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