Thursday, June 08, 2006

Leviticus, the Elite and the Dilettantes

The Good Doc' Jim West has offered another comment on his feelings regarding the right of dilettantes to interpret the Bible, this time suggesting that, since the Bible was always written for the elite, it should stay that way.

While Jim West is at least half right (we'll get to that below) in his example of Leviticus, I'm not sure that his principle (that it is written for the elite) holds all the way through. For example, what of books like Jonah? Or Esther? These stories do exist for "the man on the street," they do not require lengthy interpretations (though they've certainly been subjected to them), they are rather more like folktales, or urban legends, that have been put into print. Certainly their audience is not "the elite," as Jim would have it.

But even beyond that, the line at "the elite" is arbitrary, and fairly smacks of ad hoc. If it is moved just a smidge in either direction, either Jim will be excluded, or the dilettante included. Let's take a look at the real audience of Leviticus.

Jim informs the reader what that audience is, though promptly ignores the implications of that audience and his reasoning:

Leviticus is a priestly handbook, composed by priests (an elite class to be sure) for priests.


Of course, the Good Doc seems aware of the slippery position he's put himself in--the parenthetical note belies the tenuousness of his position. Because it's not written for a generic "elite," it's written for priests. Not only for priests, but priests living in a specific millieu. Jim West meets none of those criteria. So he broadens the terms, it's not the specific (priests) that is important to the audience, but the broader ("the elite"). Yet if this is the case, why is not a word in Leviticus written to that broader elite? It does not take a logician to find West's convenient line to be arbitrary rather than actual.

The list could go on. Was today's historical-critical exegete--professional or otherwise--the target audience of the Chronicler? Of the Deuteronomistic Historian? Of course not. The Good Doc' is exceedingly more qualified than me (or most dilettantes, for that matter) for a great many reasons, and in a great many ways. Claim to a tradition of "elitism," however, isn't one of them. He has no better a claim to being part of the intended audience than anyone else, because none of us are.