Bruce Beck, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology (Brookline, Massachusetts, USA)
Edith Humphrey, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (Pennsylvania, USA)
Andrei Desnitsky, Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow, Russia)
Athanasios Despotis, University of Bonn (Bonn, Germany)
Nicolae Roddy, Creighton University (Omaha, Nebraska, USA)
For Orthodox engaged in biblical studies, the creation of IOTA comes at an opportune time. Orthodox scholars concentrating solely on the scriptures are of small number, and sometimes inquire how biblical studies, as a discrete discipline, can be harmonized with the Orthodox mindset, which tends away from compartmentalization and towards integration. Not all Orthodox who engage in biblical interpretation are biblical specialists; indeed, there are theologians who interpret the Bible as supportive of a larger project. When we add such theologians to formal biblical scholars, we see varying approaches, which might be simplified as follows: to embrace the historical-critical methods within an Orthodox perspective; to show great concern about (and sometimes even to repudiate) such atomistic methods; and to adopt the more recent integrative approaches without cavil or modification.
Many Orthodox biblical scholars combine their own specialties with patristics, Christian spirituality, practical theology, or ethics. In doing this, they join others who refuse to be confined by the boundaries of disciplines, writing also for a more general readership. However, this integrative approach also sometimes means that considerations for the method(s) of biblical study play second fiddle to the use made of biblical studies for other matters. There is both a strength and a weakness to this integrating predisposition. The weakness has been noted by some among us, who dedicate themselves almost wholly to the historical-critical methods, concerned to forge a respectable place in the guild for Orthodox scholars alongside Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and secular colleagues.
The range of approaches and methods, then, is a matter calling out for analysis in our first meeting. The hope of the steering committee is that the meeting of Orthodox biblical scholars from different backgrounds, jurisdictions, and traditions (with various approaches) will generate more self-conscious Orthodox consideration of the field in general. The showcasing and discussion of our differences in interpretative method will be the first order of business, attracting younger as well as more seasoned scholars. For the Inaugural Conference in Romania, we are proposing two sessions united by the theme of methods, or general approach, yet grounded in the particular scholarly methods with which each scholar is accustomed to working. It is our hope that all the papers will be specific, deep and concrete, giving illustrations of the method or approach used by the particular scholar, by recourse to actual Biblical passages, or themes. Further, we hope that speakers will consider what makes Orthodox analysis, readings, and interpretations Orthodox. What do we do differently from other academic interpreters of the Bible, and why? (Or should there be a difference?—the second session on “engaged” and “neutral” approaches may broach this foundational question.)
1. Open Session with Call for Papers: Paradigms for Orthodox Biblical Studies.
Presenters are invited to engage in one or more approaches or methods that they have found helpful as Orthodox biblical scholars, while illustrating their methodologies or biblical hermeneutics by developing specific cases that pay close attention to a biblical text, biblical texts, or biblical themes. We request papers showing the value of various approaches, including literal readings, the historical-critical method, sociological method(s), literary approaches, theological readings, patristic or tradition-historical approaches, and attention to the spiritual sense, among other paradigms. Presenters are asked to reflect upon why the methods, readings or approaches that they showcase are important to them as Orthodox scholars, or what significance they may have for the Orthodox Church, if any.
2. Session with Invited Guests: “Neutral” and “Engaged” Readings of the Bible
In recent academic study of the Bible, there has been a decided shift (or “turn”) from approaching the text from a neutral perspective to more engaged approaches. In past years, it was de rigeur for graduate students to be trained to set aside their own commitments, whether theological, confessional or ideological, and to attempt to read the text as it was originally intended, and as it would have been originally heard. Various critiques of this “neutral” model have issued in a situation where many now consider neutrality an impossible feat; engaged readings that do not obscure the commitment of the scholar are now valorized by many. Those invited to present in this session will reflect upon the strengths and weaknesses of these two paradigms, particularly in terms of their own identity as Orthodox scholars. Their discussion will be illustrated by means of their own interpretation of a biblical text, texts, or scriptural theme, or their critique of others engaging in various forms of analysis and interpretation.