bible, authors, readers, interpretation were all caught in the web of history.
Reading history was a thoroughly human affair.
No reader can escape history.
Interpretation must appeal to universal reason.
Revealed knowledge is possible, but it cannot be spoken to or about. (Gorgias again)

Those who made use of reason could not be called prophets.
Their form of communication allowed audience to accept or reject what they read.
Accepting the meaning of another = dogma
Adopting views of others (Aristotle, Calvin, etc) is bad.
Reader must engage the text itself.

Circular reasoning (Bible true b/c God’s word. God’s word b/c true.) bad.

Biblical writers had a lack of understanding about nature. Natural knowledge poor.

Spinoza’s method= “Since Bible is concerned with things that cannot be seen in nature, Biblical meaning must be seen in the Bible alone.”

Secularized the study of Scripture.
Chapters 7-12, does a Biblical study.
Rejected Mosaic author of Pentateuch.
Genesis through II Kings—late date.
Saw Bible as one historical work among many.

Called one group of interpreters skeptics. They were cautious about reason’s ability to understand Scripture. Word of God was over reason.
This was the most common and orthodox during 17th C.

Dogmatists= Accommodated Scripture to reason.
No conflict between faith and philosophy, both were true.

Reason and Scripture might not be in harmony.
Reason = truth
Scripture = meaning
Those are not necessarily the same.

Philosophy should not interpret the Bible. (philosophy = natural science in the 17th C, metaphysics and/or natural studies)
Truth is the way you see the world operate. It is what it is. You don’t have a text explaining it. Nature never explains itself.
Before the Protestant Reformation, Nature was a way of giving meaning to human lives. (What would this do with OE works?)
Truth is modernistic, reason able to arrive at based on nature and human mind.
Meaning is not from philosophy.

Meaning is the way people might talk about things: hearsay evidence, historical studies, culture.

Spinoza was afraid that commoners would not be able to read the Bible if philosophy gained a foothold.

“The rule of interpretation must be nothing other than the natural light of reason that is common to all men…” –Spinoza

Sometimes a passage might not make sense just because it did not make sense.

Two different forms of discourse: theology and philosophy.

Revelation of God = book of Scripture and book of Nature (common belief for centuries)

For Spinoza, book of Nature was true.
Book of Scripture was a historical, cultural, imaginative work to discuss the world they saw.

Scripture and theology described God’s work with a beginning and an end.
Spinoza does not think Nature has a beginning and an end. Has no purpose.
Humans speak anthropomorphically.

By loving God and loving one’s neighbor…

Philosophy = reason, the way to speak about the world as it is, explaining nature
Theology = speak about the world metamorphically, the world as it could be or as it ought to be

Theological discourse needed to be kept separate from philosophy.

Not confident in social progress.
Not everyone thought rigorously and soundly about the world.

Moral thinking contributing a great service to society. Truth was not a final end or goal for society. Ethics were.
For Spinoza to suggest as much, how one lived was more important than why one lived that way. Actions were better than beliefs. (This is a common sci fi/fantasy belief system. Valdemar/Lackey does this.)

True religion is a reasonable religion.

17th C context
Lot of people speaking on God’s behalf.
Trying to find out true matter of God on earth was bad, because was leading to war, etc.
Deeds prioritized over talk (from book of James).

Questions and answers:
His most famous work is The Ethics.
His work is very awkward.
Trying to write ethics as math.
Worth reading because a lot of his final principles that he believed could be arrived at in the same way that Jesus’ understanding of the way we should act. Jesus’ text show how we can get along best period. Can also find this same example from nature and social relationships, if you have more time.

Spinoza sees salvation here and now. A good Sadduccee.
Not a good Jewish person, excommunicated because he denied the immortality of the soul.

How might he be used to critique worldview thinking? Truth isn’t the final end.
Jamie Smith at Calvin College—cognitive limited

Understanding Midrash is key to understanding Jesus’ parables. Really need to get this.

Fascinating idea. Look at the Jewish translations.
Robert Alter on Biblical Language
These two things don’t quite line up but very generous reader to the background.

*SWCCL = Southwest Conference on Christianity and Literature

2 thoughts on “SWCCL*: Spinoza and Literary Criticism”

  1. Saint Augustine couldn’t do it, but can someone else explain what kind of fruit Adam and Eve ate in the story? After 6000+ years I think we are all due an intelligent explanation. No guesses, opinions, or beliefs, please–just the facts that we know from the story. But first, do an Internet search: First Scandal.

  2. There’s nothing in the book about the fruit.

    Milton, in Paradise Lost, said it was an apple, which is why many people think that.

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