Psychological Exegesis (Guest Post by cco3)

Jordan B. Peterson has been gaining popularity, due to his tenacity in social and political arenas.  However, this popularity has spilled into his other pursuits as well. For example, his lecture series on Genesis is recorded on YouTube as having nearly 750k views.  The first in the set of lectures has nearly 2m views, and those numbers don’t even count podcast listeners like me.  That’s quite a show of interest on a topic that otherwise garners little interest from the public. I’ve only listened to the first lecture, so I can’t comment on how Peterson actually goes about handling the text, but he sets out his approach fairly clearly in his introduction.

In response to this, I’ve found Manfred Oeming’s comments on psychological exegesis to be helpful.  Beyond its theoretical origins in Freud and Jung, he identifies the method as being pioneered by O. Pfister in 1944 and popularized by E. Drewermann in 1990 (p. 85-86).  His final conclusions on the matter provide a succinct analysis.

Manfred Oeming, Contemporary Biblical Hermeneutics: An Introduction, 2006, 88-89:

The great strength of this approach lies in its ability to create the impression that biblical texts deal directly with the problem of readers; suddenly, the Bible no longer speaks of something distant, but of our deep initimate[sic] conflicts. This closeness is supported by de-emphasizing reason in favour of emotion. ‘Female’ emotions and the non-rational world of dreams are the key to an adequate understanding of the Bible.

Such an emphasis on dreams and emotions can only be a correction of a one-sided rationalistic approach to the Bible but never a complete substitution for sober historical-critical work.  Under the banner of dream interpretation, the Bible can be subject to general allegorising as the key hermeneutical concept. Must we truly assume the biblical authors were always concerned with the same pattern, i.e. moving out of emotional poverty and debilitating dependence? This reduction of the Bible and other literature to one basic pattern is highly questionable.  Liberation from fear thus becomes the dominant theme in ancient Egyptian songs for the sun-god, the fairytales of the Grimm brothers, the Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, as well as every biblical narrative.  The emphasis on the liberating God condemns ex cathedra any other biblical concept of God, such as God the law-giver, the judge, the avenger of the oppressed, the jealous Lord.  The Bible is turned into a book of happiness and good feelings. This goes hand in hand with latent antijudaistic clichés. Fearful depiction of a violent, destructive God is found only in the Old Testament.  Jesus is stylised as the great contrast who frees us from this heritage. In fact, many New Testament images are harsher and more threatening that[sic] those in the Old Testament. The elimination of fear is a basic desire common to all human beings.  But one of the central themes of the New Testament in all of its primary witnesses is the rejection of a large part of humanity: ‘You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow?’ (Luke 19:22). Psychological exegesis takes the Bible seriously only as a book of peace according to the needs of psychological therapy.  This blind spot basically destroys any positive contribution psychological exegesis may make towards understanding the Bible.


One Comment

pat

this isn’t related to presuppositional apologetics though


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