Friday, 14 December 2007
Temporal Sequence and Prophetic Dialectic
After summarizing the various proposals for the nature of the extension of prophetic literature, along with a critique of these proposals, Childs offers his positive alternative. This is where things start to get interesting! (Note - most of what follows is simply citation, a paraphrase would divest Childs' words of their intrinsic juiciness).
Childs, in good historical-critical (and traditional theological!) fashion affirms the historical conditionality and particularity of the prophetic message: "the prophets were not proclaimers of eternal truths within a timeless context." (1996: 373).
However, within this real history - "the year that King Uzziah died" - there is the entrance of another history and another time. The nature of God's rule which had been revealed to Isaiah obtained long before the death of Uzziah. The whole world is filled with God's glory and has always been. When within the book of Isaiah passages of salvation and judgment are juxtaposed (2:2-5 / 6 - 22), this structure certainly reflects a late redactional ordering. However, the theology expressed in this juxtaposition is already deeply embedded in the earlier tradition. Isa. 2:2ff. offers an eschatological vision of God's coming rule which picks up a variety of ancient motifs. The brittle quality of the present literary structure only confirms the basic theological point that eschatological history, that is God's time, cannot be smoothly combined with empirical history, nor can the two be cleanly separated. The subtlety of the book of Isaiah turns on the dialectical relationship of this interaction. What seems to be a political threat to Judah from the Assyrians suddenly becomes the entrance of an eschatological divine judgment.
The hermeneutical point is that for Isaiah history is understood in the light of prophecy, not prophecy in the light of history. In contrast to the aforementioned critical proposals (here and here), prophetic eschatology is not an unmediated derivative of empirical history, but of a different order of divine intervention which is only dialectically related to temporal sequence (-sorry, but that makes my mouth just water). Reconstructed political history cannot supply the source of Isaiah' eschatological hope nor provide the explanation for textual extensions which rather reflect the ongoing experiences of Israel with God mediated through Scripture. An interpretation which flattens this distinctive, dialectical approach to history can only result in serious exegetical reductionism.