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    On Exegesis and Eisegesis by Nicoletta Mithra

    Lunarisse Aspenstar

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    On Exegesis and Eisegesis by Nicoletta Mithra

    Post by Lunarisse Aspenstar on Wed Jan 15, 2014 5:21 am

    On Exegesis and Eisegesis.

    I recently told someone that eisegesis isn't a valid way of interpreting Scripture. The reaction then was, that all interpretation of Scripture is by necessity eisegetic, "on the grounds that even when the interpretation one adopts aligns with that of some noted exegetical tradition or scholar, that is because you personally have concluded that you find their interpretation agreeable, or at the very least are deluding yourself into thinking that you have."

    When I replied that the person in question misunderstood what exegesis and eisegesis is I got the reply: "Exegesis, as I understand it, is the study and interpretation of a text, especially a religious one. Eisegesis, again as I understand it, is the study and interpretation of religious text in such a way as to introduce one's own presuppositions, agendas and/or biases. "

    This is incomplete understanding of what exegesis and eisegesis is and as we know, smattering is the most dangerous kind of knowledge. Instead of repeating myself in a thread that has been derailed enough already I thought it'd be more astute to respond to that degree of stubbornness by opening a thread in itself that explains the differences between exegesis and eisegesis, why the latter should be avoided and the former chosen if one really wants to understand what place the Scripture has in Amarrian religion and culture and how it is to be understood as a spiritual message.

    The first thing to understand is that both exegesis and eisegesis are forms of interpretation. Interpretation is here to be understood as the act of giving sense to something – in the case of exegesis and eisegesis a text or more specifically a body of texts, the Scriptures.

    Now the argument is that eisegesis is perfectly okay as it is a way of interpreting Scripture and we can't help it. Because we are ultimately, subjective and biased beings we will always introduce our own presuppositions, agendas and/or biases. (Interestingly this was coming from someone claiming to know exactly how science works and who claims to know that there is, de facto, no God – not that this is merely his subjective and biased interpretation of the facts available to him.)

    Well, it is true that there is a problem with giving a bias-free interpretation of a text. Luckily for the exegete, that isn't – contrary to our adversaries misconceptions – what the exegete has to achieve for a valid exegesis. Rather than believing that he can achieve the unachievable, the exegete is happy to acknoweldge his limitations, but – nonetheless - strives to give the Scriptural text as much space of it's own as he possibly can. He will also point out his preconceptions as far as he can and engage in self-reflection to this end. Exegesis is thus a highly stimulating intellectual endavour that requires dicipline.

    The eisegete typically isn't as dedicated to the subject at hand. The argument that eisegesis is inadvertible and therefore perfectly okay is a typical symptom of the eisegete. A symptom that shows that there is little interest in the text at question to begin with, nor in putting work into uncovering what it might have meant, but more so in making a point – albeit his own point, not the one of the text.

    There is therefore in exegesis and eisegesis a difference in intention, with the exegete intending to lay bare and 'lead out' the meaning of the text as much as he is able to as a flawed being and the exegete not caring for the meaning that the text itself conveys anyway.

    Still, that doesn't explain how it is possible to come to an interpretation that actually achieves more than a mere eisegesis. Well, the answer is in employing the appropriate methodology. Just as any science has a methodology to it that allows e.g. for as objective as possible interpretation of datapoints in a measurement, exegesis depends on proper method.

    The methodology employed here is the method of hermeneutics. Hermeneutics requires the interpreter to study the text in question carefully, preferrably in it's original language: It's grammar and syntactical features, the type of literature it is, the histrory of the text from it's first versions to later redactions – especially it's 'Sitz im Leben' and the context of the text in form of the other scriptural texts – as well as it's 'prehistory', the exegetical tradition in which it was written.

    Few outsiders see, for example, that the Scriptures are oftentimes – especially in the case of the popularized snippets, for we have a vast body of texts to consider if we talk about the Scriptures – is meant to speak to us on a spiritual level, talking through metaphor and analogy. Even many students of theology point out at some point – if they are rebellious enough – that the Scripture apparently contradicts itself. One popular example is the story of Dano Gheinok himself:

    "Curiously, the Scriptures seem to relate this story twice. The second telling is almost certainly a relation of the flight of the proto-Amarr from the continent of Assimia to Amarr Island. It includes specific details, such as landmarks, which have been positively identified. The earlier story is less explicit and does not feature place names or descriptions of locations, instead speaking more in metaphor and allegory. Additionally, the earlier story is told as if Gheinok was relatively young, while the second portrays him as an elder prophet, struggling with his own failing health as well as the rigors of travel."

    The mistake here is to take the Scripture at it's most basic and at the same time most inconsequential level, the literal one, here giving an account of historic events. This joins into the assessent of the literary type of text we have at hand. If we mistake a spiritual text for an historic account our conclusions about this text will be probably mistaken as well. Also, there is a tradition in Scriptural writings and exegesis, that employs contradictions to point the reader – who has been trained in this exegetical tradition of the Scriptures – to the fact that the story is not to be taken literally, but on another, higher level of meaning. An important factor here is of course peer review.

    Of course I can't explain all the little intricacies of the hermeneutic method here and what is important to Scriptural hermeneutics. One has to study these for some years alone and then the Scripture for a century or two at least to be even considered familiar with a certain part of the Scripture. But following this method with appropriate rigour works quite well against the confirmation bias the honest researcher of the Scriptures has to fight.

    Luckily it isn't required to delve that deeply into this topic: the institution of the Theology Council is filled with legions of well trained Scriptural theologians for that purpose. To those that cry out now that the Theology Council despotically establishes a 'right' version of how the Scripture are to be interpreted, I can say directly that this is a futile argument. The Theology Council merely gives an outline as to what the individual has to believe, cutting it off at the point that establishes heresy and leaving space enough in the interpretation if one stays within what is considered heterodox or even orthodox.

    This space is not only left because of the fact that humans are fallible in their interpretation even if they hold themselves to the standards of exegesis, but also because the Scripture is believed to have a special message to every individual who honestly approaches it with the desire to understand.

    So, while we have learend that it is true what the eisegete says, that we humans are ultimately subjective and biased, he tacitly, but oftentimes knowingly, ignores that this is a matter of grades and that we can take measures to minimize our failings.

    The faithful and everyone else who desires to really understand the Amarrian religion and culture should thus beware of eisegetes: people who don't take up fair criticism from others in their interpretation, outsiders that claim to know scripture better than those that grew up in it's exegetical tradition and demonstrate no interest in learning about it, those that claim that the exegetical tradition is meaningless and that there is no need of careful study of the texts in question anyway.

    Yes, one can interprete Scripture like that, but it's then not saying much about the Scriptures, Amarrian religion or culture. It's very telling about the one who goes about studying Scripture in this way, though. Especially if he claims that this is telling something about the Amarr.

    God may bless all of you who approach Scripture with an open heart and a mind willing to reach understanding, he may send you one of his messengers as guide on your way, sharing the light of His word with you on your path!

    -N. Mithra

    P.S.: If you are interested to learn more about the Scripture's message for your life, Amarrian religion or culture, feel free to join the Societas Imperials Sceptri Coronaeque on "The Good Word". We are also recruiting.

    Originally posted on IGS. YC114.09.01
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