Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thinking more about Traditions and traditions

When I think about my scholarship and my teaching, I am realizing that I am a tradition-critic in every sense of the word. Yes I am fascinated at tracking and explaining the emergence and transmission of traditions, but I am also involved in understanding the development of The Christian Tradition, as it is reflected and safeguarded by the normative churches. So I am involved in both aspects of the study of (T)(t)radition.

This has led me to reflect upon another aspect of what my scholarship is about. Being in two religious studies departments over the last fifteen years, rather than theology or biblical departments, has made a difference for me. It has allowed me to grow in my critical examination and evaluation of The Tradition, rather than become immersed in a type of scholarship whose purpose (whether intentional or not) is to shore up and support The Tradition, to use biblical approaches to legitimate again the old normative story.

The more I reflect upon this, the more I realize that this is at the heart of the problem I see in biblical scholarship - whether or not we are willing to question The Tradition and its power of normation, whether we are willing or not to work the materials from the 'other' side, to see what is there and how what is there bears on the normative narrative and exegetical tradition that is centuries old.

My work is more than the retrieval of the 'other' side. It is an attempt to integrate the 'other' side into the story before and as the process of normation was underway. To do so means to cut into the story that The Tradition created, to see how it was put together in the fashion it was, and why. It has never been my experience that The Tradition is left intact. Yet, I have never felt that we are left with nothing. There is a new wholeness that emerges, although one that The Tradition may not (want) to recognize.


rameumptom said...


I think a big problem for many stuck in the Tradition is that anything that seems different is automatically labeled as "heresy" or "non-Biblical".

I find it amusing, for instance, to discuss the ancient Hebrew view of an anthropomorphic God. It really bothers many Christians to think that according to Jacob, Moses, and Stephen, we may be more in the image of God than they would care to believe!

We lose out when we don't give the teachings in extra-Biblical writings their due. Imagine how little we understood of early Jews and Christians prior to discovering the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi! While we personally do not have to believe all that was once believed, we need to be honest enough as scholars to recognize that our own personal viewpoint may not be the only game in town.

Boudewijn Koole van Brigdamme said...

... another aspect of the situation might be that without the normation having taken place in the past we would not be in the position to study the difference between its results (biblical canon and so on) and the process of its becoming (before and after the normation). Again another point is that new normations always are taking place after the old paradigm has lost its power. Indeed we may be on our way to a new paradigm or many new paradigms like in the first centuries (of which then the winners took the lead for a long time, erasing the losers' traces accidentally or purposefully). The problem is also that to defend a 'neutral' bias - I mean as objective as possible from a methodological point of view - is always hindered by those who have to loose when the change means that their social positions are becoming less strong because of the changes in perspective. There are really strong relations between historical views and social positions (think of 'history is written by the winners'). So how neutral is our own bias?
Personally I have no position in the academy and am a free searcher / writer who is fascinated by these developments and problems (having studied aspects of the history of theology, philosophy and spirituality, particularly where they touch eacht other).

Ed Jones said...

I name three top scholars who fully recognize the problomatic of The Tradition: Schubert Ogden, James Robinson and Hans Dieter Betz. From their perspective origins defines two traditions: The Tradition and "the tradition". The Tradition is the Jesus sayings tradition - its specific source being The Sermon on the Mount. "the tradition" is the Pauline Passion tradition - the salvific death and resurrection, its source being the writings of the NT. Both taditions stood clear and distinct in an adversal relationship over the apostolic period 30-65 CE, the most significant period of origins. "the tradition" became orthodox Christianity.
In light of this understanding, the heart of the problem in biblical scholarship is the difficulty experienced in recognizing the special significance of the Sermon on the Mount - the alternative to the writings of the NT, our closest apostolic witness to the real Jesus.

monkey king said...

As a regular church going Christian and practicing, on my own, Gnostic, I think the study of Tradition and the tradition is especially relevant now. For one thing many religionists are writing about a Great Emergence wherein Christianity is reinventing itself.

Also it is my opinion that the term "extra biblical" can be replaced with the term inspirational. As the Nag Hammadi Library are inspirational to me even if they are not part of the scripture. But I concede that for scholarly purposes "extra-Biblical" is perhaps a necessary term.

Unknown said...

Being a pastor I suppose you could say that I am a supporter or follower of the Tradition. Nevertheless I think it is difficult if not impossible to understand the Tradition without knowing something about the traditions that were opposed by the primitive Tradition(s). All the documents that made the final cut for the New Testament speak in contexts that defend the Tradition(s) over against the traditions. How can one truly understand Colossians for example without understand (to the extent that we can) the traditions the writer opposed?

Thus if I teach or preach on a passage I need to understand the various traditions if I am going to truly speak about what the author of Colossians meant.

R.Eagle said...

may you keep truckin' dr. d! your site has been a breathe fresh air....from a conservative state, no less ;-)

Anonymous said...

人生中最好的禮物就是屬於自己的一部份 ..................................................