Our humanity as readers

One evening in a bookstore. I have just spoken of the Bible, of the need to engage in the work of interpretation, if we want to understand the way in which these texts can still be addressed to us, that is to say to our humanity. The meeting ends and a few people linger. A young woman approaches me by presenting herself as oddly more gifted for masonry than for exegesis! She is rather slender. She tells me that she restores and refreshes apartments. It’s his job. She has just understood that biblical accounts are assemblages of traditions, of different versions of the same story, the contradictions of which have sometimes been preserved. Like a house, then? she asks me. Who knows several generations, several owners or tenants. Extensions, repairs, faults, even different uses. Yes, this is it. The image is fair and simple. The great texts are inhabited at different ages, by readers from various horizons and eras, who can follow one another, fade away, find each other. Each reader makes these texts resonate in his own existence, with his particular questions. As we used to say, “He brings his stone to the building” – that of living interpretation. Some texts or passages can also fall into disrepair. But we will discover scattered elements, buried under other texts, other words. The successive rewrites always bear witness to a work of transmission which resumes, reprise in a way, the texts or the words, according to new living conditions, or historical events which change our interpretation. I thank this young woman because she allows me to defend what I believe is essential: (re) reading these old biblical texts only has meaning and strength on condition of accepting the human and historical adventure that will have them. built, modified, modeled, and to pay all our attention to their scars, to the often moving traces of their successive updates because they are the testimonies of the life of the texts among us. This way they us talk, they are alive. We do not enclose them in a literal reading or in an exclusive interpretation, but we hear in them the human work of speaking and understanding oneself by reading the words of others. Nietzsche explained that “In any effort of knowledge, one stumbles over eternalized, petrified words, and the shock will rather break the leg than the word”. We must be careful not to eternalize or petrify the words of our heritage. Otherwise, “Words stand in our way” (again Nietzsche). Yes, we have long lived in texts, stories. We unfold the words so that our lives welcome them. Sometimes, however, we preferred to close the words rather than interpret them, and solicit their different possibilities of meaning. But only the one who opens each word has a road in the world, a road that only words open to him. We should teach everyone coming into the world what our humanity as a reader is, what human work we must do to deploy our lives with the most vivid meanings: to have the conviction that starting from the smallest word, we can reach the distant. I don’t know if I had time to explain all this to my young interlocutor, but I remember her last question, impertinent and ironic: “In five words at most, now you could sum it up?” “ Silence. Then I answer: “To interpret is to honor life”. Five words. She smiles and thanks me. But it is she who will have the last word: “It’s also taking risks. ”


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