I was reading Brother Adam again tonight and I enjoyed this:

In the course of teaching Bible and early monasticism over the years I have become aware, as I suppose is inevitable, that modern readers come to these texts with our own presuppositions. This is not exactly news. But it is also not always obvious to us when we are reading. We aren’t usually conscious of the biases of our own culture until we have something to compare it to

The first thing to know about an ancient text is that it was not written in our language. English as we speak and read it only emerged between 1500 and 1600. And for quite a long time after that, there are enough differences between our form of English and theirs to require fairly heavy notation. In fact, our language is always changing. Something written 50 years ago can already seem linguistically and culturally dated.

For many people this does not seem to be a problem, though. Just get it translated. And so we do, and we can read Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer in our own language. Except then we soon discover that the text we are reading doesn’t make much sense. Not because the words aren’t clear, but because what they are saying isn’t part of our world. Translating the words is just the first step.

In fact, with any text older than approximately this morning we need to do historical and cultural translation as well. When we read things from our own past, or see an old film or hear an old song or look at an old photograph, we do this automatically, remembering the date it was produced and adjusting our focus accordingly. We can do this because we have the tools to understand the context in which what we are reading or hearing or seeing was produced, because we lived in that context and can remember it. If we were alive and conscious when it was produced we can retrieve the context. In doing so, we automatically make what might be called a hermeneutic shift, imagining ourselves back into the original context and then comparing it to what we might make of it in the present moment.

Anyway, that’s the start.  If you want to see the whole thing, click here.

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