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This article is taken from PN Review 64, Volume 15 Number 2, November - December 1988.

Criticism & the New Testament David Jasper

It is curious, but perhaps not very surprising, that the history of the scholarly reading of the Bible during the last one hundred and fifty years or so has been almost entirely isolated from all other literary scholarship and interpretation of texts. Very early in the nineteenth century, Coleridge (who was one of the first Englishmen to recognize the importance of Germany and German critical thought) sounded a warning against 'bibliolatry', that literal and pedantic understanding of the Bible which is directed by a belief in the dictation of 'an infallible intelligence' whereby the writers were not only divinely inspired but also divinely informed (Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit, 1840, pp. 14-15). During the nineteenth century in both England and Germany, biblical critics became obsessed with a particular idea of history which went hand-in-hand with the development of archaeology and has been not unaptly named by one critic 'excavative' (Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 1981, p. 13). The results of this obsession are still with us today in the critical tools used by most professional biblical, and particularly New Testament critics. The aims of such forms of criticism - we have come to know them as specifically source criticism, form criticism and redaction criticism - are neatly and significantly described in a recent book by Christopher Tuckett entitled Reading the New Testament (1987). He writes:


A Gospel can be used as a source to enable us to find out about the historical events ...


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