I've previously pointed out that the overwhelming majority of Biblical Studies scholars are empiricist in method.

Concerning epistemology, Biblical Studies emphasizes evidence, especially as discovered in experiments. All hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation. Where this cannot be done (which is often the case in this field), empiricists will opt for skepticism rather than rationalism.

Another user has observed that

academic disciplines hold demonstrability and reproducibility as core values (and, in some disciplines, requirements for advancement and publication). The goal is not just the knowledge but the demonstration of methods to acquire that knowledge, methods that others can use to verify (or refute) your findings.

This site has also long affirmed (and recently reaffirmed) that

Answers should show their work. Part of what will differentiate a good quality answer from a shoddy one is the ability of other experts to review -piece by piece- the train of reasoning that brought us from the text to its meaning.

It is no secret that some hermeneutic methods are better at this than others. A user has previously even requested a list of allowed/disallowed hermeneutics, which was not received well by the community (although perhaps because of how it was asked). This post is not another attempt to produce a list of specific hermeneutic methods which are acceptable. Rather, it is an attempt at producing some helpful guidelines that users can reference when gauging how a specific hermeneutic may be received by the community. It is not meant to declare any hermeneutics as off topic / disallowed, merely to show that some may not be received as well as those that do follow these guidelines.

For the sake of simplicity, answers should refer to varying hermeneutic approaches as either 'good fit' or 'bad fit'. Some hermeneutics are bad fits for this site, this is not meant to be a prescriptive judgment on the hermeneutics utility outside of this site. This is only determining whether they are good or bad here.

So, what constitutes a 'good fit' hermeneutic method on this site?

  • I think it more useful at this point to ask one or several questions on main about actual hermeneutics methods and their reproducibility (and perhaps how that positions them in the world of academics, theology, and religion). This topic really doesn't need to be meta, I don't think it will do much more than stir up more drama. On the other hand some of us are mostly here to learn about the field of hermeneutics and would love to see more questions about the field instead of that just making use of the field. – Caleb Dec 19 '13 at 18:15
  • @Caleb I hadn't thought about asking on main - but I'm pretty sure this would be off topic as is. Any suggestions? – Dan Dec 19 '13 at 20:33
  • As it is? It's not in any shape to be migrated verbatum but if you changed the byline from being about this site to being about the overall field and the attributes of different hermeneutical approaches this could easily be ported (and I suggest would be more overall benefit to the site). Perhaps something about the attributes that make any hermeneutic more or less repeatable... – Caleb Dec 19 '13 at 20:39
  • @Caleb hmm I'll think about how to do that. I would need to rewrite 90% of the post, and I'm not quite sure what the question would be.... (fishing for more guidance/suggestions) – Dan Dec 19 '13 at 20:41
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    @Dan-"I've previously pointed out that the overwhelming majority of Biblical Studies scholars are empiricist in method." Sweeping generality. You would be better off by saying,"65% of Bible Studies scholars, according to Christianity Today, are empiricists." Then one could make their assumptions of whether or not your statement is valid. Your point is well taken in regards to hermeneutics; this is a hermeneutics site. I believe Monica answered this some time ago-could you build off her answer? – Tau Dec 20 '13 at 7:37
  • @user2479 I cited my previous post, which directly cites (and quotes) a scholarly source that makes this claim. – Dan Dec 20 '13 at 16:32
  • @Dan Hmmmm....I see the inference made and the conclusion given; but I see no criteria presented to make such an evaluation. Am I to assume by the number to manuscripts presented to the Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies? Or is it the 'reasoned opinion' of the author? – Tau Dec 21 '13 at 3:28
  • @user2479 it's likely a reasoned opinion of the author, but not a claim original to me - so take it up with Legaspi :P – Dan Dec 21 '13 at 4:48
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    But he is referring to (and me also) Biblical Studies scholars of reputable, secular institutions who publish in peer-reviewed journals (including peers not from your specific theological persuasion). Not the dime-a-dozen denominational variety (every denomination/Protestant movement has their very own esteemed scholar who always seems to pull their party line). – Dan Dec 21 '13 at 4:50
  • @Dan-There, there now, I didn't mean to rub you the wrong way. I just found it 'interesting' when you cited 'empiricism' and yet failed to provide the 'empirical' data. But you're right, my 'dime a dozen' denomination(I think) perhaps doesn't publish peer reviews in that publication-does that mean they're not Biblical Studies scholars? – Tau Dec 21 '13 at 6:33
  • @user2479 I should also mention the fact that I come from a religious persuasion that values tradition and allegory far more than secular scholarship - so I'm also indicting several of our own 'scholars.' But the issue to me is not to evaluate the worth of scholarship outside of this context, but merely to point out what fits well here in this context. Legaspi's book is actually about 'The Death of Scripture and the Rise of Biblical Studies' - he's taking the opposite stance of what this site is aiming for, but it makes for interesting food for thought. – Dan Dec 21 '13 at 6:48
  • @Dan-Point taken [( ; = ) – Tau Dec 21 '13 at 7:00

A bit of personal history:

I originally hoped that BH.SE would be a place where all sorts of hermeneutics would be on display. My experience with Bob Jones changed that: I came to realize that although in some cases his answers intersected with the kind of answers that get upvotes here, it was always going to be a small percentage. With nearly 200 posts and just over 3k rep, his average contributions are among the least valued on the site, by the metric of reputation/post.

This made me think hard: should we be trying to change the site so that these contributions are more valued somehow (perhaps by encouraging users to research Bob's methods), should we be trying to encourage Bob to tinker with his style a bit so we can understand him a little bit better, or is there something fundamental about his approach that would doom such efforts to ultimate failure.

I finally come to the view that some hermeneutics do fit here better than others and that is just something I have to accept. Eventually I even came to see this as a good thing, because at some point everything has to come back to the mission of the site to make the internet a better place to find the answer you are looking for.

So what is a 'good fit' hermeneutic?

Firstly I want to say there is no justification for elevating one person's hermeneutic or framework for understanding the texts above another person's. Some like the academic slant, some like the more emotional posts, I like a bit of both, but none of that makes one way intrinsically or morally better than another. Indeed I would like people to consider derogatory statements about another's framework out of bounds in chat, on meta and in comments on main. In the right context it may be appropriate to say another interpretation or framework is 'wrong' in an answer on main, but it is never appropriate anywhere else on this site, and indeed, I think the first two quotations in this question at least skirt with that line by implying or asserting the essential superiority of some methods over others.

On the other hand, it is clear that some approaches get more votes here, and I think that is likely to be broadly in line with how much the average random visitor from Google finds the posts useful (the person we are ultimately trying to help). These approaches are the best fit, and these are what we are trying to encourage by pushing a culture of 'show your work', because it's become evident that the posts we vote up are the posts where we understand the method and logic.

This all begs the question 'why' are those posts the most useful. Why aren't posts that just assert what we already believe the ones we like the best? I think the answer is that we are all here to learn. To learn different ways of understanding the texts we all respect, and to some degree to assimilate the processes we are learning into our own framework. A post that is both interesting and that enables us to thoughtfully ponder how it's approaches might help us refine our own; that is a post that most of us find useful.

My proposal:

  • I'd love us to all be more positive about the site: there are some real gems here and all we ever seem to talk about are the posts that for one reason or another some folk don't like. Sure we need to do the janitorial work, but we should also be celebrating the wonderful content we have and that we are becoming a useful resource of note on the internet at large (read: we are fulfilling our mission)
  • Let's stop talking about hermeneutics as 'good' or 'bad'. We can acknowledge that some lead to better received answers on average, but that doesn't mean we should look down our noses at those that don't or the people taking the time to contribute them.
  • Let's celebrate and respect the SE model that has made this site and others like it a success. We don't need to come up with new ways of deciding how useful a post is: we already have one. I don't think adding words like "demonstrability" and "reproducibility" make that better, they are just a subset of what might make a post useful, which includes many subjective elements perfectly captured by just letting folk vote and respecting the votes they cast.
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    Good thoughts here, Jack. +1 (even though it doesn't answer the question, but it doesn't do so intentionally which is acceptable) – Dan Dec 23 '13 at 19:12

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