Kendra Haloviak Valentine Demonstrates Postmodern Ways of Interpreting Scripture (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this report, I offered brief summaries of each of the five presentations Kendra Haloviak Valentine made on biblical interpretation and Mark’s Gospel earlier this school year at the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School (RBLSS) in Loma Linda, California. In Part 2, I present some comments of my own which focus on the difference between modern and postmodern ways of studying the Bible.

The title of her series was “The Kaleidoscopic Worlds of Mark’s Gospel—a multi-hued hermeneutical perspective.” Watch all five video sessions at this link.

Throughout all my years of study after high school, I was taught that if we have enough information, if we reason well and if we follow the evidence wherever it leads, we would all agree about what a biblical passage first meant without regard to our personal identities and backgrounds. We typically introduced ourselves to each other at the beginning of each course in order to become acquainted and that’s all. We knew that we were different in many ways, however, we looked upon our differences as potentially more hurtful than helpful in interpretation.

We were instructed to “read out” (exegesis) of the texts what is actually in them. We were warned against “reading into” (eisegesis) them things that truly weren’t. Without using these very words, we were taught that the Bible is a “cultural classic” for everyone, that it is also a “religious canon” for us and other Christians, and that we should study it the first way before interpreting it the second.

When we turned to what the passage might mean for us today, we were encouraged to utilize all the other resources we had. This included for me the writings of Ellen G. White because I was an Adventist and still am. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral’s emphasis upon scripture, tradition, reason, and experience eventually became helpful to me in this second endeavor.

This is roughly what the “historical critical” method is all about. It is nontheistic, however, it is not necessarily atheistic. Indeed, the Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Abingdon Press, 1952), one of the most widely used at the time, provided in parallel columns both kinds of interpretation for each text in the entire Bible. It was edited by George Arthur Buttrick who was one of the most highly respected Christian pastors, preachers, and professors of his time. This way of doing this made sense to me when I was student and it still does to a very large extent.

Haloviak Valentine told me that something very different happened in the biblical courses she took in graduate school. The professor and students introduced themselves to each other precisely in order to make positive use of their differences in their interpretations. They thought that this was beneficial in two ways. It made everyone more aware of the personal characteristics of each person which might bias his or her interpretation. Much more importantly, it encouraged each person to self-consciously read the text with his or her identity and background in mind and then to share the results with other members of the class. Far from always being distorting factors, these differences were thought to be valuable sources of interpretive insight.

Although Haloviak Valentine was not explicit about this, it is my impression that the difference between what the passages in the Bible once meant and what they might mean today received less emphasis in her courses than in mine. I have the same impression about the distinction between the Bible as a “cultural classic” and a “religious canon.”

It is difficult to imagine a more dramatic illustration of the difference between modern and postmodern interpretation. Yet I hasten to add that by definition there is no such thing as “postmodernism” but only a wide variety of “postmodernisms.” They all reject modernism’s excessive confidence in unbiased reasoning and neutral evidence. Beyond that, they vary so greatly that thinkers who are as different as Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) and Jean-Francois Lyotard (1924–1998) are both labeled “postmodern” by those who best know their works.

I understand from Haloviak Valentine that the professors and other doctoral students with whom she worked in graduate school preferred to think of themselves as “post-historical/critical” rather than “postmodern.” It is not difficult to imagine why.

The very real shortcomings of the historical-critical method are easy to highlight. Some of them are that it 1) takes the Bible out of the hands of ordinary people and gives it to specialists; 2) focuses too much individual passages which have dramatically decreased in size over the years: 3) depletes the Bible of its aesthetic as well as its ethical and religious appeal; 4) engages in fanciful speculation about how some things, such as Jesus walking on water, could have occurred; 5) exaggerates the difficulties in knowing anything about the historical Jesus; 6) pontificates without intellectual justification about what modern people can and cannot believe; 7) results at the end of research with a Bible that is as dismembered as are cadavers after medical and other students have worked on them for a year; 8) unaware of how profoundly European and male it is; 9) champions the good things but ignores the bad things about the Enlightenment; 10) slips too easily from non-theism to atheism. These shortcomings swiftly came to my mind as I typed this. How many more there must be!

Whether or not they actually have, some forms of postmodernism leave the impression that they have lost touch with the real world and the actual texts. The statements that reality is socially constructed and that interpretation is always from a particular point of view tell the truth, nothing but not the truth, but not the whole truth. It is true that our reality is social constructed. It is not true that our social constructions are reality. It is true that we interpret what the texts say from our points of view. It is not true that our interpretations from our points of view are what the text says. These distinctions and others like them matter in and out of our classrooms.

Our difficulty is that over time the gap which Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) rightly saw between things as they are in-and-of-themselves (noumena) and the same things as they appear to us (phenomena) has gradually widened so much that by now some thinkers sometimes appear to believe that we have absolutely no access to the way things actually are. I say “sometimes” because they tend to say such things in their courses and seminars but forget them when they board airplanes and stretch out on operating tables. This kind of postmodernism does not commend itself. Thankfully, it is not the only kind there is.

Haloviak Valentine’s series was exceedingly helpful because she emphasized the worlds “behind” and “in front of” the texts. Without the first, she could have derived her meanings equally well from a telephone book. Without the second, we would be unable to benefit from our individual differences nor be aware of how limited they are. The world “within” the text happily bridges the first two. These tether and correct what we see with what is actually there without collapsing the difference. Her interpretations are postmodern; however, they are not relativistic let alone solipsistic. In a word, they are “post-historical/critical.” This is why the videos of her series are worth watching!

Dr. David Larson is Professor of Religion at Loma Linda University.

Image Credit: Video Still

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8637
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If it is not a myth, it is certainly a gross exaggeration that Seventh-day Adventists have historically cared one whit about the Bible’s historical context. I am now trying to engage Dennis R. Macdonald’s writings, his pioneering methodology, mimesis criticism, and his thesis that the Gospels of Mark and Luke are imitations of the Homeric epics, The Odyssey and The Iliad. As I read Luke-Acts, I observe that Luke’s Christology looks to Hermes as a model. The specter of Hermes is ubiquitous in Luke-Acts. For example, Hermes comes to mind as we read the road to Emmaus story, because Hermes is a messenger of the gods, the patron god of the roads, and one who engages in the science and art of hermeneutics. But MacDonald offers a detailed argument that the story is instead an imitation of Odysseus’ revealing of himself to his father Laertes. That Hermes is a model for Luke’s Christology is important to me with respect to my idea, nowhere found in the literature, that Luke sets forth a philosophical hermeneutics. Although I understand hermeneutics, my understanding of the Classics is a work in progress. So I am stuck right now.

I am inclined to humbly defer in resignation to MacDonald and abandon my idea, because he is a scholar of the Classics. He has actually read the literature. We Seventh-day Adventists, on the other hand, have rejected the study of the Classics, believing that the reading of pagan literature is either sinful or at best a waste of time. We do not teach the Classics to any significant degree in our colleges and universities. The Sabbath School Quarterlies have never and will never attempt to inform readers of the impressive Greek heritage that forms the backdrop of the NT. Have our Seventh-day Adventist biblical scholars read the Classics? Have they read Homer? There is no evidence that they have. I am afraid that one can obtain a terminal degree in NT studies and remain ignorant of Homer’s writings, hermeneutica profana, and the impact of Greek thought on the NT. For some reason, we have failed to realize that Homer was obviously read by Luke, who as an educated man would have done so. We have also failed to realize that the writings of Homer and certain other Greeks constitute a large swath of the historical context that informs our interpretation of the NT.

If we Seventh-day Adventists were truly as serious as we purport to be about the diligent study of Scripture, we would be scholars of the Classics. We would, to paraphrase Schleiermacher, quoted by Dilthey, endeavor to know Luke, for example, better than he knew himself. In reality, we Seventh-day Adventists continue to cling to surface and superficial interpretations of the biblical text, interpretations that rely solely on words, interpretations that rely solely on exegesis, which is a valuable contribution but not the entirety of the hermeneutical endeavor that seeks to discern the meaning of the biblical text.

I look forward to watching these video presentations, principally to assess what progress is being achieved in Seventh-day Adventist understanding of hermeneutics.

Well said.

Luke HIMSELF tells us how he came about to write. He said, “I studied the great classics. I slept with the Odyssey on my chest. Everywhere I went, people whispered, ‘There goes a man who walks in the footsteps of Zeus, who can recite the Iliad backwards!’ So I, in homage to the great Homer, do write down these trivial imaginings of my heart, shaped and molded by his breath heavy upon me, that his legacy may endure forever. May Hermes fly beside you, dear reader, and illuminate my words.’” Luke 1:1-4

Ever learning, but never being able to come to the knowledge of the truth” — Paul, Jewish Scholar.

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I do not claim that Luke seeks to pay “homage to the great Homer” but note what should be obvious to you, which is that Luke attempts to speak to the historical context of his targeted audience. I am sure we can agree that natives in an agrarian society will better understand as an illustration a cow that gives milk every day rather than a dividend-paying stock. Similarly, the original readers of Luke were no doubt charmed and intrigued by his multiple allusions to Hermes, who was well known. These readers would have noticed Luke’s emulations, which are comparisons that show that Jesus is not only like Hermes but superior to Hermes. A nice emulation is Luke’s story of Jesus’ resurrection of the widow’s son outside the city gate on the road, given that Hermes, the god of the roads and perimeters, would have merely escorted the dead boy to Hades. Luke 7:11-17. And the original readers would have noticed Luke’s transvaluations, which substitute Christian values for pagan values. A charming transvaluation of Luke is his comparison of Jesus to a thief in the night who is obviously Hermes, the god of the thieves. Luke 12:39. In contrast to Hermes who comes to steal, Jesus comes to bestow the blessing of eternal salvation.

Luke recognized that he could capitalize on the Greeks’ rethinking of Homer’s writings by alluding to Hermes. The Greeks had long grown tired of a literal interpretation of Homer, an interpretation that seemed absurd and offensive. So allegorical interpretations were being explored by Heraclitus the Allegorist and others. Luke’s multiple allusions to Hermes can be categorized (and most certainly were recognized by his original readers) as allegorical.

But thank you for your comment, because it evidences my point that we Seventh-day Adventists need to cultivate some intellectual curiosity about the historical context that should inform our interpretation of Scripture.

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Thank you, Phil, for your very respectful, yet direct, response to Mr. Peterson. In tone, it is the type of response that the editors probably had in mind as they developed the new commenting policy.

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If they - professors and students - view themselves as all learners, I would agree it’s important to know where each is coming from - their presuppositions, IOW. Before the text, within the text, and after the text. I take the same approach in the Sabbath School. The learner is central. Everyone is a learner. Know your presuppositions because chances are you’ll find what you’re looking for whether or not it’s really there.

I am a little surprised to hear professor Kendra Haloviak Valentine speaking about these “behind the text”, “within the text” and “in front of the text” terms, when, in fact, these terms have been publicly presented by another author, Dr. Aurel Ionica, as long ago as 2009. I would like to ask professor Haloviak whether she came by these terms completely in her own, or she borrowed these terms, in which case credit should be given. The first time Dr. Ionica published an article using these terms is: http://journalofcommunication.ro/oldsite/archive1/RJCPR_15full.pdf and even though this is a Romanian journal, the article is in English starting at page 23. Also, Dr. Ionica continued to develop his hermenutic method and he publishes various articles at http://aurelionica.com. I am curious what scholars think about this…

I’m not a scholar, but I am under the impression that, by now, these terms are lingua franca in hermeneutical discussions.

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Cassie, perhaps I was not clear enough. I was not just talking about words like “behind”, “in front”, “within”, or “text”, but about concepts like “the reality within the text”, “the reality behind the text”, etc. which, in professor Haloviak use, are also concepts except she uses “world” instead of “reality”. As you can see, the author of this article also uses the term “reality” rather than “world”. The example you used as an argument for these terms being lingua franca in hermeneutical discussions does not suffice. If they indeed are, by now, lingua franca, they should be found in the same format, as a concept and I would appreciate you giving examples as such. Here are a couple more terms coined by Dr. Ionica: reasoned reality and reality blockers (you can find them in his first article on his website). Can you find them anywhere alse as to conclude that they are also lingua franca?

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I yield to the scholars.

I just read Aurel Ionica’s essay that you cite. I find it to be a very strange essay. It does not cite any standard works on hermeneutics. The essay’s discussion of how the past is represented does not cite any works on history or historiography. I do not recognize any of the works cited and none appear to be what I would include in the standard literature. I think the essay purports to be about hermeneutics, but the author does not seem to understand that the focus of hermeneutics is meaning, not reality. The essay repeatedly talks about various kinds of reality, such as “historical reality” and “conceived reality.” These terms are strange. It would be unusual to characterize a text as “conceived reality.” Instead, we would call that text a representation of the past or, more simply, history. As I read the essay, I felt that I had wandered into an esoteric exhibition of analytic philosophy, which felt weird to me, because hermeneutics is more in keeping with continental philosophy. More important, I think the author no doubt has a gifted and fruitful mind, but his or her insights do not appear to be tethered to the hermeneutics literature.

Haloviak’s descriptive terms–world behind the text, world in the text, and world in front of the text–do not attempt to connote three different realities but three different objects of interpretation. And Cassie is right that these descriptive terms are well known in the evangelical Christian literature. I remember years ago Bruce Waltke having a similar take in our conversation in the hallway during a creation/science conference. I think these descriptive terms are elementary, but Haloviak does offer in her Sabbath School presentation, to her credit, that her thinking about hermeneutics is a work in progress. That’s probably true for all of us. (I have only watched two of the video presentations. Her discussion of the historical context of the Gospel of Mark is jaw-dropping brilliant, in my lay opinion). By the way, I find that the evangelical Christian literature on hermeneutics is like a barely-useful hornbook. If you know absolutely nothing about hermeneutics, you might grasp something from reading that material, but to actually learn hermeneutics you need to read the standard literature.

Just for fun, I have sketched out various objects of interpretation in hermeneutics that come to mind:

  1. The text itself, using the best grammatical knowledge available–Flacius and the Protestant Reformers
  2. The subject matter discussed in the text–Chladenius
  3. Authorial intent, what the author intends to say–Schleiermacher
  4. The spirit of the age–Ast
  5. Literariness, the structures of the text and literary devices, to the exclusion of content in the form-content dichotomy–the Russian Formalists
  6. Being–Heideggar
  7. The fusion of the author’s horizon with the reader’s horizon–Gadamer
  8. The text, with no consideration given to historical context or authorial intent (this is different from number 1 above)–the New Criticism thinkers
  9. The reader and his or her experiences with the text–Iser, Jauss, etc.
  10. Various interpretative communities–Fish
  11. What the author is hiding from the reader–Ricoeur

Who is sufficient for these things?

What I said to Zane last month:

Christ and the Conflict of Interpretations: Hermeneutics Transfigured

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Nagel: the view from nowhere…”how to combine the perspective of a particular person inside the world with an objective view of that same world, the person and his viewpoint included.”

Missiology, sociology, anthropology, cosmology, psychology, biology, ecology, physiology, theology…

And what is consciousness, anyway?

The Hedgehog and the Fox.

If one understands “reality” through the glasses of Aristotle than, yes, the only reality one accepts is the objective (physical) reality and the concept of “conceived reality”, or “reasoned reality”, which Dr. Ionica defines as the reality created by humans for a reason, appears “strange”. But what is meaning if not such a “reasoned reality”? Isn’t the meaning of a fence, or of money, just as real as a physical reality? If indeed Haloviak uses terms like “the world behind the text”, etc. as “different objects of interpretation”, in what manner is she different from (but rather borrowed from) Dr. Ionica who uses terms like “the reality behind the text”, etc.? And when Harari uses terms like “fictional stories” isn’t he borrowing the concept of “reasoned reality”?

On another note, I agree with you that there aren’t out there good manuals of hermeneutics, having to do, I think, with the fact that the Western thought has been heavily influenced by the Greeks and I like your list of objects of interpretation.

phil Phillip Brantley: “I do not recognize any of the works cited and none appear to be what I would include in the standard literature. I think the essay purports to be about hermeneutics, but the author does not seem to understand that the focus of hermeneutics is meaning, not reality.”

Since you took the trouble to read an article that I published long ago, not only I thank you for your effort, but I feel that I need to respond to your comments. From the list of books that you provide, it is obvious that by hermeneutics you understand some books about theories of meaning, and since I do not provide such a list and I do not discuss any of those books, you conclude that what I am doing has nothing to do with hermeneutics. In biblical studies, however, by hermeneutics is understood various “methods” and “concepts” used to analyze an ancient text to establish its meaning. If you do not recognize names such as Hermann Gunkel, it means that you are not familiar with one of the greatest historical-critical scholars who developed the method known as “form criticism” and developed the concept of “sitz im leben” that I understand that the lecturer mentions in one of her presentations. Hermeneutics is no longer taught in theological schools as some theories, but rather as different procedures that different scholars use to analyze specific texts. If I may use an illustration, while the historical-critical methods were viewed as a “science” that you learned as a theory, current methods of interpretation are viewed more as an “art” that you learn by imitating the masters. There are two books from the Bible that have been chosen as ideal texts to illustrate the current “methods”: Mark from the New Testament, and Judges from the Old Testament. If you want to become familiar with the current biblical hermeneutics, I suggest you read the following books that a used as textbooks:

Anderson, Janice Capel and Stephen D. Moore. “Mark & Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies”. 2nd ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.

Yee, Gale A. “Judges & Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies”. 2nd ed. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007.

As you can see, interpretation is no longer called “exegesis” but rather “approaches”. In a sense, I follow the same practice and I do not present may hermeneutics as a “theory,” but I introduce the concepts and the rules that I use as I cover texts. If you are interested to learn more about what I am doing and not just that introductory article, I suggest reading the following articles that you can find on my website at http://aurelionica.com/revised_articles/.

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Since Schleiermacher, we have understood that the different kinds of “special hermeneutics” that are utilized in interpreting the Classics, law, and theology, i.e., hermeneutica profana, hermeneutica juris, and hermeneutica sacra, are poor substitutes for a universal and multi-disciplinary hermeneutics he envisioned. You can become a biblical scholar by earning a terminal degree in OT or NT studies, be knowledgeable about and proficient in all of the tools of the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation, read much of the literature in the ambit of hermeneutica sacra, be a good Christian and a really smart person, but all of this is insufficient to qualify you as a hermeneutist.

We must acknowledge the daunting challenge. We know that the biblical scholar has an academic duty to read most everything in his or her area of expertise. The biblical scholar also has an academic duty to continue to produce quality scholarship. In addition, the biblical scholar has confessional responsibilities to members of the church and most likely responsibilities to students in the classroom. Those particular biblical scholars who have a budding interest in hermeneutics must also must learn linguistics, law, psychology, history (especially historiography), political science, literary criticism, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and other disciplines that make a contribution to our understanding of meaning. And there are only 24 hours in a day.

Since the 1960s, we have seen the demands of a universal and multi-disciplinary hermeneutics intrude upon biblical scholars. Much of the biblical analysis we read today is no longer mere exegesis. (Interestingly, lawyers have been better at isolating themselves with their hermeneutica juris in a silo free from the intrusions of a universal and multi-disciplinary hermeneutics). A hermeneutical refutation based on insights from a discipline that a biblical scholar has never studied can rip the best exegesis to shreds.

I up-voted your interesting comment, because I am impressed with your inquisitiveness. I am not sure if we share the same conception about hermeneutics, but I hope you can discern what my conception is.

phil Phillip Brantley: I am not sure if we share the same conception about hermeneutics, but I hope you can discern what my conception is.

It is obvious that by hermeneutics you understand the works of some scholars like Schleiermacher who claimed to be able to discover the intention and the thoughts of the author of a text and like Fish who not only did not believe that the thoughts of the author of a text can be recovered, but that even texts do not exist. As the name itself makes clear, the word hermeneutics come from the Greek god Hermes who was the messenger of Zeus and therefore whatever Hermes said, no one dared to challenge, and scholars no doubt coined the term to suggest that whatever scholars say about how they read texts, must be viewed as the very pronouncements of Zeus himself. As you can see, in postmodernism scholars come down from their ivory tower and tell everyone that anyone is a Hermes and whatever everyone reads in a text is just as authoritative as the very pronouncements of Zeus himself. Whether you think that what I am doing has anything to do with hermeneutics I do not care but I do expect you after you read something I write to tell me what of what I say is wrong and why and not just dismiss what I am saying because is “strange” just because what I am saying you have never read anywhere else.

Although we may have different understandings of what hermeneutics is, I do share your concern when you say:

phil Phillip Brantley: “Since the 1960s, we have seen the demands of a universal and multi-disciplinary hermeneutics intrude upon biblical scholars.”

Actually, biblical scholars have never produced any original ideas and if they did, no one would take them seriously and therefore they have always adopted what had been developed outside biblical studies. Even Hermann Gunkel whom I mentioned earlier, got his idea for form criticism from the Grimm brothers who wrote down fairytales and even structuralism was borrowed initially from the Russian Formalists who actually analyzed stories and about whom you think that they did hermeneutics. And I also agree with you that biblical scholars have little or no interest in literature outside the Bible such as the classical Greek literature that you seem to be very interested in when you say:

“I am inclined to humbly defer in resignation to MacDonald and abandon my idea, because he is a scholar of the Classics. He has actually read the literature. We Seventh-day Adventists, on the other hand, have rejected the study of the Classics, believing that the reading of pagan literature is either sinful or at best a waste of time. We do not teach the Classics to any significant degree in our colleges and universities.”

I am glad to learn that you have such a high regard for the Greek Classics, but are you so sure that those great Classics are better understood than the Bible? Are you suggesting that those scholars who read the Classics can read better than those who read the Bible? It may surprise you that those methods of interpretation – and not hermeneutics – that I developed I apply not only to biblical texts, but to ancient texts such as the Greek Classics and you can find that article here:

If you were surprised to discover that the Sodomites were not homosexuals as Christians learn in their Sunday or Sabbath School, what is going to be your reaction if you find out that what those Classical Greek works say is not what people know from Hollywood movies? Or if it is written by a biblical scholar, you know that is must be garbage and you do not even bother to read it, right? If you do dismiss it, I do expect you to do so after you read it, because I have reasons to believe that you have not just an open mind, but intellectual honesty as well, although I realize that it is hard for you to have any respect for what a biblical scholar writes.

Son of man, can these bones live?
—Ezekiel

For Croce the intuition is an organic whole, such that to analyze it into atoms is always a false abstraction: the intuition could never be re-built with such elements.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/croce-aesthetics/

I will read what you have written, as I have great respect for biblical scholars who are forced to grapple with the demands posed by hermeneutics.

As I said, I applaud you for your open mind and intellectual honesty and particularly for your genuine interest in the issues that scholars deal with and have not been able to solve, and although in the articles that are posted on my website I do not present any theory of meaning but only some rules and procedures to deal with texts, I do have a theory of what meaning is (and you are right that that is what hermeneutics proper is) but that theory I developed and I presented in my doctoral dissertation that no academic publisher has accepted to publish. The reason what I write seems so “strange” and so different from what other scholars do is because it is based on a theory that readers do not know, although for any reader, not just scholars, to understand what I am saying, do not need to know the theory. Since you are familiar with theories of interpretation, I would probably be labeled a structuralist because I define meaning as a structure, but not the kind of structure at the language level that structuralists have been looking for. When Mr. Ghitta referred to my “hermeneutics” he also had in mind my dissertation that he is familiar with, and when he pointed to my articles, you rightfully noticed that they are not about any theory of meaning but rather about dealing with some texts. Another thing that I want to clarify is that all articles are meant to be a continuous text and therefore some of the things that are discussed in a previous article, are just mentioned later on because the reader is assumed to be familiar with what had been discussed earlier. And finally, I do not believe in “biblical interpretation”; I believe in “any text interpretation.” I do not believe that those who wrote the Bible wrote any different than how others wrote in ancient times. True, biblical writers did present different ideas, but not necessarily a different way of writing. As you will see, when I discuss Exodus, I even analyze the Harry Potter books, arguably the true bible and the true sacred text of everyone today. Thanks to the internet, now THE CLASSROOM IS OPEN and anyone can find out what is going on in the academia, and not just what the academia decides to spoon-feed the people. Of course, people still have to do their homework and do the reading, and unlike scholars in their ivory towers, I am always willing to discuss with those who make the effort to read and have questions.

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