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  Hermeneutics (from Greek hermeneuein, ‘to track down’), in theology, is the technique of interpreting writings held to contain divine truth. In ancient times such writings might be the utterances of oracles or prophets, and hermeneutics consisted of ‘translating’ them into the vernacular. The Christian Church took over the idea because it fitted well with the doctrine of a faith once delivered in the Scriptures. In early Christian hermeneutics, three different methods were employed: allegorical, analogical and literal. In the 19th century, due to the rise of the methods of historical criticism (which led to the view that one should understand an author against the background of his or her environment), hermeneutics became less and less the art of discovering divine inspiration, and more and more that of relating it and one result was an opening and widening of the gap between biblical exegesis and dogmatics. The 20th century, however, brought a revival of biblical hermeneutics, notably in the work of Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Bultmann and his school. For Heidegger, language was the method through which ‘being’ itself was communicated; an author became the true priest of humankind because through him ‘being’ was mediated.

In the wider field of literary criticism, hermeneutics is the attempt to discover, by systematic examination, the true meaning of a text (which is assumed to exist, as a specific entity, and to have been in the mind of its author as he or she composed the text). As a critical approach it is directly opposite to deconstruction. EMJ KMcL

Further reading C.E. Braaten, History of Hermeneutics; , R. Bultmann, The Problem of Hermeneutics.



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