The Old Testament Historical Study And New Roles

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In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a fundamental change took place in Europe in the way in which thinking people understood the world and the place of the human race within it. This change is usually called the Enlightenment; and it can be defined for our purposes as a move from seeing humanity as part of a divinely ordered universe, to understanding the universe in terms of human reason, experience and discovery. These broad generalizations need to be qualified, of course. If thinking people, whose views were propagated by their books, articles and reviews, began to see the world differently, this was not necessarily the case with the largely rural and agricultural populations of Western Europe who could not or did not read learned literature. Also, the pace of the Enlightenment varied from country to country, and in some cases, opposition to Enlightenment thought led to reactions against it. Thus, in Britain, the Enlightenment flourished in the period roughly 1680-1750, after which there was a period of reaction that lasted until the 1860s. At the moment of Britain's 'decline', the Enlightenment came of age in Germany, from the 1750s onwards.

The Enlightenment began what is usually called the modern period, or modernism, for short. In the present century, and particularly in the past twenty years, there have been attacks upon the Enlightenment in Western Europe and North America. A movement called post-modernism has emerged, although it is a movement more united in its opposition to modernism than in having a coherent set of aims. How modernism and post-modernism have affected the use of the Old Testament as a theological resource is the subject of the present chapter.

Before the Enlightenment, Old Testament scholars had dealt in a scholarly and critical way with textual, translational, historical and sociological problems of the text for well over a thousand years. They had done this, however, in the context of an agenda that set clear and explicit limits to their

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