The plain meaning of fundamentalism is a knowledge and definition of fundamentals. A fundamental is essential, basic, and of major significance, like The Ten Teachings (Commandments). Fundamentalism is more narrowly defined as a protestant religious movement with a belief in the literal truth of the bible. Of course we have Jewish fundamentalism also, where God is literally incarnate in the words of The Torah, and Islamic Fundamentalism, which teaches a Quran that is the final testament and gets the last word on God’s design for men. The devil is in the details, and fundamentalists who believe in some form of “Inerrancy” in the sacred word often forget fundamentals as they lose focus on the big picture when they see only an “ism”.
Are scriptures the infallible word of God?
Are all fundamentalists literalists?
What Torah did Moses receive on Sinai?
What genre are scriptures?
I think the most accurate word for the genre of the Bible is Scription. Scriptural fiction. I include the Original Testament, Gospels and even Epistles in this assessment. Some of the Epistles are Pseudeopigripha.
I also use the term for my Final Testament, a continuation of the biblical narrative. Scription is often true, but not literally. Good Scription is literarily true.
The Bible is also literarily true, even when not literally true.
The Bible begins with the fictions of Adam and Eve and Noah to teach us our common origins in one family. We all have the same original parents.
An Ark of gopher wood will not save us from a flood of fire, but we understand the literary truth of the story. The stories of Genesis are useful fictions. Our founding fathers in the bible, as with our nation find their stories always embellished. In the third grade Washington’s cherry tree is a useful Midrash about honesty, even if the event never occurred. Who cares about the literal. Stories teach truths.
Not all of the bible is lore for the folk, we also find Laws for everything. The
Rabbis never taught a literal reading of the Law. An eye for an eye is a law of strict justice that was open to the non literal. Would we want a world filled with the blind? What if I take your eye out by accident? An eye for an eye meant the value of an eye according to rabbinic reading. This is Midrash. Torah is called Mikra, or reading since everything depends on interpretation.
We live in an American environment supersaturated with the doctrine of inerrancy and a reading of scripture so strictly constructed that meaning is made absurd. The error is the readers, and not inherent in the writings. In Jerusalem, studying to be an orthodox rabbi I was never forced to accept any doctrine similar to inerrancy. Rambam and David Hartman taught me not to be a literalist either in the Written Torah or The Oral Torah. My Chassidic Masters taught a creation that is continuing and a revelation that is still happening. I happily taped into this creative process.
When my orthodox teachers taught a Torah given from heaven I happily and poetically added: “ A Torah that is Heaven”. On Earth we studied a scriptural text that had omnisignificance, to use Professor Kugels term.
He by the way, is literally a professor’ even thought it sounds like I made his name up.
The only fundamentalism I found in orthodox Judaism had to do with the codes of conduct and defining custom, such as black garb, as also from Moses on Sinai. In other words a Puritan is a Puritan is a Puritan, Protestant, Jewish or Islamic. All believe god commands, literally their ethnocentric practices and beliefs. Jewish Puritans insist land is more important than Peace even though every prayer we utter indicates the contrary. Muslim Puritans insist the Holy Quran is a textbook for terror.
Christian Puritans pray for a rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem with animal sacrifices so their substitution may come and atone the world.
Why do these fundamentalists ignore fundamentals?
They lack the ability to read, to think, and to understand.
The Bible is a library with many books that contradict one another. Imagine trying to harmonize a library! Ruth and Ezra are on opposite sides of the interfaith issue. This is truth, not error.
I am told to believe that the Torah is from heaven. Fine. My Torah is heaven. I learned Quranic Arabic in graduate school and confess my sense that the sublime language of the Quran is divine. When I read the gospels I do not see four versions that contradict one another in many details as an error. In fact, having four versions speaks to the good news in the gospels.
This does not mean Rabbi Jesus said everything in red in that edition of scripture. Red is not the Gospel according to Jesus itmis the Gospel according to Redactor.
Mikra: Learning to Read
I agree with my masters about the omnisignificance of scripture. Every jot and title is essential. Rabbi Akiva learned profound truths from the crownlets on certain Hebrew letters. Akiva literally knew each jot.
The problem is Rabbi Akiva also became a fundamentalist who supported the false military messiah Bar Kochbah at the end of his career. In Principle Teachings (Pirkay Avot 3:17) Rabbi Akiva teaches that playfulness leads to lewdness and that the authority of the Rabbis the only true protection of the Torah. This Puritanism may have led Akiva to his terrible exegesis of history, and embracing of a messianic pretender.
Did his obsession with scripture become an ism, and the ignoring of fundamentals?