Thursday, May 19, 2011

Is Text-Critical Work Actually Significant?

Often, when dealing with the minutiae of text-critical research, my pragmatic friends ask me if it really matters. Normally, I would delve into a list of significant passages where textual criticism has solved difficult problems. But today I would like to approach it from another angle. Based on my research on the text of the Genesis Flood narrative, the differing dates in the ancient witnesses demand explanation, and the results of this text-critical work will have significant ramifications in a number of areas:

1) They will help us understand the series of events of the Flood better with regard to the dates on which events occurred and the extents of time they lasted.

2) They will help us understand the theology of the narrative better. Most scholars see symbolic significance (or at least analogical connections) in the dates of the narrative, such as events occurring on significant days of the week, seasons, and/or later festival dates. Firm dates will help confirm or deny these allegations.

3) They will either support or contradict the various theories on Pentateuchal origins, as the coherence or lack thereof of the Flood chronology has been a central battleground in the history of biblical criticism. The significance of the debates over the composition of the Pentateuch is obvious to anyone familiar with the issue.

4) They will help us better understand the use of calendars in the Hebrew Bible. One particularly unexpected point of contact was brought to my attention by a friend of mine. He mentioned that the interpretation of Daniel's 70th week, upon which Dispensationalism largely rests, is heavily dependent upon the type of calendar used by Daniel. Most dispensational writers, in turn, point to the Flood narrative to confirm their calendar. But, rather ironically, the calendar of the Flood is one of the most hotly contested calendrical issues in the OT! It might be too much to say that dispensationalism hangs in the balance of the text-critical results of the Flood narrative, but I thought it was an interesting connection that shows how often the significance of text-critical results can go far beyond what we might naturally expect.

Thus, textual criticism is indeed a significant work.

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