Interpreting the Bible and the Constitution


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Jaroslav Pelikan

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Both the Bible and the Constitution have the status of “Great Code,” but each of these important texts is controversial as well as enigmatic. They are asked to speak to situations that their authors could not have anticipated on their own. In this book, one of our greatest religious historians brings his vast knowledge of the history of biblical interpretation to bear on the question of constitutional interpretation.

Jaroslav Pelikan compares the methods by which the official interpreters of the Bible and the Constitution—the Christian Church and the Supreme Court, respectively—have approached the necessity of interpreting, and reinterpreting, their important texts. In spite of obvious differences, both texts require close, word-by-word exegesis, an awareness of opinions that have gone before, and a willingness to ask new questions of old codes, Pelikan observes. He probes for answers to the question of what makes something authentically “constitutional” or “biblical,” and he demonstrates how an understanding of either biblical interpretation or constitutional interpretation can illuminate the other in important ways.

Jaroslav Pelikan is Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University. He served as the first John W. Kluge Scholar at the Library of Congress. A world authority on the Christian tradition, he is a highly sought lecturer, the author of nearly forty books, and the editor of scores of others.

“This book is the work of a seasoned scholar. It draws on a wide literature, both the religious in which Pelikan has worked all his life and the legal, which he uses deftly. The author substantiates his points with force, clarity, and thoroughness.”—Judge John T. Noonan, United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

“The book is an outstanding introduction to the issues that affect the understanding and application of the Bible and Constitution in American life.”—Choice

“This dean of the Christian heritage has not only identified new ground for younger academics to explore, he has provided a characteristically brilliant and original conceptual overview, one that generations of scholars will need to read—and interpret.”—Christopher Levenick, Claremont Review of Books

"Concise and characteristically acute and erudite."—Dean Grodzins, Journal of Religion

Jaroslav Pelikan is Co-Winner of the 2004 John W. Kluge Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities and Social Sciences
ISBN: 9780300102673
Publication Date: April 10, 2004
240 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
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