Social scientific approach

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 23 October 2016

Social scientific approach

Topic: What according to Whitelam (1998), Dutcher-Walls (2009) and Steinberg (1995) is a social scientific approach to the OT? How does this approach help us understand Judges 9 better? Introduction: The aim of social scientific criticism, as a subfield of biblical exegesis, is to study the biblical materials as a reflection of their cultural setting. The meaning and/or the social background of the text are thus more fully illumined by the exercise of sociological and anthropological methods and theories. The era of modern social-scientific research began in the late 19th century with the work of Karl Marx, Auguste Comte, and Herbert Spencer.

Their social theories created an atmosphere of curiosity about the human condition and advanced the evolutionary perspective that had taken hold with the writing of Charles Darwin. As sociology and anthropology emerged as separate sciences. Social scientific criticism is an interpretive method that uses heuristic models from the social sciences to understand the social context of ancient Israel and to interpret texts create within that context. From 1960’s there develops some of the Social groups, cultural relationships, patterns of behaviour, political structures which all of them are under the topic social criticism.

As I have stated above that in 19th century many of the scholars were very much interested on the issue of social. In 1970 they were uses of the social criticism methods from variety of situations, and especial the one of sociology , which stress the life between social behavior of the people during the time of the old testament. Which has emerged is how scholars might have access to the ancient past and the multifaceted social world of ancient Palestine and the Mediterranean. The quest of the social world of the bible Those who were travelling from the east they reported about the culture that hey were seeing in different with the one of the western culture. Exactly after the important influence from the Palestine archeology of the nation , when they publish the thing. For the early scholar this things about the quest of the social world became an important thing for them to consider. For them to understand the west text, they reconstruct the history and the social , which is out of the bible. They tried to study in order to understand the social and political from the bronze age from Palestine , of the time of the roman empire.

The bible and its social world In order to understand the different directions which now characterize the new quest, it is important to understand the convergence of a series of influential trends whose combined force has transformed biblical studies in the latter part of the twentieth century. It was the result of the convergence of new intellectual currents in psychoanalysis, linguistics and philosophy which helped undermine the authority and the stability of established disciplines and their previously thought ‘assured results’.

The rise to prominence of newer literary studies within biblical studies was part of this general movement. The publication of Robert Alter;s The Art of Biblical Narrative and David Gunn’s The Fate of King Saul and The Story of King David had a profound effect on the way in which biblical narratives were read as artful constructions. Thus the books of Samuel, for instance, were increasingly understood as skilful and serious literature rather than primary sources for the monarchy of Saul and David.

Many biblical books which had previously been considered to be historical, in the sense that they preserved a reasonably accurate picture of the history of ancient Israel or later communities, became the subject of detailed literary treatments. Furthermore, developments in historical studies in general, allied to increasing archaeological data from the region, raised serious questions about the world of ancient Palestine and the Mediterranean as it had been understood. The result was a general disillusionment with previous historical studies, which were seen to be too limited in scope or theologically motivated.

The search for the social world of the Bible since the nineteenth century had been closely identified with the history of Israel through to the first century C E. The gradual and ever-increasing erosion of this history, its increasing divorce from the biblical texts was the catalyst for fresh attempts to explore and reconstruct the social world of ancient Palestine and the Mediterranean world. The appeal to the social sciences was an attempt to recover the many aspects of society which were not mentioned in the texts but which formed an essential element in the social world from which they emerged.

The appeal to archaeology, sociology and anthropology, in particular, was seen as addressing some of the deficiencies in the biblical texts as sources for their own social world. This was paralleled by an increasing interest in the social production of the biblical literature, its ideological aspects, the factional disputes which lay behind it and the social and political world it represented or reflected. The trends and directions in current research which constitute the new search for the social world of the Bible are much too varied a phenomenon to be categorized by a single phrase such as ‘the sociological approach’.

It is ironic that the new search for the social world of the Bible, initiated by Mendenhall and Gottwald, has resulted in a redefinition of the ‘biblical period’ which has severely restricted its chronological limits. Earlier in the century, it was understood as stretching over two millennia from the early second millennium to the end of the first century CE. The impact of literary studies, which increasingly questioned the relationship of the complex of biblical narratives from Genesis to 2 Kings to history, has undermined confidence in the construction of vast periods of Israelite history.

The result has been the loss of the Patriarchal and Conquest periods from many historical accounts and an increasingly fierce debate over the nature of the settlement and early monarchic periods. Ironically, therefore, the very search for the world of the Bible which informed many of these revisionist studies of the history of Israel has resulted in the removal of several centuries previously attributed to that world. The conviction that the Hebrew Bible was the product of the Persian and Hellenistic periods has underpinned this radical shift. R. P.

Carroll states baldly what many biblical scholars have been coming to accept for a long time: ‘The Hebrew Bible is the product of the second Temple period. This ought to be an uncontentious statement, but I imagine some unreconstructed biblical scholars may wish to contest it in favour of a First Temple period origin for the Bible with some appendices from the time of the second Temple. While I can see that there may be something to be said for the view that the Bible contains fragments of material from before the collapse of the temple in the sixth century, the claim that the Bible as we know it (i. . the fully redacted final form of the various books constituting it) comes from the Second Temple period seems to me ungainsayable. ‘ The implications of this conviction are highlighted by P. R. Davies when he writes of the ‘desire to see the “biblical period” properly defined as the period in which the Bible was written – or, more correctly, when the literature in its “biblical” form was composed, since by its very nature, the Bible, being a collection of scriptures, was not written, but ratified by consent or decree or both (and thus, of course, the term “biblical authors” is also misleading)’.

The implication of this now widespread conviction, a return to the position of Wellhausen in many ways; is that if the Bible is the product of the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman periods, then the search for the social world of the Bible should be restricted to those periods. The key problem which has emerged, and which dominates all attempts to understand the social world of the Bible, is the complex relationship between texts and their social worlds. The legacy of literary studies has been to undermine confidence in the assumption that the world of the texts coincided with the views of the past they portrayed.

However, dating the final form of these texts to the Persian and Hellenistic periods or first-century Roman Palestine does not solve the problem of their relationship to the socio-historical backgrounds or ideological influences which shaped them. The methodological problems have multiplied and sharpened on how to investigate periods where there is insufficient (literary) evidence, particularly for the Late Bronze and Iron Ages, and how to bridge the gap between text and social reality in the Persian to Roman periods.

The biblical traditions can no longer be understood as simple reflections of earlier historical reality. Rather they offer a valuable insight into perceptions of that reality from particular points of view at the time of the writers. This is not to suggest that such texts may not preserve some authentic memories and information about the past but these are increasingly difficult to assess. The relationship between the text and society is considerably more complex than the common binary opposition between literature and society, text and context.

For example, the social practices presented in a text may not correspond to any such practices in reality: they may be an attempt to subvert current social practices. How far a text subverts the dominant or some other perception of reality or represents a dominant view depends on its relationship to other pieces of literature, monuments, artefacts, etc. that can reveal important comparative information about social attitudes or perceptions of reality.

Many New Testament scholars, in particular, have appealed to the social sciences in order to try to understand the implications of key concepts in New Testament literature in terms of its wider social setting. However, Carroll offers an important reminder of the inherent difficulties in such attempts to move from textual levels to social world. It is ironic that as the focal point of the social world of the Bible has shifted from the Iron Age to Persian, it has become evident that very little is known about the social and historical background of the Second Temple period.

It is for this reason that scholars appeal to social-scientific studies and data in order to try to make sense of the fragmentary and partial textual and art factual data available. Carroll concludes that ‘the gap between texts and the real world remains as unbridgeable as ever’. 16 However, the biblical texts offer access to the privileged conception of reality of a literate stratum of society revealing little or nothing of the ‘sub-literate culture’, to use Eric Hobsbawm’s phrase, or the deep-seated movements of history.

As such, the value of these texts as a source for the historian is not so much in terms of the past they purport to describe but as such an insight. They are important, therefore, as much for what they choose to leave out as for what they include. The multi-layered nature of the texts, their adaptability and vitality means that the historian needs to ask how they shaped and were shaped by their different contexts, what audiences they address, and what other possible constructions of the past they deny and thereby silence.

The appeal to social scientific models and data drawn from social and cultural anthropology, sociology, economics, politics, archaeology or cultural studies has been instrumental in helping to uncover the social world of ancient Palestine and the Mediterranean. Society and history There are more inclusive history of Palestine, but though it cannot rely on the perspective of the elite. They were people of late bronze age and its transition was very much slow and poor.

They were mixing up of the local , Palestine and Egyptian history and the society, were the interpretation of the text and the languages used sometimes were not that easy as they were staying together. The quest for the social world of the Bible has been one of the major goals of biblical scholarship since the early nineteenth century. Travellers’ reports from the Middle East of a culture radically different from that of the West; along with the increasing excitement of reports in the national press of archaeological discoveries in Palestine; captivated audiences across Europe and the USA.

Such developments offered the prospect of revealing the world from which the Bible had emerged in the ancient past. Monumental works such as George Adam Smith’s historical geography of Palestine brought alive an ancient landscape on which the biblical events were played out. At the same time; biblical scholars were trying to reconstruct the history and social contexts out of which the Bible arose in order to understand a foundational text for Western culture. The critical methods which emerged were designed to date and locate the biblical texts, or their constituent parts; in specific historical contexts in order to reveal their meaning.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 23 October 2016

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