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I am a medievalist and an adjunct college instructor in the humanities at Union College. My research includes medieval theologies of history, text/image relationships in visionary and mystical texts, and the writings of the twelfth-century Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen. I am also a translator of medieval Latin and German texts, especially as relate to my research. My translation of Hildegard's Book of Divine Works is available from Catholic University of America Press here. I completed a Master's in Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, a Fulbright Fellowship in Germany in 2008, and a B.A. in Classics and German at Boston College in 2007.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Do you believe every word of this book?"

In reference to the Bible, this was one of the questions during yesterday's CNN/YouTube Republican Presidential Debate, and of the three candidates to answer the question (Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Gov. Mitt Romney, and Gov. Mike Huckabee), two of them had excellent answers, while one (Romney) fumbled the ball. You can see the video of their answers here.

The first to answer was Giuliani:
The reality is, I believe it, but I don't believe it's necessarily literally true in every single respect. I think there are parts of the Bible that are interpretive. I think there are parts of the Bible that are allegorical. I think there are parts of the Bible that are meant to be interpreted in a modern context.

So, yes, I believe it. I think it's the great book ever written. I read it frequently. I read it very frequently when I've gone through the bigger crises in my life, and I find great wisdom in it, and it does define to a very large extent my faith. But I don't believe every single thing in the literal sense of Jonah being in the belly of the whale, or, you know, there are some things in it that I think were put there as allegorical.
The mayor gave an answer that would be similar to my own answer to the question, which would have run something like this: "Yes, I believe that every word in the Bible is true. I do not, however, believe that a literal interpretation of every word is always the best interpretation. Rather, much of the Bible is to be understood either allegorically, that is, it speaks to us in metaphor and allegory; or anagogically, that is, it speaks to us about the being of God in analogy and metaphor; or tropologically, that is, it speaks to us in metaphor concerning our own morals and way of life. Do I believe that God created the world in seven, twenty-four hour days as we understand them? No. Do I believe that there is a wealth of meaning that could fill volumes and tell us many things about God, about ourselves, and about the world around us, all to be found in the metaphor that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh? Yes." Or something to that effect.

The best answer of this question, however, was given by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister who was most eloquent while at his most sincere:

Sure. I believe the Bible is exactly what it is. It's the word of revelation to us from God himself.

And the fact is that when people ask do we believe all of it, you either believe it or you don't believe it. But in the greater sense, I think what the question tried to make us feel like was that, well, if you believe the part that says "Go and pluck out your eye," well, none of us believe that we ought to go pluck out our eye. That obviously is allegorical.

But the Bible has some messages that nobody really can confuse and really not left up to interpretation. "Love your neighbor as yourself." And, "As much as you've done it to the least of these brethren, you've done it unto me." Until we get those simple, real easy things right, I'm not sure we ought to spend a whole lot of time fighting over the other parts that are a little bit complicated.

And as the only person here probably on the stage with a theology degree, there are parts of it I don't fully comprehend and understand, because the Bible is a revelation of an infinite God, and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their god is too small.

'Nuff said.

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