Subscribe to Christianity Today
Pandora's Box Opened: An Examination and Defense of Historical-Critical Method and Its Master Practitioners
Harrisville, Roy A.
376 pp., 42.00
Thinking Outside the Box
The hackneyed expression "thinking outside the box" derives from the nine-dot puzzle in which you are supposed to connect all the dots by drawing a continuous set of no more than four straight lines. Underlying the puzzle is a natural tendency to imagine that the corner-dots represent the corners of a square, so that connecting the dots requires a continuous set of at least five lines. The solution lies in thinking outside those corner-dots so as to imagine only four lines of a bisected triangle.
But a box is three-dimensional. A square is only two-dimensional. So why do we speak of thinking outside the box instead of thinking outside the square? Maybe, just maybe, the Greek myth of Pandora's box comes into play.
Whether or not it does, that myth likewise starts with a puzzle. For a wedding present, Pandora, the first human female, is given a box with contents unknown to her. She is not supposed to open it, but she puzzles over its contents. Then curiosity gets the better of her. She opens the box, and out fly all the evils that afflict human beings: hard toil, noisome diseases, the miseries of old age, early death, and countless other plagues.
In Pandora's Box Opened, New Testament scholar Roy A. Harrisville likens to Pandora's still unopened box the traditional treatment of biblical books as a breed apart from other literature, as closed off from historical-critical questions of authorship, dates of writing, textual fidelity, factual accuracy, theological consistency, moral probity, and so forth. In modern times, though, historical critics have opened the box by asking those questions about biblical books (compare the statement of Benjamin Jowett in his famous essay, "On the Interpretation of Scripture" , that an interpreter "is to read Scripture like any other book").
The relatively recent asking of historical-critical questions has engendered a host of answers pestilential in their effect on many people's ...