Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture,
by scott w. hahn and benjamin wiker
crossroad, 624 pages, $59.95

What was once a bold and ­disciplined endeavor to recover the truth of the Scriptures had become, argued Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger twenty-five years ago, a confused, self-defeating enterprise. Critical analysis never arrived at “hermeneutical synthesis.” Modern biblical scholars trying to illuminate the text became lost in a “jungle of contradictions.” To find a new way forward, Ratzinger argued, we must understand the roots of this project. We must carry out a “criticism of ­criticism.”

In Politicizing the Bible, Scott Hahn, a professor of biblical theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and Benjamin Wiker, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, have attempted to do just that. Citing ­Ratzinger’s famous call for a critical examination of biblical scholarship, the authors take aim at the beginnings of modern biblical study. The essence of the modern project, they argue, is not the search for historical truth but the reformulation of ­political power. 

Early modern interpreters (those writing between 1300 and 1700) were not disinterested scholars but men seeking to remake society—to liberalize it—by circumscribing the power of the Church. Hahn and ­Wiker claim that biblical criticism manifested a deep Erastian impulse to wrest authority from the Church and invest it elsewhere, either in nationalistic governments, powerful princes, or sober-minded individuals. What deserves to be called “modern” in this period is not scientific study of the Bible per se but rather a determination to subordinate biblical interpretation to political ends in order to secularize the social and political order.

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