Yesterday in my Hebrew exegesis class, we were discussing poetry. A question from a student led us back to the discussion of narrative, which then led to a lengthy discussion of the importance of knowing (as much as is possible) the historical-cultural background of the text one is studying. My prof said something to the effect of this: if he had the choice between one who has mastered biblical languages and one who had mastered the backgrounds of biblical texts, he would take the backgrounds person. Initially it was an unexpected answer from a Hebrew professor, but it made sense.
The assumption that underlies this position, as far as I can say, is that exegesis of texts involves language. Language is comprised of smaller units, particular constructions of which are informed and shaped by the one who uses it, who are informed by their culture. The short of it is that to rightly work in biblical languages, one must have a working knowledge of the culture out of which that language comes.
While this is certainly a rudimentary aspect of hermeneutics and exegesis in general, our discussion reminded me and reaffirmed for me just how important it is to know the backgrounds of Scripture’s texts. It also gives me a renewed appreciati0n for the many scholars who have poured themselves into making these studies available for others’ benefit.
Αυτω η δοξα,