Context: pre-knowledge

Even in areas of life other than scriptural/spiritual ones — musical, in the case below — it must be recognized that understanding something thoroughly necessitates grappling with its context.

Beethoven’s Eroica  . . . is more than a mere piece of genius music; it’s got a position within the system of cultural development of its time, of which the composer could not have any knowledge.  But when analyzing a piece of the past, it is so important to be aware of what the piece means to us today and what it meant to people then.  That’s the main thing that a performer has to have internalized before producing one note of the Eroica — because the revolutionary aspect of this work today is almost impossible to recreate without this pre-knowledge.

– Vladimir Jurowski, Music Director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, quoted by James Naughtie, BBC Music Magazine, November 2011

We could debate the significance of Beethoven’s lack of knowledge of his own present, and of the future trajectory of his music — and how parallel all this does, or doesn’t, run to the experience of the apostolic writers of New Covenant scripture.  The analogy would seem to break down on the point of recreating, which isn’t an often-applied description of what biblical interpreters do, but which is often stated as an aim of performing musicians.

The main parallel is in interpretation:  a performer of Beethoven’s Eroica symphony is an interpreter, and so is a reader of scripture.  What Jurowski called “pre-knowledge” of the original meaning could be rendered “contextual awareness.”  Knowledge and awareness of the original historical and literary contexts is integral in valid interpretation.


Prior posts related to context in scripture:

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