Friday, 30 November 2007

Muslim Christian Conciliation?

On October 13, 2007, on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, 138 Muslim scholars and clerics sent an open letter "to leaders of Christian churches, everywhere." The signatories to that letter, titled A Common Word Between Us and You, include top leaders from around the world representing every major school of Islamic thought. The text of A Common Word Between Us and You appears at

The text opens with the following words:

" Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.
The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbour. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity."
These two principles are then demonstrated in both the Qur'an and Bible.

The Christian response can be found here. It was drafted by scholars at Yale Divinity School's Center for Faith and Culture. It was issued by the first four signatories on the document and endorsed by almost 300 other Christian theologians and leaders, including those listed here. To promote constructive engagement between these major religious communities, planning is underway for a series of major conferences and workshops involving many of the signatories to A Common Word and to the Yale response, as well as other international Christian, Muslim, and
Jewish leaders. Events will be posted at, where readers can also view the complete list of signatories as well as add their names to the list.

I agree that the issue of Muslim/Christian relations will be the major topic for the next epoch of our history. What fruit this meeting will bring, I can't say. One thing I am convinced of is that without an adequate knowledge of our own identity as Christians, dialogue will dissipate into truisms that will leave us vulnerable to be led by those who do know what they believe.
NB: for the expected conservative reaction, go here.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Literary and Canonical Approaches

I'm grateful to have Dave Beldman as a dialogue partner. He has recently posted an essay in which he looks at the possible implications of newer literary approaches to biblical interpretation, especially as these impact historical critical theories concerning the development of texts. He asked me to compare this literary approach with Childs' canonical approach, as I have recently outlined it in my last thread. Though I answered him in the comments (here), I've touched my response up a bit in order to post it here.

Though there are many similarities between a canonical approach which privileges the final form of the biblical text and literary approaches which work with the assumption of unity, Childs explicitly distances himself from such approaches. The difference is in the starting point.

Childs starts from a theological premise, rather than an aesthetic or literary one: the God of creation has elected for himself a concrete people and has chosen to relate to that people in space and time (see here). This historical relationship has brought the text of Scripture into being , a text whose function within God's economy is to point to Him and his ways (see forthcoming thread). Just as our four different gospels are diverse textual witnesses to the one Gospel outside the text, so the whole of scripture testifies in diverse ways to the reality of the one God, the Gospel, or Jesus (or however you wish to define the text's ultimate subject matter). This kerygmatic function of the text means that its reality is not self-contained. Though one can posit a world 'in' the text as a useful hermeneutical tool, it is not the case that the world in the text exhausts the truth of the text. That text is part of a greater whole which points beyond itself to what really matters: 'divine reality', Jesus, or whatever. This is how I understand Vanhoozer's statement about theological interpretation: it is interpretation oriented to the knowledge, not of the text (literary approaches), nor of historical circumstances (historical critical approaches), but of the God who called the text into being in the first place (JTI vol. 1, Intro).

As a result, interpretation which is to do justice to the nature of the text must be theological. A literary approach, which looks at structure and rhetorical devices can only be one step in comprehending what the text is about. We need to be piercing 'through' the text to its ultimate subject matter. This subject matter is outside the text (I'm not sure I would say 'behind' ... ), it is the ultimate subject matter of the text, what the text is really all about, and is not reducible to the level of the text itself.

This has implications for heremeneutics. A realization that the text is a 'witness' and not the reality itself frees the Christian from what Childs calls 'biblicism', the need to reduce the reality of God to the level of the text itself. Because the Bible is not about itself but about God, it is OK if there are contradictions and disjunctions at the surface level, and I mean real contradictions, not just artfully placed ones that actually fulfil some subtle literary purpose. The unity of the Bible is not a literary unity, but rather a theological unity. It lies in the subject matter to which the text points. The one Gospel to which the four gospels point is where the unity should lie, not in attempts to reconcile contradictions amongst the gospel witnesses themselves.

As such, focusing on the text in the literary fashion that Josipovici recommends is just one part of the overall activity of theological exegesis. The literary approach of Josipovici is useful only to the degree that it helps us understand the kerygmatic intentionality of the text of Judges or Job. Using it as a tool to iron our tensions is fine to the degree that it gives an adequate account of the text itself (as I'm sure you will agree). But I think it bears pointing out that a theological approach, at least the one that Childs recommends, requires attention to the kerygmatic/canonical intentionality of the text, and this in turn means attending to the historical dimension. Escaping from the real world into a narrative world is, according to the theological premise of Childs, to contradict the foundational assumptions of a God who dwells with us (not that Josipovici is necessarily doing this, though many narrative theologians such as Frei and Linbeck come close). History and commitment to a certain type of authorial intentionality are necessary parts of exegesis oriented to knowledge of God. That the unity of scripture is outside of it means we are not required to get rid of editorial additions and surface level contradictions.

Childs wryly notes the theological agnosticism present in much narrative theology. It is possible for theologians from both the extreme right and extreme left of the discipline to do narrative theology, coming to similar conclusions, while sharing fundamentally different views about the actual world in which we live.

I wrote a post on the way Childs' understanding of the formation of the text provides the grounds for broadening theological reflection beyond the horizon of the Old Testament here. Here we have something of the marriage of history and theology that theological exegesis needs to maintain.

(For the record, I think Sternberg does a good job of providing a literary approach which takes seriously the historical world 'behind' the text. Childs cites him approvingly.)

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

The Hermeneutical Implications of the Canonical Shaping of the Pentateuch

To round off his presentation of the canonical shaping of the Pentateuch, Childs briefly sketches a few of the hermeneutical implications of this approach to Scripture:

1) First, the present shape of the Pentateuch is a theological witness which is lost if its shape is destroyed in order to reconstruct a chronological sequence. The present arrangement preserves a basic critical norm as to how the tradition was to be understood in the life of the people of God.
2) Divine revelation is not buried in past historical events which depend on recovery by archaeology in order to be made available to the church. Rather, the long history of the development of tradition reflects God's continuing revelation of Himself to His church which left its mark in the canonical shaping of the Pentateuch. The growth of the Pentateuch was not an arbitrary selection and arrangement by individuals apart from the ongoing life of the community of faith. The final shape of the Pentateuch is canonical, that is, normative for the life of faith, because it reflects the fullest form of the church's understanding of God's revelation.

3) The decisive factor in shaping the tradition was the concern to render it in a form so that it could be correctly understood and rightly appropriated by the succeeding generations of God's people. This is the role and function of canon. Scripture became the vehicle by which the original historical events were remembered, but also theologically interpreted to function as revelation for the generations yet unborn. The decisive hermeneutical role of canon was to guide the church in moving from the past to the present.

4) By taking seriously the canonical shape of the Old Testament the Christian interpreter suddenly discovers that he stands in the company of all the great Christian expositors of the past. Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, rather than being regarded as museum pieces of an uncritical age, are found to be wrestling with the fundamental issues of faith.

Childs concludes:

In the end, the goal of all our endeavors is that we interpret the Scripture so that men and woman will recognize in them the living Christ, and God willing, some will perhaps even testify: "Did not our hearts burn within us when He opened to us the Scriptures?" (722).

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

The Canonical Shape of Deuteronomy

The Book of Deuteronomy plays a decisive role within the theological purpose of the canonical editors. Regardless of its actual original function (part of the reform program of Josiah?), within the present shape of the Pentateuch it functions to reinterpret the events of Sinai for the future generation of Israelites. In a series of speeches Moses explains and recapitulates the meaning of the Sinai law, and he does so on the plains of Moab before a new generation about to claim the promises of God. Childs (1972) lists three points that are made:

1) The original covenant concerns the later generations as much as the first. God's covenant was not tied to past history but was offered to all the people of God.

2) The interpretation of Moses is future-orientated: after the realization of the promises Israel is to respond obediently.

3) The purpose of Deuteronomy is to inculcate the Law in the heart of the people. The issue is a matter of life and death and Israel is to choose.

Childs argues that the Deuteronomy functions to provide a theological norm for how the Law is to be understood. The "spirit" of the Law is summarized in terms of "loving God with heart, soul, and might," a decisive check against legalistic abuse.

To summarize, Childs states,

Once again, and in a way different from either Genesis or the middle books, the canonical editors have shaped the material into a theological witness to be used by later generations of Israel. By removing Deuteronomy from its canonical setting and seeking to interpret it from an allegedly original historical context of the seventh century, the decisive function which the canon has assigned this material is lost."

Monday, 26 November 2007

Pornographic Time Bomb

Perhaps I'm being overly apocalyptic here, but I feel that the Western world is standing on the brink of a cultural catastrophe. Never before has a society been so exposed to so much explicit sexual imagery. With roughly 250 million pornographic sites on the Internet, free access to the most hardcore content is only a few mouse clicks away. This addictive drug is shaping the minds of a new generation, whether youth or adult, single or married. As Europe looses its identity by which it should face new and significant challenges, we are being exposed to a silent poison that feeds off our deepest desires and insecurities, turning one half of humanity into predators and the other into prey.

The BBC has produced a documentary on teenagers hooked on Internet porn. Not only can you see how it affects the lives of those boys who consider it an affliction, you can see the social consequences it has for those for whom it has become a way of life. The psycho-sexual therapist interviewed in the documentary describes the situation as a time bomb, something unprecedented, the consequences of which can only be destructive.

The documentary is about 40 minutes long.

You can watch it here.
Update: After Existentialism, Light links to video updates from a recent conference held on sexuality in American conferences.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

The Canonical Shape of Leviticus and Numbers

Before I continue my thread on Childs' understanding of 'canonical shaping', I'd like to point out why I am doing this. For many these observations are now passé; the focus on the final form of the text has become a standard methodological assumption for many in the biblical guild. What I am concerned to demonstrate is not so much what the final from of the Pentateuch is, but rather the way in which Childs grounds his focus on this form. Despite a growing number of 'final form' approaches, there remains diversity concerning the nature of this final form, how one should read it and the theological/philosophical justifications for such an interpretative move. The early statements made by Childs here (1972), as far as I can see, remained with him throughout his career (though in modified form) and make his approach distinctive to later postmodern and postliberal approaches. Despite claims to the contrary, Childs never rejects the diachronic dimension of the text, both as a fact and as an interpretative guide. Childs never claimed that the Bible creates a hermetically sealed narrative universe which both 'swallows' up our world and is resistant to insights from outside the text. Childs never rejects authorial intentionality as significant for interpretation, though he certainly modifies it. He never rejects the 'happendness' of events as significant to faith, though their relationship to our faith is nuanced.

I hope that the brief summary of his 1972 essay gives a flavour of his approach, though it clearly raises many questions and thus nicely anticipates his more developed formulations from later in his career.

So, onwards with the Pentateuch. After Genesis and Exodus we come to Leviticus and Numbers:

Critical scholarship has characterized the priestly legislation of these books as one of the most extreme examples of historical fiction. A great deal of late material, much of which is post-exilic, has been joined to the Sinai material. Yet the canonical form of Leviticus and Numbers links these books to the same setting as the last half of Exodus. The directions for cultic worship are closely joined to the Sinai legislation. The result is that a witness is given that the institutions and rites which determine how Israel is properly to worship God stem from the revelation of God. Israel's cult is not her own invention. The canonical shape provides a critical theological judgement against any reading of the tradition which would isolate the priestly elements of the tradition from the so-called prophetic.

Again, the priestly material is dominated by the demand on Israel to comply to the holiness of God, a witness included by the canonical shape with the Sinai legislation. As a result, the presence of God which once dwelt on Sinai now accompanies Israel in the tabernacle. What once happened at Sinai is continued for the later generations of Israel in the tabernacle. The canonical redaction shaped the tradition in order to serve as Scripture for the use of later Israel. It offered a theological interpretation of the Sinai covenant. When the historical critics remove the Priestly material and assign it to the post-exilic age, then the major theological testimony of the canon is jeopardized.

Friday, 23 November 2007

The Canonical Shape of Exodus

As with Genesis, Childs* testifies to an equally complex prehistory of traditions lying behind the final form of the present composition. But once again there are some important editorial moves which reveal the intention of the canonical shaping.

A basic feature of the Book of Exodus is the interchange of narrative and legal material. The narrative material testifies to the historical moment at a particular time in Israel's history at which God made His will known to His people. For Israel to learn the will of God necessitated an act of self-revelation. Thus, regardless of whether in the prehistory the narrative and legal traditions developed along different lines, in the canonical form the two elements belong together. "Gospel and Law cannot be divorced."

Again, the final form of Exodus has often combined the account of an original event with an account of the ongoing celebration of that same event (e.g. the intertwining of the original Passover with an account of its ongoing celebration). In this way, material is formed in such a way as to provide a channel of appropriation for every future generation.

Finally, it is theologically significant that the Sinai material has been edited in such a way that the covenant is both preceded and followed by stories of Israel's murmuring and resistance to the law of God. Particularly the place of the story of the Golden Calf provides a commentary on how the demands of God upon His people are continually supported by His mercy in the light of repeated disobedience and even apostasy.

*"The Old Testament as the Scripture of the Church" Concordia Theological Monthly 43 D (1972) 709-22

Thursday, 22 November 2007

The Canonical Shape of Genesis

Having outlined a case for a canonical reading of the Bible as Scripture, and then illustrated what this would mean when looking at the Pentateuch/Torah as a whole, Childs turns to the canonical shaping of the individual books. What is interesting is his attention to both synchronic and diachronic dimensions of the text. In other words, the history of traditions provides evidence of a theological intent, an intent which justifies our focus on the final form.

We start at the beginning: Genesis.

Concerning the history of tradition, Childs takes the standard critical line: separate literary sources were joined together at different historical periods. The text consists of an earlier composite strand - usually called JE - and a later source - the Priestly source. However,whereas most critical scholars devote their energy to sorting out these sources and the prehistory of tradition, Childs highlights the theological intentionality in this historical process and its ultimate outcome: the completed Book of Genesis.

Thus, it is of significance that Genesis begins with a primeval history and only in Ch. 12 does the story of Abraham begin. This involved the combination of two sources. According to the P source, there is a narrowing of interest from the universal history of mankind to focus on the one family of Abraham. According to the J source, the history of the growth of sin which culminated in the fragmentation of mankind in the tower of Babel provided the theological grounds for the election of Abraham and the future role of Israel. The effect of this combination of sources is that the election of Israel is tied inextricably to a theology of creation. Regardless of the chronological development of the book of Genesis (many date the creation narratives later than the patriarchal),

"the canonical shape of Genesis subordinated redemption to creation without divorcing the two aspects of the divine purpose with the world and his creatures. Israel was elected in the mystery of the divine will for the purpose of reconciling the world to the creator" (1972: 718).
A similar effort at canonical editing can be seen in the patriarchal narratives. Regardless of their prehistory (scholars are still divided), the theological significance of these stories has been determined by the pervasive theme of divine promise of a posterity and a land. The life of obedience is illustrated in these narratives - given long before the Law - which call for unswerving trust in the faithfulness of God. The Book of Genesis as the prelude to the actual history of the nation Israel provides a decisive commentary for the proper understanding of the Sinai covenant. God's revelation of himself to the fathers is an act of pure grace which calls forth the required stance of faithful obedience. Or, to put the issue another way,

the canonical shape which has the narrative precede the Law affords a clear check against understanding the purpose of Israel primarily in terms of the Law" (1972: 718).

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Description of the Canonical Shaping of the Pentateuch

According to Jewish tradition, the five books of the Pentateuch constitute a unity, designated as the "Torah", the "Torah of Moses", or the "Book of the Law of Moses". The tradition is ancient, assumed already in the Septuagint and all the Hebrew manuscripts.

Childs* asks whether this five-fold division actually belongs to the canonical tradition of the Old Testament itself or whether it was a post-Old Testament development. He looks to the redactional evidence.

First, it is quite clear that the five books were seen as separate entities by the final Biblical editor in spite of the continuity of the one story (Creation-Death of Moses). For example, though Exodus continues where Genesis left off, at the outset it recapitulates material from Genesis (Gen. 48.8ff) in order to form an introduction to the new book. There is similar evidence amongst the other books of both continuity of the story and integrity of each book.

In sum, there is clear editorial evidence to establish five divisions within the material

Childs goes to to ask whether there is editorial evidence to show a relationship in terms of content, beyond the formal aspect. It is clear that the three middle books share the same basic content, which has to do with the giving and receiving of the law by Moses at Sinai. This history at Sinai is given coherence by means of an explicit chronological sequence, and the event is both preceded and succeeded by accounts of the wanderings to Sinai and from Sinai. Though Genesis differs greatly in style and content to this central block (it speaks of a family, not a nation), the material is integrally connected with what follows in that it speaks of the promise of a posterity and a land. As such, Genesis was seen by the final redactor as the introduction to the story of Israel which began in Exodus. The final book in the collection, Deuteronomy, is also distinct in style (e.g. it is paranetic). Whatever its original role in the development of Israel's history, the editor understood Deuteronomy's role as a type of commentary to the preceding laws. In its new setting and period, Moses is emphasised as mediator and interpreter of the divine will. It is therefore in order that the Pentateuch closes with his death.

To summarize, the content of the five books evidences an intentional structuring of these books into a purposeful theological whole.

The full force of the concept of a 'Pentateuch' is emphasized when one realizes that the shape of this redaction is neither the natural nor the original historical order. Rather, the original tradition extended into the book of Joshua, forming a Hexateuch. The editors, however, decided that Deuteronomy should conclude the first part of the sacred tradition as the place where God made his will known to Israel. The stories which continue with Joshua are qualitatively distinguished from the Pentateuch in that the revelation of the will of God (Torah) is assumed to be known in Israel (Josh. 1.8).

Again, to summarize,

"the recognition of the Pentateuch as a special body of sacred tradition which constituted a whole is already testified to within the Old Testament itself. It needed only later tradition to formulate the terminology for a reality which it had received." (p. 717)
*"The Old Testament as the Scripture of the Church" Concordia Theological Monthly 43 D (1972) 709-22

Monday, 19 November 2007

Historical Criticism and the Reading of Scripture

In my post The Writing of Scripture I outlined the diachronic dimension the text as consisting of a 'canonical process', a theological process in which the various traditions and texts were shaped to provide a normative criticism for the ongoing life of the people of God. It's now time to look at a concrete example: the Pentateuch.

Writing in 1972*, Childs is more or less in agreement with the main insights of historical criticism regarding the makeup of the Pentateuch. Both Mosaic authorship and the simple historicity of its account are rejected in favour of the view that the Pentateuch reflected a long history of development through an oral and literary stage, parts of which history can be recovered through critical research.

Childs does not reject the conclusions of historical criticism. His distinctive claim, however, is that this historical approach to the literature is a distinct and different enterprise from studying the Pentateuch as the Scriptures of the church. Such a move is to read the text outside the perspective of the tradition, which is the perspective of faith. To replace the study of the canonical shape of the Pentateuch with a reconstruction of the literature's historical development is to confuse the historical with the theological task. Rather, as he says, "the present shape of the Pentateuch offers a particular interpretation - indeed confession - as to how the tradition was to be understood by the community of faith." (1972: 715). Therefore, as far as theology is concerned, it is important to describe the actual characteristics of the canonical shape and secondly to determine the theological significance of this shape.

My next post will look at Childs' description of the canonical shaping of the Pentateuch.

* "The Old Testament as Scripture of the Church" Concordia Theological Monthly 43 D (1972) 709-22

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Teaching Iraqi Christians

I've just been offered my dream job!

I've taught English to adult learners for a few years now, mostly business people. I love the job, the language is fascinating and there's something deeply satisfying about being personally responsible for the development of another human being. Although I never made distinctions between managers and the unemployed, I usually got a deeper sense of fulfilment teaching those really needed the language to get somewhere in life, as opposed to those who were doing it on the side as a hobby.

Well, given this little passion of mine, I have just been offered the most exciting and demanding contract I've ever been offered, and I thought I share it with you lot.

The Redemptorists, the monastic order who run the school my wife teaches at, have a branch in Baghdad, Iraq. Three Iraqi youth (in their twenties), who have shown particular commitment to the Church, are being sponsored by the religious order to fly to America, where they will study theology at a university and then train to become priests. The ultimate goal is to send them back to Iraq once they are qualified to serve there and the situation has stabilized.

The problem is, they can't speak English, not a word of it! In order to prepare them for their studies, they're being sent here, to Bonn, to acquire the necessary linguistic skills to study in the States (the reason they're being sent to Germany to learn English has to do with Visa complications). In other words, they have to go from zero knowledge to fluent in the space of a year and a half (originally the Order wanted six months, but that is just ridiculous). The sole individual responsible for guiding them through this little linguistic and cultural venture (I hope it won't be a trauma), is me! Not only am I personally responsible for their linguistic well-being, I can do what I like, how I like. I can use the material I want, the methods I want, and I will have the unparalleled privilege of seeing these earnest followers of Christ blossom into eloquent speakers of the English tongue (I'm assuming they're motivated)! And not only that - it's for a good cause, a fascinating cause, and, I hope, a profoundly significant cause (Christian witness in Iraq).

Does it get any better than that?

I already had a fascination with Middle Eastern Christianity. This new development will no doubt be the cause of several posts on the situation of Iraqi Christians appearing on this blog at various points in the future. For those who want a little taster, I discovered this ecumenical site dedicated to their plight here. Those who live in the states have guidelines on how to take action and write to Congress on their behalf.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

The Writing of Scripture

After a rather long excursus dealing with C. Seitz's article "In Accordance with Scripture" (the last of which, see here), I now return to my overarching project, which is to outline what a Christian heremeneutic might look like. The manifesto is here and the last post is here.

As I have tried to say so far, the Christian confession of faith postulates history as the arena within which God is unfolding his plans for the world. This plan involves God's creation of the world, his establishing within it a covenant people to be his instrument and witness, who then themselves, through Word and Spirit, are active within the world to bring about God's redemptive purposes (for a more classic formulation, check out Irenaeus' rule of faith).

The writing of Scripture, then, is an episode within this divine economy. Its function is to witness to this reality which is the life and sustenance of the church. Its authority for the covenant people of God lies in its ability to witness to this truth and to guide this people in terms of it. According to the Scripture itself, this relationship between God and his people is not static.
This very real, ongoing relationship 'outside' the text encompasses the process whereby the texts themselves are produced (from independent traditions to canonical Scripture). As such, 'authority' from a Christian perspective entails a diachronic dimension.

The result of this peculiar relationship between God and his people via Scripture is that the text has acquired its own theological dynamic. The process of collecting, interpreting and shaping the sacred traditions was primarily a theological one, in which the sacred heritage was shaped in such a way that it would be able to function as authoritative scripture for those who had not participated in the original events of revelation. It was a profoundly hermeneutic activity. An interpretive structure was given, contouring relationships between texts and setting the boundaries for later generations within which God's voice was to be heard. A “redactioned” or “ruled” reading of the texts, often characterised as “kerygmatic,” “confessional” or “canonical,” was thus required by later generations in order to hear God's word for a new day.

The closing of the canon fixed the shape of the text, focusing attention on the final form. After this point commentary became the accepted means of interpreting Scripture for changing needs.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Understanding Given 'From Within'

"Christianity affirms that the nature of its own vision is such that understanding can only come 'from within', i.e. it is given to faith. The vision is there for the catching in the liturgy, and it includes a practical component for living. Christianity yields its secret only to those who engage themselves existentially in worship and appropriate conduct. This is necessarily the case, since it is of the essence of the Christian vision to claim, or invite, the whole person. The sciences have tended to regard the observer's participation as a regrettable necessity, imposed by the nature of things. Christianity glories in the fact, the strict matter of fact, that reality can be known only by participation. Thus the epistemological principles of Christianity correspond better than the epistemology of much modern Western science to the place of human beings amid the reality of which they are a part and which they seek to know. Moreover, Christians gladly acknowledge that their knowledge is relative (to the knower) and, without falling into contradiction, claim that it is potentially universal."

G. Wainwright, Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine and Life (1980: 361).

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

J. Kugel and the 'groaning' of New York

James Kugels approach to biblical studies and faith has also attracted the attention of the New York Times. You can read their review of his book, How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture Then and Now, here. What is particularly interesting are the concluding three paragraphs:

"How to Read the Bible runs through the entire Hebrew Scriptures,matching modern scholarship and ancient interpretation. The journey is fascinating enough to render frustrating the author's conclusion. Although he admired both approaches, Professor Kugel writes, they are "quite irreconcilable."

Is this conclusion as unavoidable as he makes it sound? Modern minds still seek deeper meanings and still want relevant instructions for living. As for the ancient worry about seamlessness, modern minds,sensitized to multiple perspectives, often find more coherence in contrasting accounts than perfectly harmonized ones.

The ancient interpreters' boldness in rewriting was motivated and justified, Professor Kugel writes, by a fresh apprehension of God and the corresponding need to flesh out the command, found in the Book of Deuteronomy and elsewhere, "to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. Is it so impossible that modern scholarship, too, could be put to that service?"

It would seem that Kugel's stark compartmentalization of interpretation into 'ancient' and 'modern' has left the Bible locked into a reality unable to touch that of the modern world. I wonder whether other approaches, such as Childs and Seitz's 'canonical approach', are able to still the frustration that this modern journalist is expressing? Isn't answering this longing part of what the Bible is about in the first place?

Monday, 12 November 2007

My Response to Kugel's Critique

Yesterday I posted on Kugel's critique of confessional Christian approaches to the Bible. It would appear that Christians respond to the challenge of historical criticism by qualifying its apparently destructive findings with a "yes, BUT ... ", followed by arguments that the Bible really is special after all. Apparently, it seems that in order for the Bible to be preserved as Sacred Scripture, some kind of special property has to be attached to the Bible itself, such that it really is unique in the Ancient Near East, or that it really is great literature.

Whether Christians really do respond in this way or not, I think it misses the point. As always (well, for now at least) ,I use B.S. Childs to orient myself on these issues.

For Childs, the Bible has a special function within the church, namely the 'canonical' one of offering "a critical theological norm for the community of faith on how the tradition functions authoritatively for future generations of the faithful". As "critical theological norm", it would seem to be rather irrelevant whether the Bible is literarily and theologically distinctive from other ancient sources. Even the vague concept of 'superiority' is secondary to this critical function of the Bible. So what if it's literature is poor or sophisticated, profound or shallow, unique or typical? It is the confession of the church that the God of the universe has come to us in Jesus, and that the prophetic witness to this Jesus is the matrix in which he is understood. Aesthetic or moral judgements come second to submitting to whatever form this textual witness to our Saviour makes. What ever makes the Bible 'great' is its ultimate subject matter, not its surface presentation.

Having said that, on a personal note, I have recently been experiencing the Old Testament narratives in a rather profound way (for me at least). It comes in phases; sometimes the Bible really is incomprehensible to me. At other times, I feel that I've been situated in such a way that the narrative world of the text and my own confused horizon seem to fuse, such that I find my own situation inexplicably illuminated by that which I read. I'm not just saying this because that's what some confessional theologians say happens, I really do experience this.

Who knows, maybe I just haven't read enough. Maybe, once I start submerging myself in the world of ancient pagan literature, I'll start having the same illuminating and convicting experience with Marduk as I currently have with the Lord. Who knows. Maybe.

Ancient Hebrew Poetry makes other criticims of Kugel and provides a directory of current blog-debate on the man.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Kugel's Critique of Christian Confessionalism

As if by some mysterious working of divine providence, Emerging from Babel has decided to post on James Kugel, exactly the day before I decided to do the same. The content is different, as Stephen focuses on Kugel's suggestions on the essence of Judaism, and how that helps him cope with the challenge of historical criticism. The 'substance' of Judaism, as Kugel sees it, lies in the ongoing attempt to work out the implications of a single command: that Israel must serve the LORD. Everything else would seem to be peripheral, such that whatever the Bible actually says or whatever historical criticism throws at us is not relevant to the pragmatic task of obedience. The essence of Jewish faith preserves it from attacks from the outside.

This provides a nice bridge to my post. On an online forum recently, a commenter cited Kugel's critique of Christian attempts to come to terms with historical criticism. My aim today is simply to post what he said (with permission). I'd love to know how others respond to what Kugel has to say. On Monday I'll post what I wrote it response. Here it is:

I haven't seen much comment on biblioblogs about the online appendix to James Kugel's new book, How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now, which is entitled:"Apologetics and `Biblical Criticism Lite'"

But I think it's well worth some responses. Hopefully this post will stimulate some.

Kugel notes that people have grown used to the idea that the Bible really wasn't written by those figures long claimed to be its authors, that it is full of contradictions and editorial overlays, etiological narratives and invented history. Notwithstanding the fact that they admit this, most Christian and Jewish biblical scholars tend to immediately turn around and argue that the situation is "not so bad – in fact, it's not bad at all. We embrace the truth about the Bible as we now know it."

But when you scratch a little deeper into this common response by confessional biblical scholars one finds that--instead of genuinely accepting the results of modern biblical scholarship--they have in fact only adopted an apologetic reflex to the findings. They really automatically downplay or minimise the implications. They have adopted a series of qualifications which overrule the findings which they ostensibly affirm. That is, their response is: "Yes, it's true, modern scholars have shown X, BUT ... "

As Kugel's first example: despite the fact that parts of the Bible have been shown to be derived from ancient Mesopotamian texts and are `invented history' (such as the Flood Story)—bible scholars spend endless energy in trying to downplay the implications. In respect of the Flood Story itself, he gives a series of revealing quotations from biblical scholars who are intent on downplaying the many similarities, in order to defend the literary and theological distinctiveness and `superiority' of the biblical version. Why do they do this?

"The answer is obvious. They feel torn between what they would like the Bible to be – an utterly unique, divinely inspired book given to mankind – and what modern scholarship has sought to show about this particular story, that it is essentially copied from a Mesopotamian source (and therefore not, on the face of things, an utterly unique, divinely inspired composition). So there has to be a world of difference between the biblical and Mesopotamian versions despite the obvious similarities. The differences commentators fix on, however, are really not very convincing."

Kugel also has some damning comments about the current trend for viewing the Bible as `great literature'. He rightly observes that this method is often misused by apologists:

"Ultimately, this is just another form of apologetic, an attempt to save something special about Scripture in an unbelieving world. Strange to tell, while many of today's literary critics of the Bible are avowed secularists, their writings sometimes hold a particular appeal for people of rather conservative religious beliefs, Christians or Jews eager to celebrate the Bible's merits. For them, its selling point lies not only in its capacity to push aside modern scholarship, but as well in its attribution to Scripture of a kind of artistry and design bordering on the miraculous, something that only "the great novelist in the Lord" (as Norman Mailer once put it) would be capable of composing. It might seem unfair to compare the appeal of this approach to that of a truly crackpot domain, the discovery of secret "codes" in the Bible that are held to have predicted various historical events. What both have in common, however, is their ability to convince ordinary readers, at least those eager to be convinced, that there still is something special, indeed, something deeply hidden or infinitely complicated about the Bible that fully reflects its divine origins."

The rest of this provocative essay is here:
So, what do people think of that?

Friday, 9 November 2007

What Childs is Trying to Do

I've done a fair bit of blogging today! I'm currently having two nice conversations with a new contributor by the name of Deane. Here, we are discussing the theological significance of the fourfoldedness of the gospel witness. Here, we are discussing whether Seitz's approach is fideistic (the issue is framed in terms of 'christological' readings, and I notice that inhabitatio dei has a post on a christological reading of the Psalms. This blog rates as one of my favourites, though I rarely have time to keep up with what is written :( ). Check 'em out and tell us what we're doing wrong!

Given this ongoing dialogue, I haven't time to post anything new. Instead, I've decided to post part of one of my responses in a dialogue concerning Childs and Brueggemann (from yesterday). They are not necessarily the most eloquent prose in the world, as they were rattled out in the process of thinking, but I think they have enough coherency and integrity to validate a separate posting.

Once again, a bit thanks to all contributors!

When talking of Childs, I'm primarily concerned with theological method: if one were to read the text as a Christian, how would one go about doing that? One way of seeing it would be to take the position of 'progressive revelation'. As one commentator has put it: "Israel's faith is developing along a certain trajectory, which reflects lessons they are actually learned from God.” Childs is working out what he sees as the implications of this process. This process has left a material mark on the text itself, such that we can see this progressive insight unfolding. Older traditions were seen in new ways, their implications were being worked out and comprehended within broader contexts. However the process happened, it was consciously 'theological'. As such, given the temporal, developmental nature of this process, it would make sense that later redactors, who belong to this process, would have better insight into what God is doing. The traditions and texts they edited were done according to this theological intentionality. This editing process was not “innocent” (no one claims or believes that), it was “ideological”. But it was ideological in the good sense of straining to hear God's word as it is being worked out in the history of his people. You and I stand at this point in time, at a point temporally later than what was taking place within the text. As members of the one people of God, travelling with him on the journey, it makes sense that we should submit to the fullest version of God's word: the final form of the text, which is an intentional theological project. The final canonical shape does not hide its diachronic dimension, and thus its 'brokenness', but by virtue of the theological intentionality used to shape it, a theological judgement has been rendered concerning the meaning of the earlier traditions. This judgement was far from “innocent”, it was “ideological”, but ideology is not intrinsically bad. It can be good. Childs' claim is that if the Bible is authoritative (a word Brueggemann understandably avoids), something to which we should submit despite our personal mores, we have no choice but to bow to the voice of the final form. This voice is not coherent in the sense that there are no contradictions. Coherency exists, not at the level of the text, but at the level of the theological reality to which it points. This is an important point which Childs' critics consistently fail to grasp. It is the combined voice of conflicting traditions that point in different and difficult ways to the one God. Childs doesn't avoid this tension by projection the contradiction into the Godhead himself. He maintains it and 'struggles' with it (a favourite word of his). The methodological point is that the final form must be the arena in which we negotiate the Bibles meaning, and this is the case by virtue of the nature of the text as in intentional theological project, and by virtue of the function of scripture in the church as authoritative norm, and by virtue of the eschatological nature of history in which we stand 'here' and not 'there', somewhere behind the text in a now lost ancient Israel

Brueggemann rejects this 'must' on the basis that we are all subjective, so who can prove it 'objectively' anyway? He makes a theological judgement on the basis of a secular philosophical theory. It's a category error and simply doesn't follow. Childs nowhere claims objectivity to ground his position. He simply presents arguments about the nature of the text and Christian faith, arguments which Brueggemann consistently avoids. The only response Brueggemann has recourse to is to blindly insist that Childs is indeed trying to base his arguments on a naïve claim to objectivity. It order to back up this misunderstanding of what Childs is actually trying to do, he goes on to caricature Childs as a “canonical commentator.” This is just a weak way to have an argument.

In sum, normativity can be gained on grounds other than epistemological objectivity. I would have thought Tradition and the Spirit would play a role.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Brueggemann's Critique of Childs

Yesterday I posted a review article by Brueggemann on Childs' Isaiah: A Commentary (you can download the pdf file there). Today I wish to review Brueggemann's evaluation of Childs' theological approach.

Before we can evaluate Brueggemann's response, it is important to understand Brueggemann's own agenda. Like Childs, Brueggemann is interested in a 'theological reading' of the Bible. In order to develop his own proposal, Brueggemann takes human consciousness as his starting point (see my post here, where I defend this). He's basic organizing principle is an observation concerning human subjectivity: we are not always 'present' to ourselves, rather we we are inextricably entwined in our social and cultural contexts. Our view points are always subjective construals of an external reality, made by the force of our imaginative capabilities. Objective knowledge is an impossibility, rather all we have are competing interpretations negotiable by nothing other than the norms bequeathed us by our respective traditions.

From this starting point, Brueggemann wants to propose a reading that is 'theological' in that it is 'pastoral'. In other words, for a Bible to be relevant to a epistemologically limited church, it needs to reflect that church. The Bible too must be broken, partial and conflicting. The Bible functions as the place where we come to be deconstructed, shown the impossibility of the finality of our truth claims, as regardless of what we say they will be subverted by an alternative, competing voices.

Childs makes a different proposal. He suggests that the Bible is not as contradictory as Brueggemann claims. Rather, when one reads it according to its kerygmatic ('canonical') intentionality, one can discern particular theological moves at work within the text, organising and sifting the material in order to make broader theological claims. He believes that the Bible is designed to function as a guide for faith and conduct, shaped in such a way that its final literary form is able to function as an authoritative norm. This is a claim about the nature of the text itself, which he backs up with theological arguments concerning scripture and the ways of God in the world.

One can see that Childs' proposal is antithetical to Brueggemann's, in that he is making claims for theological normativity. The Bible "coerces" our interpretations of it (or it "urges itself upon us", to use the language of my post here), it is authoritative and as such we must bow before it. Elsewhere, Childs makes clear that he is not operating with a naive concept of 'objectivity', as if his claims simply 'fall out of this sky' without any intermediating work on the part of the interpreter (note Brueggemann's crude caricature of Childs' approach on p. 25, comparing him to Aaron). Childs explicitly characterises the nature of theological engagement as one of "struggle", in which each generation must commit itself to the task of being faithful within the theological boundaries that have been set for it. His is just one proposal, at this point in time, a self-confessedly partial attempt to comprehend the nature of God, his scripture and his church.

Brueggemann's response to Childs' concrete proposals concerning text, church and God is to simply assert that all humans are subjective and therefore Childs' proposals can't be binding on the church (I will leave aside his only concrete criticism of the canonical approach concerning the tension of the diachronic and synchronic [23-25] for later, if people are interested). Throughout the review, you can see the following logic being played out again and again:

1) Truth claims are only normative if they can be objectively demonstrated.
2) Childs is human, therefore nothing he says is objective.
3) Therefore, the canonical approach is at best only one helpful idea among others.

Thus we see that, despite his appreciation of what Childs has contributed, Brueggemann constantly draws attention to the fact that Childs is a subjective human like anyone else. Childs is operating with an interpretive agenda, his canonical approach is a mighty act of interpretive imagination, his perspective has been legitimated only by the power of his argument (i.e. not by the coercion of the text), he is culturally situated, his main virtues are 'passion, resilience and steadfastness' rather then an ability to figure out the material at hand.

These observations are fine as they go. I'm sure Childs would agree with them (despite Brueggemann's claims to the contrary). The problem, as I see it, is that Childs' very subjectivity, i.e. his humanity, is the reason why Brueggemann rejects his canonical proposal as a genuine proposal for the church, one which could even become normative. Brueggemann seems to be working with the assumption that something can only be normative if one can objectively demonstrate that something is "given" in the text. Since this is epistemologically impossible, Childs' project is doomed to failure from the start (to quote: "Yet Childs ... proceeds as though his interpretive finesse were simply a "given" in the text itself", p. 25).

But surely this is to mix up two categories? It's one thing to say all truth is subjective (Childs agrees, thus obviating Brueggemann's need to keep pointing this out), it's another thing to say that a particular suggestion about that reality is not binding by virtue of this subjectivity. What makes a theological heremeneutic normative is not whether it can be objectively demonstrated, but rather how well it gels with the text as authoritative and Christian tradition (the kerygma). The best way to evaluate Childs' proposal is not to set up the impossible requirement of objective certainty but rather to engage in the content of his argument and come to a decision based on it. This is something I haven't seen Brueggemann do. Instead, he repeats that Childs is subjective and as such his proposals cannot be taken as prescriptive for theological interpretation.

In order to back up his claims concerning Childs' subjectivity, he goes on to make a series of hideous caricatures. He claims, for example, that Childs simply believes that meaning 'falls out of the text' without the need for interpretation. Childs' apparently naive belief that his interpretations do in fact correspond to reality leads to the accusation that he believes his interpretations have 'canonical status', that he somehow sees himself as a 'canonical commentator'. Brueggemann goes on to present Childs as someone who believes that his interpretation is "beyond criticism, as though it were an unquestioned given in the text itself". The fact that Childs thinks he may be right is enough for Brueggemann to claim that Childs believes he can't be questioned. Childs' attempt to see the text for what it is, and to make the audacious claim that maybe it really is so, is enough for Brueggemann to accuse him of thinking he is pure, innocent and detached. Finally, Childs' attempt to understand Isaiah 66.23-24 as making an ontological distinction is dismissed on the basis that it is simply a "rhetorical venture", with no attempt on Brueggemann's to explain why it might not be more.

A final example of Brueggemann's rejection of Childs' claims by virtue of the fact that Childs is a mere human is his rejection of Childs' talk of "coercion". Why is Childs wrong to talk of the text coercing his interpretation? Because other scholars disagree with him. But what kind of standard is that to judge the acceptability of a proposal for theological exegesis? It seems as if Brueggemann believes that meaning really must just 'fall out' of the text before it can be accepted as authoritative, an impossible standard to meet which thus protects his own position that there can be no norms.

I made the claim recently that Brueggemann's starting point is anthropocentric, in that his epistemological theories provide a "critical norm" against which to measure any truth claims made from the side of theology. In his zeal to protect his theory that nothing is normative, nothing is final, that the Bible really is a irreducible collection of contradicting texts, he has set up a modernist standard of truth by which to measure all competing claims. Anyone who claims to have figured out an element of the text is doomed from the outset to fail by this standard. Brueggemann has reified postmodernism into an ontological statement about reality, something postmodernism was never designed to do (see my post: Postmodernists Believe in Objective Reality too!)

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Brueggemann on Childs' Isaiah

I'm currently thinking about the relative merit of Brueggemann's approach to "theological interpretation" in relation to Childs'. Having gone through a passionate Brueggemann phase, I'm coming round to seeing Childs' canonical approach as the most viable option for the contemporary church.

Tomorrow I'm going to comment on a review by Brueggemann of Childs' Isaiah commentary, in which I hope to illustrate some of the points I made in my post "Ecclesial Context": Brueggemann vs Childs.

By way of preparation, you can read the article here (pdf file). It takes a while to download so please be patient!

The bibliographic reference is as follows: "Canon Fire: The Bible as Scripture", by W. Brueggemann, Christian Century, 118 no 33 D 5 2001, p 22-26.

Monday, 5 November 2007

"In Accordance with the Scriptures" #5: The Problem with the Jesus Seminar

Here I finally continue my thread focusing on Seitz's essay, "In Accordance with the Scriptures" (1998). My purpose is to demonstrate that the Old Testament is an indispensable witness to Jesus Christ, and thus forms the matrix within which he is to be comprehended. In order, the previous posts can be found here, here, here and here.

The problem with the "Jesus Seminar" is that is resists the force of the scriptures, as Paul and the creed mean that, on our understanding of Jesus, and consequently, it does not take seriously Jesus' relationship to God as imprinted by scripture's prior word and guided by that word's according potential. In order to understand the one who came to do the Father's will, we should assume that he took significant bearings from the scriptures of Israel, in exactly the public form we can now read them.
Historical investigation into Jesus is in itself not 'wrong'.One has every right to observe the root system of a tree. To do so, however, involves uprooting the tree itself. If, furthermore, one begins to insist that the tree is not as it should be, given the underground investigation, that the mature growth is a misunderstanding in need of correction by experts, or, more enticingly, that the underground tree is the tree itself, is the "historical tree", is that which should occupy our attention, that we have had things upside-down - then, Seitz claims, we are beginning to approach the logic of the Jesus Seminar.

The element of Jesus as requiring unveiling and discovery is not wrong, but has been translated and domesticated by the Jesus seminar and much historical-critical endeavour. It is not that Jesus is hidden behind the words about him, which must then be sifted to get at the "historical Jesus." It is, rather, that the words that tell about him simultaneously convey their inadequacy, in formal terms, because of the subject matter they are trying to reach. The very fourfoldness of the gospel record is a witness to the majestic difficulty of the endeavor of presenting Jesus as a character of time and space, fully man, fully God. But this is not an inadequacy that can be remedied through historical-critical heavy lifting, because it inheres with the subject matter itself, which is God in Christ - who exposes our inadequacy in trying to speak of him, and yet simultaneously remedies this through the work of the Holy Spirit in the church, allowing the frail testimony of human minds to be the lens on the glory of God, a touching of the ark of the covenant.

Free Access to SAGE Publications Throughout November

The blog Evangelical Textual Criticism points out that there is free online access to SAGE journals throughout November, after registration here.

Among the journals of particular interest are:
Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus
Journal for the Study of the New Testament
Journal for the Study of the Old Testament
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha
The Expository Times

I've just gone through the Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, downloading all articles to do with the Psalms, the canonical approach and literary approaches.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Useful Posts on 'Wisdom'

A blog which I think I will be visiting regularly is Tolle Lege, hosted by Dave. Not only are our respective doctoral supervisors close colleagues (mine was the first ever doctoral student of his, and they worked in the same faculty for many years and were known as the two Gordons), the topics that interest him will be important to me: Creation and Wisdom. He has series of helpful posts worth checking out: First, he gives a brief outline of various approaches to Wisdom in the modern period, pointing out the inadequacy of approaches which see the 'genre' as either essentially anthropocentric or theocentric. Second, he points out the 'ethno-centrism' of the secular/religious dichotomy which currently prevails in our culture (with a great von Rad quote), as well as the potential significance of Creation Theology for understanding Wisdom. His most recent post offers a great quote on the significance of creation, as understood by a biomedical ethicist.

I look forward to reading more!
Oh, and here's his great von Rad quote:
"The modern exegete is always tempted to read into the old texts the tension with which he is all too familiar between faith and thought, between reason and revelation. Accordingly, there has been a tendency to infer too much from the preponderance of worldly sentences over religious ones. The conclusion has, for example, been drawn that this old proverbial wisdom was still scarcely touched by Yahwism and that it was still only at the very beginning of a process of interpenetration by Yahwism. Against this, it can be categorically stated that for Israel there was only one world of experience and that this was apperceived by means of a perceptive apparatus in which rational perceptions and religious perceptions were not differentiated. Nor was this any different in the case of the prophets. The reality surrounding Israel was much more comprehensive than we would imaging, whether in political or socio-ethical or any other kind of terms." (1975, Wisdom in Israel)

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Postmodernists Believe in Objective Reality too!

In recent conversations with Stephen from Emerging from Babel, the question has arisen as to the adequacy of postmodern theory in helping us formulate a theological hermeneutic. My purpose here is to argue that the claim that the Bible as an external reality can shape our response to it (Childs' "coercion of the canonical shape") does not contradict the epistemological critique of postmodernism.

My thoughts are taken from James K.A. Smith's book, The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic (2000), specifically the chapter entitled: "The World as Limit: A Phenomenological Criteria".

Postmodernism claims that all articulations of truth function within the specific conditions of human finitude. A great way to signify this is Heidegger's use of the term Dasein ('there-being'; being-there, at a particular point, and not everywhere). Our perspective, shape by our context, inhibits us from ever being able to comprehend anything within the world exhaustively. My knowledge of an object cannot be adequate to the object itself. As such, there can be no normative interpretations.

But to deny that there are no normative interpretations is not to deny that there are no interpretive norms. There is an external reality, there is a given/gift - creation (and in this case God's gracious gift of the Bible) - that every interpreter encounters. This reality stands before our interpretations and is binding upon every construal. It is the phenomenological criterion of every construal, what Smith calls an 'empirical transcendental' (i.e. the world as given and experienced). The 'Bible' is not mine to be manipulated, it is rather the norm that judges my interpretations. The Bible does not prescribe a single "correct" interpretation, but it does preclude an infinite number of interpretations.

The idea that truth is 'subjective' does not mean that it can be whatever we want it to be. Rather, it means that 'truth' is dependent on the uncovering role of Dasein: "All truth is relative to Dasein's being - not "left to subjective discretion".

Two quotes:

"These empirical transcendentals urge themselves upon a plurality of interpreters and resist capricious construal, allowing for a plurality, but not an infinite number, of interpretive possibilities. ... Interpretation is not merely a subjective appropriation: it is a subjective construal of an objective reality."
These thoughts are relevant to the Childs/Brueggemann debate. I hope they can provide us with more precision as we stake out our respective positions.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

What's On in Cyberspace? (Well, as far as the Bible is concerned ... )

I've been having online dialogues of the most colossal proportions. So involved, in fact, that I have no time or energy to write anything substantial today. Stephen and I are beating each other over the heads with our respective theological-icons here and here. John Poirier, recently called 'commenter extraordinaire' by John Hobbins, has posted his latest response on our ongoing dialogue concerning what constitutes a Christian 'alethiology' here and its implications for 'theological exegesis'. I'm sure Mr Hobbins meant that in a most positive manner! I for one am most grateful for Mr Poirier's patience, clarity and sheer concern for the significance of the issue under consideration. Our ongoing 'chat' challenges me to constantly refocus what it is I am actually trying to get at, and in itself is an exercise in the challenge and yet potential fruitfulness of sustained dialogue. I, at least, feel that it's bringing me onward, as I have tried to point out in my belated response.

I should point out that John of Ancient Hebrew Poetry has done the biblioblogging world a great service in his unbelievably in-depth analysis and taxonomising of all that is going on in this fastly expanding universe. His Biblical Studies Carneval XXIII is a detailed overview of what's on, his Map of the World of Bible Bloggers categorises the wealth of biblioblog-material into slightly more digestible bites, and finally, of most relevance to the concerns of this blog, he has posted on the canonical approach, pointing to its potential and voicing is his frustrations. Needless to say, I don't agree with his definition of what the canonical approach is trying to do, but my pure exhaustion restrains me from going any further than simply pointing this fact out.

Oh, and he also links to other blogs which are currently dealing with this topic ... cyberspace really is an infinite vacuum!