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Peter Ochs


A Scriptural Pragmatism. How Scriptural Reasoners Read and Interpret Scripture1

»Deep calls to deep at the thunder of thy cataracts;
all thy waves and thy billows have gone over me« (Ps 2:7)

As first developed in 1992, Scriptural Reasoning (SR) names a method for studying scriptures across the borders of any tradition.2 Our prototype was a study of Abrahamic scriptures: the Tanakh, the New Testament, and the Qur’an studied side-by-side, so that students, adherents and observers of any one scriptural canon would feel welcomed to read and comment on verses of the other canons as well.3 One of our goals was to find better methods for teaching religions through the study of scripture and for teaching scripture in a way that was enriched by both academic and traditional forms of commentary. Another goal was to find methods for peaceful encounter across religious traditions.4 I often hear the term »Scriptural Reasoning« applied to this broader program. I use the term in both senses. »Formational SR« refers to the original practice, which remains a prototype and the single most effective exercise for introducing folks to the mindset presupposed by all the other forms and applications of SR.

Formational SR. The elements of our original practice are quite simple. There is, prototypically, a table with 3–8 chairs placed around it. On the table are three small sets of verses, one from each of the three Abrahamic canons of scripture: the Tanakh (the Hebrew bible), the New Testament, and the Qur’an. The verses appear in translation so that all the participants can read them. Participants discuss the plain sense of different scriptural verses as if they shared equal facility in reading those words. They gradually turn to discussing what seems most challenging or surprising in those verses. Participants respond not only to the verses but also to one another’s readings. The discussion continues around and around the table, often generating one or two lines of intense in­quiry. The »reasoning« in Scriptural Reasoning refers to a phenom-enon that often arises when an SR group has continued for many successive sessions (for example, for perhaps five one and a half hour sessions over a one-and-a-half-day period, or briefer meetings held regularly, biweekly or monthly). As detected by the facilitator (but, at first, not necessarily all group members) the group’s lines of intense inquiry gradually give rise to a pattern of reasoning that (as we have observed) is unique to the texts and participants gathered in a given group. This pattern tends to reflect features of the par-ticipants’ traditions of scriptural study as well as the various styles or schools of reasoning and interpretation they bring to the table. But the pattern is irreducible to any of these: a form of reasoning that arises within an SR group, in ways that are specific to that group at that time, and that may not appear in that way again.

I offer this essay as an introduction to the hermeneutical patterns that emerge inside SR practices.

SR’s inner patterns of reasoning and relationship are displayed differently within the concrete settings of each fellowship of study. The reasonings that emerge within such settings may have many other applications (they are reasonings), but not just any applica-tion: they are the kinds of reasoning we might otherwise associate with kinds of wisdom or with habits of judgment gained through years of a given type of experience.

The Scriptural Text is the Primary Teacher. While egalitarian in various ways, SR also models the asymmetrical dimension of scriptural study. The asymmetry begins with the authority that SR practitioners lend to what I will call the »plain sense« of scriptural texts. For the Tannaim (the founding generation of rabbinic sages), this is the peshat, the meaning of the text in its intra-scriptural, liter-ary context,5 which meaning includes the unconditional un-substitutability of the literal, black-on-white letters-and-spaces of the inherited, Masoretic tradition of the written text of Tanakh – the torah she b’khtav – every »jot and tittle.« As I discuss below, the peshat does not carry performative meaning – which is displayed only through deeper-readings in situ – but bears only the range of grammatical implications implied by the order of the letters and the range of intra-textual semantic meanings of these letters with-in the flow of the biblical text. This means that the plain sense allows the scriptural text to retain its literary coherence without, at the same time, freezing its capacity to address its readers in their specific historical space-time. For Christian readers of SR – and here we generalize for the sake of a simple introduction – »plain sense« tends to refer to the sensus literalis: as in Hans Frei’s formulation, for example, the consensual sense of the words of scripture for the evolving and catholic community of the Church.6 There are occasional tensions between this meaning and the rabbinic one, but these tensions enliven rather than interfere with the flow of SR reasoning. The Christian sensus literalis tends to treat more of the text’s meanings as determined, upfront, but less of the literal letters and spaces as necessarily contributing to that meaning. Muslim scholars of SR tend to read more like the Jews in some ways and more like the Christians in other ways. Here, the plain sense refers to the zahir, or visible sense as opposed to the batin or inner, interpreted meaning. While Muslim scholars of SR are less willing than the Jewish scholars to refer to the indeterminacy of scriptural se­mantics, they also assume that ayaat, or individual verses, of the Qur’an will display their meanings only through their relations to many other verses and to the entire literary context of a sura (chapter) as well as its setting in the life of the Prophet. A verse or even a sura does not teach by itself, therefore, but by way of the tradition, which includes haddith and sunna and later commentators. De-spite differences among the three traditions’ ways of reading the plain sense, SR scholars tend to agree that the plain sense has an asymmetrical authority in their study fellowship: it is the immediate sign of God’s authoritative presence among them and scripture’s clearest figure for the role of teacher in an SR classroom.

A deep concern of SR is to temper the modern tendency, excited by the Enlightenment, to press individual thinkers to overcome their creatureliness – as if not overcoming it meant remaining childish or boorish or irrational or merely tribal. SR’s founders argued that this tendency imposes unreasonable and unworldly choices on individual thinkers, as if they had to choose between two masters, such as local custom vs. universal reason, ethnic identity vs. the identity and goodness of humanity per se. Scriptural reasoners would tend not to divide their lives this way but to read their earthly identities – somatic, social, ethnic, tradition-specific – as also signs and conduits of God or the Absolute and to read this Absolute as more universal than »universals.« Scriptural reasoners would tend not, therefore, to refuse Enlightenment aspirations to serve all humanity, but they would read and adopt these as aspirations to serve God who created humanity, to know the creation, and to behold and serve its goodness. This re-inclusion of Enlightenment into the Abrahamic project generates an approach to universality and particularity that readers may find surprising at first but that should enable students of SR to move comfortably back and forth between academic and scripturally based ways of reading and reasoning. Comments on the plain sense offer a good place to intro-duce this approach.

Interpretive reading moves from »deep to deep.« As the Psalmist says, »Deep calls to deep at the thunder of thy cataracts; all thy waves and thy billows have gone over me« (Ps 42:7): scripture and reader meet each other at comparable depths. For scriptural reason-ers, the psalmist’s image of waves crashing may suggest the crisis and suffering that most often exposes »the watery depths« of both reading community and text. This is what philosophers might call the »pragmatism« of SR: that it understands reading beyond the plain sense to be reading for the sake of repair. The reader may observe something disturbing in the plain sense: something that calls for repair, whether a grammatical or semantic conundrum, some apparent contradiction among verses, or something that appears morally or religiously offensive in light of what the reader expects of the text. But on what ground will the reader recommend repairs? And how will the reader know if the repair is right or wrong, helpful or not? I note five major features of SR’s pragmatic response:

(i) A problem in the plain sense is read as a sign that something needs to be repaired in the relation that joins the text to a community of readers. This does not mean that the text needs to be adjusted to fit the community or that the community needs to be adjusted to fit the text. It means that the reader is being called to disclose a deeper story about what is now amiss in the community of readers. Narrating this story should, in turn, call up a deeper dimension of the story of Scripture. This deeper story tends to be troubling, perhaps because it exposes more fully what is amiss in the reader’s world or what is troubling in the scriptural text, or much the world groans.

(ii) When moving forward from an apparent problem to its hoped-for repair, the reader must distinguish between what we call »textual reasoning« and »scriptural reasoning.« The term »textual reasoning« was first used in the mid 1980’s by a group of Jewish text scholars and philosophers to name the patterns of reasoning that emerged in their communal study of classic rabbinic literature.7 When we formed the SR group, we drew a distinction between two kinds of reasoning out of sacred sources. We used the term »textual reasoning« (TR) to refer to ways of reading and reasoning about scripture by way of a single tradition’s primordial literatures of scriptural commen-tary: by way of rabbinic, Patristic, or Qur’anic literatures (Hadith and Sunna). Our tendency is to mark this term with the name of a given tradition, so that we have Jewish or Christian or Muslim textual reasonings.

We used the term »scriptural reasoning« (SR) to refer to the simultaneous study and interpretation of texts from all three scrip-tures by a community of participants gathered from all three Abra-hamic traditions. In this case, study moves from plain sense to deep reading, from one scriptural canon to another, and from reading to reasoning. While comparing canons is a useful instrument of study, it is not a goal of SR study. For each SR meeting, the shared goal is to »feast« on a modest set of texts from each canon; the goal for each individual is to question and explore all the texts with comparable intensity and for their own sake8; the goal for group dia-logue is to allow the texts to be illumined by all participants’ read-ings and questions: to allow each verse to illumine each other verse within and across canons; to allow the flow of verses to call readers to deeper memories and concerns; to allow a flow of dialogue to emerge and, through it, various lines of reasoning – about the implications of given verses and about the textual, social, ethical or theological issues that may be raised by the reading.

It is important to maintain separate environments for scriptural reasoning and for textual reasoning. SR fails when the contributing traditions are given either too little or too much consideration. »Too little consideration« occurs when participants fail to consult their traditions as resources for preparatory study, when they fail to listen to their hearts and deeper beliefs when reading, or when group facilitators fail to cite traditional – as well as academic – commentaries when introducing texts selected for group study. »Too much consideration« occurs when individual participants voice traditional commentaries as their defining contributions to group study or when a single tradition is consulted as the authoritative source for understanding its own canon. Except for initial introductions to the plain sense of each set of texts, individuals or tradition-specific sub-groups must not be permitted to lecture about the scriptural texts, as if given texts had given meanings and as if these individuals knew what they were. A firm yet subtle distinction sits at the heart of SR: while the group honors the sacred bond between members of one tradition and their scriptural canon, no tradition is treated during the give-and-take of group study as if it had privileged access to the meanings of each verse within that canon. These meanings rest with their author, and they are equally pursued by all readers. In these ways, textual reasoning is out of place in the circ-le of SR study – just as much as scriptural reasoning, with its openness to inter-traditional exchange, is out of place within the circle of tex-tual reasoning. Over the years, we have learned that an SR session is headed for trouble when it begins to look like three parallel ses-sions of textual reasoning: the Jews teaching the Christians teach-ing the Muslims teaching the Jews (and so on) about »their own« texts. SR is not show-and-tell among the traditions, nor is it inter-faith dialogue. SR is also troubled when individual traditions are poorly embodied in the character and intentionality of individual members. Is there a contradiction, therefore, between SR practice and the religiosity of its members? No, not if these two constituents of SR are bound together in the relational patterns of SR itself.

(iii) Within the context of SR study, problems in the plain sense are signs that SR is an appropriate place to give voice to troubles among the Abrahamic communities as well as within them. According to what we might call SR’s theory of signs (its semiotics), problematic texts in scripture are dual signs, at once, of some trouble that has been festering in the reader’s world and of some source of repair that is yet to be opened in a world that links this entire company of readers to this entire set of canons. This means that, as represented in its problem-atic words, scripture is the face of a three part relation that draws places of human suffering into reparative relations with the »One who speaks and the world is« (amar vayehi), who is the One who speaks these words and who »comes when you but call,« who names Himself as »I am with you« (ehyeh imach) or Emmanuel or friend. SR study is another means, outside the liturgical practices of each community, to call on this Redeemer, especially about troubles that concern all three communities at once or that can be ameliorated by the concerted efforts of all three communities at once.

(iv) Within the context of SR, SR reasoning is a face of this redemptive or reparative presence. SR reasoning is SR fellowship as collaborative engagement among group members, among the canonical traditions as they are given voice around the table, and among read-ers and scriptural verses. For some scriptural reasoners, this col-laborative engagement already answers what most troubles them. They are troubled by inter-Abrahamic and inter-religious enmity and violent conflict, and they are most troubled by their fear that the traditions lack indigenous resources for a reparative response to this strife. SR answers their fear: not because it directly ends strife, but because it demonstrates that the traditions do not lack such resources. The resources lie in the traditions’ founding discourses, or Scripture, which become active sources of repair when engaged in ways comparable to SR. For such scriptural reasoners, SR’s collaborative engagements therefore serve as an eschatological or at least hopeful sign: a glimpse of inter-Abrahamic (or also inter-religious) engagement without enmity or violent conflict. The source of hope is the way that engagements like SR introduce a three-part hermeneutical relation among text, readers, and God, which includes three-part relations among texts and readers from different canons.

v) SR as apprenticeship in reparative reasoning. But how can such a three-part relation define a pattern of reasoning? In SR, such a pattern is not something one sees written on a piece of paper and then reads and obeys it. Instead, it is a prototypical pattern of activity that one tends to acquire by participating repeatedly in a certain type of three-part relation. The circular sound of this formula is a sign that SR is learned by apprenticeship within SR groups, not by any kind of individuated reading. But this does not mean that »scriptural rea-soning« is a name only for what goes on strictly within an SR fellowship. An SR fellowship may be the prototypical place to acquire the patterns of scriptural reasoning, which patterns may then inform one’s reasoning in all sorts of places. An analogy would be that, after learning (or not learning) how to love others in one’s family, one may hope (or fail) to love others in many other places.

In these terms, fellowships of SR study are also prototypical places for learning-and-teaching SR so that SR-like activities may be transported elsewhere, as patterns not only of reparative text study but also of potentially more general practices of repair. If so, one may conceive of Formational SR as a fellowship for studying scriptural texts that some group considers troubled or wounded. Group members uncover troubles or wounds in their own social lives that appear to converse with these troubled texts, deep to deep. They then share in a dialogic practice of reading and interpretation that may open pathways of healing or redeeming both text and reader simultaneously. If SR is transportable, it is because these pathways are not merely experienced in the moment but also learned as patterns of reparative reasoning that can be enacted elsewhere. By learning to reason reparatively in relation to troubled scriptural texts, scriptural readers may also learn to reason reparatively in relation to troubled social contexts of many sorts. They may learn, in other words, something of what the founding Abrahamic communities may have meant by reading scripture as God’s command-ing and healing word: that the practice of reading scripture is an apprenticeship in the practice of helping heal the world.9

In sum: the elemental features of scriptural reasoning as a reparative activity correspond to three prototypical phases of reparative reasoning in the social world. In the first phase, scriptural reasoners read (1) troubled texts of scripture in its plain sense as (2) signs of corresponding troubles in the readers’ social worlds, as read (3) in relation to this fellowship and practice of SR. In the second phase, scriptural reasoners engage in their fellowship now as (3) a practice of reparative reasoning, for which (1) the troubled texts in their plain sense are signs of (2) deeper, interpreted meanings in which the troubled texts are repaired or redeemed. In the third phase, scriptural reasoners read (1) these deeper meanings as redemptive signs of (2) pathways to repairing troubles in the readers’ worlds, according to (3) patterns of reparative reasoning disclosed within the SR fellowship.

Before offering a more detailed overview of the patterns of pragmatic hermeneutics in TR and SR, I shall offer two illustrations.

II Illustrations

1. David Ford’s reparative study of Ephesians

David Ford offered his 2001 essay, »›He Is Our Peace‹: The Letter to the Ephesians and the Theology of Fulfilment,«10 as an illustration of the reparative character of SR. Prepared for the inaugural issue of the Journal of Scriptural Reasoning, »He Is Our Peace« is a repara-tive reading of texts from Letters to the Ephesians that have traditionally been read in a supersessionist manner. Ford’s reading fits naturally into the argument of this chapter, because he presented it, explicitly, to complement my account of reparative reasoning in Peirce, Pragmatism and the Logic of Scripture.11 Ford cites Charles Peirce’s pragmatic maxim as frame for his reading:

»[T]he pragmatic meaning of a conception is the sum total of its practical consequences for the long run of experience […]«12 How might that maxim relate to the quotation from the Letter to the Ephesians in my title? The whole verse is: »For he is our peace, in his flesh he has made both groups into one, and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us« (2.14). The reference is to Jews and Gentiles, and in view of »the long run of experience« over nearly two thousand years it must constitute a major problem for the interpretation of Ephesians today. If pragmatic scriptural reading aims to read »in response to human suffering« and »with a community of readers for the sake of changing the practical and communal conditions of suffering,«13 then in view of the terrible history of Christian persecution of Jews there is a need for correc-tion of Christian conceptions of Jews. The constructive question is whether there might be a valid and strong reading of Ephesians that not only resists Christian hostility to Jews but even allows the communities today to be of mutual blessing. How might this tradition not only correct itself but even surpass itself with the aid of a pragmatic reading of Ephesians?

The problem: Illustrating the movement of reparative study we diagramed above, Ford begins his reading by examining the troubled plain sense of a set of texts that accompanies his SR commu-nity’s recognition of a certain set of societal troubles. He argues that the plain sense of Ephesians offers a realized eschatology from which »it is a short step to a supersessionism which sees no further role in history for the Jewish people outside the church«: »a plan for the fullness of time« in which »he [God] has put all things under his [Christ’s] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body.« (1.22–3) For Ford, it is therefore easy to imagine how Ephesians could have contributed to Christian efforts to write Jews out of history, »with all sorts of appalling consequences when Gentiles became dominant in the church and the balance of power between Judaism and Christianity shifted in favor of the latter.«

Seeking a means of repair: Ford seeks alternative ways of reading Ephesians that might help repair its problematic legacy. He proposes a pragmatic approach: In Ochs’ terms, I have identified »something burdensome in the plain sense of Ephesians«14. This now stimulates me to suggest what he calls a midrashic, or pragmatic interpretation. As he says, such a reading is to be judged by how well it resolves the given problem »for a given community of interpreters«15 – in my case, the Society for Scriptural Reasoning at the end of a century marked by the Shoah. What might be the »non-evident meaning«16 of Ephesians on this matter […]? In this case, the problem is not mainly in what Ephesians says explicitly. It lies more in its »pragmatic meaning« in the millennia that followed – though in fact for many Christians the problematic reading has been read as the plain sense and has shaped their »common sense.«

Resources for repair: Ford then proposes re-reading the plain sense of Ephesians in ways that could resist supersessionist tendencies in the church: »The most obvious resistance comes in the ethics of Ephesians. It is an ethic of non-coercive communication, of speaking the truth in love (4.15), of ›all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love‹ (4.2). If such speech and action were to characterise relations with those outside as well as inside the community then, whatever the beliefs about Jews in relation to God’s oikonomia, there would be respect, communica-tion and peace. The root of this resistance within Ephesians is in who Jesus Christ is believed to be.« Ford seeks warrant for his re-reading, first, in the plain sense of Ephesians, then in the plain sense of the New Testament canon more broadly, then in his estimate of the potential consequences of such re-reading for challenging societal habits associated with the older, supersessionist readings. I will offer only a brief summary of his effort. His first step is to show how »Ephesians itself can be read as correcting and redefin-ing the Pauline Christian tradition.« Noting that Ephesians is customarily seen as dependent on the Letter to the Colossians, he recommends paying more attention to »where the two diverge«: for example, where, »Ephesians develops the Colossians themes of the church as the body of Christ and of ›peace through the blood of his [Christ’s] cross‹ into an explicit focus on peace between Jews and Gentiles in the church.« Another example is the way Ephesians intensifies »Colossians theme of pleroma (the fullness of God dwelling in Christ 1.19, 2.9) […] in its cosmic scope and its relation to Christian living […] and to the church, and love in the community (3.14–21).« Citing my account of Peirce, Ford suggests that his read-ing of pleroma illustrates defining features of a pragmatic reading. For example, his reading recognizes pleroma as an irremediably vague sign, which, »by the logic of pragmatism […] ›reserves for some other sign or experience the function of completing [its] determination.‹«17 From this perspective, earlier supersessionist readings were overly precise, privileged as if they captured, once and for all, the one clear meaning Scripture has intended, rather than displaying meanings appropriate to the faiths of certain previous Christian communities but not necessarily to other Chris-tian communities in the past, present, and future. Complementing a pragmatic approach to SR, Ford challenges presumptions that there is only one natural language meaning or equivalent to pleroma and that meaning is determined independently of the faithful community that is reading. He offers his revised meaning not as an eisegesis but as a recovery of the plain sense for the reparative context of reading that he identifies and that he now reports to the SR community.18

2. »Healing Words, The Song of Songs and the Path of Love«

»Healing Words: The Song of Songs and the Path of Love« is an issue of The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning (JSR) that celebrates a 2002 session of SR Study that took place alongside the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion.19 Before the SR session, participants studied three reflections that were composed for the occa-sion. During the session, participants briefly discussed the reflections and then turned to intensive around-the-table SR text study of »Song of Songs« and »Path of Love.« The JSR issue includes the three framing essays, overviews of the session, and 10 response papers composed after the session. Such excerpts would not enable readers to experience the communicative activity of SR, but they should, nonetheless, offer readers indirect evidence about the leading char-acteristics of that activity.

Excerpt #1: Introducing the Overall Shape of the Study Session

As noted by Guest Editor Dov Nelkin, the JSR issue »considers the potency and problematics of the language of sexuality and desire as a mode of describing, either directly or by way of metaphor, the encounter with God.«20 The issue juxtaposes three essays that take contrasting approaches to the overall theme. Jewish scholar Alon Goshen-Gottstein and Christian theologian Ellen Davis both address the Song of Songs as a canonical text. For Goshen-Gottstein, it is a uniquely problematic text because it acquires scriptural status only through glosses offered by its long chain of interpreters. For Ellen Davis, the Song is intrinsically canonical, because it offers a source of repairing ruptured relationships displayed in the antecedent scriptural texts. Muslim scholar Omid Safi is forced to take a different approach, because the Qur’anic canon includes neither a version of the Song of Songs nor a parallel. He chooses to examine commentarial texts that »incorporate the lush language of love and sexuality in a manner immediately familiar to interpreters of the Song.«21

Excerpt #2: Reading from Affliction to Healing

General Editor Willie Young observes a parallel between the repara-tive reading enacted in both the primary sources and the interpre-tive practices of SR participants. The three authors show how their communities of scriptural interpretation read the sacred texts as if they themselves could suffer affliction and as if caring readers could help them heal: »In each case, the scripture allows itself to be stretched, or even broken, so that the community can find new life within it […]. Intertextual reading repairs scripture so as to repair and heal communities. As this pattern emerges, we may begin to see how the brokenness of scripture is not a change in God, but rather leads to a change within us.«22 Young illustrates several features of this pattern of reading, which I label »hermeneutical healing«:
– Sensitivity to multiple levels of meaning (polysemy).

– Respect for the plain sense of a Scriptural text (or its elementary narrative or assertion). The reader returns to the plain sense after each »deeper« level reading.

– Claims that, on deeper levels of reading, Scriptural texts address specific afflictions within the reading community.

– Hopes that such readings also open pathways toward healing these afflictions.

– At the same time, Young illustrates how patterns of hermeneutical healing may also introduce instruments of affliction into script-ural commentary, since a reader’s sensitivity to the afflictions of a given reading community may, in some cases, include sensitivity to communal values that may, knowingly or unknowingly, prove to be sources of suffering for others.

On Young’s reading, Bernard of Clairvaux’s allegorical commentary on of the Song of Songs illustrates several of these features:

Multiple levels of meaning; responding to afflictions in the read-er’s community: »Bernard’s willingness to shift between levels of meaning, identifying his audience with various figures in the Song, resembles Davis’s multiple interpretations of the harmony or unity signified by the Song […] It can be read in multiple ways that respond to and repair issues and divisions in the community.«23

– Readings as potential sources of affliction: »As Davis suggests […], the one thing the Song doesn’t represent for Bernard is precisely what it says – human, erotic love. The ongoing polemic in his writings between the ›fleshly‹ and spiritual interpretations must have been quite useful in disciplining a monastic community, but given its association with anti-Jewish polemics, its value in the context of scriptural reasoning is dubious. This is one of the points at which I find myself challenged and troubled by his work, in spite of its wondrous beauty.«24

Young introduces Franz Rosenzweig’s reading of Song of Songs as a prototype for hermeneutical healing. Rosenzweig shows how the Song »epitomizes an I-Thou relation, rather than an objective, third-person description. Lyricism, as a self-sacrifice to the moment,25 cannot simply be recorded, but is only manifest from inside the event – in this case, the event of love, in which the speak-ers emerge from concealment toward one another.«26 For Young, the SR essays illustrate two of the ways in which scriptural commentaries may seek to serve as agents for such love: by integrating fragments into new wholes, and by uncovering where, in the human heart, God’s attributes of love can be retrieved:

– Integrating fragments into new wholes: For Davis, »the Song itself is largely composed from fragments from other books in scripture.«27 For Goshen-Gottstein, rabbinic commentaries imi-tate the Song’s integrative performance by collecting disparate fragments from the Song and reintegrating them in ways that display otherwise inevident instructions for healing. This process of hermeneutical healing trains the rabbis’ readers to attend to human suffering the way the rabbis’ commentaries attend to afflictions in the Scriptural text.

– Uncovering divine attributes of love: Safi’s reading of »Divine Love« discloses an experiential/conceptual rather than hermeneutical instrument for instruction in divine healing. In Sufi discourse, »God takes on a range of humanizing attributes […], including characteris-tics most often associated with human love. As God takes on these attributes, the beloved is brought more intimately into God’s pres-ence. […] The path of love is iconographic; in that it lets us see through our words to the living God whom they represent.«28

Excerpt #3: Study across Difference, Study that Affirms Difference

Neither the study session nor the journal issue sought to unify different readings of the same texts, different theologies, different hermeneutical preferences, different ways of understanding affliction and healing. In many ways, SR was the co-presence of these differences through discussion and writings, and SR was the performance through which presence-through-difference retained its edge and dynamism. In other words, difference is not a source of affliction for SR; the co-presence of difference is SR’s source of joy. In Young’s words, »Editing this issue of the Journal of Scriptural Reasoning has been a joy, as the issue has borne far greater fruit than any of us could have anticipated at the outset. Confronted with the bounty of love, from the Song of Songs and the Sufi Path of Love, I feel like John Cusack’s playwright character in Bullets Over Broadway – with much to say, yet also hearing the words, ›Don’t speak! Don’t speak!‹ Rather, I will let love speak for itself, as the authors and respondents think with their scriptures and traditions, and with one another.«29

III In Sum: The Patterns of Pragmatic Hermeneutics in TR and SR

To conclude, I offer a somewhat more technical overview of the hermeneutical patterns of SR as a reparative practice of study. I begin with patterns of TR, because TR introduces the tradition-based hermeneutics that scriptural reasoners both presuppose and re-situ-ate in conditions of inter-religious engagement.

1. Hermeneutical Patterns of TR

#1: A scriptural text displays its truth-values only to some com-munity of readers or hearers. I do not mean that there is only one such community of readers (!), but that each historically specific community must discern anew what scripture signifies.

#2: (I find it most helpful to identify this rule through terms introduced by Judaism’s rabbinic sages.) The plain sense of scripture [in Hebrew, the peshat] displays the will of the Absolute but displays it indeterminately: in other words, no human readers can discern, once and for all, what truth-values are signified by the words of scripture. Scripture displays its determinate meanings only by way of its interpretation and performance within some historically specific community of readers. These interpretive meanings [in Hebrew, the derash] have truth-values, but only for that time and place. Scripture must be examined and interpreted again to iden-tify its determinate meaning for any other or subsequent time and place.

#3: TR examines interpretive meanings through both traditional and academic commentaries. TR examines texts by way of tradi-tional commentaries (including legal interpretation, ethics, homiletics, theology). TR also examines texts by way of sciences of reception history, ethnography (identifying cultural contexts of read-ing), ritual and poetic theory, and pragmatics (sciences of performed meaning, as recommended by Austin, Wittgenstein, Peirce and others).

#4: TR seeks to transform contradictory interpretive tendencies into contrary interpretive tendencies. As a project in both peace-making and textual understanding within any single Abrahamic religion, TR provides a way to transform conflict into constructive dialogue across difference. TR begins by recognizing non-constructive differences within a single tradition of study. In the 1980s, for example, founders of the Society for Jewish Textual Reasoning observed irresolvable competition among various sub-disciplines of Jewish Studies: text-historical vs. literary vs. philosophic studies, and all the academic studies vs. traditional or synagogue-based study. We labeled this a »competition among logical contradictories,« and we designed TR as a way to preserve competitive differences while »transforming contradictories into contraries.« By »contradictory,« we meant a difference that is irresolvable because it assumes a »zero-sum (either/or) game.« If, for example, text-historical and philosophic approaches are contradictory, then to affirm (undertake and fund) one approach is to deny the other one. Our goal was to provide an environment for transforming »either/ or« differences into »both/and« differences. We concluded that the way to achieve this is not to ask each individual scholar to learn many differences (this approach reduces excellence and overemphasizes the study of broad generalities), but to supplement the University’s individualized model of scholarship with an addi-tional, team-work model. While maintaining our individualized research, we would also join circles of TR study, in which members of the various disciplines would study together (often adding traditional rabbinic scholars as well). Before each meeting we would all do preparatory studies in a given set of scriptural texts plus rabbinic and medieval commentaries. Before our meetings, we shared brief essays on these texts, each of us writing from the perspective of our primary discipline. We then devoted our meetings entirely to group study of the scriptural and commentarial texts. We each spoke freely from out of our own intellectual perspectives, but we also listened with interest to all the other perspectives. We allowed heated argument as well as more gentle discussion, as we gradually learned new habits for achieving what previously seemed impossible: circles of study that allowed each individual person and dis-cipline full self-expression while we also formed new bonds of in­terpersonal and interdisciplinary inquiry.

After a few years of this practice, we observed that, while we each maintained our different disciplines of study, we also practiced our disciplines in a somewhat new way. I began to write Jewish phi-losophy, for example, in a way that also prompted my readers to do supplementary work in historical and literary studies. I did not try to perform all these studies myself, but I began to consult regularly with scholars of history and literature when I plotted out my philosophic projects. In logical terms, my philosophic discipline differed from their disciplines, but not in contradictory ways.30

2. Characteristics of TR that Re-Appear in SR

During our first decade of work in SR, we observed that successful participants pursued several goals simultaneously during both TR and SR study. First, they joined our sessions for the joy of »study for its own sake,« without worrying about the ultimate truth-or-fal-sity of participants’ individual comments. Second, they voiced and tested their own truth-claims about individual words and verses of scripture, but they did not worry if others interpreted those texts differently. We also observed that successful participants displayed virtues that were at times like and at times unlike the virtues most valued in the university and in traditional circles of study. Third, they sought to understand the plain sense of each scriptural text as illumined by all available resources. Fourth, they valued the results of intense individual thought and of group dialogue. Fifth, they studied with scholarly discipline and with a deep sense of humor: pursuing laughter as well as insight, celebrating the fruits of individual reflection while also acknowledging the finitude of each person’s and each tradition’s truth claims. They recognized that finitude is not a liability but a mark of all worldly truths. Just as the biblical prophet declares to God hineni, »Here I am,« so too each verse of Scripture may declare to each reader at a given moment: »Here I am. This is my meaning here and now. This meaning is how I truly show myself to you at this moment. This truth is a mark of my intimate relationship with you here and now. But it is therefore also a reminder that I may, in another moment, appear to show myself differently to you or to another. This is how I retain my intimacy and thus my truth at each moment that I am carefully read.«

The primary difference between SR and TR is that, in SR, there is plain sense and interpretive meaning, but no shared »truths.« As discussed earlier, SR study focuses on scriptural texts, alone, without the commentarial texts that tend to determine the conditions of truth and falsity within each tradition of religious belief and practice. As in TR, SR study begins with discussion of the plain sense of a scriptural text. Participants then voice problematic or challenging aspects of the plain sense. These challenges stimulate efforts to reread or reinterpret the plain sense and, thereby, to propose interpretive meanings that might respond to what some the disciplines found problematic in the plain sense. The indeterminacy of the plain sense is one source of the power of SR, enabling participants from one tradition to comment, without offense, on the sacred sources of another tradition. One can contradict (and thus »offend«) a determinate meaning, which must be either A or not-A, but one cannot contradict a meaning that is not yet either one or the other. Another source of the power of SR is the freedom of each individual participant to propose ways of determining the meaning of any given text, even if these proposals serve the religious convictions of only that one participant. Unlike the plain sense, which all participants share, such proposals display the unique properties of an individual interpretation: one that displays the determinate mean-ing (a) of the plain sense (b) for a single interpreter (c). If anoth-er interpreter (d) proposes a different meaning (e), this proposal would not contradict the first one, but simply differ from it.31 Ac­cording to the theory of SR, contradiction generates conflict across the borders of different traditions; mere difference (»contrariety«) provides the occasion for lively but peaceful discussion and debate. This peace comes with one cost: unlike TR study, SR study is not about truth-or-falsity. For SR, truth-or-falsity is a characteristic only of determinate claims about the interpretive/performative meaning of Scripture, and such claims are available only within traditional circles of scriptural study or, in a moderated sense, within tradition-specific circles of TR. The Bible identifies a second species of »truth« that can apply to SR study. This is truth as emet, a Hebrew term derived from the root amn, connoting »faithfulness.« SR is deeply concerned with this species of truth: the faithfulness that joins each SR reader to the plain sense of Scripture and that, we hope, joins each SR scholar to every other.

3. Hermeneutical Patterns of SR

#1: SR is not a place where scriptural texts display their indigenous truth-values as they would be displayed, in TR, to a single community devoted to a single scriptural canon as rule of life. During a formal session of SR, the rule of SR is to suspend one’s customary search for the true meaning of the scriptural texts, whether those of one’s own tradition or of another’s. The rule of SR is, instead, to search after the possible meanings of each text and, where appropriate, each verse, each phrase, each set of texts. From a historical perspective, the set of possible meanings includes all those proposed within the reception history of any text (including traditional, legal, academic commentaries and so on). From a semantic and logical perspective, this set includes any meaning that is permitted by the letters, words, and grammar of a text. Each SR group sets its own goals and guidelines and displays its own tolerance for how much to include or exclude from the set. Our only general counsel is not to exclude too much (for example, by omitting only what a given tradition appears to favor or what academic scholarship appears to tolerate) and not to include too much (for example, by setting a lower threshold for what the text might permit). The scriptural texts cannot fully provide guidelines for the practice of SR, since there is no reason to assume these texts were canonized with the expectation that members of other canonical communities would join in the reading let alone join in for the sake of something like SR. SR is something unimagined by the texts but pur-sued, nonetheless, within their individual tolerances.

#2: Reading Scripture for its own sake but also for a set of purposes specific to each SR gathering. While we do not prescribe what these purposes must be, I have over the years observed that SR groups tend to read best when they read for reasons like these: for the joy of reading Scripture; out of a passion to discover everything that may be immanent in the various texts of Scripture; for the sake of friendship with fellow readers; to listen »over the borders« of the scriptural canons (to hear what these related but different canons have to say); to seek ways of repairing today’s troubled relations among the scriptural communities; to hear God's word more fully (which may include hearing it speak in unexpected ways). I have also observed that SR groups do not read well when they are overly focused on only one or two of these purposes. If, for example, they read only for »the sake of peace« or only »for friendship,« they may fail to read carefully enough to allow Scripture to set its own terms for peace and for friendship; if they read only to expand and ex-plore the limits of what scriptural words and verses may mean, they may fail to hear its performative meanings (or hear when it commands, teaches wisdom, or sets limits rather than only loosening them).

#3: Reading on behalf of the various disciplines of the academy. Academic sciences of literature and text-historical reading enrich the work of SR as well as TR. They may, however, play a greater role in TR, where they provide resources for balancing the authorita-tive voices of sub-traditions of reading, whenever these traditions threaten to de-legitimate other sub-traditions. Within SR, ironically, the academic sciences may at times receive more from the SR study fellowship than they give. For one, one may at times hear a greater variety of interpretive voices around the SR study table than one hears around the table of academic study. In this case, SR study may expand the fields of what count as »data« and what count as »legitimate sources of explanatory hypotheses« for some disciplines of contemporary academic study. For two, members of some SR study groups may, over time, find themselves engaging in patterns of reasoning that they have not previously encountered in their traditions of study or their disciplines of academic inquiry. In this case, the results of SR challenge the academic disciplines to recognize and examine previously unexamined overlooked forms of reason-ing.

#4: »Deep reasonings« for peace and for repair. Nicholas Adams characterizes scriptural reasoning as a source of both »deep reason-ings« and »reparative reasonings.« The reasonings that appear to arise uniquely out of SR study are, I believe, stimulated uniquely by a »deep« dimension of scriptural literature. Since this is a dimen-sion that, in Charles Peirce’s terms, is known »only by its fruits,«32 I am led to speculate that SR study may at times provide occasions for displaying this fruit. Some contributing factors may be the context of crisis that informs some SR study sessions and the depth of scriptural reading (when it occurs), the reparative movement of study across deep differences among the scriptural canons, and the capacity of some study groups to remain intensely focused over prolonged stretches of time.

#5: Like sand painting. Despite their periodic efforts over thirty years, members of the Society for Scriptural Reasoning (SSR) have not succeeded in capturing a reliable written record of what goes on during an SR study session.33 It appears that, like sand painting, the singularity of SR belongs to time-and-space-specific oral events and cannot be accurately preserved or reproduced. Because SR is not an event of conventional language use, its singular character cannot be captured within the language conventions we employ when offering reports or even audio and visual recordings of what took place. Why? The theory I share publicly concerns the relationship between conventional discourse and its frames or transcendental conditions.

SR invites participants in apparently incommensurable reli-gious language games and conventions to converse together about different, but in varying ways consanguineal, foundational texts. The activity and its settings generate a variable range of emotive as well as cognitive and religious/valuational responses. Early in the process, participants may display seemingly contradictory expressions of, on the one hand, discomfort, anxiety, and detachment – perhaps about the inter-religious and inter-textual setting – and, on the other hand, of muted excitement about the interpersonal setting and of more micro-displays of warmth about the familiar texts of sacred scripture set immediately before them. I theorize that these apparently contradictory expressions are symptoms of what appears, within the terms of conventional language use, to be SR’s impossible goal: to invite speakers of, say, three conflicting language conventions to converse about their deepest thoughts and beliefs. SR’s goal would not be impossible, however, if com-munication were achieved beyond the limits of those language conventions: not through translation (or through the errant presumption that some general or even universal language conven-tion were in the offing), but through the non-conventional communication that SR may foster.

In sum, the hermeneutical activity that characterizes SR appears as a movement »from deep to deep«: moving from challenges or »problems« in the plain sense of each scriptural text to the interpretive and reparative reasonings that draw each SR study group into a fellowship of reasoning across canonical borders.


Der Aufsatz stellt eine Methode des Bibelstudiums vor (»Scriptural Reasoning«), die seit den 1990er Jahren im englischen Sprachraum entwickelt worden ist. Mit ihrer Hilfe sollen die autoritativen Schriften von Judentum, Christentum und Islam (Tanach, Neues Testament, Koran) nebeneinander und miteinander gelesen werden, ohne dass die jeweiligen religiösen Traditionen ihr Verständnis von vornherein festlegen (plain sense). Ein Ziel der Methode besteht darin, akademische und traditionelle Formen des Kommentars in den verschiedenen Religionen miteinander zu verbinden, ein weiteres, den friedlichen Umgang zwischen ihnen zu fördern. Zunächst wird in die Methode und ihre hermeneutischen Grundlagen eingeführt. Anschließend wird die Methode an zwei Beispielen illustriert (David Ford zum Epheserbrief, eine publizierte Studientagung zum Hohe- lied). Abschließend wird das hermeneutische Modell des Scriptural Reasoning zusammenfassend dargestellt.


1. Aus systematisch-theologischer Sicht (Friederike Nüssel, Heidelberg)

Zu den bedeutenden Errungenschaften auf dem Feld der interreligiösen Verständigung gehört die Methode des »Scriptural Reason-ing« (SR) zwischen Juden, Christen und Muslimen, die in den 1990er Jahre von Peter W. Ochs (Edgar M. Bronfman Professor für moderne jüdische Studien an der Universität von Virginia), David F. Ford (Emeritus der Universität Cambridge) und Daniel W. Hardy entwickelt wurde. Aus dem ursprünglich akademischen Projekt ist inzwischen eine weit über den akademischen Raum hinausreichende Bewegung geworden, über deren Geschichte, Ziel, hermeneutische Idee und Ressourcen man sich umfassend auf der Web-site der Scriptural Reasoning Bewegung ( informieren kann. Scriptural Reasoning ist zwar in Deutschland noch nicht so verbreitet wie im angloamerikanischen Raum, aber in einigen Städten wie zum Beispiel Heidelberg und Mannheim gibt es SR-Gruppen.

Wie Peter W. Ochs in seinem Aufsatz ausführt, hat die Me-thode des SR für das Gespräch der sogenannten abrahamitischen Glaubenstraditionen ihre Wurzeln in der traditionsimmanenten Methode des »Textual Reasoning« (TR), die er selbst in den 1980er mit anderen jüdischen Philosophen und Auslegern rabbinischer Literatur entwickelt und praktiziert hat. Ziel des TR ist es, im ge­meinsamen Studium einschlägiger Texte und Kommentare entgegengesetzte und einander ausschließende Auslegungsrichtungen in einer Tradition (ursprünglich des Judentums) zu versöhnen. Entscheidend für ein solches traditionsimmanentes Schriftstudium sind dabei bestimmte hermeneutische Voraussetzungen, die Ochs im Schlussteil seines Aufsatzes in vier Thesen zusammenfassend entfaltet und die zugleich auch die hermeneutische Basis für das SR zwischen Juden, Christen und Muslimen bestimmen. In der ersten These hält er fest, dass ein kanonischer Text Wahrheitswert stets für eine bestimmte historisch gewordene Gemeinschaft aus Lesern und Hörern besitzt. Der Wahrheitswert wird mithin nicht als von der Leser- und Hörergemeinschaft abgelöste, absolute Größe verstanden. Die zweite These besagt, dass die kanonischen Texte in ihrem unmittelbaren Wortsinn (»plain sense«) verstehbar sind und gerade so die gemeinsame Basis für das Textstudium von An­hängern unterschiedlicher Auslegungsrichtungen bieten. Vorausg esetzt wird dabei, dass die kanonische Autorität der Texte als Quelle der Erkenntnis göttlichen Willens zwar für die Texte in ihrer Textgestalt und dem damit verbundenen Wortsinn gilt, dass aber kein menschlicher Leser beanspruchen kann, den Wortsinn und Wahrheitswert der Texte ein für allemal erfassen zu können (vgl. Sp. 1111, These 2). Der Grund dafür liegt, wenn ich die kurze Erklärung in These 2 richtig verstehe, nicht einfach in der Be­grenztheit menschlicher Erkenntnis, sondern darin, dass der Wortsinn der Texte selbst unbestimmt (»indeterminate«) bzw. nicht vorab festgelegt und vorgegeben ist. Der Sinn der Texte vermittelt sich vielmehr durch Interpretation und Performanz innerhalb einer bestimmten, historisch gegebenen Gemeinschaft von Lesern und Hörern und ist somit raum- und zeitgebunden.

Die hermeneutischen Grundlagen für den Ansatz von TR und SR hat Ochs in Auseinandersetzung mit dem semiotischen Pragmatismus von Charles Pierce in früheren Arbeiten entfaltet (siehe vor allem »Pierce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture«, 1998). Im vorliegenden Aufsatz werden die semiotischen und wahrheitstheoretischen Implikationen nur angedeutet und können darum hier nicht eingehend erörtert werden. Wichtig für unseren Zusammenhang ist das hermeneutische Grundanliegen. Die Pointe des Ansatzes von TR und SR besteht darin, das gemeinsame Textstudium und das Gespräch über verschiedene Auslegungen als sachgerechten, d. h. den kanonischen Schriften gerecht werdenden Um­gang und durch diese selbst ermöglichten zu profilieren. Ausgehend von dieser gemeinsamen Basis besteht der Unterschied zwischen SR und TR darin, dass beim SR weder von gemeinsam geteilten Wahrheiten ausgegangen noch nach den Traditionen gemeinsamen Wahrheitswerten gesucht wird. Anders als in manchen Formen des interreligiösen Dialoges geht es auch nicht darum, bestimmte religionsverbindende Konsense zu formulieren. SR zielt vielmehr auf einen Austausch, in dem die Unterschiede der Traditionen im Rekurs auf die sie prägenden Texte präziser erkannt werden. Die Teilnehmer am SR verpflichten sich dabei, auf jede Form von Mission zu verzichten und sich nicht über das rechte Verständnis der »eigenen Texte« zu belehren. Zwar stellt jede Tra dition in einer Einführung ihre Texte vor. Doch dann sind alle aufgerufen, sich gleichermaßen als Interpreten zu beteiligen. Die Dialogkonstellation ist hoch an­spruchsvoll, indem sie auf wechselseitiger Selbstzurücknahme und der gemeinsam geteilten Überzeugung basiert, dass die kanonischen Texte selbst es sind, die sich in ihrem Wortsinn zu verstehen geben und auf diese Weise ein Verstehen auch jenseits der Zugehörigkeit zur jeweiligen Auslegungsgemeinschaft begründen. Damit trauen Teilnehmer an SR ihren Schriften wechselseitig faktisch das zu, was in der evangelischen Tradition mit der Selbstauslegungskraft der Bibel in Anspruch genommen wird.

Ziel von SR ist es, ausgehend vom wörtlichen Sinn der Texte Schwierigkeiten und Zumutungen für die eigene und die anderen Traditionen zu identifizieren, die die Texte in ihrem Wortsinn bereiten, und in der gemeinsamen Interpretation nach Möglichkeiten zu suchen, diese auf einer tieferen Ebene zu überwinden. Dies impliziert für Ochs, die Krise, die die Texte auslösen, zuzulassen und zu durchschreiten gemäß des Psalmverses, mit dem er seine Ausführungen überschreibt: »Deine Fluten rauschen daher, und eine Tiefe ruft die andere; alle deine Wasserwogen und Wellen ge­hen über mich.« Die gemeinsame Suche nach einem die Schwierigkeiten heilenden Verständnis geschieht dabei in dem Vertrauen darauf, dass die kanonischen Texte selbst nicht nur verstören, sondern auch die Ressourcen für Klärung und Heilung enthalten. In dem Durchleben des Prozesses, der im gelingenden Fall von der Identifikation des Störenden zur gemeinsamen Suche nach einem t ieferen Verständnis und zur Erfahrung von Gemeinschaft und Freundschaft führt, realisiert sich der Sinn von SR. Ochs deutet diesen Prozess in Fortschreibung des pragmatisch-semiotischen An­satzes als Zeichen für das Präsentwerden göttlicher Erlösungsmacht. Wenngleich SR gezielt wissenschaftliche Erkenntnisse einbezieht und zur interdisziplinären Verständigung beitragen will, scheint die Pointe doch in einer Erfahrung zu liegen, die sich auf der Ebene der Frömmigkeit bewegt.

Die Idee und Praxis von SR ist in mehrfacher Hinsicht überzeugend und produktiv: Sie fördert die Einübung in ein Gespräch zwischen Judentum, Christentum und Islam, das den Schriftbezug konsequent zum Grund und Gegenstand des Gesprächs macht und die exklusive Deutungshoheit der Traditionen über ihre kanonischen Texte entschränkt. Den kanonischen Texten wird in TR und SR kanonische Autorität nicht einfach abstrakt zuerkannt, sondern es wird ihnen die Kapazität zur Aufarbeitung von verstörenden Aussagen und Zumutungen zugetraut, die den Rezipienten in ihrem jeweiligen Kontext und insbesondere in der Dreier-Konstellation von SR entstehen. Ob sich die kanonische Qualität in der intertextuellen Schriftauslegung und in der Auslegung aus verschiedenen Blickwinkeln heraus bewährt, lässt sich im Sinne des pragmatischen Ansatzes nicht vorab behaupten, sondern muss sich im Vollzug von SR selbst zeigen. Evangelischer Theologie kommt diese Konzentration auf die Schrift und den Auslegungsprozess entgegen. Damit verbunden muss aber eingestanden werden, dass nicht nur be­stimmte Aussagen im Neuen Testament, sondern der christliche Kanon insgesamt mit seiner Interpretation kanonischer Texte des Judentums für die jüdischen Teilnehmer von SR eine Zumutung darstellt. Mit dem Problem supersessionis-tischer Aussagen befasst sich Ford in seiner Auslegung der Eschatologie des Epheserbriefes, die Ochs als Illustration für ein reparatives SR anführt.

Die exegetische Herausforderung besteht darin, die Schwierigkeiten auf der Ebene des Wortsinns nicht durch eine Eisegese zu lösen, sondern durch eine Heilung (recovery) des Wortsinns. Diese wird in der Fordschen Epheser-Exegese möglich im Rekurs auf die pragma- tische Zeichentheorie von Ochs, wonach Pleroma vor dem Hintergrund anderer Aussagen im Epheserbrief und in der Verbindung mit dem Kolosserbrief als ein nicht ausschließend christologisch festgelegtes Zeichen gedeutet werden kann. Eine entsprechende Exegese wiederum muss sich nach dem Konzept von SR nicht nur für die Tradition bewähren, die sie entwickelt, sondern auch für die Teilnehmer der anderen Traditionen, die im SR Einblick in die »fremden« Texte gewinnen und an der Auslegung teilhaben. Bezogen auf das Beispiel der Epheser-Exegese heißt das, dass sich die pragmatische Pleroma-Deutung und die Offenheit des damit verbundenen Zeichenverständnisses als Tiefenlesart auch in Auseinandersetzung mit anderen neutestamentlichen Texten bewähren muss. Das Bild von der Tiefe, die eine andere Tiefe ruft, erscheint mithin sehr passend für den komplexen Vorgang des SR. Wenngleich sich die SR-Idee mit der unkritischen Anerkennung der kanonischen Autorität der Schriften kritisch zur Aufklärungskritik verhält, trägt die pragmatische Hermeneutik in der argumentativen Verknüpfung von einfachem und eindeu-tigem Wortsinn und offener Zeichentheorie doch aufklärerische Züge. Wie dieses Verhältnis genauer zu denken ist, ist eine An­schlussfrage an die hermeneutische Basis von SR, die über die Ausführungen dieses Aufsatzes hinausführt.

2. Aus neutestamentlicher Sicht (Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr, Jena/Leipzig)

Als Vorstellung eines im deutschen Sprachraum bisher wenig bekannten Ansatzes zum Umgang mit der Schrift bzw. den autoritativen Schriften in Christentum, Judentum und Islam ist der Beitrag instruktiv und anregend. Hilfreich ist die ausdrückliche Reflexion der vorausgesetzten hermeneutischen Grundlagen und Ziele und der bisher erreichten Ergebnisse dieser Methode. Deren Intention, den Text selbst zu Wort kommen zu lassen und auf diesem Wege die Verständigung zwischen verschiedenen religiösen Traditionen in Judentum, Christentum und Islam zu fördern, verdient ohne Frage Unterstützung. Kritische Rückfragen aus Sicht eines ch ristlichen Neutestamentlers richten sich an die Auswahl der Textcorpora (1), die (fehlende) Interaktion mit anderen methodischen Ansätzen eines Bibelstudiums außerhalb der »klassischen« historisch-hermeneutischen Textanalyse (2) sowie an den gruppeninternen Ansatz des Verfahrens (3).

(1) Ohne Diskussion wird vorausgesetzt, dass mit den drei Textcorpora Tanach, Neues Testament und Koran die für die Religionen Judentum, Christentum und Islam maßgeblichen Schriften erfasst sind. Das ist aber mit Blick auf das Christentum evident nicht der Fall, denn in allen christlichen Kirchen gilt als kanonische Grundlage die Heilige Schrift Alten und Neuen Testaments, wenngleich im Detail Umfang, Gestalt und Wortlaut des christlichen Bibelkanons gewisse Unterschiede aufweisen. Das Alte Testament aus der christlichen Bibel auszuscheiden und allein in Gestalt des Tanach dem Judentum zuzuweisen, entspricht einer aus christlicher Sicht extrem problematischen Auslegungstradition des Neuen Testaments, die (m. E. gottlob) in keiner der christlichen Kirchen je offi ziell anerkannt worden ist. Zudem ist die Eingrenzung der jüdischen Auslegung auf die rabbinische Tradition weder im Blick auf das antike noch auf das gegenwärtige (jeweils äußerst vielfältige) Judentum schwerlich berechtigt, und auch im Blick auf den Islam müssten die unterschiedlichen, sehr konfliktträchtigen Auslegungstraditionen sorgfältiger bedacht werden. Das vorausgesetzte Konzept der »abrahamitischen Religionen« müsste ebenfalls kritischer reflektiert werden.

(2) Die schematische Gegenüberstellung einer »akademischen« und einer »traditionellen« Gestalt von Bibelstudium wird dem tatsächlich vorfindlichen Umgang mit den autoritativen Texten in den drei Religionen schwerlich gerecht. Um allein beim Christentum zu bleiben, zeigen sich schon bei einem Blick auf die verschiedenen Konfessionen die unterschiedlichsten Varianten sowohl in der »akademischen« als auch in der »traditionellen« Schriftexegese. Luthers Psalmenauslegung war zweifellos akademisch, aber in sein er christologischen Interpretation des Psalters zugleich traditionell. Die rhetorisch außerordentlich ansprechenden Predigten eines Johannes Chrysostomos beruhten auf sorgfältiger akademisch geschulter Exegese nach den Auslegungsregeln der platonischen textwissenschaftlichen Tradition in ihrer antik-christlichen Ausprägung, die wiederum stark von der Schriftauslegung des Juden Philon von Alexandrien geprägt war. Leider fehlen in dem Beitrag Problemanzeigen in dieser Richtung, und auch eine Auseinandersetzung mit anderen aktuellen Modellen einer an den gegenwärtigen Rezipienten orientierten Schriftauslegung findet nicht statt.

(3) Manche Formulierungen im Aufsatz lassen erahnen, dass das Scriptural Reasoning stark von den Interaktionsprozessen lebt, die in der jeweiligen Arbeitsgruppe beim Umgang mit den Texten entstehen (z. B. die Form der »Wir«-Rede oder die Metapher des »sand painting«). Das ist für sich betrachtet kein Mangel, erfordert aber bei der Darstellung dieses Ansatzes für außenstehende Leser ein gewisses Maß an (selbst-)kritischer Reflexion über Chancen und Grenzen dieses Ansatzes im Vergleich mit anderen Methoden der Schriftauslegung. Es wird leider ausschließlich auf Literatur aus der eigenen Gruppe verwiesen. Deren Prämissen (z. B. im Blick auf eine angeblich durchweg »supersessionist«-Interpretation des Epheserbriefes oder anderer Texte des Neuen Testaments) werden nicht mit Belegen aus der Auslegungsgeschichte untermauert. Auch die Auswahl der Teilnehmer kann man in Frage stellen (warum sitzt eigentlich kein nichtreligiöser Partner mit am Tisch?).


1) An expanded and more technical version of this essay will appear as a chapter in Peter Ochs, Religion Without Violence: Teaching and Practicing Scriptural Reasoning (Wipf & Stock Press/Cascade: expected 2019).
2) For an account of the beginnings of The Society for Scriptural Reasoning, see The Promise of Scriptural Reasoning, eds. David Ford and Chad Pecknold (Oxford: Blackwell Pub., 2006). For more recent coverage, see the following websites: The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning:;;; The Journal of Textual Reasoning:;;
3) Today, there are also fellowships of Asian and Asian-Abrahamic SR in Beijing and elsewhere.
4) See Peter Ochs, »Scriptural Reasoning and Peacebuilding«, in: Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Religion and Peace, ed. (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell, 2020), tba.; and Peter Ochs, »The Possibilities and Limits of Inter-Religious Dialogue,« in: The Oxford Handbook in Religion, Peace, and Conflict Resolutions, eds. Scott Appleby et. al. (Oxford, 2015), 488–515.
5) See Peter Ochs, »Scripture and Text,«, in: The Cambridge History of Jewish Philosophy: The Modern Era, eds. David Novak and Martin Kavka (Cambridge University Press, 2012), 191–223.
6) Hans Frei, »The ›Literal Reading‹ of Biblical Narrative in the Christian Tradition: Does it Stretch or Will it Break?«, in: The Bible and the Narrative Tradition, ed. Frank McConnell (New York: Oxford University Press,1986), 36–77.
7) See Textual Reasonings: Jewish Philosophy and Text Study at the end of the Twentieth Century, eds. Peter Ochs and Nancy Levene (London: SCM Press, 2002; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003); »Behind the Mechitsa: Reflections on The Rules of Textual Reasoning,«, in Journal of Textual Reasoning (New Series), Vol. 1.1 (University of Virginia Electronic Book Center: Spring, 2002), 2–47;
8) See David Ford, Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love (Cambridge: CUP, 2007),–3.349, and Mike Higton, »For Its Own Sake; For God’s Sake: Wisdom and Delight in the University,« in: Tom Greggs, Rachel Muers, and Simeon Zahl (Eds.), The Vocation of Theology Today: A Festschrift for David Ford (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2013), 289–302.
9) Peter Ochs, »Jewish and other Abrahamic Philosophic Arguments for Abrahamic Studies,« in: The Oxford Handbook of Abrahamic Religions, eds. Adam Silverstein and Guy G. Stroumsa (London, 2015), 559–579.
10) David Ford, »He is Our Peace,« in: Mysticism and Scriptural Reasoning: Messianism and Fulfillment, Journal of Scriptural Reasoning, Vol. 1, No. 1 (August 2001):
11) Peter Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture (Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 1998).
12) Charles Peirce, Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, eds. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1934–35), Vol. 5, Par. 113. Future references to this collection will be to CP followed by volume and paragraph number.
13) Peirce, Pragmatism, 313.
14) Peirce, Pragmatism, 6.
15) Peirce, Pragmatism, 7.
16) Peirce, Pragmatism, 6.
17) CSP 5.505.
18) For a reading of Ephesians that takes these verses as its hermeneutical key, see David F. Ford, Self and Salvation: Being Transformed (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, November 1998), Chapter 5, »Communicating God’s Abundance.«
19) »Healing Words: The Song of Songs and the Path of Love,« in: Journal of Scriptural Reasoning, Vol. 3, No. 2 (August 2003): Guest Editors: Dov Nelkin, Basit Koshul, Chad Pecknold; General Editors: William Elkins, Willie Young.
20) Dov Nelkin, »Editor’s Introduction to the Articles,« in: »Healing Words.«
21) Ibid.
22) Willie Young, »The Song of Songs: From Affliction to Healing through the Text,« in »Healing Words.«
23) Ibid.
24) Ibid.
25) Franz Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption, trans. William Hallo (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1971), 194.
26) Willie Young, »The Song of Songs.«
27) Ibid.
28) Ibid.
29) Willie Young, »General Editor’s Preface,« in: »Healing Words.«
30) They differ as »contraries« (a ∧ b) or different members of a universe of many members (a, b, c…n), rather than »contradictories« (a = ~b) or competing members of a universe that allows only one or the other (a V b).
31) In semiotic terms, the two proposals may be diagrammed as abc and ade: two logical contraries but not contradictories. This distinction is central to the success of SR in inviting non-conflictual discussion and disagreement across difference.
32) Peirce claimed that his pragmatism was »only an application of the sole principle of logic which was recommended by Jesus, ›Ye may know them by their fruits‹ [Matt. 7:16] and it is very intimately allied with the ideas of the gospel«: CP 5.402n.
33) The best effort is Mike Higton and Rachel Muers, The Text in Play (Eugene, Or: Cascade Press/Wipf and Stock, 2012).