The Society of Scriptural Reasoning: The Rules of Scriptural Reasoning
University of Virginia
- 1. Reflection
- 2. The Specific Context for Reflection
- 3. Deeper Context
- 4. The Interrupted Dialectic of Modernity
- 5. Worse Than Dialectic: The Unrepaired Suffering That Underlines It
- 6. How Does SR Practice Its Redemptions?
- A. Through the language of the resurrection of the dead
- B. Through the language of Hope
- C. Through the language of Re-creation and Revelation
- D. Through the language of Listening, Hearing, Waiting
- E. Through the language of Hypothesis Formation
- F. Of the language of a Community of Inquiry
Dear SSR Colleagues,
Shalom. After four years of shared scriptural interpretation at our annual gatherings, we decided this year to stop what we do, for a moment, and reflect on how we are doing what we do. ” Naaseh v’nishmah “, the angels say when God commands: “we do first, and then we seek understanding.” So, the Rabbinic sages in b. Talmud Shabbat describe the precedence of action over reflection in what we might call one functional epistemology of scriptural reasoning. 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. So we wait, like the angels, receiving the speech, imitating it through our actions and, only then, come to ask ourselves, “What is it we are doing after all? What rules of life have been engendered in us?”
“Why ask at all?” we might inquire. We ask because we are not angels, being at the same time smarter and more sinful. Out of our sinfulness, imperfection, and error the “imaginings of our hearts being bad from our very youth” (Genesis 8.21) comes both our inability to enact precisely what God has asked and our need for intelligence, as a means of getting out of the trouble we perpetually put ourselves in. Intelligence, or what Michael Wyschogrod calls our “quality of brightness,” is the capacity to reflect on our actions and discern in them traces of the divine will. These traces serve as a mirror in whose reflection we may criticize our actions that have not been in accordance with God s word. After critical reflection, they also function as a guide that may direct our actions in greater fidelity to that word in the future. Unless God were to exhaust himself with continual criticism and re-revelation on our behalf, we have no choice but to appeal to our intelligence to help perform God’s work. While there is no choice in the matter, this is still another source of ” tsores ” (trouble) for us. In fact, the SSR appears to have arisen specifically in response to the great failing of Intelligence in the modern world. The shared sense of this Society is that the dominant paradigms of reason both in the university and in our seminaries are deeply flawed. We believe that these paradigms have tempted not only the academy, but also an alarmingly significant part of our religious communities, to reverse the terms of the angels’ pledge: we will understand things first on our own terms and only then see how the words of the Creator, Revealer, and Redeemer apply. This type of Copernican revolution, while rightly elevating our limited potential for good, ultimately leads to something bad: a vicious dialectic of totalitarian versus nihilistic reasoning. In other words, the modern practice of Intelligence transforms the activity of reflection into the object of reflection. Reflection, however, is not itself an object. Aristotle’s reflecting-on-reflection god may think otherwise, but that is the point: either we are not gods or Aristotle’s god is not God. When we identify the rule of our actions with the activity of reflecting on reflection, we inherit a world of our own making: totality or nothing.
Members of the SSR tend to view the disasters of Western society in the twentieth century as consequences of this awful dialectic. While acknowledging and moving within and beyond modern thought, the purpose of SR is to recover the practice of listening for the speech of God that both preceded and still provides the terms for modern thinking. The goal is, as much as is possible and appropriate, to reenact traditional Jewish, Christian, and Muslim practices of scriptural reading and interpretation in order to reconstitute modern Intelligence as a practice of reflecting on the rules of scriptural reasoning. The assumption is that modern Intelligence began this way, but soon forgot its point of origin. This means that modern projects of reasoning are not to be abandoned, any more than we would abandon naughty or misguided children. Our goal, rather, is to rediscover the parent in the child: to remind the child of its roots and pedigree and the parent of its child. This intends to remind the parent that its own failings have sent the child off wandering, that it is responsible to bring the child back, and that the child can be returned in ways that redeem the parent and child alike. This “compassionate postmodernism” is an effort to redeem the intellectual disciplines of modernity as instruments of divine speech, rather than casting them off, seemingly inconsequentially. Practitioners of SR acknowledge, therefore, that they are instruments of modern Intelligence, as well as exponents of the scriptural reasoning that can redeem that Intelligence.
I have just introduced our project for this issue, which is to reflect on how we have heretofore practiced SR. Simultaneously, I have introduced my description of and proposal for this reflection. This, finally, is the purpose of this essay-letter: to provide one detailed example of how we could reflect on the “rules” of scriptural reasoning and thereby spur comparable reflections by protest, agreement, excitement, or disagreement.
What follows is not an attempt to speak for anyone, but rather an attempt to illustrate one of several ways we might go about reflecting on the rules of scriptural reasoning. This approach is strictly my own, drawing on a contemporary Jewish philosophic approach to our shared endeavor and my long-time work on Charles Peirce’s semiotics. Our shared approaches, of course, will draw on Christian, Muslim, and Jewish sources; I trust that Peirce’s semiotic is only one of several technologies that could help us simplify and clarify our rules of inquiry. In response to my essay-letter, it is hoped that this will not become a single revised document for general SSR use, rather, that it will stimulate your own versions or partial versions of rules for SR. It is also hoped that through the oddity of some shared brain, some part of the following informs part of your own rules for SSR, even while responses critique or praise any of my specific claims.
The point of my introduction was to suggest that, on the one hand, rational reflection must follow, not precede the reading of scripture and, on the other hand, such reflection is also necessary to SSR. The way to handle these two hands is to claim that, in general, rational reflection is an attribute of the life of God’s word in our midst, but that the form of reflection is specific to a given context. In the immediate context of this essay-letter, reflection appears to precede the hearing of God’s word. This is because this is a monologic statement spoken to members of several different scriptural traditions and is offered as a reflection on scriptural readings that have been enacted in the last four years. We have read together and now reflection arises. ” Naaseh v’nishmah. ”
2. The Specific Context of Reflection
This exercise is itself one act of reasoning; it should therefore display the particularity of its context. It was suggested in the introduction that our immediate context is the need, periodically, to hold a mirror up to our actions, to attempt to clarify the rules of our action, and then to use those rules as temporary measures against which our efforts at reasoning out the consequences of God’s speech in scripture are tested. After this year’s interruption, we resume the textual enactment until the time comes to look in the mirror once again, hopefully to see new and surprising rules emerge.
What I have previously termed “Rabbinic pragmatism” in the applied context of contemporary Jewish philosophy, I now term “scriptural pragmatism” in the context of the overlapping interests of Muslims, Jews, and Christians in the SSR. 2 The deeper context is to describe our entire effort, including its scriptural reasoning, as stimulated by the interruption of what we could call our overlapping salvation histories in the modern West. As distinct religionists, we have come together in the SSR not because things are so good that we can now lie down together in peace, like three lambs, or three lions. Rather, it is because things are so bad that, for the moment, our differences are less interesting than our need to share resources in confronting overlapping crises. While I do not want to over-generalize by suggesting that our crises are identical, shared crises appear to have emerged.
For Jews today, I suggest that we refer to the crisis in this way: as our living in the shadow of Destruction. The shadow is, of course, cast by the Shoah and refers not only to literal deaths, but also to the spiritual-religious malaise that encumbers the people of Israel since and that makes us however understandably unable to find our way out of the shadow. It would be hyperbolic to call the condition of Judaism in modernity another Destruction. It might be better to call it the loss of our center, the loss of that third something with respect to which our religious heart would not be divided into two naturally exclusive poles. The one pole is represented by Jewish secular universalism; a pole, mind you, of the religion of Israel, not simply of what has fallen outside of it. The other pole is represented by anti-secular ultra-orthodoxy; a designation which does not mean the “Jewish religion” or “authentic Rabbinic Judaism,” as if Talmudic Judaism did not have a third, or mediating capacity to integrate what has become mere “secular universalism” into the whole of Judaism.
The entire activity of scriptural reasoning marks a great interruption in the ongoing activity of modern religious inquiry in the West, including the sub-inquiries of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities. As an interruption, scriptural reasoning as a whole is a mode of reflection: a mode of reasoning on something already performed. As we will see, the unique character of this reflection is that, while operating within the disciplines of the Academy, SR embodies reflexivity in its practice of communal textual reading.
4. The Interrupted Dialectic of Modernity
SR interrupts a dialectical pattern of inquiry that encourages the mutual exclusion of two poles of modern religious reasoning. One pole is secular modernism: the tendency to reason by reducing all subjects of study according to certain simple conceptual patterns or models of reasoning. This pole may also be labeled secular universalism. While this is the pole of modern academic reasoning in general, it is also engendered as a specific mode of classical liberal religious thought, which tends simply to apply a priori forms of a secular ethical universalism to various scriptural traditions. The second pole is anti-modern Jewish orthodoxy. It simply will not do to allow such orthodoxy to arrogate unto itself the definition of “traditional religion.” A religious orthodoxy that defines itself by negating the leading aspects of secular universalism endorses the dichotomous logic that underlies that universalism. Such a reactionary orthodoxy gradually redistributes the terms of classical scriptural religion according to this “dichotomizing logic.” There are many ways to identify the leading features of this modern dialectic, a few of which will be summarized here. I have just exhibited one way, which is to identify a “dichotomizing logic” as an aspect of modernity. This could also be called a “logic of contrariety.” Any claim of purportedly secular or religious logic can be termed modernist it if can be reduced to the following formal terms: that some property A is asserted, of which a logical contrary is property B, such that the sum of A and B constitutes all the properties of interest in a given universe of discourse. An example is the claim that secular universalism is true and therefore the claims of religion are false. This means that the only alternatives are either a secular universalist one or a religious one which assumes to be non-secular or non-universalist. The logic of contrariety should be distinguished from the “logic of contradiction” : the relationship of A to B, when B is not A and A plus B does not constitute an entire universe of possibilities, but is adequately represented only as the series A, B, C . . .
As discussed below, the SR way of repairing a logic of contraries is not simply to negate them as if the new logic were a contrary of the contraries. Its goal, rather, is to transform logical contraries into logical contradictories: this is to transform polar opposites into dialogical pairs—, but not to replace them with some purported union of the two. Any term C that would adequately replace A and B would in fact reassert a logical contrary of one or the other. This is, in fact, the logic of the Hegelian dialectic, which continually reiterates the logic of contrariety by replacing any terms A versus C with the term AB versus C. Hegel’s effort to mediate contrariety should be exposed for what it is: a reassertion of the logic of modernity in a more subtle form. While Kant does not succeed in redeeming the modern logic of contrariety, he recognizes it and does not seek to cover it up. He seeks a third something, which could be termed the hypothesis of a desire for mediation, but simply fails to realize or locate it. One central mark of the accuracy of Kant’s observation is his recognition of the Antinomies, which are marked by the polar opposites of modern logic. One mark of the inadequacy of Kant’s efforts at mediation is his attempt to replace the Antinomies with the assertion of a single explanation, rather than with the assertion of the Antinomies into its dialogical pairs.
It is important to note that modern secular universalism and reactionary orthodoxy go hand in hand, as two parts of a single syndrome. The dialectical logic that underlies their difference appears in different forms in modern society generally and in the modern Academy particularly: the oppositions between traditional belief and secularism, between “objectivist” and “subjectivist” approaches of academic inquiry, or between the poles of various ideological battles in academe liberal vs. conservative, radical feminist vs. neo-classical, historicist vs. structuralist, or in George Lindbeck’s terms, experientialism vs. propositionalism. From the Scholastics on, theological and religious discourses display a comparable dialectic when complements are made contraries: for example, the body and spirit, grace and law, community and individual, and even God’s spoken versus God’s created word.
5. Worse Than Dialectic: The Unrepaired Suffering That Underlies It
SR’s complaint about the modern dialectic is not primarily an intellectual one: as if scriptural reasoners had a better theory of how to reason as opposed to the modern “theory” of dialectics. The only thoroughly convincing mark of the inadequacy of modernity is not merely a logical one by what a priori criterion is one logic deemed errant and the other not? The most reliable criterion is, rather, a practical one: the observation that specific kinds of communal suffering are neither attended to nor repaired by the academic and religious inquiries that should repair them.
This proposal offers a pragmatic ground for SR. Its first element is the pragmatic maxim: that any modern assertion that claims truth for itself can be judged only with respect to its success or failure in resolving the problem or suffering that originally gave rise to it. This is not to suggest that all belief and all reasoning arise literally out of a response to problem solving or suffering. It is, rather, to claim that reasonings or beliefs that do not purport to rise out of such a response cannot claim any truth-value. This does not mean that they are false, only that they are to be evaluated by some other criterion than truth versus falsity. Among the possible criteria, for example, are coherence, beauty, strength, expressiveness, and so forth. But for such assertions to claim truth, they would need to claim some form of infinite regress. If, however, an assertion purports to be a response to a problem or a suffering, then the truth or falsity of the assertion can be evaluated in respect to the success of the assertion in contributing to the resolution of that problem or the repair of that suffering.
Truth is one of the dominant criteria by which modern reasoning seeks to evaluate itself. This fact, however, is a mere symptom of the reason for this assertion. Modern reasoning either secular or religious denies that its verity is only sustained as a response to the suffering or problematic situation that underlies its inquiry. Its failure to acknowledge this context, however, and its tendency to mask its beginning, is a sign of modern reasoning’s incapacity to resolve its original problem. Modern reasoning’s tendency to objectify the reference of its truth claims is a mark of its tendency for self-deception, or more innocently, to self-delusion or confusion about its purpose and telos . Confusion about truth is not only a malady of the objectivist modern scholar; the form of late Continental modernism that calls itself radical postmodernism signals its own confusions about truth when it seeks to invalidate modernity’s efforts to locate truth, as if modernity is simply wrong and postmodernity has it “right.” The problem is not that truth claims are impossible in academic inquiry; it is, rather, that they are made more indirectly than we realize.
A similar malady underlies reactionary efforts by contemporary critics of postmodernism: from religious neo-Orthodox critics to neo-liberal apologists for the religion of humanism. The contemporary religionists’ cry that “they are taking away our belief in truth” is in particular for Christians and Jews who should know better a mark of a similar dialectical confusion. Truth is recovered in Jesus’ parabolic tradition, or in Midrashic tradition, but certainly not through rude attempts to reassert a religious axiology by restating varieties of the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount as propositional creeds. 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 locate and repair these conditions. The pragmatic reasoning of SR is redemptive reasoning. It is not merely a theory about the providence of modern inquiries, but also a directive to respond to these inquiries in a salutary way. SR is a re-categorization of both the modern academy and the anti-modern orthodoxies that arose as indirect disclosures of the antecedent suffering of modernity, rather than as assertions of practice or objective truth. In this way, the assertions of modernity are reincorporated into SR’s redemptive reasoning.
6. How Does SR Practice Its Redemptions?
The second level of SR’s pragmatism is to disclose the rules of “Redemptive Reasoning” which lead from the interruption of modern reasoning to its repair. Hope and hypothesis are the origins of this redemptive inquiry. There is no movement from failure, problem, destruction, or interruption without hope or hypothesis. The transformation of failure into new life must begin with new possibility, and, as a human form of inquiry, new possibility arises only by a supposition, or hypothesis. In theological discourse, this is to speak of revelation, holy spirit, a spirit of God, or divine encounter, and at the same time of a resurrection of the dead tichiyat hametim . As logicians of SR, we will have to disclose the relationship between hypothesis formation and all these theological terms.
There are several parallel ways to uncover the logic of Redemptive Reasoning:
A. Through the language of “the resurrection of the dead”
“Baruch ata . . . ham’chaye hametim “. Blessed are you . . . who gives life to the dead. This is a pivotal blessing in the daily standing prayer, or amidah, of the Rabbinic tradition 3 and is also emblematic of a pivotal step in the transformation of biblical Judaism to Rabbinic Judaism, which is itself also the resurrection of Judaism from the Destruction of the Second Temple. With the Destruction, the basis for literally fulfilling the words of Torah was gone; the central preoccupation of the books of Moses being the construction of the Temple and the ordering of a priesthood for Temple service. Temple service was the means through which Israel’s sins were expiated and Israel was brought near its God. But if there were no Temple and Jews of the late first, early second century under Roman rule seemed to anticipate a much longer period of waiting than did the Israelites after the first century then either Israel would be trapped in spiritual exile without means of calling on its Redeemer, or the Jews would be without their religion. The period of Israel’s second Destruction, therefore, also became the period of victory for the Pharisaic/Rabbinic reinterpretation of what it means to be a Jew and what it means to be part of the Covenant of Israel against Sadducean and other opposing interpretations. Against the protectors of the established Temple priesthood, the emergent Rabbinic Judaism argued that there was not only this world ( olam hazeh ), but also the world to come ( olam haba ). For them, there was a resurrection of the dead ( tichiyat hametim ), which we may take to refer not only to the rebirth of the individual human in the next world, but also to the rebirth of other entities of Israel, including the people Israel itself and its covenant with God. This meant that there was not merely a written Torah ( torah she b’chtav ), but also an Oral Torah ( torah she b’al peh ); not only the explicitly written Torah scroll, but also the living embodiment and interpretation of it in the words and deeds of the Rabbinic community in each generation.
As David Weiss Halivni argues, 4 the Talmud attributes to Ezra the prototypical work of disclosing what would become the tradition of the Oral Torah. This was the work of rescuing the Torah from the fires of Destruction and the Sins of Israel ( chate’u yisrael ) which typifies the unreliable process of transmitting and re-transcribing the Torah throughout the period of Israel’s troubled monarchy. With direct divine inspiration, which we may link to the later notion of ruach elohim , the spirit of God, ruach hakodesh , a holy spirit, Ezra so says this story of the Talmud corrected some of the received text of the written Torah, but left much of its correction to an oral rereading of the troubled text. This rereading is what the Rabbis refer to in Avot 1 as the transmission of the (oral) Torah from Moses, through the Prophets, to the line of succession of what would become the Rabbinic sages. Viewed this way, the Oral Torah is the resurrection of the written Torah; Rabbinic Judaism is the resurrection of the biblical Judaism whose merely literal law died in the Second Destruction; and the Judaisms that follow each of our destructions are resurrections of the Judaism that lives on in new forms; and, following the Destruction of the Jews in this century, a new Judaism is also reborn. Each of these new Judaisms retain the written “law” of the previous ones, but infuses them with new meaning, new practices, new interpretations, new life, new wine in old skins. In sum, SR will be both a resurrection of previous scriptural religions and a means of articulating the rule of resurrection as a rule for reading scripture today. It will also be a rule for rereading the interrupted traditions of the modern religion whose death gives rise to the tragedy and new hope that animates scriptural reasoning: that is the deaths of both the radically modernist and anti-modernist poles of modern Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
“Resurrection of the dead” is a useful trope for the emergence of SR out of the modernist dialectic. It is, first of all, an important alternative to the more extreme anti-modern tropes that attribute to either side of the modern dialectic simple error. If modernity is simply wrong, it could be merely rethought correctly. Or, on religious terms, if modernity is wrong and hence sinful, then it could be skirted and replaced with some neo-orthodox appeal to “the true tradition.” To speak of resurrection, however, is to acknowledge modernity as having been a life and thus it is appropriate to mourn its passing, no matter how troubled a life it was; a religious postmodernity should be sad, not triumphant. To speak of resurrection, furthermore, is to acknowledge that the life of the modern dialectic has come to its end. The “death” of an ideological structure is not like one of mere flesh; it refers to the death of the interpretive fecundity of a certain ideological scheme. For the modern dialectic to outlive its life that is, to attempt to vivify it beyond its lifetime is, at least, to encumber present day life. At most, it is to bring death, in this case literal death: the ideological superstructure that outlives its time, to borrow Marxian terminology, imposes irrelevant and disadvantageous rules of interpretation on a material world. Since such a superstructure no longer mends the wounds of that world, it brings death. In this sense, to allow the dialectic of modernity to outlive its time is to fail to serve the needs of those who live. The trope of “resurrection,” finally, enables us to look with hope to the thought structures that go beyond modernity. These postmodern structures will bring life once again, which means they will protect the life that is here. The trope allows us to introduce scriptural reasoning in a constative rather than imperative, exclamatory, or polemical voice. We are not arguing that modernity ought to fail or have failed; we are simply bringing attention to its failure. As mourners must finally acknowledge that their loved one has died, so we are bringing acknowledgement that modernity has died. In doing so, the mood that accompanies the emergence of scriptural reasoning is the sad acknowledgment of fact. It is mourning, but not mourning without hope.
B. Through the language of Hope
The active voice of scriptural reasoning emerges under the banner of hope. The dialectic of modernity has died; while we are not necessarily pleased with its passing, we have hope that a new life will arise. Hope includes the vision and expectation of renewed life. With this vision SR moves past its constative voice and practice of sad acknowledgment as it turns to envision possibility and to share the energy and excitement that new possibility brings. Hope is a word to express that excitement. SSR is a revitalization movement, the anthropologists might say.
C. Through the language of Re-creation and Revelation
These tropes are also useful in articulating the theological prototypes for the emergence of SR. We read in the Rabbis daily morning prayer, ” Hu m’chadesh b’khol yom maaseh b’reshit. ” “God renews each day the order of creation.” The story of creation is a story not only of cosmic beginnings, but also of the form in which every world may re-begin. The story of creation is a story of resurrection and hope. Resurrection, because from each day and each world that dies, new life may be recreated. To speak of Resurrection is thus to speak of recreation; SR therefore emerges out of the dialectic of modernity as the expression of a new, creative activity. When speaking of the recreation of an idea structure, rather than of material life, we also speak of revelation, or, in the more appropriately Rabbinic term, gilluy shekhina : “a revealing of the divine presence.” One may begin to see a coherence among the use of the following chain of tropes: a world to come, which is the product of resurrection; the Oral Torah, in which the written Torah lives its resurrected life; recreation, which is the way in which this second life is created; and, finally, the “revealing of the divine presence” in which to be distinguished from some aboriginal divine voice God speaks again and there is new life. In short, if SR is to emerge as new life out of the dialectic of modernity, then SR must be an expression of not just any new creativity, but renewed creativity per se ; and that includes a renewed disclosure of the divine presence. God alone creates. We must not say this lightly, but we must say it: if SR is to guide us out of this century of destruction and out of the moribund structures of modernity, then SR must be infused with a divine spirit. If it is not, then this will not be an activity of new life. If we are not even prepared to acknowledge that our work must be made in relation to God, then we cannot hope to bring about a new life that would follow modernity. We might be more modest, but we wouldn’t be about SR. To speak of divine presence, however, may be to speak all the more humbly; it means we can only be led in our work ultimately by listening alone: by listening to the voice of our Creator speaking through the words of scripture which we have received through the past traditions that have interpreted them, through the sufferings that have engendered the end of modernity, and through, finally, the hope that must move us if we are to move at all.
D. Through the language of Listening, Hearing, Waiting
A dimension of SR’s re-creative activity is simply one of listening to a voice that is greater than ours and of which our words are never adequate vehicles. “Hear, O Israel Hashem is our god Hashem alone.” Hashem is our god, we may add, only when we hear. To hear is ultimately to read, and to read, ultimately, is to read scripture. At the beginning of all our re-creative activity is the reading of scripture.
E. Through the language of Hypothesis Formation
This reading of scripture is within an activity of redemptively responding to the destructions of our age and the inadequacies of merely modern answers to this destruction. The redemptive activity of reading is more than just reception. It is to receive the words of scripture as directives to us: that we should heal the burdens of modernity and that we should heal them in certain ways. The first step in moving from hearing such a directive to enacting it is to envision the problem to which we respond and to envision how we are about to respond to it. All such envisionings are to be tested and retested against both our reading and our observation of the world around us. But before all this testing, the first step is envisioning. A philosophic concept to use for envisioning is “hypothesis formation.” Here, once again, I borrow from Charles Peirce’s work, in particular his study of “abduction,” or the proto-logic of hypothesis formation. Before entering the philosophic analysis, I will once again reiterate the theological link: that the scriptural reasoner’s hypothesis making is the literal means through which the re-creative activities engendered by hope begin.
There are two general insights of Peirce’s that make a general contribution to the theory of SR. The first is that the activity of hypothesis formation, while unpredictable, is proto-logical, which means that it can be mapped as a kind of reasoning with a syllogistic formulation and other formal attributes. For example, Peirce argues that we should recognize three kinds of syllogisms and not two. In addition to deduction and induction, we must include “retroduction,” or abduction. Deduction is typified by the syllogism that all men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is moral. Induction: this person is mortal and a human, that person is, . . . therefore we conclude that all humans may be mortal. And finally the model for Abduction: if all men are mortal and Socrates is mortal, then probabilistically Socrates may be human. In so many words, abduction is an induction from qualities or predicates. Say we know that squirrels climb trees and eats nuts. Now, I see a little creature climbing a tree and eating a nut; perhaps it is therefore a squirrel. Peirce claims that precisely this kind of reading in a pre-rational form is implicit in each of our perceptual judgments. Flooded with stimuli, our selective pre-conscious capacity is to judge according to hypotheses made from pre-critical inferences we could characterize as following: an recognizable object could display the stimuli A, B, C, D, this one displays the stimuli A, B, C; perhaps this one is a X, this a box, or a tree. Finally, Peirce suggests that all scientific reasoning makes use of a formal stage of abduction in addition to induction and deduction, so that we do not directly enter nature to discover within it its universal laws; instead, we come to it with certain assumptions on the basis of which we make certain hypotheses which can then be tested inductively. A surprising fact is encountered; we hypothesize that, given something else we know to be the case, then this may be the case as well with this fact.
Say, then, that we are faced with a certain failed explanatory system called the dialectical logic of modernity. How would we go about replacing it? Now, if we were not aided by a logic of abduction, we might go about the job in two consistently modernist and unsatisfactory ways. The first would be to suppose that, since modern reasoning had failed, we would have to, following the caricature of Descartes, create some new system ex nihilo . Either we would do that inductively, somehow observing potentially universal truths in the world around us; or, deductively, we might begin with some dogma and deduce from it how to proceed. Perhaps, for example, we could begin with scripture. Taking the inductive route, we might suppose that, if we read scripture carefully enough, the verses themselves would suggest to us certain universal truths on the basis of which we could then construct a new system of religious knowledge. Or, deductively, we might read each verse itself in some way as a rule and read from it directions on how we should proceed.
Our abductive approach would be different. It would be to suggest that, if we begin with scriptural reading, we always already, faulty or not, bring to our reading some prior working relation to the text, including prior assumptions about what scripture means. Let’s say for example that we come with the very general idea that scripture commands behavior. Say we then come to a series of narrative texts like the story of Abraham. While we do not see any explicit rules of behavior dictated by these verses, we are led by our assumption to look again and see how the verses could command. We might conclude that the individuals in these stories are taken to be models or counter-models of behavior for us. In any event, we come to the text always already related to it and offering hypotheses about its meaning from out of this relationship. For this reason, the text cannot display its meaning directly nor command directly.
The concrete question for SSR is, what relation do we, as a Society of readers, already bring to the text of scripture? I am assuming that, acknowledging both the failure and death of a modernist paradigm of inquiry, we come to the text of scripture as the face of our Redeemer: that is, the one who will repair this modernist paradigm. Our “cries” from the “bondage” of modernity go up to God, and if God hears our cries, we re-receive scripture as our Moses. But this is, in part, too strong an image, unless we recognize our kinship to Moses’ Egypt, as well as our exile in it. Our scripture must be one that has gone down to Mizrayim with us. The modernism we decry must be our own, and the hypothesis we offer about how to repair it is a statement about the redemptive relation between scripture and modernity. But this would mean that, as modernists, we were and are not merely modernists, but at once modernists and those who remain in relation to a scriptural tradition. In sum, the abductive rule of SR would be this: to uncover (and, if you will, celebrate) the rules of non-modernist reasoning that are already with us and use those as assumptions (that is, in terms of our earlier syllogism using them as first premises or universals) to look at the world we are trying to transform and, on the basis of those assumptions, offer hypotheses about how we might transform it.
The last sentence introduces Peirce’s second useful insight about abduction: in order for abduction to work, we have to imagine that we are not stimulated into our project simply by the failures of our modernist reasoning. We must assume, instead, that all of our failed reasonings are of a type, call it B, where “B-reasonings” are all visible, fallible, discrete, and in this case have actually failed. However, we must also assume that these visible B-reasonings point to the existence of a collection of unseen, infallible, and vague (or non-discrete) principles: call these “A-reasonings.” We must assume that it is the unseen guidance of these A-reasonings that led us to conclude that our B-reasonings have failed, that they are unreliable, and finally, that we still have reason to hope. In this theory, the hope that we describe can be attributed to the living vitality of these already present A-reasonings. These A-reasonings are already “present,” but not in a way of which we are conscious until we encounter failed B-reasonings. To introduce some scriptural language, immediately, into Peirce’s theory: it is as if the B-reasonings, like the Israelites’ cries out of their bondage in Egypt, rise up to God as soon as they appear. God appears only in response to their cries, just as we become aware of A-reasonings only when the B’s have failed: and the God whose name is “I am with you in suffering” ( ehyeh imach b’tsarah ) takes heed of our plight and comes down, only then sending Moses the Redeemer who would now disclose the A-reasonings with which we would go about repairing our B-reasonings. In this little scripture-like story, we in the SSR play the role of Moses, at least for our own salvations. For Peirce, the A-reasonings played the role of the Scotch Common Sense-Realists’ rules of common sense, provided we imagine these rules were summoned only in times of crisis, when the rules of everyday life seemed no longer to work. For that matter, Peirce added that he was only a critical common-sensist, meaning that he could also imagine times when the rules of common sense themselves were in jeopardy. We may say that, when the rules of common sense fail, modernists become modernists: radical skeptics thinking that there is nothing left to save us, or dogmatists thinking that now is the time to assert dogmatically whatever assumptions we have.
According to the theory of abduction, a crisis of common sense would, instead, be a time when our ultimate A-reasonings are called into action. Philosophers may call these the rules of “logic.” Calling into question the various dogmatic logics of modernity, postmodernists are in the habit of calling any logic a dogmatic logic. What should we do? We might take a lead from Peirce, who offers several logics of his own for times of crisis in our common sense: he calls these a variety of names, such as a logic of vagueness, a logic of relations, a pragmatic logic, or semiotics (the logic of sign interpretations). Is Peirce a modernist when he offers these logics? Or in more Rortian fashion, does Peirce mean by “logic” simply the logical use to which we could put our socio-socially contingent rules of thumbs to work? In Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture, I argue that Peirce’s logics, all of them what we could call redemptive or reparative logics, derive ultimately from what I call the logic of scripture. All of these are derived from his implicit use of traditions of scriptural reasoning, and I therefore suggest that comparable logics could be derived from our explicit use of scriptural reasoning. This means that these ultimate logics, the sources of A-reasoning when common sense fails, are our most profound abductions about how to think about the world on the basis of our deepest understanding of scripture’s directives. To derive our logic from scripture is to abstract from it the form of a logical rule, that is, a rule for reasoning: the instructional or directive force of our SR flows out of our inherited and corrected traditions of SR. But let me stay, for the moment, with A’s and B’s. According to the theory of abduction, the very experience of the crisis that has brought us together will stimulate in us the capacity to bring to consciousness the rules of A-reasonings in this case the logic of scripture that will enable us to make concrete hypotheses about how to repair the modernist world that we all co-inhabit, animated as it is with all the failed B-reasonings of modernity.
I am assuming, in other words, that scripture is the specific source of A-reasonings that arise in response to the acknowledged failing of modernity. In its failings, modernity is a sign of the need for scripture’s redemptions; in this sense, modernity belongs already to the activity of a scriptural inquiry. To articulate that inquiry is to disclose a scriptural reasoning. Scripture does not, therefore, stand over-against modernity as a ready-formed measure (or sword!). Modernity belongs within the life of scripture, as its own burden, the way Israel-in-bondage belongs within scripture, as scripture’s bondage to Israel’s own suffering. 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 become a reasoning, just as modernity is a reasoning, but a transformed reasoning.
F. Of the language of a Community of Inquiry
What keeps the effort to disclose A-reasonings from becoming another form of Cartesianism: an attempt to disclose once and for all the foundations of our thinking? An appeal to A-reasonings, after all, is a kind of appeal to foundations. Our answer is that the A-reasonings always remain vague, that they are never fully articulated but are only disclosed to the degree to which they are called into play, that they are disclosed only for some particular project of repair, that that project is undertaken by some historically particular community of inquirers, and that the efforts to disclose reasoning themselves are a communal effort. Any individual effort to disclose A-reasonings in clear and distinct propositions is a dogmatic project in the Cartesian sense. The goal of SSR, however, is to promote communal efforts at redemptive inquiry. For Peirce, this means that the logic of A-reasonings is a logic of relations.
I will clarify this point here only briefly. When we referred previously to deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning, and made use of a good old-fashioned syllogistic form to clarify them, we were appealing to a form of logic adjusted to Western individuated reasoning. I myself could conduct an abductive inference, or so it seems. A single abductive inference, however, is not an abductive inquiry, let alone the redemptive inquiry of which abductive inquiry is a part. Even an abductive inquiry is to engage a community of inquirers in the activity of disclosing to one another their overlapping assumptions and then to generate and test specific hypotheses, as applied to the resolution of specific problems. The syllogistic model clarifies only individual contributions to a much more complex process. Another, still only partial, way to map that process is a logic of relations. This is, for example, to conceive of the entire collection of a community’s assumptions as a set of relative predicates: a set of possible rational relations that could be a set of specific judgments about the world.
Let’s say, for example, that these are a few of our common assumptions: that moments of suffering are signs of the failure of some practice that are also the signs of possibly new ways of repairing those practices; that all observable objects in the world are, among other things, potential vehicles of our redemption (potentially healing instruments); that, seen in this way, all observable objects in this world are potential signs of the creative work of our Creator/Redeemer; that we have received, refined, and tested elaborate traditions that guide us in bringing the objects of the world to our aid in this way; that what we now see to be failed practices may once have functioned as specific engines of repair or redemption; that each of them may also be re-remembered, therefore, as instruments of specific projects of repair and therefore, as particular acts of healing; that we may define an “angel” as any direct expression of God’s healing activity; that angels therefore come and go you might say; and so on. We could restate all of these assumptions as a specific form of relation into which the failed practices of modernity could be reintegrated. Take, for example, the relation “can be an instrument of God’s healing.” Let the sign “iH” represent this relationship. “Cartesianism” can be symbolized by “C”. Then, “CiH” represents the application to Cartesianism of this particular healing relationship: this signifies that “iH” has been predicated of Cartesianism, or, in different terms, that we have made the specific judgment that the Cartesian activities of abstraction need not simply be abandoned but can be themselves brought into a richer order of relations. Descartes’ project, for example, tells us both about the inadequacies of scholastic religion as well as about the more-than-Cartesian ways that need to be repaired.
If all of our shared assumptions are described as potential predicates of this kind, and all of our failed practices are described as the individual occasions in which these assumptions may be predicated as instruments of healing, then we may describe the work of SR as making specific judgments, each of which applies such predicates to such subjects, and all of which collectively represent the transformation of modern reasoning into scriptural reasoning or perhaps I misstated and we should call this a transformation of modern reasoning, by way of scriptural reasoning, a redeemed modernity.
There are several reasons why the logic of relations, as expressed this way, is not the work of mere individuals. First, we may say that it is the failure of our inherited practices that brings us to seek aid from one another; by ourselves we may be defined more by the failures we inherit than by their solutions. Second, many of us may be able to disclose assumptions that serve others’ problems; many others of us may disclose problems for which others’ assumptions are a source of repair, and overall we may find that the bits and pieces of our individual disclosures contribute to a recognizable project only when they are pieced together into a sizable collectivity. Third, and this is Peirce’s strongest suggestion, the very thought that our individual reasoning may be interesting in itself is often a symptom of the modernism we are seeking to repair. The individuation of reason is itself a prime mark of modernity; it therefore plays a role in what we might call the logic of repairing the relations of that individual subject that needs to be brought into a healing relationship. This means, in fact, that the community of inquiry represents the most general form of healing predication: to begin the work of SR is to predicate community of each individuated reasoner. This is to mark each of us qua individual reasoners as mere subjects in search of predication (to cite Pirandello!) rather than as vehicles of redemption. Our Redeemer is not one of us, but must include all of us!
To enter into SR, therefore, is first to enter into some SSR. Our triadic community of redemptive inquiry inhabits three very broad and complex traditions of redemptive inquiry. Our religions tell stories of the many communities of redemptive inquiry that have peopled our salvation histories. Abraham’s family was one, the people Israel was one, the Rabbinic communities were one, the Kabbalistic communities were one, the various American-Jewish denominations have each sought to be one, and so on then of course the Church, the Muslim nation, and so on. In fact, one way to describe our religions from the perspective of SSR is as traditions or communities of redemptive inquiry, each of which was always already a vehicle of redemption, never merely its subject. We all come from destructions, you might say, or interruptions in the natural order of things. Our religious communal lives are always ways of coming together to disclose redemptive A-reasonings that repair troubled B-reasonings. We are always therefore part of historically particular communities, because each act of redemption is a contingent one: contingent on the specific characteristics of the troubled practices we have come to repair. We first emerge, therefore, as specific sorts of Rabbinic Jews, or Sunni-Muslims, or Lutheran Christians, and so on. Our particularity is not a source of wonderment. Neither, however, is our potential for generalizing. While our specific projects are fully contingent, our efforts to reach into A-reasonings are always efforts to reach beyond our particularity. This does not mean that we are somehow “seeking universality”; appeals to the universal are a mark of the modern dialectic. We are simply reaching for something that will liberate us from the contingencies of this particular suffering or failure. The A-reasonings we seek comprehend, at least, how to generate both this particular and now failed practice and the practice that would succeed it. It is sufficiently general that it may have the potential to guide other practices as well. Its generality is not something we can determine a priori, except to know that it will or will not presently come to our aid. God answers when we call, and our calls are never universal because our problems are not.
If we therefore emerge as particular communities of Jews or Muslims or Christians throughout history, what would bring us together now in the SSR as an overlapping community of inquiry? I believe that our answer can be quite direct. We come together now for the same reason the university was, or should have been, originally formed: not as a substitute for our participating in our various specific communities of faith, but as a means of sharing resources for the redemptive inquiries of which we are in particular need. But, for the moment, at least until we have discussed this together even more, let me not generalize even that far. Let me speak, instead, to the specific overlapping issue that might bring us together right now. It is that we all participate already in the university as a common resource of profound importance to us, but that we also all suffer in it as well. Not only that, but we also identify something specific to the university as a source of failings not only in our academic work, but also in the contemporary lives of our religious communities. The university is source, advocate, and victim of the dialectic of modernist inquiry. But we are not only its victims. We come together now because we realize that, in our overlapping resources for reading scripture, we share sources for redeeming the university’s modern dialectic. From its inception, the university has emerged directly from Christian and Muslim sources, and indirectly from Jewish ones. If we return to these traditions as sources of the A-reasonings that would guide the repair of the university’s modernism, it is merely a return to the university’s own resources. The West is as scripturally based as it is Hellenic or Greco-Roman; our concern is not to undo the Greco-Roman influence, only to redress the imbalance in modernity between Athens and Jerusalem. It is to restore scripture’s role in the intellectual-cultural dialogue between philosophy and scriptural tradition that should form the fabric of the university’s life. If our goal seems radical, it is only because the modern university has increasingly forgotten its origins. We come together as Christians, Muslims, and Jews to repair the practices of academic inquiry by adopting A-reasonings that emerge out of scriptural reasoning as means of redemptively repairing the errors and failings in academic practice. The correlative and overlapping religiosities that inform our dialogue are appropriate to the university and are not a threat to it, as are the various logics we appeal to: the logic of relations, the model of a community of inquiry, the pragmatic and redemptive character of our logic of inquiry and our appeal to the abductive imagination as a significant part of our rationality.
So where is our scriptural reading? Although already too long for our use, perhaps, my comments have not yet turned to their detailed implication for how we conduct our specific textual readings. Leaving details for another occasion, I will close by simply hinting at some of the implications. The hints will come in the form of a few unsynthesized headlines pointing to various directions in our work.
i. Textual reasoning:
elsewhere Stephen Kepnes, Robert Gibbs and I have suggested two distinguishing sub-features of our work. 5 “Textual Reasoning” refers to the ways in which contemporary Jewish thinkers may draw on the Rabbis’ Oral Torah for resources for their community’s A-reasonings. Here the Oral Torah refers to the community-specific ways in which the Jewish community discloses, refines, and transforms if necessary its own rules for reading its scriptures. By analogy, we might imagine communities of textual reasoning in each of the three religions or their sub-denominations. In each case, textual reasoning means reasoning from the oral traditions through which each community makes its scripture into a source of redemptive or corrective A-reasonings. “Scriptural Reasoning” refers to the ways contemporary Jews, Muslims, and Christians join together to disclose the overlapping A-reasonings with respect to which they will reread their several scriptures as rules for repairing the modern academy.
ii. Depth Historiography:
In his book, Revelation Restored , David Weiss Halivni offers two different levels of historiographic study of talmudic and pre-talmudic Judaism. One level is plain sense historiography: an effort to reconstruct the socio-, cultural, and hermeneutical environment out of which certain texts arose. This type of reconstruction is based on the best-collected evidence available from a variety of different textual sources. The community of academic historians, in a broad sense, shares and tests explanatory hypotheses about what kinds of opinions and what ways of living could conceivably be consistent with various textual evidence. Reading the documents of Ezra and Nehemiah in this way, for example, we can reconstruct with considerable scholarly agreement a broad picture of Israel after the second Destruction. We can surmise that Nehemiah was sent to govern the environment politically, and that Ezra, a scribal priest, played a significant role both in exile and back in Israel in overseeing the re-authorization of the written Torah as the law of the land and the institutions of re-teaching the Israelites of their Mosaic, prophetic and related traditions.
In useful semiotic terms, we can use the following template for describing different types of text reading. Define any text, including all the words in it, as a symbol made of a collection of signs. This symbol has some meaning or refers to some object for its readers. We have three basic semiotic terms: the sign, the object, and the condition with the respect to which the reader will take the object to have its meaning. Peirce calls this condition an “interpretant.” We could also call it a context of interpretation, a community or a tradition of interpretation. Let us call a symbol a kind of sign which delivers its meaning adequately if, and only if, the particular readership intended by a text receives the text to have a given range of meanings. To receive meanings, furthermore, is to act in a certain way intended by the sign. Minimally, this means to offer oneself as recipient of an appropriate original meaning. In these vague terms, we may define plain sense historiography as a practice of reading a textual sign as not merely having an intended meaning for its reader, but also having a historical sense. This is an indirect meaning disclosed only to a community of specialized interpreters for whom the sign is not only a symbol for the intended readers, but is also a sign for these specialized readers and a symptomatic, indexical, or ostensive sign to its specialized analysts of the condition. This means that historiographic interpretation operates separately from what the sign declares itself to be about for its reader. It is a form of sleuthing that itself can operate in different ways. In the case of plain sense historiography, the sleuth is a straight-forward reader: the text signifies directly to the analyst some discrete information about a portion of the collection of historical facts which would, if collected totally, give us the kind of picture we would have about the world out of which the text came that would be comparable to the complete picture we have about the world in which we live and write.
Plain sense historiography has two deficiencies. For one, it is not about what the sign says it is about. Historians are aware of this problem, however; like psychoanalysts with their patients, they are aware that texts deliver much more than one kind of information and even for the sake of the text itself, the information may need to be decoded by analysts. But even for the sake of the analyst, historiography misses a set of things. First of all, the historical evidences that can be gleaned from any text are always incomplete. You cannot, for example, tell from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah very much about the way Jerusalem appeared, how the streets were designed, and most importantly, what Ezra was really doing with the Torah. This kind of deficiency historians merely acknowledge as a deficiency of their trade and, as a sign, the work is always yet to be done through the long uninterrupted run of historiography. We can, they would say, simply approximate the truth little by little.
The second limitation, however, is that there are certain regions of truth about which plain sense historiography is particularly quiet. Call these pragmatic truths: truths about a particular range of social problems that authors and redactors were hoping to resolve through the way they were presenting their texts. Here we enter the domain which led the German hermeneuts to distinguish between Naturs – and Geisteswissenschaften and to complain that historiography built only on the Naturs -model could only tell us so much. Hermeneutical historians have tried to fill in the missing areas by projecting onto the textual evidences thicker assumptions about what the author or redactor could have meant. Here, however, we have gone past plain sense history into hermeneutical historiography. There remains, however, a problem with this kind of historiography as well. What if a given text has brought its author and reader to the limits of what humans can conceive? What if it even brought them beyond those limits to encounter what we call the Divine speech? The good old plain sense historiographers may have the appropriate humility here: saying, look, as we said, we can only go just so far in our knowledge of antecedent texts, the rest is up to the future. Hermeneuts, on the other hand, tend to be more pretentious in this regard, assuming that whatever was in the text then could be received now. Even that assumption requires deducing the limits of textual disclosure to the range of human imagination we now possess.
But how do we press beyond hermeneutical historiography and why should we? Halivni offers a second level of historiography that he calls “transcendent historiography,” or what I call “depth historiography” in the Introduction to his book. I restate his claim this way (these are not his words, but in several discussions he has consented to this interpretation). The depth historiographer is fully respectful of the discipline of plain sense historiography, even defending it against hermeneutical historiography, which is replaced with depth historiography. When reaching the point at which evidence pales and the community of historiographers claim to be humbly agnostic, depth historiographers then ask this question: Okay, as scientists, let us say, we have done our work, but as scholars of a different sort is there more yet to do? We study and teach within our own social context, for our own specific reasons, some that are more urgent than others. When we invest time and energy and social capital examining certain texts more than others, and certain textual issues more than others, this should not simply be for personal/professional advancement, but because our efforts have social use, or are communally urgent. It may very well be that the urgency that presses us beyond plain sense study also bears some crucial relationship to what we have labeled the pragmatic dimensions of the text in its own historical context. For, by those pragmatic dimensions, we referred to how the redactor/author’s original work was offered in response to the pressing problems of the day. Perhaps the pragmatic concerns of the present day scholar may belong to the same category of textual productivity as the pragmatic concerns we imagine may underlie antecedent texts. As I have suggested throughout this letter-essay, pragmatic inquiry can be described as an effort to disclose the otherwise unseen A-reasonings that could guide our repair of failed practices the very concerns that led us to our text writing activity in the first place. We have suggested, furthermore, that the pursuit of A-reasonings is ultimately the pursuit of an encounter with the Divine, who would disclose to us those deeper rules of our own world, knowledge of which may help us redeem that world from its failings. If pragmatic inquiry, then, brings us beyond the limits of human knowledge, we might imagine the same to be true of the ancient authors’ pragmatic inquiry. This may be one basis for suggesting that ancient authors’ references to God may bear some identifiable relationship to our references to God, and if deep speaks unto deep, we may read about the ancient author in order to help us disclose our own A-reasonings; and we may at the same time entertain our own A-reasonings as hypotheses about the kinds of disclosed reasonings that may be operative behind the ancient text as well.
Following a depth historiographic rationale, somewhat like this one, Halivni offers the following hypothetical reconstruction of Ezra’s activity. Taking up the Talmud’s own depth historiographic speculations, he suggests that Ezra received a maculate or corrupted text of the written Torah, corrupted that is by the sins of Israel during the period of the Monarchy. Under divine inspiration, he repaired some of the text, left editorial marks on other aspects that bear correction, and also invested his deepest corrections in what the Rabbi’s later call the oral tradition. In the chain of succession from Moses to the Rabbis, in other words, Ezra contributed his own divinely inspired edition of the oral Torah and, along with his community of scribal priests, disclosed a dimension of Israel’s A-reasonings appropriate to meeting the crises of the day. In offering this reconstruction, Halivni is not offering an expanded plain sense claim; he is not therefore competing with or going beyond the evidence of standard historians and many scholars seem to be misunderstanding him on these terms. He is offering something in addition to the conventional plain sense history. What he offers contradicts no established plain sense claim, but merely answers the question: what else do we need to do with our scholarship on this text at this particular junction in history? His answer about Ezra has everything to do with the questions we suffer now in this particular time of Jewish renewal. His answer is plausible for the Ezra texts, but necessary for us: the message is that we too received a blemished Torah, that is a blemished oral Torah; which we too received from out of the fires of Destruction, and we too, in order for Israel to be renewed, must encounter God again and learn from that encounter what needs to be repaired in our received traditions so that our Jewish life can continue. Only through an activity like this would we, as interpreting scholars, be able to entertain a depth of reading that was worthy of Ezras’ redactors depth of writing.
This is one illustration of an exercise in SR. In a previous essay, 6 I offered other illustrations of how Moshe Greenberg’s, Hans Frei’s, and Michael Fishbane’s textual scholarship displays this second dimension of historiography. Here I call it depth historiography, there I follow Greenberg’s lead and call it “holistic reading” or “postmodern Jewish text reading.” Elliot Wolfson’s already massive corpus of the text readings of kabbalah is also a showcase for another kind of depth historiography. He reads to the limits of today’s conventional plain sense historiography and then reconstructs beyond them in the way that speaks both to the texts and to the contemporary setting of textual reasoning. His work is a model in this regard.
In terms again of our semiotic model, depth historiography actually brings into dialogue two modes of text reading. It begins with analytic historiography, reading the text as symptom of undisclosed information about the environment at the time; and at the same time it also reads the text in terms of the contemporary context of communal reading; this means it has read the text in its own terms as symbol of the kind of interpretive activity in which its readers should also engage. Thirdly, however, the depth historiographer also notes complementary kinds of failure in each of these readings. The communal reading fails because it, at once, appears both unable to account fully for the meaning of the sign in its own textual context and to derive from a reading a clear understanding of the A-reasonings that would guide the contemporary crisis that underlies the reading. Both the text and the contemporary community of reading, one might say, are troubled by each other; their relationship is clouded. On the other side, the scholar has traced his or her scholarly community’s plain sense historiography to the limits of its evidence. The hypothesis that leads depth historiography then comes to mind as follows: what if the historians have yet to disclose the very dimension of this text, which once it was made clear, would also clear up the cloudy relationship between the text and its community of religious readers? The depth historiographer then uncovers, from a variety of supplementary sources, or should we say from some sort of elimination, a single, hypothetical reading which could at once fill in the pragmatic reading that is missing in the plain sense historiography and clarify the text to its contemporary religious readers and disclose to them the A-reasonings of which they are in need.
In these terms, SR is also a kind of depth-historiography.
University of Virginia
1. Note: For readers new to the Society for Scriptural Reasoning, it is worth noting that this essay and many of the responses build upon Ochs’ reflections in Peirce, Pragmatism and the Logic of Scripture (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998).↩
2. A Rabbinic Pragmatism, in B. Marshall, Theology and Dialogue (University of Notre Dame Press, 1990).↩
3. Sadly, if not tragically, this prayer has been omitted from the Reform prayer book; a bad decision that postmodern Jews must repair.↩
4. Most recently in Revelation Restored (Westview, 1998).↩
5. Reasoning After Revelation (Westview, 1998).↩
6. Returning to Scripture, Cross Currents (1994); Cf. The Return to Scripture in Judaism and Christianity (Paulist Press, 1993).↩
© 2002, Society for Scriptural Reasoning