USCCB teaching modernist Protestant Biblical eisegesis? (Judith)


#1

Please compare the Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on Judith with the USCCB’s introduction to it: While Hugh Pope is careful to provide possible defenses of historical controversies with the text after explaining the traditional understanding of its historicity, the USCCB outright declares it to be fiction with “five centuries [of] imaginary details”.

What has changed in the past hundred years of scholarship? Is the USCCB correct whereas the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia represents thousands of years of error, including among the Church Fathers? Is an entire conference of catholic bishops not teaching the catholic faith – instead teaching error?


#2

My understanding is that, now that we know more about Middle Eastern history and the historical record, there are a number of clues in the Book of Judith that it’s a sort of hero tale or fairy tale with a poetic religious meaning, rather than a historical account of an actual particular invasion.

So if you read it this way, Judith’s name is Judith (“Jewish woman”) because she represents Judah or Judaism as a female personification, rather than any particular historical Jewish woman named Judith.

I don’t really know enough about it to say whether this interpretation of Judith is correct; but it is certainly true that the last hundred years did teach us tons more about Middle Eastern history and Middle Eastern literature than anybody had known for ages, because we dug up so many different texts and treaties and war accounts.

Frankly, I don’t think most people have ever read it strictly historically, even when it was believed to be historical. It’s much easier to deal with Judith as a symbol of zeal for the Lord, or of the Lord’s protection for the weak, than as a historical example that chaste widow women can seduce tyrants and then chop off their heads. If they read the book as a symbolic story about Mary curbstomping the devil, they are much happier. Whenever people get really literal in their Judith readings, they often stop reading Judith. (And I suspect that’s one reason the Protestant reformers were so happy to ditch Judith. Literalist Protestant ladies with justified anger issues seem to have taken Judith a little too seriously for their liking.)

Jael (who is historical) and Judith get a lot of appalled attention, but almost nobody recommends closely following their ninja-ish example. Heh. Even Deborah (also historical) is more admired as something cool and far away than recommended for imitation.

In fact, the only literal imitation text I’ve ever seen for the Book of Judith is a science fiction book by Lois McMaster Bujold (I won’t tell you which one because it’s a spoiler*), which never actually mentions Judith by name but includes just about everything from the maidservant to the bag in its climactic action.

  • It is one of her Cordelia Vorkosigan books. And it sure as heck isn’t that Gentleman Jole stupidity, which doesn’t exist as far as I’m concerned.

#3

Actually that is not the USCCB’s teaching on Judith. That is the NABRE introduction.

While the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE) is produced and published by the USCCB, people often mistake the introductions and footnote apparatus for commentary. It is NOT commentary.

The directives from the Holy See is that Catholics should have some access to critical Biblical scholarship so that when necessary we can turn to it and see what analytical methodologies say about how the text was formed, what type of genre that book was composed as, the etymology and translation science behind manuscript transmission, etc. This is called “philology.”

The translators of the NAB(RE) recognized that their primary work of producing a Bible translation was to be first and foremost translators. Since there is little chance that a Catholic will be reading scholarly journals on philology, the translators decided to use the introductions and footnote apparatus to satisfy the Vatican’s directive on giving Catholics this access. If you think about, except for these technical footnotes, what other regular access do you have to the analytical scholarship that is out there? For most of us, the NABRE is the only source of this.

Catholics are expected to read these texts with the understanding taught by the Church, as critical approaches, important as they are in the technical aspect of producing a translation and understanding its language, genre, etc., has its limits. Analytical methodology cannot give you the Church’s interpretation on a text. It is not a commentary.

That is why there are various Catholic commentaries on the market, becuase the NABRE is not intended to be self-explaining like a study Bible. The footnotes are not meant to be read as the footnotes in, say, the Ignatius Study Bible New Testament of the RSV-CE 2nd edition.

There is some commentary in the NABRE footnotes, yes, but it is limited. Again the scholars had to decide,“are we translators or commentators here”? They are translators. Thus if you want to get an exegete’s interpretation on what the Catholic Church teaches regarding the meaning of the text, you need to get a commentary or study Bible version of the NABRE that has commentary in it (like the Didche NABRE). If the NABRE already explained it all, there would not be so many study editions of the NABRE and commentaries on the market, would there?

A footnote on this: The Book of Judith is written as a legend. Like all legends there is definite truth behind it, but the author of Judith was inspired to compose the story in the “genre” or style of a legend. This type of religious legend has an actual name. It is called a “novela.”

In American history, we have legends too. The “Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” which I am sure you are familiar with if you grew up in the United States and took an elementary school history class, it too is a legendary retelling of history.

Paul Revere was real. He did have a historical ride that altered the course of the Revolutionary War. But it didn’t happen with all the details in that poem we are all taught as school children.

However, the genre of legend takes poetic liberties to explain the meaning behind historical events (sometimes adding substitutes for certain details) so that these meanings and virtues are not lost. The genre is meant to transmit the values appreciated by the people from which the legend springs. Sometimes all a community has is the name of their national hero and a word or two that they were somehow brave (like the limited history we have on some of the Apostles and Saints). A novela is designed to fill these “history holes” in. It is poetic license, yes, but the religious truths are preserved by means of it.


#4

Very good points, about Bible translation, genre,* etc.* Indeed, historical truth, religious truth, and other kinds of truth can be conveyed in text with genre that is not “history.”

Here’s some of the the intro. given at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops website on the early chapters of Genesis:

The plot of Gn 2–11 (creation, the flood, renewed creation) has been borrowed from creation-flood stories attested in Mesopotamian literature of the second and early first millennia. In the Mesopotamian creation-flood stories, the gods created the human race as slaves whose task it was to manage the universe for them—giving them food, clothing, and honor in temple ceremonies. In an unforeseen development, however, the human race grew so numerous and noisy that the gods could not sleep. Deeply angered, the gods decided to destroy the race by a universal flood. One man and his family, however, secretly warned of the flood by his patron god, built a boat and survived. Soon regretting their impetuous decision, the gods created a revised version of humankind. The new race was created mortal so they would never again grow numerous and bother the gods. The authors of Genesis adapted the creation-flood story in accord with their views of God and humanity. For example, they attributed the fault to human sin rather than to divine miscalculation (6:5–7) and had God reaffirm without change the original creation (9:1–7). In the biblical version God is just, powerful, and not needy.

How should modern readers interpret the creation-flood story in Gn 2–11? The stories are neither history nor myth. “Myth” is an unsuitable term, for it has several different meanings and connotes untruth in popular English. “History” is equally misleading, for it suggests that the events actually took place. The best term is creation-flood story. Ancient Near Eastern thinkers did not have our methods of exploring serious questions. Instead, they used narratives for issues that we would call philosophical and theological. They added and subtracted narrative details and varied the plot as they sought meaning in the ancient stories. Their stories reveal a privileged time, when divine decisions were made that determined the future of the human race. The origin of something was thought to explain its present meaning, e.g., how God acts with justice and generosity, why human beings are rebellious, the nature of sexual attraction and marriage, why there are many peoples and languages. Though the stories may initially strike us as primitive and naive, they are in fact told with skill, compression, and subtlety. They provide profound answers to perennial questions about God and human beings.

Something with a distinct genre of “creation-flood story” can contain some historical as well as religious truths.

Because of the historical realities described (such as original sin and its consequences), the genre is not “myth.”

Because of the figurative language used, the genre is not “history” either.

But text can contain some history without having a genre of history.


#5

I just figured out the problem. :rotfl:

The author of the important first three chapters of Genesis did not borrow from Mesopotamian literature. It is the reverse. The life of the very first human family predates all other cultures. As in our times, some children are rebels and consequently the original Adam and Eve truth suffered as it was gobbled up by the creative Mesopotamian authors. Most likely the original Adam story was boring.


#6

While I understand what you are saying and where you are coming, and in this aspect I totally agree, I do think this where we who are Catholics need to acknowledge a problem and let our pastors know this.

The NABRE is not suggesting that the Biblical stories are based on older Mesopotamian stories. The footnote is drawing attention to the fact that the Hebrews wrote the Creation stories in the “format” or genre of a narrative that was shared by their culture. The format of “life comes from water” and that our world came from a previous civilization that was wiped out by a flood was the “cosmology” or accepted “scientific model” (for lack of better words) in which the Jews used to set the truths of God’s creation. It was shared by the world Abraham was born into.

If you note there is no suggestion of the vacuum of space, that the sun is one of many stars, etc. That was just not known then. The accepted “model” of creation predated the composition of the Bible’s Creation narrative, and being a product of the Mesopotamian world is why there is a similarity. But the NABRE is not saying that the Genesis stories themselves came from heathen sources.

But that is the problem. I had to get specialized training to understand that this is what the footnote is making reference to. If I had not, I would be reading the footnotes as if they were theological commentary. They are not commentary. They are technical. Like Grannymh, I would have ended up laughing at the note because a surface reading makes it sound like Grannymh pointed out: laughable.

The interpretation of Grannymh is incorrect, true, but the problem lies with the fact that the footnote is philology–a field most Christians don’t even know exists let alone understand.

While I agree that his type of material can be useful,in some circumstances, it is not practical. How are average readers supposed to understand data gathered from analytic methods without first studying the methodology? Who has the time? Where besides a university do we learn this very specialized field? And again, is it really practical?

Thus the footnotes get ignored or worse, misunderstood as anti-Catholic or just laughable. The footnotes aren’t incorrect, trust me. It’s just that to understand them and apply them someone needs to teach everyone the methodologies behind them. It appears that no one is doing this.

For material to accessible, it needs to be understood. If the Church wants us to know it, they need to make practical, easily accessible avenues to it.

Dear Pastors of the Church: if you intend to keep putting critical method footnotes in our Bibles, please teach us all the critical method and how to make sense of it. One does not automatically know analytical methodologies and their application at baptism .


#7

First. You are referring to footnotes and I am referring to “Genesis – Introduction”
usccb.org/bible/genesis/0

I put the definitive words in bold.

“The plot of Gn 211 (creation, the flood, renewed creation) has been borrowed from creation-flood stories attested in Mesopotamian literature of the second and early first millennia. In the Mesopotamian creation-flood stories, the gods created the human race …”

" … Deeply angered, the gods decided to destroy the race by a universal flood. One man and his family, however, secretly warned of the flood by his patron god, built a boat and survived. …" … " … The authors of Genesis adapted the creation-flood story in accord with their views of God and humanity. …"

Second. This has to be the most popular sentence in our secular world. What Catholic truths are being sidestepped? Any? “Their stories reveal a privileged time, when divine decisions were made that determined the future of the human race.”


#8

Maybe in the ancient near Eastern world the most common view was that the gods made all the important decisions, but perhaps what grannymh is highlighting is that in Genesis, Adam made an important decision that impacted the future of the human race (Gen 3) and more sin compounded things (following chapters). Of course, God responded with divine decisions, and made other divine decisions before and after Adam’s sin, but as the footnotes=introduction (in this case) puts it: “The authors of Genesis adapted the creation-flood story in accord with their views of God and humanity. For example, they attributed the fault to human sin rather than to divine miscalculation (6:5–7) and had God reaffirm without change the original creation (9:1–7). In the biblical version God is just, powerful, and not needy.”


#9

Regarding “human sin” in the above “The authors of Genesis adapted the creation-flood story in accord with their views of God and humanity. For example, they attributed the fault to human sin rather than to divine miscalculation (6:5–7) and had God reaffirm without change the original creation (9:1–7). In the biblical version God is just, powerful, and not needy.”

Please note the difference in the number of humans between Genesis 6: 5-7; Genesis 9: 1-7 and Genesis 2: 15-17. Also, there is no indication that the referred verses took place at the beginning of the history of man. (CCC 390)

Not only am I highlighting that Adam made an important decision that impacted the future of the human race, I have serious questions about this approach. I put suggests in bold because it reminds me of the Ten Suggestions.

“How should modern readers interpret the creation-flood story in Gn 211? The stories are neither history nor myth. “Myth” is an unsuitable term, for it has several different meanings and connotes untruth in popular English. “History” is equally misleading,** for it suggests** that the events actually took place.”

I believe that we have had similar discussions. So I will end my posting here.


#10

Yes, and also recently with Dr. Bonnette.

In my dialogue with Dr. Bonnette which I also found very helpful and enjoyable just as in my dialogues with you, grannymh, here are a few things I said on these matters:

I also appreciate the unity and diversity of the Catholic Church as to which details in the early Genesis narratives should be interpreted literally, and which figuratively. An example of unity seems, to me as an outsider at least, to be the consistent emphasis on Original Sin in the way St. Augustine understood it … I appreciate the patience of the Catholic Church in the face of mystery that I see in your work, Dr. Bonnette … The title itself of your forthcoming work “The Impenetrable Mystery of a Literal Adam and Eve” is marvelous. So is your accurate acknowledgement that we do not have certainty about some details, and that our scientific understandings will change over time. Most of all, I appreciate that the Catholic Church has remained together over the centuries … When I have a genetics student struggling with questions about integrating science and faith, what is she or he looking for? … most of my students place more trust in genuine acknowledgement of the limitations of our knowledge. They are relieved to know that others have faced similar struggles and have managed to hold on to the essential truths without demanding the impossible such as certain answers to every question, or that everyone agree on every detail.


#11

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.