The Authority of the Book

I have a guest post over on the Political Theology blog, in which I discuss the importance of considering our broader culture of textual production, ownership, and use when considering questions of scriptural authority.

In an age of mass production and digital replication, we are frequently forgetful of the materiality and particularity of entities. To those accustomed to a world of fungible commodities, any physical instantiation of a commodity is largely interchangeable with any other. There is an implicit metaphysics operative here, whereby an object’s existence qua commodity is one in which all its physical and sensory qualities are rendered entirely accidental, falling away from our view. The commodity itself is an abstract and immaterial thing.

Such a characteristically modern phenomenological relationship with the world—a relationship with the world shaped by the radical fungibility established by money, mass production, and digital replication—can affect our understandings of sacred texts too. For us, a text can function like the commodity, existing behind the realm of the particular as an entirely immaterial entity, manifested in the realm of the particular in fungible material and digital form. People accustomed to thinking of sacred scriptures as immaterial ‘texts’ can be unmindful or instinctively dismissive of the significance of sacred scriptures’ existence as material ‘books’. Yet any consideration of the question of the political implications of naming certain scriptures ‘sacred’ will be severely limited if it is not attentive to sacred scriptures qua material (or digital) books.

Read the whole thing here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Church History, Controversies, Culture, Guest Post, Hermeneutics, Politics, Revelation, Scripture, Society, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Authority of the Book

  1. Thanks for this post Alastair

    Couple of things it brought to mind – firstly the lack of any sense in Modernity of ‘Holy Things’ The idea that touching the Ark of the Covenant would bring our destruction is totally foreign to our way of thinking. And the way in which this Holiness is known amongst people. So The Bible, (often chained to the lectern) is read in the context of a gathered people. Off hand I can’t think of a biblical reference to holiness which doesn’t have this communal aspect.

    Also, flowing from this, this reminded me once more of our lack of true respect for our bodies. I can’t help thinking that these two are in some wise connected. Here in NZ Maori culture still – less atomised than ours – has the concept of bodily holiness – so you don’t touch someone’s head, for it is ‘tapu’ Sacred. Also you Never sit on a table!

    I think of the things Stephen Freeman – ‘Glory to God for all things’ blog – says about the necessity of holy things – or places where the presence of God is to be known. Paraphrasing, ‘if god is everywhere he is nowhere, if everything is Holy, nothing is’. I wonder about the implications for our society of the loss of The Holy, and how sadly ironic that the Scriptures are oft at the centre of this reduction (not least through the critical approach??

    Keep up the writing!


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