Posted by: HAT | December 10, 2014

Hermeneutic Helps

a picture of a courtyard in an Italian church, showing a painting of the Annunciation

The arch, an elegant application of physical principles and a recurrent element in western architecture, frames a treatment of the Annunciation, another recurrent motif

Hi, Gang!

A grad school friend of mine once remarked “There’s a lot of magical realism in the Bible.” We all laughed, but at some point the reader has to deal with it. Finding language that helps explain how to take that magical realism seriously, without trying to build a natural science on it, always feels to me like a gift.

Here is just such a gift, from Martin Buber:

… the accounts which have been handed down to us … are not authentic in the sense that a chronicle is authentic. They go back to fervent human beings who set down their recollections of what they saw or thought they had seen, in their fervor, and this means that they included many things which took place, but were apparent only to the gaze of fervor, and others which cannot have happened and could not happen in the way they are told, but which the elated soul perceived as reality and, therefore, related as such. That is why I must call it reality: the reality of the experience of fervent souls, a reality born in all innocence, unalloyed by invention and whimsy. … whatever we learn from this account is not only a fact in the psychological sense, but a fact of life as well. Something happened to rouse the soul, and it had such and such an effect; by communicating the effect, tradition also reveals its cause; the contact between those who quicken and those who are quickened, the association between the two. That is true legend and that is its reality.[1]

Buber is talking about hasidic tales, but his explanation would work for a lot of Biblical narrative.

It’s consistent with a basic understanding of scriptural truth that can be summed up in the stock phrase I’ve been told Pacific Northwest Native American storytellers use as the standard introduction to a tale: “It may not have happened exactly this way, but I know this story is true.”

[1] Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, trans. Olga Marx (New York: Schocken Books, 1975) 26 Nook edition.


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