The “ dark ” passages of the Bible

More from the recent Pope Benedict document.
He explicitly acknowledges that there are morally difficult passages of the Bible. Read his passage below. Is it a Maimonidean “The Torah speaks in the [moral] language of men of the time? Is it Christian supersessionalism?
Progressive evolution of humanity? Probably not the later, because he mentions that history and current events are still violent. He wants a literary-theological reading from pastors that helps the laity deal with these passages in a way that preserves the sanctity of the text. So is it like the way modern Orthodox deal with Amalek, through a variety of answers? Is he going beyond? Or is it just a more historical approach? Maimonideans are comfortable saying that revelation made accommodations for the anthropomorphisms of the era, but what of accommodation for Bronze age ethics? What would be an interpretation made in the light of Hazal? in light of the Torah of Hashem is eternal?

42. The “ dark ” passages of the Bible

the Synod also considered those passages in the Bible which,
due to the violence and immorality they occasionally contain, prove obscure and difficult. Here it must be remembered first and foremost that biblical revelation is deeply rooted in history. God’s plan is manifested progressively and it is accomplished slowly, in successive stages and despite human resistance.

God chose a people and patiently worked to guide and educate them. Revelation is suited to the cultural and moral level of distant times and thus describes facts and customs, such as cheating and trickery, and acts of violence and massacre, without explicitly denouncing the immorality of such things. This can be explained by the historical context, yet it can cause the modern reader to be taken aback, especially if he or she fails to take account of the many “ dark ” deeds carried out down the centuries, and also in our own day.

So it would be a mistake to neglect those passages of Scripture that strike us as problematic. Rather, we should be aware that the correct interpretation of these passages requires a degree of expertise, acquired through a training that interprets the texts in their historical-literary context and within the Christian perspective which has as its ultimate hermeneutical key “ I encourage scholars and pastors to help all the faithful to approach these passages through an interpretation which enables their meaning to emerge in the light of the mystery of Christ.

For those who have not thought about these questions before the starting point for the discussion is Avi Sagi,The Punishment of Amalek in Jewish Tradition: Coping with the Moral Problem, Harvard Theological Review Vol.87, No.3 (1994) p.323-46. Sagi deals with the various approaches in the traditional medieval and modern commentaries.

One response to “The “ dark ” passages of the Bible

  1. Interesting that he is working towards “correct interpretation of these passages.” When people ask me about them, I usually make the point more about the meaning of centuries of commentary that take it for granted that we, on some level or another, simply don’t accept (genocide against Amalek | killing them Ben Sorer UMoreh | enforcing an Eye for an Eye | etc).

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