How do we ensure that we accomplish our stated purpose of welcoming Jewish, Christian, Atheist and other viewpoints in questions? Does this mean that every question should welcome any perspective (that takes seriously the process of understanding the Biblical texts), or that as long as we have a diversity of questions, some welcoming certain perspectives and some others, that meets our goal?


Perversely, insisting that every question should welcome any perspective will reduce the diversity we have rather than increase it. Consider this question:

How was Psalm 22 understood by Jewish tradition before the birth of Jesus? Was it interpreted messianically? What pre-Christian sources discuss Psalm 22?

Insisting that "every question should welcome any perspective" would exclude this entire class of questions and further narrow what is already a fairly narrow scope here. It would reduce the site's interest to key groups of people it is currently interesting to: those who have these very specific (and sometimes very interesting) questions like the one above.

The text on the help pages...

We welcome Jewish, Christian, Atheist and other viewpoints as long as they take seriously the process of understanding the Biblical texts.

...is, in context, a statement of both openness and 'closedness'. It isn't the stated aim of the site to be 'neutral' or to provide 'a level playing field' to those of all or no religion, but to explicitly define the site's scope in a non-religious terms. It could be paraphrased like this:

Contributions here are welcome from anyone without any requirements regarding your religion, but rather that the processes of understanding the text are respected. In other words you don't have to believe in or presuppose any particular 'truth' when asking or answering a question, but you can't assume it is all nonsense.

If it happens that the vast majority of those interested in the topic are from one or two religions groups, that doesn't mean we have failed. If very few atheists want to contribute here that doesn't mean we have failed. However if atheists who are interested in the text (perhaps considering it a fascinating work of literature), do not contribute here because their contributions are attacked for not being religions, then we have failed.

We recently had an agnostic contributor for a short time and I was encouraged to see both that he was interested and knowledgeable in the subject, and that his (well written and well sourced) contributions were well received: this gives me added confidence that we are on the right track.

  • This is just something I’ve thought about as a Catholic and newer user at BH. Maybe I’m wrong, but while everyone in Meta may be able to be respectful of other beliefs and religions in their questions and answers, I don’t think every BH main user is able to do that. As a Catholic I've just decided to no longer use quotes from my NAV Bible; I just use the KJV instead. Also, I would not ask a question about the 7 books in my NAV that aren’t in others' Bibles. – John Martin Jan 13 '14 at 12:41
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    @JohnMartin as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I would love to see more questions about Apocryphal texts! And feel free to use whichever translation you're comfortable with, just let us know which one you're using. There may be some who object, but the majority of us who like to upvote good questions and answers don't evaluate posts on the basis of one's religious background. We evaluate the content by how well it shows its work. So please, by all means, use your NAV and ask about Apocryphal texts! – Dan Jan 13 '14 at 23:32
  • @JackDouglas my only caveat to this is that a question should not ask for a specific religious perspective. That is what C.SE and MY.SE are for. – Dan Jan 21 '14 at 1:47

The OP is free to give research delimitations to focus the question

OPs should feel free to respectfully state their preferences. An OP shouldn't specifically ask for a modern religious interpretation of a text (i.e. "I only want Christian/Jewish perspectives"—they can get this at C.SE or MY.SE), but they could ask that answers avoid certain controversies or positions that they view as tangential or irrelevant to their question. It is preferred that the OP not eliminate entire religious perspectives (I don't want to know what Christians think), but they can emphasize that they are not looking for interpretations with which they are already familiar. This helps folks know when they might be wasting their time providing an answer that the OP will not find useful. The key is to do this respectfully, without disparaging a perspective.

This is part of initial research effort and can be expressed as a research delimitation. In formal research, a delimitation is a characteristic selected by the researcher to define the boundaries of the study. It's like saying, 'I've already researched this perspective, I'm looking for something I don't know', NOT 'I disagree with this perspective, so I don't want to hear it.' The former is a friendly way of saying, "It's not that this perspective isn't relevant, it's just that you'd be wasting your time responding because I already know about it and am looking for something else." The latter shifts the emphasis from the text to those things to which the text applies in modern religious groups. For instance, the OP could state, "answers should emphasize the sociopolitical setting of this text and its rhetorical meaning to the original hearers, not later eschatalogical readings with which I am already familiar").

As an example. I believe the following question is on topic:

  • Pre-Christian, Jewish interpretation of Psalm 22 — The first line makes it clear that "How was Psalm 22 understood by Jewish tradition before the birth of Jesus?" is not asking for a modern Jewish perspective, but rather it seeks to understand the text as its original audience (which consisted of early Jews) would have. This is a great question.

Many good answers already delimit eisegesis and anachronistic readings of Biblical texts. The reality is that OPs shouldn't have to give delimitations in many cases, because the answers that are generally best received here stick to the text and delimit eisegesis and anachronistic readings anyways. For many types of questions, modern religious interpretations are tangential thoughts (they are welcomed, but shouldn't be the entire post). Even so, some hermeneutics do view the text through the lens of modern religious beliefs, and these are welcome so long as they show their work.

We should avoid the fallacy that we can somehow require diversity. We certainly welcome diverse perspectives, but what if some questions only have Christian perspectives? We can't control whether or not Jewish, atheist, and other contributors post answers or not. Neither should we expect every OP to find every perspective useful. The key is they we are respectful of other perspectives and acknowledge that other users may find them to be useful answers—even if we don't.

  • Your use of the terms "eisegesis and anachronistic" in this otherwise useful post is pejorative: you appear to be denigrating certain hermeneutics as a result. – Jack Douglas Apr 25 '14 at 7:29
  • @JackDouglas that was the reason for my hermeneutic caveat, to make it clear this was not my intent: "Even so, some hermeneutics do view the text through the lens of modern religious beliefs, and these are welcome so long as they show their work." – Dan Apr 25 '14 at 12:57

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