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Part 3: Sufficiency and Satire: Reading the Consolation through the Menippean Form

By Cynthia R. Nielsen

June 30, 2008

A guest post by Dan McClain.  Dan is a doctoral student of theology at the Catholic University of America and blogs at The Land of Unlikeness.

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How to read the Consolation with a touch nuance

Two contemporary scholars have argued against this kind of didactic reading. Both Joel C. Relihan and John Marenbon share the theory that Boethius is questioning Philosophy’s ability to lead him to an attainment of the good, but they differ as to Boethius method and what degree of impact the Menippean format has on Boethius’ project.[1]

John Marenbon’s thesis, on one hand, is simply as he states in the introduction to his book: “The Consolation is, as its complex literary structure should immediately suggest, not just a work of but about Philosophy; a subtle text which could be understood on various levels.”[2] But as Marenbon is also quick to point out, our approach to the Consolation requires more than philosophical proficiency. The Menippean Satire, rather than providing a neutral structure, as Chadwick and Claassen believe, infuses the work with a satirical bent (as the “satire” in Menippean Satire suggests). As such, the inclusion of poetry serves to help make sense of the gaps in Philosophy’s arguments, the fact that while she leads Boethius to the good (III.10), she can not help him attain it.[3] In fact, Marenbon argues that the inclusion of the Menippean format is even more crucial to the Consolation than either the consolatio or the dialogue genre. While “modern discussion of the Consolation has tended to be either philosophical or literary,” he suggests that two factors are necessary for a whole reading: the poems, and Boethius’ Christianity.[4] Operating between these two invisible hermeneutical poles are the two stated goals of the Consolation: 1. curing the sick Boethius by means of Philosophy’s remedies; and 2. demonstrating what true happiness is.[5] Thus, Marenbon has the task of showing how his reading can better elaborate on these two goals. In terms of Boethius’ Christianity, Marenbon points to textual evidence. “The Consolation is a dialogue between a figure who is recognizably a Christian – Boethius – and a figure who is not – Philosophy. The reasons for making this assertion are almost too obvious to remark.”[6] He also points to inconsistencies in Philosophy’s arguments when she’s forced to deal with issues raised in light of Boethius’ faith, as in book V when she (inadvertently?) defends causal determinism.[7]

The poems, Marenbon asserts, point directly to Boethius’ use of the Menippean format. Nearly three decades after Chadwick’s Consolations of Logic, Music, Theology, and Philosophy, it is a commonplace in Boethian scholarship that the Consolation is a work of Menippean Satire. Marenbon, however, is among few that insist that the satirical form dramatically affects the Consolation’s meaning. Whereas, the Consolation’s “links with [Philosophical and consolatio] genres do not affect its meaning… to recognize the work as Menippean Satire does, arguably, change how it should be understood.”[8] He argues that the gaps in Philosophy’s arguments, the lack of an Ariadne thread[9] in her arguments from beginning to the end of work, and the fact that she ultimately fails to help Boethius attain the good, all of this can only be explained by recourse to satire, that Boethius the author never intended to grant to Philosophy the sufficiency to exhaustively grasp the good. Yet, Marenbon’s trust in the Menippean form only goes so far. Whereas Relihan argues that Boethius is demonstrating Philosophy’s inability to come through on its own promises[10] – “This undermining of philosophy, Relihan believes, is in the service of the Christian faith”[11] – Marenbon thinks that Relihan’s argument is unconvincing. Philosophy makes powerful arguments that Boethius does in fact accept.[12] Marenbon suggests instead that through the Menippean format, Boethius explores the limitations of Philosophy. Menippean Satire gives Boethius a middle path between Philosophy and Religion to explore the limitations of Philosophy.

Marenbon concludes by noting that whereas  Boethius could have overtly explored Philosophy’s inability to grasp the good, he only exposes her inability through the use of the Menippean and dialogue formats.[13] Sadly, Marenbon is content to do the same. And while his text is an overview of the entire extant Boethian corpus, he does little to explore how this reading of the Consolation, and the ramifications that he declares it has for Philosophy, might affect Boethius’ larger corpus. With Marenbon’s research and provocative statements as a jumping off point, the reader is left to speculate what role Philosophy might have in a different (more theological?) search for the good.

Relihan, in The Prisoner’s Philosophy (2007), boldly declares that the Menippean satire “insists on the essential disconnectedness of facts and rejects the mythical modes of reasoning that look for theories to explain events, or that it uses at least two voicesto oppose a threatening  or false orthodoxy.”[14] Boethius, however, usurps the usual function of Menippean Satire for Christian ends. Relihan suggests that Boethius uses the Menippean Satire in order to create a via media between Philosophy’s pedagogical goals and the instability called up by the satirical form. The middle way is the Christian vision, through prayer, of the world as created.[15]

Relihan points to the quote from Esther at the end. As Esther has not mentioned “God” directly, so too the Consolation. Relihan directs us to the similarities between the injustice done to the Israelites in Esther, and the trumped charges and imprisonment of the innocent Boethius. While Philosophy has urged Boethius to forget these temporal matters in the search for true happiness, Boethius, the author, is apparently still concerned about temporal justice, and places this message, subversively, in Philosophy’s mouth. “Turn away then from vices, cultivate virtues, lift up your mind to heaven. A great necessity is solemnly ordained for you if you do not want to deceive yourselves, to do good, when you act before the eyes of a judge who sees all things.”[16] Here at the very end, Philosophy is calling Boethius to turn his eyes toward heaven, but Boethius hears something more than a self- and world- negating turn. According to Relihan, Boethius hears the call to this-worldly-righteousness in the vein of Mordacai and Esther. This entails that an understanding of scriptural texts of justice and righteousness are necessary to understand Boethius’ story (his life story as well as his psuedo-auto-biographical work). Amidst the legion of genres embodied in the Consolation, there is a parallel to Wisdom literature, the discovery of God in the everyday, and the discovery of the everyday through God.

But this begs the question of the importance of Boethius’ religious commitments. Twentieth century Boethian scholarship seems to think that the Consolation could have been written by virtually any (imprisoned) neo-Platonic philosopher of the time. This is Hankey’s proposal, that Boethius’ influence on the medieval Christianity is simply a matter of his contribution of another consolatio apathiae? Marenbon and Relihan shoot too many holes in this theory for it to be tenable any longer. Still, the question lingers: “Why did Boethius choose to write what could still be called uncharitably a crypto-Christian work?”[17] Relihan is not content with explanations that minimize Boethius’ Christian commitments, or the hermeneutical import they have for understanding Boethius’ corpus. A better explanation shows the Consolation uniting various genres (dialogue, satire, philosophical exposition, prisoner/exile literature) under the banner of wisdom literature with the purpose of creating something “experimental,” in Relihan’s words.[18] Wisdom literature provides a point of synthesis between pagan and Christian, where Boethius can explore the relationship of his faith and theological commitments to his philosophical education. “Like Wisdom literature in general, which gains its religious dimensions by its placement in the religious context of the canons of Scripture, Consolation co-opts secular traditions for religious purposes.”[19]

Unlike Marenbon, who thinks that the religious import of the work lies solely in the quiet subversion of the Menippean form, Relihan sees a deeper religious motive at work. He links Boethius concern with justice with his initial cry for God’s rule on earth (I.m.5). Here, Relihan draws the reader’s attention to similarities between the language of the Consolation and the Lord’s Prayer. He argues that “Boethius the author has been trying in these five books to represent a recreation not of the process of thought, but of the process of prayer.”[20] Incidentally, we never hear Boethius praying. However, his concern for prayer’s efficacy is only the obvious sign of Boethius’ larger, independent “deconversion” from Philosophy. Indeed, Boethius’ relationship to Philosophy is highly suspect by the end of the Consolation. Relihan sees in Boethius’ silence in the face of Philosophy’s barrage of argumentation at the end a “parting of ways” between the two. Boethius, he thinks, has discovered something that Philosophy  possessed but neither realized nor intended to impart: “the present eternity of his sight runs along with the future quality of our actions dispensing rewards for the good and punishment for the wicked.”[21]

Notes


[1] Marenbon is writing ten years after Relihan’s Ancient Menippean Satire (1993), and four years before Relihan’s The Prisoner’s Philosophy (2007); they represent a live conversation about the role of Menippean Satire in interpreting the Consolation.

[2] Marenbon, Boethius, 4.

[3] Book III is, in many ways, the turning point of the Consolation: Boethius has recovered from his overwhelming grief through a back and forth with Philosophy. Maybe the discussion with Philosophy has provided a bit of a distraction. Maybe the philosophical give and take has been a grace to him in his solitude. Philosophy ends Book II by singing a song of cosmic love – “what binds all things to order, / Governing earth and sea and sky, / Is love” (II.m.8.13-15, Loeb ed.). Boethius declares his relief, both from her arguments and her rendition of the muse’s art, and his desire for more. Philosophy, in what could be seen as both haughty and seductive, responds: “[W]ith what desire you would burn if you knew where I am going to lead you” (III.1.15-17 Loeb ed.). She then asserts that she will lead him to true happiness; not the mundane sort that got him in the bind he’s in now, and that he has been pining away for, alone in a prison cell. No. This is the kind that occupied his heroes, Aristotle and Plato. Happiness, she explains, has been sought through different means – temporal power, self-sufficiency, fame, honor, and physical health. All, both characters agree, are simply means to something greater, namely true happiness. And while Boethius holds a more complex view of happiness, Philosophy believes that true happiness is actualized in a state of complete independence to these secondary states (wealth, health, etc..). This view, that the happiness which Boethius seeks is to be found only in rationality, will be the thrust of her argument through Book III, until she gets to discussing God, a discussion that comprises the end of Book III. This Book, therefore, is both a focal point of Philosophy’s energies, as well as the point in which Boethius, both as character and author, will break that focus through a barrage of dialogical questioning and the irony introduced through the Menippean form.

[4] Marenbon, Boethius, 99.

[5] Marenbon, Boethius, 100.

[6] Marenbon, Boethius, 157: The character Boethius affirms a quotation from Wisdom 8.1 by Philosophy; further, Boethius is evidently concerned about the efficacy of prayer in the absence of free will, in V.3.33-34.

[7] Marenbon, Boethius, 158.

[8] Marenbon, Boethius, 160.

[9] “Ariadne thread” refers to a method of solving a dilemma to which there are multiple apparent ways to proceed; in mythology, Ariadne was the wife of Dionysius.

[10] Joel C. Relihan, Ancient Menippean Satire (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), 193 (the relevant section stretches from 187-194).

[11] Marenbon, Boethius, 161.

[12] As at the beginning of book III, in which Boethius confirms that Philosophy’s therapy is working, and practically begs for more (III.1.1-9).

[13] Marenbon, Boethius, 163.

[14] Relihan, The Prisoner’s Philosophy, 4.

[15] Relihan, The Prisoner’s Philosophy, 4.

[16] Consolation, V.6.172-176.

[17] Relihan, The Prisoner’s Philosophy, 129.

[18] Relihan, The Prisoner’s Philosophy, 129: “…Consolation is an atypical philosophical work, and … Boethius is trying very hard to do something different an unexpected… alongside Augustine’s Confessions and Soliloquies as a spiritual meditation, as an attempt to speak objectively about the life of the mind and its relation to God.”

[19] Relihan, The Prisoner’s Philosophy, 129.

[20] Relihan, The Prisoner’s Philosophy, 130.

[21] Consolation, V.6.1`68-170.

Part 2: Sufficiency and Satire: Reading the Consolation through the Menippean Form

By Cynthia R. Nielsen

June 26, 2008

A guest post by Dan McClain.  Dan is a doctoral student of theology at the Catholic University of America and blogs at The Land of Unlikeness.

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Let’s get didactic

The idea that Boethius’ use of poetry is not so simply wrangled into Philosophy’s service, but is actually functioning as part of a larger satirical structure, is not the popular answer to the  difficult question of how exactly we are to read the Consolation. Wayne Hankey takes it as a given that Boethius is writing a straightforward consolation: “The Consolation of Philosophy records the purely philosophical doctrine which persuaded and comforted, and would persuade and comfort, Christians even in extremis for a millennium and a half.”  Chadwick, whose text has provided a standard interpretation of Consolation for philosophy and theology for the past twenty years, also takes a literal reading of the Consolation. The title alone tells its genre and the object of the consolation, Philosophy, is the consoler. He takes Boethius at face value when he says that he is trying to make the interpretive task easier for the reader by including poetry, and suggests that the meter sections merely extend the arguments. Boethius uses poetry, “with the intention of lightening the reader’s task with a difficult subject.”  But does this mean that we are to simply mine the poems for content similar to that in the prose sections? Chadwick seems to say yes. “The poems normally have subtle links with the prose sections that precede or follow them.”  Beyond this, as Joel Relihan says, tongue in cheek, “it seems much safer to confound Philosophy and pedantry and attribute [the Consolation's] perceived dullness to high-mindedness.”  Chadwick notes that the Consolation resembles other works written in a Menippean Satire format (a combination of prose with poetry that is lighthearted or pokes fun at the matter of the prose), like Capella’s Marriage of Philology and Mercury, which also is about a kind of pilgrimage.  He applies the same interpretive formula to these as well. Hermeneutically speaking, Chadwick doubts that Boethius is performing anything unusual, ironic or groundbreaking by employing the Menippean format.

Philosophers are not the only ones that have read the Consolation this way. Even recent literary theoristsexpound on it in light of its supposed genre, taking a literal tack to the characters’ arguments. Jo-Marie Claassen, in Displaced Persons (1999), believes that the title and genre of the Consolation are pretty straightforward. There is nothing ironic or subtle about Boethius’ turn from an Ovidian elegiac to Philosophical dialogue. Rather, this turn is transparently underscored by his rejection to use anything “remotely Ovidian” until the last poem of Book III (III.m.12).  There, Boethius recounts Orpheus’ heroic, yet tragic, descent into hell to rescue his lover, Eurydice. Orpheus is successful in recovering Eurydice, but is warned against looking upon her until they surface from the cave, which in his love Orpheus is unable to do, thus losing Eurydice. “Who can give lovers laws? / Love is a greater law unto itself.”  Claassen reminds us that the singer Orpheus gains the freedom of Eurydice through song, but is unable to keep her, “incapacitated by the very emotion, romantic love, that had sent him to look for her.” Both T. F. Curley and Claassen argue that Boethius’ inclusion of this poem, his final tribute to the elegiac, is his way of forgoing, once and for all, the possibility of ascent through poetry. He resolutely identifies the Orphic character with his state at the beginning of the Consolation. He has since recommitted himself to Philosophy. He now has no pretension that poetry might harbor some ability foreign to or greater than Philosophy’s own abilities.  “Ovidian ‘truth’ apparently pales before the ‘truth of philosophy’.”

Claassen gives no defense for her particular typological interpretation of Orpheus. One wonders if Orpheus must be read as an exemplar of the poets, or if it is clear that Boethius read him that way? Nor does she explain her sharp dichotomy between poetry and philosophy.  Does Boethius tell the poem in order to draw attention to poetry as such, or does he tell the poem to reference – and possibly counterpoint – the end of the tragic Orphic quest? More problematic is her understanding of how Boethius reads the Orphic figure. Whereas Claassen would have us read Boethius as replacing Orpheus, qua poetry, with Philosophy, one finds countless instances of philosophers and theologians in the Christian tradition reading Orpheus as a Christological figure-Jesus Christ, the perfect Orpheus, is able to rescue his lover, the world, from hell. And while we do not have an overt hermeneutic of the Orphic type, Claassen gives no support for why one should so easily dismiss that Boethius’ interpretive methods might have been concomitant with his Christian theological commitments.

Claassen concludes that Philosophy is ultimately successful in her act of consolation.  She leads Boethius to the good, a sign that the author Boethius had already found peace with his imprisonment and impending death._ Claassen is confident of this interpretation, even despite the complexities of the Menippean format. As I will demonstrate below, however, the satirical and dialogical structure of the Consolation create nuances, resonances, and complexities for which Claassen can only unsatisfactorily account in her straightforward, didactic reading. By neglecting the impact of the dialogue, the Menippean form, and similarities to Biblical wisdom literature in her interpretation, she is forced to either ignore the weaknesses in Philosophy’s arguments, or dismiss them as poor writing on Boethius’ part.

Part 1: Sufficiency and Satire: Reading the Consolation through the Menippean Form

By Cynthia R. Nielsen

June 24, 2008

A guest post by Dan McClain.  Dan is a doctoral student of theology at the Catholic University of America and blogs at The Land of Unlikeness.

…the enchantment of her song left me spellbound. I was absorbed and wanted to go on listening. After a moment I spoke to her.

‘You are the greatest comfort for exhausted spirits. By the weight of your tenets and the delightfulness of your singing you have so refreshed me that I now think myself capable of facing the blows of Fortune. You were talking of cures that were rather sharp. The thought of them no longer makes me shudder; in fact I’m so eager to hear more, I fervently beg you for them.’

‘I knew it,’ she replied.

The Consolation of Philosophy, III.1.1-10_

The Consolation of Philosophy has long been interpreted as a philosophical tour de force, written under duress, but no less magnificent or influential because of that duress. In fact, its dominance in medieval philosophy and theology was rivaled only by the renewed interest in the philosophical sources which it conveyed to scholastics of the middle ages, due in no small part to Boethius’ ambitious attempt to translate and comment on the Platonic and Aristotelian corpii. Its sway in the humanities has been less recognized in theological and philosophical circles. Not only was it translated into verse and prose by King Alfred, Queen Elizabeth I, and Chaucer, and borrowed heavily from by Dante; its creative combinations of original poetry and prose (prosimetrum), as well as philosophical dialogue and mythology arguably provided structural and substantial  bases for The Divine Comedy and a number of Chaucer’s shorter poems and stories as well as “The Knight’s Tale” and “Troilus” in Canterbury Tales._

Modern Christian readers tend toward two readings of the Consolation: they either baptize Boethius in a flat, non-literary, pedantic reading of the Consolation as a Christian text instructing a particular use of Philosophy, or they denounce him as at best a confused Christian engaged in an overly Platonized form of Christianity. Between these modern poles, we have Chaucer who uses the Consolation not to provide a “stable” intellectual platform for Christianity, but rather to destabilize reason and accepted norms, whether Christian or otherwise. Chaucer “was sensitive … to the tensions and uncertainties of Boethius’ text, the Roman author’s literary and intellectual subtlety, and his awareness of the uses of obliquity.”_ Following John Marenbon, I am suggesting that Chaucer’s model of a middle use is actually the proper use of the Consolation because it respects the milieu of philosophical argumentation, the use of mythology, its several genres, and the author’s religious commitments.

It is my opinion that the normative, modern reception of the Consolation casts it as a didactic text, merely part of the compiling, commentary tradition of that era. However, if the above thesis is correct, that something like Chaucer’s “middle way” reading is best, then one can read the Consolation as Boethius’ challenge to Philosophy’s very ability to cash out her claims – to lead philosophers to the ultimate end of humanity. Thus, a suspicion or chastening of Philosophy is buried deep in the structure of the Consolation, making it anything but another work of the commentary tradition. It is not that Boethius has renounced Philosophy or is replacing her with something else. It is still the Consolation of Philosophy. And after all, Philosophy does come to comfort the innocent prisoner on death row. Rather,  I am suggesting that couched within this overarching positive presentation of Philosophy is a subtle and far more complex subversion of Philosophy’s sufficiency, that is, her ability to exhaustively meet the demands of the classic Aristotelian doctrine of true happiness as not merely knowing but grasping or apprehending the good. While Philosophy makes many claims to be able to lead Boethius to such a grasp, the author Boethius never allows Philosophy to finish her quest or present a unified argument. Rather, one finds significant gaps in her overall presentation, due in part to the character Boethius’ voracious questioning, and also to Philosophy’s own arrogance and pretension.

V. Phillips Long on History and the Genre(s) of the Bible

By Cynthia R. Nielsen

June 18, 2008

In chapter one of V. Phillips Long’s highly recommended book, The Art of Biblical History, he begins by asking whether the Bible is a history book.  If we mean by this label to define the essential character of the Bible, then surely this is not the case.  However, by answering in the negative, Long does not mean to suggest that history is not part of the Bible, for surely it is.  What Long wants to stress it that that Bible is made up of many diverse literary genres such that no single label is sufficient to capture its essence. In addition, Long highlights the importance of allowing the larger discourse unit to set the meaning trajectory for the smaller-scale literary forms within the larger entity.  To illustrate “the importance of considering the larger discourse before rendering the generic or form-critical verdicts,” Long provides the following example.  For some modern biblical critics, “common sense” and the “laws of nature” press us to conclude that since neither trees nor donkeys speak, Judges 9:7-15 and Numbers 22:28-30 must be fables.  However, Long questions whether such reasoning is sound given the Christian worldview.  “After all, according to the ‘laws of nature,’ bushes do not burn without being consumed, and dead people do not rise from the grave” (p. 49).  Long then argues in such a way that the Christian worldview in which the supernatural is operative and not rejected tout court as part of one’s presuppositional stance, yet Long is able, based on the literary clues of the text, to differentiate in a non-arbitrary way between the textual form that we have in the Judges 9:7-15 passage and the Numbers 22:28-30 passage.  As Long explains,

“In the case of Jotham’s speech, it is not the fabulous storyline but, rather, the larger context that makes it unmistakable that Jotham’s speech is a fable.  The verses that precede it introduce the historical personages and the point of tension reflected in the fable, and Jotham concludes his speech with direct references to the same:  ‘Now if you have acted honorably and in good faith when you made Abimelech king, and if you have been fair to Jerub-Baal [...].  But if you have not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Milo, and let fire come out from you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Milo, and consume Abimelech!’ (Judg 9:16, 20).  The phrase ‘let fire come out’ is a repetition of the phrase found at the end of the fable:  ‘then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon’ (v. 15).  This is clear evidence that Jotham’s final words in his speech (vv. 16-20) are an interpretation of this fable” (p. 49).

So what about the Numbers 22 passage?  It also contains “fabulous” aspects.  As Long makes clear, the approach to Scripture that he is advocating does not classify a passage or account as fable just because it presents us with a supernatural occurrence-Long fully embraces the supernatural claims of Scripture.  According to the approach that Long takes, the Numbers passage is not understood as a fable because

“the broader context apparently offers nothing that would mark it out as such; no interpretation, for example, is given. What one has, rather, is a story involving certain wondrous occurrences within the larger account of the book of Numbers with no indication that a new formal literary type has been introduced.  Thus, unless one is willing to argue that the book of Numbers as a whole must be characterized as fable, there appears to be no valid literary reason to label the Balaam stories as such” (pp. 49-50).

Begbie on Music as an Outpouring of Love

By Cynthia R. Nielsen

June 14, 2008

Jeremy Begbie continues to impress me with his creativity and theological astuteness.  Listen to the following passage on the Christian God who freely creates and freely loves. 

“We have seen that for the Christian, the world we inhabit can never be seens as just there, a naked fact, to be treated as a neutral boundary or (worse) as something that is basically an impediment to a fulfilling life.  The cosmos did not have to be.  It is made freely, without any prior constaint or necessity superior to God’s nature or will.  It is given, and given in the rich sense:  as an expression of divine love, the love that is God’s own trinitarian life (Resounding Truth, p. 212).”

Begbie then discusses by way of a passage from Leo Spitzer’s work, Classical and Christian Ideas of World Harmony, the differences between a Pythagorean and a Christian view of music.  As Spitzer explains, the Pythagoreans identified “the cosmic order”  with music, whereas Christian philosophers identified this order with love.  (Or in the case of St. Augustine, combined and tranformed the conception into “loving order” (ordo amoris).  Finishing out the passage, Begbie writes, “[t]here is a huge difference betwen regarding the harmony in which musical sounds are grounded simply as a bare fact or as an outpouring of love” (Ibid., p. 213). 

A Thought Experiment by Hermione Granger and Harry Potter

By Cynthia R. Nielsen

June 14, 2008

St. Paul in Acts 17, by quoting a Greek poet, essentially claims that the Christian gospel takes up and fulfills (though at the same time corrects) a theme in ancient Greek religion, which religion both St. Paul and we would consider to be historically fictitious. Is it possible that God could have given Israel a mythology which is similarly taken up and fulfilled by Christ, a set of stories which, while not historically referential, nevertheless provided a framework in terms of which His person and work would make sense?  Let’s say that excepting Adam (or a first historically real human being qua imago Dei representing the race and through which sin entered the race), Abraham, and Moses, many of the other early OT figures are not historically referential. That is, what if figures like Job or Jonah are fictitious characters?  Would something like that necessarily be outside the bounds of Christian orthodoxy?   The claim would be something like Genesis and Exodus are historically referential, but we must be sure that we are not importing an extra-biblical and distinctively modern idea of what historicity means, as this term is not univocal over time and culture.  Part of what we have to do, then, is to be sensitive to the ways in which the Bible may be doing history on a model other than the modern model, on a model, in fact, that would have been more at home in the Ancient Near East (a novel idea-I recall this suggestion being “that-which-none-of-the-critics-of-he-who-should-not-be-named-seem-to-grasp”). God has the right and ability (enter the infamous Incarnational Analogy here) to accommodate Himself to such models if He so chooses. After all, many liberals and conservatives tend to assume a modern historiography and then either deny historicity (some liberals) or stretch the text embarassingly out of joint to make it fit (some conservatives).

Here what “he-who-should-not-be-named” may have in mind would go something like this: Genesis and Exodus are history, but we can’t know the extent to which they would translate directly into a modern historical model. Or, to put it in other words, the text is historical, but Ancient Near Eastern history does not share the modern concern for point by point movie-camera-like reconstruction of the past. Or again, some of our modern historical questions go beyond what the text is trying to tell us, and so we have to be careful of beating an answer out of them.

If this is the case, then it would be wrong to suggest that “he-who-should-not-be-named” has subjected Scripture to the canons of archaeology. Rather, he is precisely trying to divorce Scripture from those canons so as to suggest that discrepancies with historical and archaeological findings need not make us shy away from calling Scripture historical.
Notes


In case any death eaters are wondering, Hermione and Harry are very committed to the doctrine of original sin, and historical referentiality of Adam, Abraham and Moses.  Why?  Because it is our conviction that the ineradicable premising of Christ’s work on the OT persons named (Adam, Abraham, Moses), as well as certain events of the OT, make it extremely troubling to think of the OT tout court as a non-referential myth.  Thus, for example, that God entered into covenant with (a real historical) Abraham and gave the Law through (a real historical) Moses are convictions that Hermione (and Harry) are not willing to depart with given their importance in the redemptive historical narrative.

The only problem with this demonination in the context of present essay is that the “he-who-should-not-be-named” of this story is not a villain, but is instead the object of the death eaters’ quest to promote pure-bloodism and eradicate those who don’t fit the pure-blood ideal (the pure-blood model varies of course depending upon who is in power).  To make the analogy more accurate in relation to the Harry Potter series, the Voldemort figure would have to be the leader of the death eaters.

I’ve read elsewhere that a certain Professor Quirrell and his cohort, Barty Crouch Jr., have brought this charge against “he-who-should-not-be-named” in an attempt to show that “he-who-should-not-be-named’s” approach to Scripture cannot harmonize with the self-attesting nature of Scripture. However, it seems to me that Prof. Quirrell and Mr. Crouch are confusing extra-biblical evidence which functions as a ground versus that which functions as an occasion for re-thinking the nature of Scripture.  As one of my friends pointed out, it is not clear at all why Scripture’s self-attestation cannot harmonize with re-thinking Scripture on an Incarnational model.  After all, Hans Urs von Balthasar has a version of the self-attesting nature of Scripture, yet HUvB would have no problem with the IA-see Vatican II document, Dei Verbum.  As I understand “he-who-should-not-be-named’s” position, he is not using extra-biblical evidence to serve as the ground, but rather than the occasion for re-thinking Scripture, and this is exactly where the incarnational analogy comes in.  That is, it seems to me that “he-who-should-not-be-named” is holding up internal evidence, i.e., the Incarnation, as the guiding principle and is saying, “you see all this external evidence that is so difficult to make sense of on the older model of understanding Scripture, well, if we use the incarnational analogy as a way to understand the nature of Scripture, we have not only a better way to make sense of the external evidence but we also gain a richer understanding of Scripture, history, and of course of God himself.”