Hermeneutics: An Introduction

Thiselton, Anthony C.
Eerdmans (2009)
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Anthony Thiselton recounts the theories of the three great pillars of modern hermeneutics, Schleiermacher, Gadamer and Ricoeur but his modesty precludes his adding his own name as the fourth; for surely there has been no greater champion of the  discipline, bringing to it an astounding degree of erudition, distillation and clarification. His sympathetic and penetrative reading of the great philosophers since Descartes is a justification in itself for valuing this book as it brings us to an understanding of the interaction between Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger, among others, and the Christian enterprise.

Thiselton is careful not to cover the vast amount of ground he has previously covered, so a careful study of his own bibliography is necessary and if some find the pre Cartesian narrative somewhat thin this is because it  is dealt with in great depth in his sister volume.  Thiselton on hermeneutics: the collected works and new essays of Anthony Thiselton; Ashgate 2006; ISBN: 978-0-7546-3925-1.

What hermeneutics helps us to do is to disentangle us from our own uncritical assumptions about the world, ourselves and our self interests. While feminist criticism and liberation theology might be extreme examples of how an individual and community horizon of understanding might affect the way in which we understand a Biblical text, all individuals and societies bring something of themselves to what they read and the history of hermeneutics is largely one of understanding what it is we bring and whether we are aware of what we are bringing.

One of Thiselton's great attributes is his innate sympathy for authors and the charm with which he assesses them.  He is careful - as any student of hermeneutics must be - to distinguish between describing a position and passing an opinion on it and when he is forced to be negative he always manages to be constructive.

The word Hermeneutics (Hermes explained the gods and carried their messages) is somewhat forbidding but its techniques are scandalously under utilised by Christians in a deeply sceptical world. What the great exponents all propound is a complex, anti Cartesian view of reality which properly puts empirical knowledge in its place well 'below' understanding and wisdom. Ideally, you should have both books but if you can afford only one it should be this.