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Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture 1300-1700 (Herder & Herder Books) Hardcover – August 1, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


"In this magisterial work of intellectual history, Hahn and Wiker have tackled the overwhelming bias of modern textual criticism of the Bible by going straight to the Gordian knot of its fractal agenda and cutting it through in a fashion reminiscent of the clarity of the Apostles themselves. As St Paul (1 Thess. 2:13) put it in his own context, the issue is whether the text is to be received by the Church merely as 'the word of men' or 'as it is in truth, the word of God.' In taking us back to the late Middle Ages for the roots of the secularizing agenda of the discipline, they give us a far more telling analysis of an ideological agenda and motives and than we could have without these pre-Enlightement foundations for the long attempt to secularize and thus marginalize the distinctive claims of Revelation. This is essential reading, and not just for biblical scholars." —David Jeffrey, professor at Baylor University and editor of The Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature and The King James Bible and the World it Made

"Hahn and Wiker show how the study of Scripture was transformed by centuries of conflict over the fundamentals of Western civilization. They demonstrate their thesis in minute detail. The Bible clearly emerges as the foundational document of western civilization and its academy." —Jacob Neusner, professor of religion and senior fellow of the Institute of Advanced Theology at Bard College

"Years ago, then Cardinal Ratzinger called for a thoughtful critique of biblical criticism, and this book is the sort of study I believe he had in mind. As Hahn and Wiker demonstrate, historical criticism did not appear fully formed in the nineteenth century, and its problems are not primarily exegetical, but philosophical. Its intellectual roots reach back to the nominalism of the late middle ages, when subtle philosophical missteps set into motion alternate ways of reading Scripture that were alien not only to the Church and her tradition, but to the classical ways of interpreting texts. Historical criticism has its own history, and its development should be subject to the scrutiny of historical method, as it is in these pages." —Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

"Hahn and Wiker have not only given us a notable work in theology, but one of the most compelling histories of political philosophy. I cannot recall any book that achieves that combination as arrestingly as this one. It is, altogether, the most remarkable of works."  —Hadley Arkes, Edward N. Ney Professor of Jurisprudence and American institutions, Amherst College

"Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker have produced a scholarly masterpiece. The authors demonstrate how the roots of modern biblical criticism go back to the late medieval period, even prior to the Renaissance and Reformation. . . . The impressive combination of breadth, depth, and clarity achieved in this book is unrivaled in the field. By showing how these early critical readings of Scripture reflected and reinforced the "secularization" of modern thought, this work will have far-reaching implications on how the Bible is read in universities and seminaries, as well as how it is preached in pulpits. Politicizing the Bible is the most important work to date on the history of modern biblical criticism." —Jeffrey Morrow, assistant professor of theology, Seton Hall University

"Hahn and Wiker make the case that biblical criticism has been shaped by philosophical and political ideas that are often intrinsically hostile to Christian faith. This is an important work that will force its readers to readjust, and in some cases totally reject, what they had been taught about the objectivity and neutrality of contemporary approaches to God's Word." —Francis J. Beckwith, professor of philosophy and Church-State Studies, Baylor University

"Biblical criticism has long been regarded as something scientific, and thus neutral and objective. Recent decades, however, have seen a rising awareness that scholarship is always situated and serves certain ends. In their well-researched, thoughtful, and painstaking study, Hahn and Wiker make a particular and necessary contribution to the history of biblical interpretation in going back not to nineteenth-century Germany, but rather the late medieval period and Renaissance, showing that the Erastian project of subjugating the Bible and the Christian faith to the power of the State has deeper roots and interpretive consequences than is often assumed. A must-read for those concerned with the place of the Bible and Christian faith in contemporary culture." —Leroy Huizenga, professor of scripture, University of Mary, Bismarck, North Dakota

"Over the last 20 centuries, no book has been researched, pondered, and prayed over as intensely as the Bible. Dr. Hahn has done all these things himself; but, more importantly, he has studied the work of many generations of Christians and Jews who have gone before him. Then he gathered the best of all that study to help you in your own reading. Because we're Catholic, we need to become biblically literate. We need to know the Bible well because we hunger for abundant life—because we want to know Jesus, which is the same thing. Scott Hahn does a superb job of feeding his readers with the Word of God in this immensely useful guide." —Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia

About the Author

Scott W. Hahn holds the Fr. Michael Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenvile, where he's taught since 1990. He is also the Founder and President of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, and the author/editor of over forty books, including Kinship by Covenant, The Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire, Canon and Biblical Interpretation, Covenant and Communion, The Catholic Bible Dictionary, and The Lamb's Supper. Benjamin Wiker is an author and a senior fellow with the Envoy Institute of Belmont Abbey College, the Discovery Institute, and the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. Among his books are A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature, Answering the New Atheism, and Moral Darwinism. He lives in Hopedale, Ohio.

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Product Details

  • Series: Herder & Herder Books
  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: The Crossroad Publishing Company; 7.2.2013 edition (August 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0824599039
  • ISBN-13: 978-0824599034
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #160,950 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Richard B on July 11, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am going to write two reviews, one before and after I've finished the book. I've decided to help folks out before I've finished because the only current review is by a gentleman who clearly hasn't even held the book. So I hope the following is helpful. The basic breakdown of the book is as follows:

1) Roots of the Historical Critical Method - "Here we wish to make clear again that we are not condemning the historical-critical method, but attempting to bring to light why is has particular characteristic effects that undermine or radically transform religious belief and how these effects are related to the method itself" (page 9).
They aim to reveal the presuppositions of the H-C method.
2) Marsilius of Padua and William of Ockham
3) John Wycliffe
4) Machiavelli
5) Luther and the Reformation
6) England and Henry VIII
7) Descartes an the Secular Cosmos
8) Thomas Hobbes
9) Spinoza
10) Richard Simon
11) English Civil Wars, Moderate Radicals, and John Locke
12) Revolution, Radicals, Republicans and John Toland
13) Conclusion: "[Speaking of Descartes, Hobbess, and Spinoza] It soon became apparent that, since the universe was an entirely law-governed, self-contained, and self-sustaining machine, that an active, living, creating, and redeeming God of the Old and New Testament would either have to be redefined (by being subsumed into nature via pantheism), relieved of the power to control or sustain His creation (thereupon standing outside of nature as an entirely dispassionate and detached watchmaker), or simply rejected (by the more radical of the radical Enlightenment)...since miracles had been excised from nature, they had to be removed form the text.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By PenName#7 on August 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover
"Politicizing the Bible" is a definite source of reflection for someone like myself who greatly appreciates the best of modern historical criticism. Please forgive my long review, which includes a bit of my own take on the situation since it hits close to home.

The most obvious strong point of the book is that there has never been a similar systematic attempt to analyze the period leading up to the full flower of modern historical criticism. This study helps us see how much of the later method was already active in prominent intellectual and social circles during the extended period of history the book covers (1300-1700).

As another reviewer noted, the book is structured with a number of monographs. Through these, we get an idea of the development of various instruments of biblical analysis, along with their use and the motives for their use by those who first developed them.

The authors contend that those who developed the beginnings of much of what is now common method in historical critical study of Scripture were often, and probably even more often than not, strongly influenced and/or motivated by political goals, not least of which was simply the exaltation of the secular state over ecclesial authority. This was undoubtedly a two edged sword, in that even those who did not wish to diminish the role of religion, the prime examples here would be Wycliffe and Luther, often unwittingly contributed to a later secularization that they would have never have approved of.

There are other authors, such as Spinoza, who developed methods such as source criticism etc. specifically to weaken the position of religion based on the text.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Dunn TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Politicizing the Bible is a meaty tome spanning over 500 pages, which examines the origins of the historical critical method as a means of interpreting the Bible and identifies famous people who utilized this method. For those unfamiliar with the historical critical method, it is a way of understanding the Bible through understanding the literal meaning of Biblical texts when placed in the original historical context. This means the researcher wants to know who wrote it, when it was written, where it was written, what influenced the writing of it, etc. Additionally, one can use this method and compare the Biblical text to other texts written during the same period. In a nutshell, this method focuses on the human origins of the Biblical text, which isn't wrong but doesn't give you the whole picture either.

In this book, Drs. Hahn and Wiker cover both the development of the historical critical method over time and the key people in history who utilized the historical critical method. These people used their interpretation of Biblical texts to further their own political purposes and agendas. Some such people include Martin Luther, Thomas Hobbes, Machiavelli, and even King Henry VIII. Another interesting fact that I learned from reading this book is that most people believe this method originated in the 17th or 18th Century. However, the two authors demonstrate that it in fact had its earliest origins in the 14th Century, well before the Reformation ever occurred.

Each person listed above (and the others not listed in this review) is the subject of a fascinating chapter in this book, which demonstrates how the historical critical method developed over time. Drs.
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