Response to Peter Ochs’, SSR: The Rules of Scriptural Reasoning

Kurt Anders Richardson,
Boston University

What we have in scriptural reasoning is not a sovereign theorizing but hypothetical reasoning as corrective and edifying interpretive modalities. Peter Ochs draws upon the pragmatist tradition where thought eschews theoretical reasoning and its overwrought claims for hypothetical reasoning and instead explores capacities for attending to the discrete features of scriptural texts so that the divine voice can be heard.

1)Ochs’ statement, ” the precedence of action over reflection in what we might call one functional epistemology of scriptural reasoning,” intends, so far as I can understand, a kind of reasoning that searches for and moves with its detection of divine speech encountered in the text. Given what he will say about modern dialectic as that form of reflection which interrupts such action, scriptural reading seeks to interrupt this interruption so that the connection between word and act can be restored.

2)”There is no measure, ratio, logos, or rule of merely human reasoning adequate to encompass or predict the rule of practice and thinking that will be displayed in divine speech. ” “Theoretical reasoning” substitutes itself for divine speech. Only by an attending to the text at the level of hypothetical reasoning can our understanding be maintained in affirmation and flexibility. The next occasion for reading will alter understanding, so that reasoning must be hypothetical in order to maintain its flexibility for understanding.

By reading scripture according to a radicalized traditional reading, we would “reconstitute the practices of modern intelligence.” Modern reading was derived from traditional reading but, figuratively speaking, the child lost its way. A “scriptural pragmatism” is required whereby “the child can be brought back, in ways that redeem the parent as well as the child.” In this way the modern notions of the operations of reason can recover traditional notions in the practices of scripture reading. Modern intelligence is a damaging conceit as a theory of intelligence. But in the post-critical intellection that characterizes scriptural reasoning, modernity is delivered into a place of healing. The modern condition continues to evolve, but modernist theoretical conceit is radically interrupted in the hope of its redemption.

3)”The most reliable criterion is, rather, a practical one: the observation that specific kinds of communal suffering are not being attended to nor repaired by the academic and religious inquiries that should be repairing them.” Dialectical reading self-destructs in the denial of contemporaneity and immediacy. For theoretical reasoning, the indirectness of the historical reading, for example, means that a judgment of academic inquiry precludes the judgment of active reading.

The pragmatic rule of SR is to locate the truths of modernity in the success or failure of our capacity to read the reasonings of modernity themselves as symptoms of the specific conditions that underlie them and therefore as signals to us to locate and repair these conditions. The pragmatic reasoning of SR is a redemptive reasoning.

4)Ochs draws upon tichiyat hametim a rising out of the ashes as a metaphor for the healing of modern thinking and as a form of a permanent interruption of its dialectical conceits. The intended and only secondarily unintended effects of modern theorizing have been the catastrophic results of the most toxic mix of totalizing ideological conceits. To the extent that postmodernism has rightly attacked the religious components of that mix one must acknowledge a largely unfinished task of detecting the modes by which religious understanding must be liberated. “As logicians of SR” we may determine that, via a radical traditional practice of moving through and beyond the conceits of modernity and even postmodernity, attention to the divine voice of scripture opens up the possibility of healing and resurrection.

The trope of ” resurrection” finally enables us to look with hope to the thought structures that would exceed modernity and a theological postmodernity. The postmodern impulse longs to complete itself in attending to the divine voice in a way that acknowledges the assymetry of textual interruption and redemption where these activities result from letting the text initiate them. Here we as readers always and finally are in a position of hearing and bearing these interruptive and redemptive impulses in order to abandon the modern conceit of a dialectic of inquiry which would posit a technique of role reversal with the text. As intertextual as commentary may be, it never claims for itself what it cannot claim, that of fashioning an originating, truly generative text of divine speech. Radical reading of scripture, however many interpretive voices one may attend, practices an “eternal return” to the originating text and by such deconstructs modern theoretical conceits and also recovers for the modern, the hope and practice of resurrection. Hope means already that the dialectic of modernity has died; we are not necessarily pleased with this, but we have hope that a new life is now upon us. Hope means vision and the expectation of renewed life.

With scripturally initiated hope- Hu m’chadesh b’khol yom maaseh b’reshit – “hypothesis formation” displaces theoretic modes of interruption and redemption and creates correctives for the modernist dialectic conceit. This is a textually guided experience of the Redeemer’s voice and the presence of the salvific. “The concrete question for SSR is, what relation do we, as a Society of readers, already bring to the text of scripture?” The answer, for Ochs, is quite simply that “we come to the text of scripture as the face of our Redeemer: that is, the one who will repair this modernist paradigm.” In a derivative and mediatorial role, “we in the SSR, as it were, would play the role of Moses, at least that is for our own salvations.” Eschewing the powerful temptation to establish ourselves, along with the moderns, as originating and generative sources of interruption and redemption, there is a primal orientation to “scripture the specific source of A-reasonings that arises in response to our acknowledging the failings of modernity.”

5)”SR is a way of reading scripture, at once within and across the boundaries of our Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities of reading, so that our reading redeems the failings of modernity. Redeeming, and not replacing modernity, this reading of scripture will, itself, become a reasoning, just as modernity is a reasoning. But a transformed reasoning.” Acknowledging the irreducibility of traditional readings, because of the incomparability of originating texts, scriptural reasoning proceeds with the incomparable listening for the divine voice that recreates and redeems over against the destructiveness of “yet again.” The surprise and joy of scriptural reasoning, however, is that the destructive “yet again” embodied in the modern could not reduce such reasoning to the coordinates of its own dialectical theorizing. Scriptural reasoning recognizes through its very practice, “it is he who made [and remakes] us and not we ourselves.”

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