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Thread: Literary Analysis & the Early Church

  1. #1

    Literary Analysis & the Early Church

    It is my theory that present day literary analysis, metonymy, allegory,
    metaphor, at. al, has its roots in the early Church's attempts at
    exegisis.

    It is Augustine who said : "The New Testament is in the Old Testament
    concealed, and the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed."
    God becomes "author" in various senses. Jesus, who spoke in
    parables, confides to his disciples that there is an outer carnal
    meaning for the masses and an inner, concealed, spiritual meaning
    for the elite.

    Jesus even invites us to join in the "easter egg hunt" of literary
    analysis when he says, "Search the scriptures for therein shall ye find
    eternal life."

    http://www.cgc.org/inkhorn/apostles.html

    Quote Originally Posted by Parables

    Matt 13:10 The disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou
    unto them in parables?

    11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to
    know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not
    given.

    If you trace back these disciples, you will come to the fact in Chapter

    11:1, it came to pass when Jesus had made an end of commanding
    his twelve disciples. This is the original twelve group which became
    apostles outside of Judas, who by transgression, fell. And so, it says
    here they had been given to know the mysteries (secrets) of the
    kingdom of God.

    Matt 13:12 For whosever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall
    have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be
    taken away even that he hath.

    When they said, "How come you're speaking in parables?", He
    explained it more to the disciples and gave them insight into it,
    because it was given to them to know the mysteries and secrets.


    Matt 13:36.Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the
    house: and his disciples came (these were His twelve disciples, which
    were called apostles) unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of
    the tares of the field.

    And Jesus explained:

    He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;
    38] The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the
    kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked [one];
    39] The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end
    of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
    40] As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so
    shall it be in the end of this world.
    41] The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather
    out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
    42] And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing
    and gnashing of teeth.

    43] Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of
    their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.



    Consider the excerpt (below) from this link:

    http://www.salvationhistory.com/libr...hardorigen.cfm


    Quote Originally Posted by URL
    The crisis of the Old Testament in the early Church peaked around the middle of the second century. At that time, two positions emerged that embodied the most extreme attitudes to the Old Testament possible in the Church. They are represented, on one end, by a man, Marcion of Sinope, and on the other end by a document, the Epistle of Barnabas. In brief: Marcion interpreted the Old Testament literally, and only literally, and threw it out of the Church. The author of the Epistle of Barnabas interpreted the Old Testament figuratively, and only figuratively, and took it away from the Synagogue.

    Marcion of Sinope is one of the more intriguing, if peculiar, figures of the second century. He was a native of Asia Minor, where his father may have been a bishop. He made a fortune in the shipping business and then got serious about religion. Around 140 he moved to Rome and contributed a great sum of money to the church there. A few years later, around 144, the church at Rome expelled him for his wrong teachings and -interestingly - gave him his money back.

    Marcion read the Old Testament very carefully, and what he read appalled him. He read, for example, that the god of the Old Testament created Adam, and was thus was responsible for the entry of evil into the world. This god was ignorant; when he walked in the Garden he had to ask Adam, "Where are you?" This god was fickle, too; he first forbade Moses to make graven images but later commanded him to make an image of a saraph serpent. This god could be vicious; he ordered the most awful slaughters of women and children. Jesus would contradict this god, for this god commanded "eye for eye, tooth for tooth," whereas Jesus bade us to love our enemies.

    Marcion also read Christian writings, especially St. Paul's letters, and found there a wholly new religion. He concluded that there are two gods: the inferior god of justice of the Old Testament, and the higher God of love of the New Testament.

    Marcion, in other words, was convinced that every single word of the Old Testament was literally true, and only literally true. And as such, the Old Testament was unworthy of the God of Love and of the Christian Church and hence had to be rejected.

    The other extreme is represented by the Epistle of Barnabas. This curious document is classed among the writings known as the Apostolic Fathers, those eight or nine Christian writings that survive from the first half of the second century.

    Like Marcion, the author of this strange document also read the Old Testament intensely but proposed a diametrically opposed theory: the
    whole Old Testament, he held, is a great allegory, and concealed within it are the truths of the Christian faith. In the process, "Barnabas" put forward some of the most bizarre interpretations of the Old Testament ever proposed by Christians.

    On God's covenant with his people, Barnabas set up a simple dichotomy: is the covenant for us or for them? His answer is clear: the covenant was meant for Christians only. More precisely, Moses received the tablets on Sinai, but because of the people's sin in worshipping the golden calf he hurled the tablets to the ground, and the covenant was invalidated. A wicked angel then caused the Jews to take the Scriptures literally. In a spectacular section, Barnabas contrasts the erroneous, literal interpretation of Scripture with its true, spiritual sense. A few examples will make his method clear.

    He deals at length with dietary laws. The Jews had erred by taking the
    texts literally, as if they really were about food. Barnabas knew better.

    The prohibition against eating pork, he writes, really forbids us to associate with men who think of the Lord only when they are in need, for swine bellow when they are hungry but otherwise ignore their keepers. The prohibition against eating eagle, hawk, kite, and crow really forbids us to associate with men who refuse to work for a living, since these birds feed on what others have killed. The prohibition against eating eel or octopus really forbids us to associate with the impious, since these creatures are bottom-feeders. To avoid eating rabbits, hyenas, and weasels really means avoiding deviant sexual sins. And so it goes on.

    But Barnabas' real triumph - one of which he was immensely proud - was his interpretation of Gen 17:23, which says that Abraham circumcised 318 men in his household. Abraham himself, Barnabas writes, foresaw Jesus in the spirit and received the precious teaching on this number. When the number 318 is written in Greek (which used letters for numbers), 10 and 8 are I and E, the first letters of the name of Jesus, and 300 is T, the cross. This is the higher knowledge, and Barnabas exults, "No one has learned from me a more trustworthy lesson!" The fact that Genesis was written in Hebrew, not Greek, did not slow him down for a moment. This, of course, is the stuff of
    madness.

    In summary: what was the situation around the year 150? In the technical sense, the Church did not have an Old Testament, because it did not yet have a New Testament. As so often, the Church first defined its doctrine negatively, by rejecting what it perceived as wrong, and tried thereby to steer a middle way between Marcion and Barnabas. The norm by which the Church judged was soon to be called the "rule of faith," that sense of the essence and heart of Christian belief and doctrine. When the Church rejected Marcion, it affirmed its belief in one God, and one God only. Further, it affirmed that this one God had revealed himself in the Old Testament to
    Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, just as he revealed himself definitively in Jesus the Christ. The Church also affirmed that the Jewish Scriptures it inherited were indeed the Word of God and would never cease to be that, a conviction later enshrined in the third article of the creed, which states that the Holy Spirit "spoke through the prophets." And finally and most significantly, the Church affirmed that there was no dichotomy between Creation and Redemption. Matter was not the work of one god and grace the work of another; redemption was not an escape from the corporeal world; and the work of the one God, Creator and Redeemer, was manifested in all of
    history.
    Last edited by Sitaram; 07-06-2005 at 05:50 PM.

  2. #2
    dancing before the storms baddad's Avatar
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    It is your hypothesis that literary analysis has its roots in the early church's attempts at exegisis (had to look that word up in the dictionary), yet your examples don't really relate to any correlation that may be apparent in this regard. Have I missed something here?......

    I'm sure that if one regressed past 2000 years bp and examined the available literature from ancient China, or any of the many other ancient societies, that one would find interpretation and explication were much in evidence among learned academics based on entirely secular existenialist thought (as one example of a genre), well removed and eons before any literary birth of the art of 'explication' by Jesus.

    Nes ce pa'?

  3. #3
    Consider the example of Jesus profound literary insight, when he points out that, in the Old Testament, God DID NOT say "I WAS the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob" (which would imply that those three patriarchs were dead at the time) but rather "I AM the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob" (implying that the three patriarch live and worship even through they no longer walk the earth in the flesh).


    Of course, someone shall surely object and say that what Jesus did was not literary analysis but rather, grammatical analysis, or possibly just plain common sense.

    So, we must attempt to define what we mean by "literary analysis."

    I was so enormously impressed by Nabokov's essay on Kafka's "Metamorphosis" where he says (paraphrasing from my poor old memory) "I shall now share with you something for which you shall be grateful to me for the rest of your lives. All beetles have wings, (concealed under their carapace). The great tragedy of "Metamorphosis" is that the protagonist NEVER found his wings. And there are many of us in life who never find their wings." Nabokov and Jesus are so clever, each in their own way of course.

    Now, as far as we know from the scriptures, Jesus never wrote anything EXCEPT for one time, when he wrote in the sand with his finger, after he told the crowd that "he who is without sin" may cast the first stone at the adultress. It says that one by one, slowly, each person walked away until there was no one left but Jesus and the condemned woman. Now, early Church theologians, being literary analysts of the calibre of Nabokov, speculated about WHAT Jesus might have been writing in the sand, as people slowly left, one by one. They speculated that Jesus was writing obscure things in the sand, known ONLY to each individual in the crowd, which would convict them in their hearts of the fact they each was INDEED with sin, and not qualified to caste the first stone. Now, in these modern times, if someone were to write "Holiday Inn, Rm. 512, July 2" and YOU remembered that this is the exact date and room where you committed adultry.... well you get my point.

    When Jesus meets Nathaniel (my memory may be faulty on this), Jesus exclaims, "Behold and Israelite in whom there is no guile." Nathaniel is perplexed and says "How is it that you know me?" Jesus answers, "I saw you beneath the fig tree." Now, we shall never know what that meant to Nathaniel, but he was utterly THUNDERSTRUCK and exclaimed something to the effect that surely Jesus must be the Messiah, the promised one. Perhaps Nathaniel was sorely tempted to steal a fig, but wrestled with the temptation and overcame it. Perhaps he was under the fig tree with a woman, and refrained from doing something improper. Who knows what Nathaniel did, but he sure as heck remembers that old fig tree.

    The Proverbs of King Solomon mention "the wisdom of the wise and their DARK sayings." Now, for me, a DARK saying is one which is MULTI-VALENT and implicit, and lends itself or rather invites us, to literary interpretation and analysis. The proverb, "A word of wisdom, fitly spoken is like unto an apple of gold in silver filagree (fittings)" has been taken as a paradigmatic metaphor for how we analyze literature which, on the surface, appears to be one thing, but beneath the surface, is altogether something else.


    As time permits, I shall return and post other examples.
    Last edited by Sitaram; 02-11-2005 at 05:03 AM.

  4. #4
    May be should look into the "Nag Hammadi" discovery. It is was writen earlier than the existing New testaments and it was not subjected to censorship by the church. What is your thinking about this?

  5. #5
    U2aholic
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    From the very beginning the Bible was read as an allegory and hence Biblical Hermeneutics. There are (some say) four senses in the Bible: allegorical, symbolical,anagogical and moral.
    In dreams begin responsibilities.

  6. #6
    dancing before the storms baddad's Avatar
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    I'm still confuseed (not too surprising).....I see here intrepretations, surmises, etc, but I do not see any connection to 'literary analysis'. Even the examples of what is meant here in this thread by the term, 'literary analysis' , is nothing but more examples of parable and metaphor, and those none too obscure, and the meaning of the term, for practical purposes , is not clear......

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by baddad
    It is your hypothesis that literary analysis has its roots in the early church's attempts at exegisis (had to look that word up in the dictionary), yet your examples don't really relate to any correlation that may be apparent in this regard. Have I missed something here?......

    I'm sure that if one regressed past 2000 years bp and examined the available literature from ancient China, or any of the many other ancient societies, that one would find interpretation and explication were much in evidence among learned academics based on entirely secular existenialist thought (as one example of a genre), well removed and eons before any literary birth of the art of 'explication' by Jesus.

    Nes ce pa'?
    I thought about that, but then realized that I know of not one example of this in ancient Sumerian or Babylonian or Hittite or Assyrian or Elamite accademic documents. There are bilingual editions of literary masterpieces, but of analysis of the sort referred to in this thread's opening posts, I have not seen any exemplar that I know of.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Hilarion Zerrud
    May be should look into the "Nag Hammadi" discovery. It is was writen earlier than the existing New testaments and it was not subjected to censorship by the church. What is your thinking about this?
    It most certainly is not the case. The writers of some of those Nag Hammadi books were heretics that broke off from heretical sects already broken off from the Catholic Church, and the writers in question themselves often acknowledged the New Testament Writings as already existing Books they claimed to have deeper interpretations of than the NT Writers' Successors.

  9. #9
    Banned earthboar's Avatar
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    Nag Hammadi Suggestion, Dead Sea Scrolls, et. al.

    Merhaba, Hilarion Zerrud!
    Quote Originally Posted by Hilarion Zerrud
    May be should look into the "Nag Hammadi" discovery. It is was writen earlier than the existing New testaments and it was not subjected to censorship by the church. What is your thinking about this?
    The Nag Hammadi Library wasn't a "book". It was a collection of books (45 separate titles remain, but the Bedouin who found them burned many more for heat and cooking, before the remainder were salvaged) that were more like anthologies, with some underlying theme that is today broadly classified as "Gnostic". Some of the texts were re-written (Egyptian+Greek=Coptic) Greek texts of much earlier periods, the classical example is Plato's Republic. No one here is likely to say for sure when some of the gospels were written, e.g. Gospel of Thomas (at least before 200 CE); Gospel of Mary (2nd century, Greek?); etc. However, even the earliest of the canonical gospels were not written until nearly a generation had past since the supposed crucifixion. For some reason, 11 or so caves of Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) yield nothing on the matter of so-called "New Testament", even though they existed right up until the Romans completely vanquished the 2nd Jewish uprising in 67 CE. There were, however, messianaic scroll texts, which prophecied a messiah who would rise from the blood line of David. But their idea of a messiah was someone who would purge Judea of "Kittim" (Romans?) 4Q285, Fragment 5: "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse [and a branch shall grow out of its roots]. This is the Branch of David. Then all the forces of Belial shall be judged...(etc)".

    The obvious in both cases, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi, is that these were a learned people who read a lot. All kinds of scrolls and books and tractates. There wasn't a "Bible", as we think of today, consisting of a single-bound book. Back then, each scroll was a book, like The Book of Genesis, The Book of Daniel, The Isaiah Scroll, and each was a self-contained story, not a chapter of some other book. In fact, we tend to lose sight that many more accessory writings were available back then, before the wise and enlightened conflagrations of Byzantia under Constantine's rule. To me, as an American, that was comparable to burning everything written by Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and Mark Twain, even the modern prophets Joseph Smith and John Newbrough, while keeping the Articles of Confederation, the Bill of Rights (well, there are some today who don't like them, either), and the Declaration of Independance as a single entity, and anyone who dares read anything else would be deemed a heretic, and detained without the right of habeas corpus at Guantanamo. Hey, come to think of it, that's just what is starting to happen here...

    ...anyhoo, What is fascinating about these texts is, as you mentioned Hilarion Zerrud, they were uncensored by the later church constructs (being that they predate the bishops of Nicea), as were the Dead Sea Scrolls. The discovery of both disparate treasure troves in the late 1940s, only 2 or so years apart, is amazing. The Dead Sea Scrolls prove that the Jewish people of the time believe prophecy lived and continued to be revealed right up until their present. Likewise, the collectors of the Nag Hammadi treasures believed revelation was a living thing, and because of the eclectic nature of that collection, I think they are a good candidate for this thread, "Literary Analysis & the Early Church".

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by baddad
    It is your hypothesis that literary analysis has its roots in the early church's attempts at exegisis (had to look that word up in the dictionary), yet your examples don't really relate to any correlation that may be apparent in this regard. Have I missed something here?......

    I'm sure that if one regressed past 2000 years bp and examined the available literature from ancient China, or any of the many other ancient societies, that one would find interpretation and explication were much in evidence among learned academics based on entirely secular existenialist thought (as one example of a genre), well removed and eons before any literary birth of the art of 'explication' by Jesus.

    Nes ce pa'?
    I have yet to see proof of that. Today atheists do not write like the Church Fathers, but have their own invented manner of interpretation, involving believing nothing in any historical document that does not match their limited scope of belief, and rewriting history by taking what is left and recasting that to fit into a framework made out of speculations about what the gaps they created imply.

    How early can secular existentialists be found? The earliest writing shows religious affinities, and there is no earlier proof for human thought. This makes it easier to tip such things as Sitaram mentioned in favor of a religious origin, rather than in favor of a specifically human-centered thought process.

  11. #11
    Banned earthboar's Avatar
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    How early can secular existentialists be found? The earliest writing shows religious affinities, and there is no earlier proof for human thought. This makes it easier to tip such things as Sitaram mentioned in favor of a religious origin, rather than in favor of a specifically human-centered thought process.
    My armchair observation is that the earliest writing was either prophecy and divination (religious), such as the I Ching, and the Hebrew adaptations of Mesopotamian creation myth, which later became "The Bible", or pharmacopia and medicine, such as the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, or accounting and business legers, which can probably be found in Sumerian clay ostra, but even those are mixed with religious records.

    What about neolithic cave paintings? Even if they were a kind of "hunting manual", because of where they were collected, in caves, there was probably some religious-shamanic relationship, integral to their society.

    I have another thought, not original, and some research has been done in this area, which is that existentialism and humanism are modern evolutionary trends. Since prehistory, humans have closely woven gods and the sacred into the fabric of society, and therefore, we may as well not speculate on literature without some kind of religious connection, because it just didn't emerge until Platonism, and even then not more fully until the separation of Church and state 200 years ago, and even then it was a collapse of trinitarianism into unitarianism (Thomas Paine, followed by the Transcendentalist movement). I'm reminded of a favorite movie, Jason and the Argonauts (1963), where Jason said "The gods of Greece are cruel. Some day men will learn to do without the gods." For now, "God" seems to have been built into our physiology, like the other senses. I think there must be a reason why that is so, for survival, or some other reason, and so I choose to accept that "God sense" with every bit the validity I accept the starry night skies, which I can see, but not touch. Of what good, and to what survival benefit is there in the ability to see the heavens? Why should the azure sky or the emerald hills, or the orange Monarch and yellow swallowtail butterfly and wild flowers be beautiful as well as functional? They could survive just as well in the natural order if they were dull and monochrome. To other butterflies and animals, they are, in fact, monochrome.

    I would think that primitive humans (just as primitive humans of today) considered the dream state and the psychedelic experience, and expounded on those. I think atheism tries too hard to make itself stand on its own without some deific involvement, but it has a finite horizon (where did life come from? why are dreams so lucid, how are we capable of inventing such precise dream images and dream stories? what is the boundary of infinity? the biggest thing? the smallest thing? Why can we even imagine beyond the limits of the knowable? What is outside of this reality? How did we get in to this reality?) Even science is ultimately a quest to find the tangent of the heavenly or godly, rather than the perimiter of the mundane. It should come as a surprise that Einstein, Galilleo, and Newton attempted to discover God, rather than discover there is no God. Have atheistic scientists more imagination than those three? And, if not, what loss to civilization when science, and of course literature, stops trying to discover God?

  12. #12
    Good points, Earthboar. You well articulated a number of things I had in mind. In addition to this, we must remember that many uses of the word "atheist" in classical Roman times merely meant that a deist was not a member of the state religion in sentiment, or else that his idea of the poets was allegorical, while often maintaining belief in a single Almighty.

  13. #13
    Banned earthboar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mililalil XXIV
    Good points, Earthboar. You well articulated a number of things I had in mind. In addition to this, we must remember that many uses of the word "atheist" in classical Roman times merely meant that a deist was not a member of the state religion in sentiment, or else that his idea of the poets was allegorical, while often maintaining belief in a single Almighty.
    I didn't know that, thanks. I think if it happened in Rome, it's probably happening in the modern world, too. For instance, I'd be curious to test so-called "faith-based" grants for, let's say, a senior center or a day care center, if I professed my faith to be ecclectic animism. Even Native Americans are hard pressed to forego their ancient beliefs in places like Utah. I recently heard a planning board member of a small, Protestant town call another board member "atheist". I wonder if that only meant "not of our church" on the final analysis. Even on this network, I've seen suspiciously exclusionary replies in threads asking if people liked the DaVinci Code--replies I wouldn't get if I asked how you liked Harry Potter.

    Anyway, modern examples of independant revelation continue periodically, to the chagrin of certain power bases that wish they would stop. I think God consciousness is hardwired into human beings, and people can no more be broken from their conviction that something lies beyond than they can from seeing the world in color. Which revelations become tax-deductible is a good indicator of atheism in the Roman sense, which you pointed out.

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