Revista Studii Teologice


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Metoda istorico-critică şi cea semiotico-critică în cercetarea biblică germană contemporană

The Historical-Critical and the Semiotical-Critical Methods in Contemporary Biblical German Research

Autor(i): Dumitru-Mitruţ POPOIU

Method is the procedure employed by any investigation. It ensures clarity and order in the interpretation process, which is supposed to be an objective approach, in order to render research universally applicable. Theology, whose aim is salvation as intersubjective relationship among persons, is a highly difficult research field since spiritual processes cannot be assimilated through textbook prescriptions. However, the argumentation of the truths of faith follows precise steps, which can be taught. Therefore, research methods are necessary in order for theology to maintain the dialogue with other sciences.
As early as the first Christian centuries, there were theological schools employing the allegorical or the literal method to interpret the Holy Scripture; throughout the times, newer methods emerged and borrowed procedures employed by various humanities. Today’s Western theology uses a dozen methods, all attempting to reduce the subjectivity of the exegetic endeavor, by various means.
Early 21st-century German biblical exegesis is still largely indebted to the historical-critical method, still applying the research procedures used since the 18th-19th century, borrowed from linguistic and historical studies. German conservatorism concerning exegesis is justified by the purpose of research, which is essentially an identitary one. Protestant theology, adhering to the sola scriptura principle, mainly aimed to give up the Christian traditions accumulated throughout centuries, blaming them for allegedly falsifying Christianity. Therefore, its biblical research was interested in the scientific reconstruction of the early Christianity universe, deemed as the only one to contain the authentic teachings of Saviour Jesus Christ.
Since the Enlightenment times, the promoters of the historical-critical approach have analyzed the shaping of the biblical text, in the context of ancient cultural creations. Their approach was rather historical-literary than theological, and involved four steps. Textual criticism intends to ascertain, as exactly as possible, the original biblical text, based on the oldest and most credible manuscripts, while literary criticism aims to reconstruct the hypothetical original text by separating it from subsequent interpolations. Formal criticism analyzes the biblical language, on the basis of which it ascertains both literary micro-genres (miracle stories, parables, dialogues) and macro-genres (Gospels, epistles, prophetic writings) employed by the authors of biblical texts; finally, recension criticism interprets the text’s genesis. Information on the genesis of Israel or that of the Roman Empire are also highly relevant for the genesis of the New Testament.
The main objective pursued by historical-critical method, however, is not to examine the text but to reconstruct early Christianity based on this investigation. During the first three exegetical steps (analysis) and the fourth one (synthesis), the biblical text undergoes such great transformations, that its integrity is affected and one can hardly find any of coherence in the theological message of the Holy Scripture. This is not the main objective, since to the exegetes the biblical canon, established only in the 3rd-4th centuries, is merely a necessary instrument for deciphering a message that is perceived as lost, but retrievable through reconstruction.
The historical-critical method focuses on the history of the biblical text’s evolution, while the semiotical-critical method is based on the theory of communication. Research no longer aims to reconstruct the universe of early Christianity, but rather to understand what the biblical text conveys to every reader.
To semiotical-critical exegesis, each word of a text is a sign employed to com-municate, having a meaning only in relation to other signs. A sign is always associated to a reality it defines (the object) and an interpreter. The triad object-sign-interpreter is essential in communication, and the absence of one of these elements renders communication impossible.
Semiotical exegesis ignores the history of text development and even the author’s intention loses its centrality. From the outset it acknowledges that there are several possible interpretations, since a text is never read passively, but reading is an interactive process presupposing the reader’s cooperation. Reading implies the encounter between the discursive universe of the author and that of the reader, so it provides much more than mere information; this type of exegesis no longer questions the reality, credibility or veracity or the narration. Each text opens up a world that may be different from the reader’s; however in order to understand it the reader must accept the text as it has been written by its author, without passing any axiological judgments. The exegete does not ignore what is unusual, but rather accepts it and attempts to understand the effects entailed on the reader by his accepting the world described in the respective text.
To interpret the signs composing a text, as well as their interrelationships, semiotical-critical exegesis presupposes three steps. Intratextual analysis aims to ascertain the significance of the information within a particular text, to identify the type of action, the characteristics of the protagonists, as well as their relation, through syntagmatic, syntactic and pragmatic devices. Intertextual analysis starts from the premise that any text is always related to other texts. This approach is taken only when one analyzes the special meaning which a text or term might acquire by reminding of other texts. From the intertextual perspective, two texts have a different meaning when analyzed in interrelationship, than they have separately. For instance, the prophetic excerpts quoted in the Gospel according to Mark refer to the prophet Isaiah, which emphasizes the coherence and continuity between the Old and the New Testament.
Finally, extratextual or intermedial analysis deals with the non-verbal elements described by a particular text, and ascertains how they may alter the significance of reading. This approach provides biblical research with historical and cultural information, which constitute the universe of the text and do not obscure the Scripture, as historical-critical exegesis does.
Each of the two methods of theological research has numerous advantages, as well as disadvantages. The hermeneutical endeavor of an Orthodox theologian attaching great value to patristic tradition, could hardly adopt one of the methods exclusively. However, the upside of the semiotical-critical method is its attempt to understand what the Scripture offers to its readership, without questioning the veracity and authenticity of some fragments. Thus it avoids the risk of becoming a purpose in itself. By focusing on the Scriptural text and not on the history of its evolution, this method facilitates the interdenominational dialogue on biblical studies.

Pagini: 161-182