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Thursday, 26 May 2016

Constraints and Limitations

Memory and Identity in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity,
Tom Thatcher ed., SBL, 2014, page 162

Following on from the "organic relationship" between the past and its commemorations in the present, Chris Keith explains that since any reshaping of the past must depend on there having been a past and previous interpretations of that past ...

There are, therefore, constraints and limitations upon the interpretive trajectory that emerges from past events.

In other words, you can't either make something out of nothing, or push a 'new' interpretation beyond a certain point. Barry Schwartz has defined the indebtedness to the past as "path-dependecy" and observed that:

sacred texts are ... 'path-dependent' - affected not only by their social contexts but also by previous representations of their content.

In that light, Keith takes Schwartz to be saying that:

scholars are warranted to speculate about the nature of a(n inaccessible) past event in light of its (accessible) subsequent commemorations and impacts ... wgen one sees smoke, one is sometimes justified to conclude that there is a fire - or, at least, something very much like fire.

So given the explicit textual records of the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai and its subsequent commemoration in the feast of Shavuot; given the narrative in Acts 2 of the outpouring of the Ruach on one such commemorative anniversary, thus infusing it with fresh significance; are we enabled to conclude there must be something tangible that happened on the ground all those years ago, even if it didn't look exactly like what is recorded?

Posted By Jonathan, 8:11am Comment Comments: