Saturday, 26 July 2008

Photo of the Day: A Sea of Steps

This cathedral (Wells), is not too far from where my family lives!

The following is the commentary on the photo taken from Phaidon's The Photo Book. I particularly like the way the commentator interweaves allegorical and literal interpretation, grounding this even in the intention of the photographer!

This picture, of the stairs leading to the Chapter House in Wells Cathedral, was always meant to be understood in terms other than purely architectural ones. The steps themselves ripple and look increasingly like waves building in an ocean as they mount towards the lighted space beyond. The stairs seen rising to the right could be a great wave on the point of breaking, thus representing a danger to the traveller or pilgrim. In the middle is a cut block of stone, symbolizing a steadfast soul put in place by the Divine Architect. The point, though, is not just that the steps look oceanic but that they have been worn that way by generations of use, until their significance had been inscribed into the very fabric of the building. Evan's tendency was always to look for a meaning already present, making him very respectful of appearances as given and thus an early advocate of 'straight' photography (142; emphasis mine).
For details of this photo go here. For other images by Frederick Evans, go here.

Friday, 25 July 2008

My completed threads

I should probably dedicate my last post this morning before I jump into my car and drive off south to the fact that I have a new box on the right of this blog page, under my "about me" box, summarizing all the threads I have completed over the past year (all, that is, apart from the first one on traditional Christian exegesis, which is still under way).

Like I said, feel free to criticize. I'm always up for a good debate.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

I'm off to Italy!

I won't be posting for the next few weeks (until August 9th) as my wife and I will be on holiday. After going to a wedding near Stuttgart (Holzgerlingen anyone?) we'll be driving over the Alps, spending a night in a secluded hamlet hanging of the edge of a cliff in Southern Switzerland (called Osco, I discovered it using the terrain function on Google Map), then driving down to lake Como where we'll stay for another three days. This will be followed by two days in Verona, a day in Venice and a 5 days (!!!!!) sitting on the beach in Lido, a tourist resort right next to Venice. The last option is my wife's idea and I do it out of the purist love and Christian self-sacrifice. Really, I can't stand sitting on beaches.

But in case people feel they can't manage that long without me, do not fret! I spent the whole of last Sunday sorting through the posts of the last year and bundling them into completed threads, which you can now access in the window under the "about me" section on the right. These threads contain information that I am more than happy to discuss in intimate depth for hours, so feel free to peruse and push me to justify my position.

The threads that I have complete so far are the following:

-The 6 Features of traditional Christian exegesis
-C. Seitz's "In Accordance with the Scriptures"
-Responses to Walter Brueggemann
-Examples of "canonical" exegesis
-B.S. Childs' "Retrospective Reading of Old Testament Prophets"
-B. Hägglund on the regula fidei

I have no idea why only the first word is highlighted, but I gotta pack and time is short.
Till August!!

A Wordle of the Psalter and my blog

Wordles seem to be the new in thing in the blogosphere at the moment. What is a Wordle? Well, here's what the official website says:

Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends.
I first heard about it from Aristotle's Feminist Subject, who got it from Lingamish. Well, תהלים has posted the most interesting Wordle of all: the entire Psalter (click on the image to enlarge). I like the way "shall" and "will" are highlighted along with God and the LORD. I wonder what theological implications that has!

They're easy to make: just copy and paste text here, or even give in URL of your blog, and ta da, a wordle. Here's a wordle of my blog:

I have to say, I'm surprised at how much the word "dogmatic" occurs. I need to post more on the Old Testament!

I tried it in Hebrew for Psalms 1-24 but it didn't really work:

The key word seems to be a mixture of Yahweh and Elohim, which fits to Richard's wordle above.

Andersen-Forbes website (and a short praise of Logos)

Thanks to Exegetica Digita for pointing this out. The website is at

I recently purchased Logos Biblical Software (Original Language Library), and though I've had little time to actually use it, the resources it offers are unbelievable. Seeing as I intend to live a rather nomadic lifestyle, having an integrated, searchable digital library is one of the most useful resources I could dream of. Reading on a computer should take a bit of getting used to, but as far as I can see it's just a matter of habit. I use the computer so much these days that it really doesn't represent a break from what I normally do. Perhaps the only major complaint I have so far is that the Biblia Hebraica doesn't come with the critical apparatus, which basically means I have to have the print version at my side when reading the Bible on the computer! You can buy it extra, but only as part of a larger package that includes books already on the Original Library and which costs far more than it's worth for the appartus alone.

Apart from that, I'd like to take this opportunity to praise Logos' outstanding customer service! This had already been given to me as a reason for going for Logos, but I experienced it first hand yesterday as I had had problems with a large order. I had the World Biblical Commentary package sent to me from the States, but had to send it back as German Customs decided to add $103 customs tax! I hadn't ordered the downloadable version as, being the technological numpty that I am, I'd experienced problems in the past. Luckily, a certain Don phoned me at home, linked my computer to his in the States and downloaded the whole thing for me, pointing out what I was doing wrong and giving advice on how to proceed in the future. Amazing technology (it impressed me, anyway) and great service, I thought. Now I have to figure out how to burn a backup copy ...

God incarnate? In Russia? As a Buddhist?

Check out the video clip from Al Jazeera here.

Buddhists in Russia are hoping for a revival of their faith, which was almsot wiped out under Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader.
Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull reports on one Buddhist monk whose body has lived on, despite his death more than 80 years ago.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

The rule of faith and dogmatics

This is the last post of my series in which I translate Hägglund's important essay, "The Significance of the regula fidei for dogmatic claims." I've only selected bits relevant to the question of theological exegesis. As such, I leave out his concluding remarks on the significance of the regula fidei for the construal of Church history, which of course does not mean that the topic is not utterly fascinating and important! I'm delighted to have heard that Esteban of Vox Stefani has recieved a review copy of Hägglund's History of Theology. I eagerly anticipate his responses, hopefully with a bit of Orthodox wisdom smattered in. For an overview of all the posts in this thread, go here.

It is important to observe two things: 1) The “process of passing on” (“das Tradieren”) is a matter of going back to the source (Ursprung) and not only a transmission of that which we now recognize as the creation of a past generation. “Source” (“Ursrpung”) means here both the original reality itself as well as the original witness, in which the church at all times has the only possible access to this reality. It is true that this dogmatic “passing on” is not only a repetition or faithful preservation of the texts of holy scripture from generation to generation. It is also an interpretation or a systematic treatment of that which was originally given. But this does not mean that the doctrinal tradition can be an independent source of truth alongside (gegenüber) scripture. The regula fidei plays an important role in the activity of “interpretation” (which belongs to the traditioning process of theology) by expressing the bondage of dogmatic thought to an already existing reality and to the original witness which mediates to us the knowledge of this reality.

2) The regula fidei is not only a formula to which dogmatics is constitutionally (gesetzmässig), formally (äusserlich) bound, it also gives us certain guidelines in terms of content for the concrete presentation of Christian doctrine. It is necessary that the real regula, i.e. the actual given order of the events of salvation, grounds the coherency and unity of the dogmatic presentation. As we have already seen, the regula in its original version (Fassung) presented the totality of the divine plan of salvation. This totality must therefore always underlie dogmatic statements as an unavoidable precondition, even when it is not being directly presented or when it is being adumbrated in a pars pro toto. With this uniformity of the rule of faith dogmatics is given the unity to which it must work, as if towards a target. Wherever other theological conceptual contexts (Gedankenzusammenhänge) dominate,—whether an idea which is considered to be the essence of Christianity, whether an ordo salutis as the context of subject conversion experiences—there the actual order of salvation history, the οικονομια, is disfigured, because it is being observed from a false perspective. It is here that the regula fidei has the important function of presenting the inner coherency of the content of faith, as well determining the decisive points of dogmatic statements and thereby giving the entire theological enterprise its direction.

Free audio books of key Christian thinkers (ancient ones)!

Sister Macrina, of the interesting patristic blog A Vow of Conversation (for a brief overview see here) has linked to an awesome audio resource: public domain audio books for people with Catholic tastes. Volumes of St John of the Cross, St. Catherine of Sienna, Thomas a Kempis, Origen, St. Athanasius, St. Ignatius of Antioch, Tertullian, Pope St. Gregory the Great ... The list goes on!

Such things are ideal for people like me who want to get their teeth into some raw material but don't have the time or energy to read books not related to their immediate concerns. For simple audio books I find I can listen while jogging in the mornings, but it's not quite the same as samba. If you happen to have a wife who insists on spending copious amounts of time on the beach, then they can also be a great way for giving your eyes a break, allowing you to take in information in a comfortable position (i.e. lying on your back instead of leaning on one arm or holding the book in the air, while being blinded by the sunlight and trying to ignore unwelcome sand stuck in various crevices), and while away the time.
I don't like beaches.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

On the mediation of divine reality

Today's post represents the last of Hägglund's five implications of the regula fidei for dogmatics. For the overview of all posts, go here. It's rather long, and so will be divided into a number of subsections (text in bold is my own):

If it is really the case that the rule of faith is related to all church tradition in the manner that we have just outlined, then it becomes clear that the rule of faith must be of decisive importance for our work on the dogmatic portrayal of theology as well for the way in which the history of theology should be written.

a) Dogmatics, as it is practised today and despite differences in method and perspective, can be see as the continuation of what in the ancient church was called the doctrinal tradition of the church, the traditio in the broader sense of the word. The task set for dogmatics as a scientific discipline can be no other than that of mediating the content of Christian faith. In whatever situation, it is ultimately necessary to present that which is the object of faith (Gegenstand des Glaubens). If this wasn't the case, if the scientific and “ecclesial” tasks came undone, then it would mean that the scientific evaluation would set itself up as judge over the content of faith, given once and for all. Dogmatics would then choose a standpoint from which to adjudicate truth or falsity in the revelation. That would be a betrayal not only the Christian faith, but also of the true task of science, i.e. a false mixing of faith and knowledge.

The task of dogmatics is indeed “only” a passing on (Überliefern), a “tradioning” (“tradieren”), of that which was once given. Like the other sciences, it stands before a reality that must be regarded as the final authority for every statement. Its object is something which is believed, yet at the same time is something “which our ears have heard,” which “our fathers have recounted to us” (Ps 44:2).

Giving a regula fidei precedence over our dogmatic statements means that both find their unity and their coherency in the actual order of salvation history (in der tatsächlichen Ordnung des Heilsgeschehens), in the οικονομια. In the final analysis every truthful statement about this order must be grounded in the actual events themselves, as we have already seen concerning the Fathers of the ancient church, who refer the regula fidei to the facts of the revelation itself.

This reality of the divine order of salvation, however, does not encounter us as a reality which we can directly apprehend, see, hear or touch. Rather it is a linguistically mediated revelation (durch das Wort vermittelte Offenbarung), one which is mediated through the original witness of the prophets and apostles. This bondage to the revealed and revealing word gives dogmatics, in comparison to all other disciplines and sciences, its particular characteristic (Gepräge). The word “revelation” means, in other words, that we are concerned with matters which on our own terms we are not able to perceive or generate. We are dependent on the witness of others, on that which “we have heard,” what others have related to us. And for this reason “the traditioning process” (“das Tradieren”) is accorded such significance.

Photo of the Day: Child with Toy Hand Grenade

I'm currently working my way through Phaidon's The Photo Book and was struck by this picture by Diane Arbus. The commentary to the photo helped me understand why:

The grenade, grimace and claw-like hand seem to point to a desperate future, hysterical and militarized. The picture works because the strangeness of the boy is staged within a kindly natural scene: there is even a rhyme between those paired tree trunks and the child's spindly legs. Arbus's subject, here and elsewhere, is the discrepancy between imagined and idealized worlds, represented here by the trees and the sunlight in the park, and the violence apparently promised by the child. She imagined dystopia, but always regarded it from the point of view of the Garden of Eden (23)
It's interesting to compare this interpretation from the unknom Phaidon commentator with that of Wikipedia's. The former tries to grasp the photo within some kind of wider symbolic context and perhaps manages to grasp to the heart of its message. The latter interpretation, in true "historical-critical" fashion, is content to describe the surface image and tell us how the photo was taken. The result is that the power of the photo is lost in irrelevant detail.

Or is it irrelevant?

Monday, 21 July 2008

The rule-of-truth as guideline for true doctrine

This post continues my translation of Hägglund on the theological significance of the regula fidei from yesterday. For an overview of the whole thread go here.

As we have already emphasised, the rule of faith constitutes a guideline for the evaluation of the church's proclamation—which, incidentally, can already be seen in the name itself. ... In the struggle against the heresies the Fathers alluded to the regula as a summary of the authentic and only true traditio of the church. Therefore, it was the rule of faith which came first and not the heresies. One can even say that it was only through the regula that the heresies became recognizable as such. No regula no heretics. That is to say, it is the rule of faith which decides which doctrine is true and which false. The fact that in contemporary theology so little is said about “heresy” is undoubtedly connected to the fact that so little is known about a regula veritatis, by means of which talk of what is heretical becomes meaningful at all.

The designation of the regula fidei as a guideline for the evaluation of doctrine is motivated not only by the negative desire to combat false proclamation, but also by the insight that the preservation of the correct traditio is linked with struggle and decision and that the purity of doctrine is always endangered. The positive task of the regula fidei, namely, that of being the fundamentum of church doctrine, must therefore always be complemented by this other, in a certain sense “negative,” task of combating false doctrine and deciding between true and false doctrine.

Interview with MOSAD on a Palestinian blog

I'm delighted to have discovered a fascinating blog by a Palestinian journalist and mother, Raising Yousuf and Noor: diary of a Palestinian mother. It's not always easy to find balanced opinions and reportage on this part of the world, so I'm delighted to find the blog of a professional with strong ties to the land. Her posts not only concern current developments, but details of daily life in the Gaza strip and the struggles her people face (such as her father's recent e-mail from Gaza, or another e-mail from Ramallah) Here's here self-description:

I am a Palestinian journalist who divides her time between Gaza and the United States, where Yousuf's father, a Palestinian refugee denied his right of return to Palestine, and thus OUR right as a family to live together, resides. This blog is about the trials of raising our son between Gaza and the US, while working as a journalist, and everything that entails from potty training to border crossings. Together, we endure a lot, and the personal becomes political. This is our story.
Of particular interest is an interview she held with "former MOSAD spy chief cum Labor politician Danny Yatom" for Al Jazeera. Here's an interesting section:

Would Israel assassinate Meshaal today?

The Israeli policy is that as long as there is terror, the terrorist must understand that anyone who executes terror will not enjoy immunity.

So Mossad carries out extra-judicial assassinations?
The way I will refer to it is that whoever deals with terror should not enjoy any immunity.
Without regard to international law?
With regard to what [former president] Bill Clinton said: there should be zero tolerance for terror.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

The rule-of-faith as the reality behind doctrine, tradition, and scripture

I now come to the fourth of the implications Hägglund draws of the patristic understanding of the regula fidei for contemporary dogmatics. Here is the first, here the second, and here is the third. For an overview of the entire thread go here.

The fact that “truth” in the sense of the actual events of salvation history (dem tatsächlichen Geschehen der Heilsgeschichte) is signified as a regula has two implications: first, this reality is, in the final analysis, the fundamentum of theology, the starting point of the entire doctrinal tradition of the church. Second, this same reality forms the guidline (Richtschnur) for the appraisal of true or false doctrine. Today we look at the first implication:

Within scholarship there used to be a widespread opinion that the regula fidei was originally motivated by the struggle against heresy. It was understood to be the antiheretically interpreted Symbolum. As we have seen here, it is certainly true that the regula fidei was very often used in the conflict with the heretics: by Irenaeus against Gnosticism, by Tertullian additionally against Praxeas and the philosophers. This does not mean, however, that the regula was originally only a consolidation of church doctrine for the purpose of repudiating heretics. It played a far more positive role as “doctrinal foundation,” as starting point for Christian teaching and theological thought. According to the concept of the regula fidei there was primarily an allusion to that which was original (das Ursprüngliche), to the reality itself, which stands behind all ecclesial doctrinal decisions as well as behind the proclamation of the church and the witness of the scripture as the content of the divine revelation. The orientation of the rule to the facts (Tatbestand) of salvation history (as with Irenaeus) and the emphasis of its priority (as with Tertullian) show that it does indeed takes such a position with the Church Fathers.

The regula fulfils the function of being a fundamentum of the doctrinal tradition through the mediation (Vermittlung) of the holy scripture. We can perceive the reality of the revelation, the facts of salvation history only through the witness of the prophets and the apostles, through the writings of the Old and New Testaments. This witness must be interpreted and expounded again and again, but also recapitulated (zusammengefasst) and literally reproduced. In the process, however, the regula itself, the truth to which the scripture witnesses, maintains its position as an unchanging foundation. It is not a coincidence that the Greek word for rule, κανων, became more and more a fixed designation for the holy scripture. The original witness is not only “canonical” because it is endowed with the authority of the prophets and apostles, but also because it is a bearer (Träger) of the revelation, a mediator of the reality of salvation.

The orientation of the regula fidei to the actual events of salvation history, means, therefore, in concrete terms, a reference (Hinweis) to the holy scripture as the fundamentum of the doctrinal tradition of the church. The regula fidei cannot be retrieved from anywhere else other than from the prophetic and apostolic witness.

See Childs' important formulation of this here, in my post The text as tradent of authority.

Thread Summary: B. Hägglund's "Die Bedeutung der >Regula Fidei< als Grundlage theologischer Aussagen"

The following is a summary of a thread dealing with Bengt Hägglunds essay, "The significance of the regula fidei as basis for theological propositions" (my translation from the German):
  1. Existential faith and the regula fidei
  2. What did the regula fidei mean for the Church Fathers?
  3. Irenaeus and the regula veritatis
  4. The content of the rule of truth: Irenaeus' take
  5. The regula fidei as basis for theology
  6. Christian truth as unchanging reality
  7. Gospel truth as "reality"
  8. The rule-of-faith as the reality behind doctrine, scritpture, and tradition
  9. The rule-of-truth as guideline for true doctrine
  10. The rule of faith and dogmatics

Thread Summary: Examples of "canonical exegesis"

To date, my discussion of the canonical approach on this blog has been largely theoretical and abstract (see this thread, for example). As such, I've decided to collect all my examples of concrete exegesis into one place:
  1. Paul's phrase "in accordance with the scriptures"
  2. Ancient typology in Genesis 22?
  3. The canonical shaping of the Pentateuch, i.e. Genesis, Exodus, Leveticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, with the hermeneutical implications thereof.
  4. "Immanuel" in a canonical perspective
  5. God, Moses, and Scripture
  6. Luke 24:13-35 and the dogmatic/exegesis relation
  7. Israel and the divided church
  8. "Believing" and "unbelieving" exegesis: an example
  9. What was the Deuteronomist doing with the law?
  10. "Canon" and the "essence" of Old Testament Prophecy
  11. How to read Paul
  12. Childs on Jesus and Isaiah 53
  13. Canonical shaping of the prophets
  14. Source criticism and the final form

Thread Summary: Responses to W. Brueggemann (not personally, of course!)

The following is a summary of all posts dealing with the theological exegesis of Walter Brueggemann:

  1. A post on Childs on Brueggemann on the OT
  2. "Ecclesial Context": Brueggemann vs Childs
  3. Postmodernists believe in objective reality too!
  4. Brueggemann on Childs' Isaiah
  5. Brueggemann's critique of Childs
  6. What is Childs trying to do?
  7. Brueggemann on Childs

Thread Summary: Scripture's two testaments

The following is a summary of all my posts (so far) dealing with the third of Childs' "constitutive features of Christian exegesis":

Thread Summary: The authority of Scripture

The following is a summary of my posts dealing with the first of Childs' so-called "constitutive features of Christian exegesis":

Colloquim on linguistic dating of the Hebrew Bible.

There is a fascinating colloquim going on at the moment on the Biblical Studies List concerning linguistic dating of the Hebrew Bible. It's main interlocuters are Ian Young, Robert Rezetko and Martin Ehrensvärd, authors of the forthcoming Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts. Volume 1: An Introduction to Approaches and Problems and Volume 2: A Survey of Scholarship, a New Synthesis and a Comprehensive Bibliography. BibleWorld. London: Equinox Publishing, 2008. You can find a description of the books, their contents, and several pre-publication reviews here.
Their point is that relating so-called Early Biblical Hebrew with so-called Late Biblical Hebrew in terms of chronology does not do justice to the evidence, involves circular reasoning and thus pervants that nature of linguistic diversity in the Hebrew Bible. If you join the list, you not only get to take part in the discussion but also have access to a summary of their main arguments.

Here's a summary of their proposal:

We suggest that following through the logic of this chronological approach to BH actually leads inevitably to the conclusion that all the biblical texts were composed in the postexilic period, which is exactly the opposite of what its proponents have claimed. Now, this may in fact be a conclusion which is congenial to some. But others will not find this agreeable, so we will offer a way out of this conclusion by arguing that the presuppositions of the chronological approach are undermined by the evidence. On the contrary we will argue that the best model for comprehending the evidence is that ‘Early’ BH and ‘Late’ BH, so-called, represent co-existing styles of Hebrew throughout the biblical period. Then we will deal with the objection that Persian loanwords are an irrefutable proof that the chronological approach is correct. Finally we will step back and ask some hard questions about the presuppositions involved in the dating—by linguistic or other means—of the books of the Hebrew Bible.

Childs on intentionality and reader-response

Childs struggled throughout his career with the relationship between authorial or editorial intentionality and the effect a particular constellation of texts had on a reader, regardless of whether this constellation was intended or fortuitous. The latter category takes him into the realm of reader-response, the former keeps him within the realm of traditional historical-criticism. Childs wanted both, though he still felt that in some sense an awareness of intentionality should play some kind of role in evaluating reader-response interpretation. The trick is how to correlate them. In his final commentary (Isaiah), one can see him trying to coordinate these two categories, especially in his treatment of intertextuality in third Isaiah.

I'm currently writing an essay on Childs' exegesis, so I hope to be able to post more articulately on this issue in the future. For now, an earlier quote on the topic, taken from Childs' response to critiques of his Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture.

At times there is clear evidence for an intentional redactional move being made, e.g. the positioning of Isa. 36-39. At other times, no conscious intentionality can be discerned in the joining of sources or traditions. Moreover, there is considerable evidence to show the effect of accidental and fortuitous factors in the shaping of the material. it is certainly possible, even likely, that chs. 21-14 of II Samuel received their present literary function late in the process. But the crucial point to make is that regardless of the exact nature of a text's prehistory, a new dynamic was unleashed for its interpretation when it was collected with other material and assigned a religious role as sacred literature. Whether or not one can determine the motivation for joining Gen. 1 with Gen. 2, the present juxtaposition within a larger literary context affects the semantic level on which ch. 2 is read.
B.S. Childs, "Response to Reviewers" (JSOT 16; 1980: 52 - 60), 54.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Childs on Jesus in the Old Testament

In our opinion, Jesus Christ is in the Old Testament to that degree in which true and obedient Israel took shape. He fulfilled by his obedience to the will of God the task unfulfilled by Israel. However, the humanity of Jesus Christ was prefigured to that degree to which Israel did respond in obedience. In the institutions of Israel, as well as in the prophets, the "Suffering Servant," the "I" of the Psalms, a reality appeared which found its wholeness in Christ. The New Testament goes far beyond the point of understanding the work of Christ in the Old Testament merely in terms of his role as the Eternal Word. Rather, the humanity of Jesus Christ, who is true Israel, was forming itself in the Old Covenant [*].
I should point out here that Glen, author of the Barthian blog Christ is the Truth, has a thread dealing with Christ in the Old Testament. Given the Barthian flavour of this quote as well as most of Childs' theology, I hope to find time to read this series in order to help me grasp Childs' theology better.

Go here for Wilhem Vischer's approach.

[*] B.S. Childs, "Prophecy and Fulfillment: A Study of Contemporary Hermeneutics," Interpretation 12 no 3 (1958), 270, 1.

Friday, 18 July 2008

The critical function of "canon"

Certainly earlier stages in the development of the biblical tradition were often regarded as canonical prior to the establishment of the final form. In fact, the final form frequently consists of an earlier, received form of the tradition which has been transmitted unchanged from its original setting. But to take canon seriously is also to take seriously the critical function which it exercises in respect to the earlier stages of the literature's formation. A critical judgment is exercised in the way in which the earlier stages are handled. At times the material is passed on, complete with all of its original historical particularity. At other times the canonical process selects, rearranges, or expands the received traditions. The purpose of insisting on the authority of the final form is to preserve the canon's role of providing this critical norm. To work with the final stage of the text is not to lose the historical dimension, but rather it is to provide a critical theological judgment regarding the process. A reconstructed depth dimension may aid in understanding the interpreted text, but it does not possess an inde-dependent integrity for the exegetical task within the context of the canon.
B.S. Childs, "The Canonical Shape of the Prophetic Literature," 1978: 48.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The ESV Study Bible on the Psalms

Richard from the Psalms blog תהלים links to a sample of the ESV's forthcoming study Bible, an introduction to the Psalms including analysis of Psalms 1 and 2.

At a brief glance, it looks as if the comment attempts to penetrate to the Psalms' theological substance. It takes account of canonical shaping (Ps 1 as gateway to the Psalter; though the same isn't said for Psalm 2), literary and semantic structure.

Here's the overview of Ps 1:
Psalm 1. The first psalm serves as the gateway into the entire book of Psalms, stressing that those who would worship God genuinely must embrace his Law (or Torah), i.e., his covenant instruction. This psalm takes topics found in wisdom literature such as Proverbs and makes them the subject of song; the purpose is that those who sing the psalm will own its values—namely, they will want more and more to be people who love the Torah, who believe it, who see themselves as the heirs and stewards of its story of redemption and hope, and who seek to carry out its moral requirements. They can delight in the idea of being among the "righteous," feeling that nothing can compare with such blessedness. By its sustained contrast, the psalm reminds readers that in the end there are really only two ways to live.
And Psalm 2:
Psalm 2. When the people of God sing Psalm 2, they remind themselves of how God made David and his descendants to be kings in order to enable them to fulfill the very purpose for which Abraham was called (to bring blessing to all nations, Gen. 12:1–3). Thus it can be called a royal psalm. The pious Israelite realizes that his hope of blessing is now irrevocably tied to the house of David (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12–16), and so he prays that God will keep the king pure. At a time when the Gentile kingdoms that are part of the Davidic empire seek to throw off Israelite rule, this psalm recalls the promises made to the Davidic king at his coronation and notes that the Gentiles will find lasting joy only as subjects of this king. With its prospect of a worldwide rule for the house of David, the psalm also looks to the future, when the Davidic Messiah will indeed accomplish this; in fact, the scope of such an accomplishment calls for a ruler who is more than a mere man.
Does anyone know who wrote this?

Childs on Jesus and Isaiah 53

Childs' Isaiah commentary can be a dense work. It's a distillate of everything he's written over his career, packed into the restricted dimensions of a single volume Isaiah commentary. Today I read his thoughts on "The Suffering Servant and Christian Theology" (422, 3) and was again challenged to rethink some of the basic assumption I bring to both the Old and New Testaments. Here are his thoughts, what do you think?

The theological category used for [the] interpretation [of Isaiah 53 in the NT] was not primarily that of prophecy and fulfillment. Rather, an analogy was drawn between the redemptive activity of the Isaianic servant and the passion and death of Jesus Christ. The relation was understood "ontologically," that is to say, in terms of its substance, its theological reality. To use classic Christian theological terminology, the distinction is between the "economic" Trinity, God's revelation in the continuum of Israel's history, and the "immanent" Trinity, the ontological manifestation of the triune deity in its eternality. Thus, for example, the epistles of Ephesians and Colossians argue that the creation of the universe cannot be understood apart from the active participation of jesus Christ (C0l. 1:15ff). Or again, the book of Revelation speaks of "the lamb slain before the foundation of the world" (13:8). In a word, in the suffering and death of the servant of Second Isaiah, the self-same divine reality of Jesus Christ was made manifest. The meaning of the Old Testament servant was thus understood theologically in terms of the one divine reality disclosed in Jesus Christ. The morphological fit between Isaiah 53 and the passion of Jesus continues to bear testimony to the common subject matter within the one divine economy. Of course, in a broad sense, isaiah 53 does continue to function as prophecy since the chapter is bracketed within the eschatological framework of an unfolding divine economy.
To summarize, the servant of Isaiah is linked dogmatically to Jesus Christ primarily in terms of its ontology, that is, its substance, and is not simply a future promise of the Old Testament awaiting its New Testament fulfillment. It is significant to observe that in Acts 8, when the eunuch asked about the identity of the Isaianic servant, Philip did not simply identify him with Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, beginning with the scriptures, "he preached to him the good news of Jesus." The suffering servant retains its theological significance within the Christian canon because it is inextricably linked in substance with the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is and always has been the ground of God's salvation of Israel and the world (423).

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Gospel truth as "reality"

The following is my translation of Bengt Hägglund's third implication the patristic understanding of the rule-of-truth for dogmatic theology. Click on the following for a summary of its nature for the early church; its significance and content for Irenaeus. Go here for the first implication this has, and here for the second.

The fact that the rule of faith relates to the facts of salvation history sheds new light on doctrinal theology. When one characterises the Christian proclamation as “truth,” this means, among other things, that one understands the the object of this proclamation as “reality,” in contrast to that which is only an appearance or human invention, only idea or a construct of the imagination. The “reality” which is meant here is the content of the revelation, that which the Bible presents as the deeds of God in creation and in the history of Israel, as the words and work of Christ.

In this context “truth” certainly doesn't just mean “reality” in the sense of that which actually happened (von dem tatsächlich Geschehenen), but also that which is true knowledge of God and doctrine which is salvific. But the former meaning does seem to be the fundamental one. It can be seen in places where another, more general sense of the expression is found. This is especially the case with Irenaeus, where talk of a regula veritatis and even of the truth of Christian proclamation at all is directed against the Gnostics, who also present their own doctrines as a “Gospel of truth.”

“Truth” in the theological sense is that which brings salvation and life. It is the knowledge of God which the true God has revealed to humanity. From this perspective we can understand in what sense Christ himself is characterised as the truth. He brings the true knowledge of God and in him, in his name, is salvation and life. But he is also “the truth”—and this connects with what we have just said—because he brings the “reality” of the revelation with himself. He teaches us, in contrast to all idols, to recognise the only true God. Compared to the antetypes of the old Covenant, he presents in himself, in his person, the reality (Col 2.17). He is “the truth” as the God who has revealed himself in the flesh, i.e. in actual human form. Consequently, the relation to “reality,” “actual event,” always plays an important role in the characterisation of Christian doctrine as “truth.”

Quote of the Day: a theological and literary force ...

A major literary and theological force was at work in shaping the present form of the Hebrew Bible by which prophetic oracles directed to one generation were fashioned in Sacred Scripture by a canonical process to be used by another generation [*]
What is this force?

[*] B.S. Childs, "The Canonical Shape of the Prophetic Literature" (1978)

Monday, 14 July 2008

Wilhelm Vischer on prophecy and fulfillment

According to B. Hägglund, one of the implications of the ancient patristic understanding of the "rule of faith" (regula fidei) or "rule of truth" (regula veritatis) is that Christian truth is a unity, witnessed to equally (though differently) by both the Old and the New Testaments. This claim concerning the relation between Scripture and truth is important for understanding Childs' so-called "canonical approach."

Interestingly, Wilhelm Vischer made a similar point in his book The Witness of the Old Testament to Christ (1949; for a random extract go here). Childs summarizes his approach in his article "Prophecy and Fulfillment," (1958; available on ATLA):

Vischer's book was epoch making in the vigorous manner in which the question of the relation of the Old Testament to the New was raised. According to him it is not doing full justice to the New Testament's understanding of the Old when the latter is conceived of merely as a history pointing to Christ as its goal. In this case fulfillment would mean the dissolution of the period of expectation in the light of the event itself. The unity of the Scriptures can only be maintained by seeing also in the Old Testament a direct witness to Christ since there is no break in the solidarity of faith between Testaments. Fulfillment cannot be seen on the level of time sequence as the occurrence of an event previously promised. Rather, that which was known in the Old Testament is made perfect in the New. The New Testament's interpretation is made normative for the understanding of the Old. At times Vischer conceives of the Old Testament witness in terms of types, but essentially he sees Jesus Christ actually at work in the Old Testament community (261, 2).
Childs' major issue would be with giving normative statement to the New's construal of the Old (theology requires the "discrete witness" of the Old, or, as Seitz says, its "per se witness"). Nevertheless, there are far more similiarities between this approach and Childs' canonical approach than between it and the theological proposals of von Rad and Eichrodt, which represent a fine-tuning of von Hofmann's Heilsgeschichtliche approach. The issue turns on the relation between narrative and ontology ...
For a quote on Childs' take on prophecy and fulfilment, go here.

P.S. For a brief review of Vischer's approach to Old Testament christology in his historical context, go here.

Harnack on the Old Testament

To keep it [the Old Testament] after the nineteenth century as a canonical document within Protestantism results from a religious and ecclesiastical paralysis.
Quoted here.
Here's a direct response from Wilhelm Vischer:
By this step we abandon the Christian confession - the confession that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. ... For Christianity means precisely the confession that Jesus is Christ in the sense in which the Old Testament defines Israel's messiah. The New Testament understands it in this way. ... With complete consistency the early church took over Israel's scripture.
Somewhat related, Hadassah links to an article on theology and anti-semitism. It talks of an apparent "Abraham complex," in which theological anti-semitism has its root in "the conflict between Christianity or Islam as the true religion and Judaism as the religion that started it all."

Christian truth as unchanging reality

I finally come to the second of five implications of the patristic conception of the regula fidei (or regula veritatis) for dogmatics. The first implication - that Christian faith constitutes a unity - I outlined here. The source is Hägglund's "Die Bedeutung der >Regula Fidei<Studia Theologica 12 1958:1-44.
If the oldest form of Christianity reckoned with a regula fidei, then it presupposed that the content of faith from the beginning on was fixed and forever unchanging. As we have seen, this does not mean that the church fathers sanctioned a specific doctrinal axiom. Although the scriptures of the prophets and apostles were normative—and according to a later terminology “canonical”—, they nevertheless functioned as regula only because they they were the original and only authentic witnesses to the salvific events. The unalterability of the faith consists in the fact that these events as facts of past history simply cannot be changed.

The possibility of a “development” of Christian doctrine exists only in the sense that the presentations of the doctrinal content change and, with more or less completeness, is carried out via new methods or through different teachers in different situations. The content of faith itself, the regula fidei, remains unchanged, for the revelatory event itself can be as little changed as historical facts themselves.

I'm on

Biblioblogs, as the name suggests, is a kind of portal for blogs related to biblical studies - heretical or not ;) I'm grateful to John Hobbins - one of the editors and author of the awesome blog Ancient Hebrew Poetry, which, along with Inhabitatio Dei, is one of my favourites - for getting my blog onto the list and taking the time to interview me.

Friday, 11 July 2008

The nature of Biblical prophecy?

In his commentary on Isaiah, Childs notes the trouble chapter 46 has caused interpreters. The fall of Babylon through Cyrus in 539 did not follow historically the predictions of Isaiah. The great city was not levelled, nor were the Babylonian gods dishonored and replaced. A traditional response, which works on a theory of direct historical referentiality, claimed that the events must be directed to the later conquest by Xerxes. Redaction critics, on the other hand, attempt to isolate later literary levels that developed in an attempt to actualize the original prophecy, especially in the light of its failure to materialize as predicted.

Childs rejects both approaches and claims we need to do justice to "the unique nature of a prophetic proclamation" (361). But just what is this nature? I quote part of his answer below. It's dense and challenging. I'd appreciate feedback on his claims, either in the form of an explanation, a challenge or an affirmation of his point.

Biblical prophecy is not simply a description of a coming historical event made in advance, shortly to be visible to all. Rather, Isaianic prophecy interprets the effects of God's entrance into human history. It embraces a different dimension of reality, which only in part coheres with empirical history. The eschatological appeal of God's rule involves a vision of divine intervention that indeed enters human history, but is not exhausted by any one moment. The quality of God's salvific presence is not limited to one specific event in time and space, but embraces the whole of God's announced purpose for creation, which moves toward consummation. The nature of correspondence between word and event can only be measured in terms of this ongoing divine plan toward ultimate restoration of God's creation. Prophecy thus speaks of a quality of future event. It is not a clairvoyant projection of the events within the unredeemed experience of human history (362).

These comments should be compared to related ones by Jörg Jeremias. Check out too the article by Ronald Clements on the subject of prophecy and fulfillment. I hope to post on this at some point in more detail.

Update: See Wilhelm Vischer's take on the issue, which sounds close to Childs.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Diachrony and synchrony in a "canonical approach"

Halden recently posted a question that has been on my own mind for quite a while now, "what is the theological role of historical criticism?" As usual, Halden's posts generate learned and insightful discussion. I posted the fascinating response of one particular commentator yesterday. I've since written a fairly long piece myself, so I'll include it in its entirety today:

I’ve spent the past year and a half reading almost nothing but Brevard Childs in a desperate attempt to get my head round this issue. Seeing as I am a relative new comer to theology, I’ll take a deep breath and hope my thoughts past muster with those who are more trained than I.
My first thought is that “historical criticism” isn’t a self-contained concept in itself, it takes on all sorts of forms depending on the broader ideological/theological context in which it is used. So asking whether we need historical criticism begs the question what kind of historical criticism. As Tim F. pointed out, historical criticism played a role in the exegesis of the Church Fathers (Jerome is usually the parade example, but it played a role for Origen too). But for them, it was only one element in a longer process which lead somewhere else, it was the vehicle, so to speak, that enabled access to what the text was really about. For those immersed in the Enlightenment tradition, that can be no “something else”: the meaning of the text is one, and it is that of the intention of the author.

The example of the Fathers brings us to the crucial question, which I think Tim F. and Geoff point out well, namely that the validity of historical reading is dependent on our views of the nature of reality as a whole and thus its role within that reality. As I have been slowly pointing out in an ongoing thread of mine, for the Fathers the truth of God involved a history of progressive divine revelation, one which breaks into our history and is witnessed to within that history by concrete, particular prophets and then apostles. The testimony of these individuals, then, has a particular function (can one call it an illocutionary stance?), namely to point beyond themselves to this profound reality of redemption from within their particular positions. For Christianity, the truth is not only “objective,” in the sense of being external to us and therefore in need of being revealed, it is also “prophetic and apostolic,” i.e. it is revealed through particular channels. As Geoff says, “Do we even really need it at all? Uh, only if the texts in question are historical (having history in them, or having been written in history) in nature will I answer yes.”
Yet, as Steven says, “there is also a need for theology which surpasses time and space.” Ebeling may have pointed out the significance of the historicity of the Bible (within a particularly existential framework, as I remember it), but I don’t think that simply finding analogies between then and now is a viable option (i.e. it’s not possible). In addition to that, if it’s true that the function of the diverse texts of Scripture is to point to their single referent, the reality of God, a reality which alone constitutes the unity within this diversity, ecclesial interpretation cannot be satisfied with uncovering the discreet witness of just one of these texts (the theology of Paul for example, check out this quote and this one). It must find a way to relate them in order to arrive at a faithful construal of the whole. One of Childs’s contributions to this debate (I’m surprised his name has not been mentioned above) has been to show how the texts of Scripture are not just historical, they are also kerygmatic in a particularly “canonical” way. In other words, the reality of God’s ongoing relation with his people in history in which he has progressively revealed himself is registered within the development of the texts themselves. Editorial shaping and juxtapositioning of various traditions was done not only to point (“witness”) to this single divine reality—as if the editors were prophets of the same calibre as Isaiah—but was done within the context of a broader understanding of the reality of God himself, gained through history, experience and refracted through the lens of prior prophetic tradition. If exegesis is to facilitate a meeting with God (as the Childs quote above implies), then it is the quest for this reality which should drive our interpretation. And if the texts really are “canonical” in the particular way that Childs meant (and if they really are undergirded by the self-revealing God testified to by the rule of faith), then it means that the final form of the text as a literary, relatively self-referential product, is the only arena within which this God can make himself known. Hence the relevance of the apparently “anti” historical-critical approaches of the New Criticism and certain forms of intertextuality.

This “canonical” construal (or whatever term is most appropriate) encompasses both the diachronic and synchronic dimensions of the text, leading to the complexity and subtleness of Childs actual (usually misunderstood) position. Throughout his commentaries is the call for the requisite skill in keeping these two dimensions in necessery tension. A focus on the diachronic runs the risk of historicizing something which is ultimately incarnational (see Tim F.’s great comments on ontology and time above!), an overemphasis on the synchronic runs the risk missing the thrust of the text. The truth of scripture is in its referent (Christ, see Halden’s point on Christology as a check against bibliolatry), yet this referent is such that it is “mediated” (the text is a “vehicle”) through the concrete historical witness of Israel and the Church. The interpretative move, then (for the Church, at least) is always through or along the diachronic to the synchronic and on to the referent. That’s how I see it anyway. This is just made more complicated by the fact that the final form has a tendency to consciously “sweep over” what has gone before it an attempt to focus our gaze on a more ultimate horizon.

This, by the way, is why “allegory” and patristic exegesis became more interesting to Childs later on in his career.

To summarize, a Childsian canonical approach challenges the nature of historical criticism in the same way that Barth’s category of the text as “witness” did. It asks us to reconceive what history really is in the first place and how the text would funciton within that history is this history were true.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

A Quote from the Pope: What has Jesus brought?

My wife kindly bought me an interesting gift recently, Pope Benedict XVI's Jesus on CD (14 hours long!). Reactions to the book depend on where one stands in the theological spectrum. The pastor of my Free Evangelical Church loves it ("wir haben einen evengelikalen Papst!" he's cried from the pulpit). Those of a more critical bent, such as the professors in the Catholic faculty here in Bonn, can't stand it (they interestingly compare his approach with Childs' canonical approach). I'm sure, in that case, I'll love it. Either way, it'll help me survive the hours of sitting on a beach which the second part of our holiday will entail.

Here's a great excerpt from the book, printed on the CD cover:

... the great question that will be with us throughout this entire [audio]book: But what has Jesus really brought, then, if he has not brought world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought? The answer is very simple: God. He has brought God! He has brought the God who once gradually unveiled his countenance first to Abraham, then to Moses and the prophets, and then in the wisdom literature - the God who showed his face only in Israel, even though he was also honored among the pagans in various shadowy guises. It is this God, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, the true God, whom he has brought to the peoples of the earth. He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about where we are going and where we come from: faith, hope, and love.

History, ontology and politics

Halden of inhabitatio dei has asked, "what is the theological role of historical criticism? Do we really need it at all?"

Brilliant question!

As usual, his query has generated a learned response in the comments from a number of fellow bloggers (D.W. Congdon opens with an eloquent reference to Ebeling). I'm hoping to find time to add my own thoughts on this issue, especially as they involve references to subject areas I really know very little about (such as the regula fidei). In the meantime, I was delighted to read the following thoughts from a certain Tim F., author of the blog The Moving Image. This chimes in with a book I recently posted on (with an ethnographical afterthought here). Here are his thoughts (which prove, by the way, what a useful hunting ground Halden's blog is for other interesting blogs).

A question always lurking in the conversation regarding the role of historical criticism in theology is: does historical criticism, or modern historical methods in general, have ontological presuppositions? I think they do, especially regarding time and therefore its relationship to eternity. For example, historical criticism must see the past as gone and immutable; it divides past from present in order to give itself an object to study. However, we do not experience this break between past and present in our ordinary life. What are the implications of this? I’m still working on this in my personal research.
One more thing, it is often forgotten that the discipline of modern history arose to relativize the medieval church. At its origins, history was quite a political act; one that led to the rise of modern nation states and their so often touted “advance” of separation of church and state. Some would argue that to practice modern history as a political act requires one to affirm the liberal subject.
Finally, a difference between modern history and ancient forms of history must also be noted here. My disseration is on Bede who wrote biblical commentaries and history, and I’m trying to work through there relation to each other to help answer some of these questions. Sorry that I didn’t offer anything that solid; I think I just muddied the waters more.
One more thing, we need to be careful not to affirm that we are better readers of Scripture than our forbears who did not have historical criticism. Perhaps some want to make that case (and I’d like to hear it), but it should not simply be assumed as a general posture.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

The regula fidei as basis for theology

In my thread on the regula fidei as the basis for theology, I have outlined its nature for the early church (and here), and its significance and its content for Irenaeus (who is similar to Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria). The next five posts will consist of my translation of Hägglund's essay which deals with the implications all this has for the contemporary task of theology. Today we look at the first of five implications (I should add that this is required reading for those interested in comprehending B.S. Childs' complex theological hermeneutics):

The regula fidei presupposes that from the outset the content of Christian faith constituted a unity. The doctrinal system of Christian theology was created neither by a retrospective systematizing nor by the exigency of the fight against heresy, even though the various explanations of this system are secondary. Rather, the content of faith existed originally as a totality, a coherent “system”/“arrangement” (Ordnung), which coincides with the regula fidei and with the divine ordo salutis (Heilsordnung), as witnessed to in scripture. At the same time, this unity is a unity of both testaments. The new covenant or the Gospel, witnessed to by the New Testament, is inseparably connected to the Old Testament, i.e. with the divine reality witnessed to in the Old Testament scriptures. If one were to accept only the gospels or only the New Testament as the basis for Christian doctrine, then the rule of faith would never be heard. Doctrine would be deformed, so that it would not be a faithful representation of the actual way of salvation. The message of the New Testament, in other words, must be interpreted and understood in accordance with (in Übereinstimmung mit) the Old Testament revelation. The content of the Old Testament does not only form the historical background of the Christian religion. Rather, it belongs itself to the same divine plan of salvation, which finds its consummation and conclusive clarification in Jesus Christ. That means that not only is a christological use of the Old Testament from the perspective of the New Testament authoritative. An interpretation of the New Testament from the perspective of the Old Testament must also be authoritative. It is not the case that the antetypes and promises are only to be interpreted from the perspective of the revealed reality and the fulfilment. The witness to the facts underlying the New Covenant (i.e. the deeds and passion of Christ) must also be so understood in such a way that it harmonises with the Old Testament revelation. Together, these two witnesses form a single, unitary order of salvation (Ordnung der Heilsgeschichte).


It is therefore not the task of dogmatics to discover the unity of theology within a basic “Christian idea”(Grundidee des Christentums). Rather, it should assume a literal, primal unity of revelation which is rooted in the actual order of salvation history (Ordnung der Heilsgeschichte), as opposed to retrospectively accomplishing an inner connection between various dogmatic statements. This unity is not the creation of a systematic meditation on the objects of faith, it is much more the actual presupposition of Christian theology in the first place. Even the formal order (äusserliche Ordnung) which exists in the various theological methods can impede a correct presentation of belief precisely because such an order represents an attempt to set up a secondary unity based on a logical or anthropological principle. One thinks, for example, of the res-et-signa method of the Middle Ages, the analytical method of Lutheran orthodoxy or the ordo salutis of pietistic theology. Just as the various idealistic theological systems often signify a genuine deformation of the primal unity (ursprünglich Einheit), so these older methods regularly—even though in themselves pedagogically enlightening—bring about a certain obscuring of the actual “order” (Ordnung), i.e. the inner structure of Christian doctrine.

There is, as it were, a “natural” order for dogmatics, which is not grounded in a common idea but rather in the unity of the Old and New Testaments, an order which, according to its nature, is not so much systematic as historical. It is not only a formal scheme for the presentation of theological teaching, it is rather totally determined by its content. For this reason it coincides with the regula fidei, and the regula is at the same time a witness to this original order, grounded in the genuine events of salvation history.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Israel in 2040?

In April of this year, the Economist published a special report on Israel. You can read the online edition here. I enjoyed all the contributions and found them to be informative and fair. I particularly found a citation in the opening article helpful, in which Yehezkel Dror, an Israeli political scientist, sets out two contrasting visions of how his country might look in 32 years time. It is taken from his book "Epistle to an Israeli Jewish-Zionist Leader" and represents a secular Zionist point of view. I found the scenarios helpful for getting an overview on the current options facing Israelis and Palestinians, especially as I struggle to see how a strictly Zionist solution can offer any long term justice (the Arab-Israeli arguments for "multiculturalism" in the article just seem more reasonable. But I'm happy to be persuaded otherwise!).

So, how realistic are the following scenarios? And is the first the best solution for all?

In the first [scenario], [Israel] has some 50% more people, is home to two-thirds of the world's Jewry and, as today, is four-fifths Jewish itself. The other fifth, its Arab citizens, have accepted the state's Jewish identity, thanks to efforts to end discrimination against them and to the creation of a viable Palestinian state next door. The country enjoys a flourishing knowledge-based economy, a thriving cultural life and a just society, and has good relations and strong trade links with most of the Middle East. A serene balance of Zionist and humanist values infuses both state affairs and everyday life. Reforms have stabilised the political system. Fast public transport has minimised the country's already small distances, encouraging mobility, and many of its citizens happily divide their lives between Israel and other countries.
In the second scenario, Israel has only half the world's Jews, their majority in Israel itself is down to two-thirds and shrinking, and “Zionism” has become a term of ridicule among the young. Jews abroad see Israel as increasingly backward and irrelevant to them, and Jews of different streams within Israel are at loggerheads. Pressure is rising, both at home and abroad, for Israel to become a fully democratic, non-Zionist state and grant some form of autonomy to Arab-Israelis. The best and brightest have emigrated, leaving a waning economy. Government coalitions are fractious and short-lived. The different population groups are ghettoised; wealth gaps yawn. Israel is in conflict with a hostile Palestinian state that was declared unilaterally; Islamic fundamentalism in the region is on the rise; and any peace deals between Israel and its neighbours—some of which now have weapons of mass destruction—are looking shaky.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Christian truth and scriptural referentiality

I probably shouldn't just copy quotes from other people's blogs, but this one is just so beautiful that I can't resist it. Sister Macrina Walker posted the following from a certain Father Andrew Louth, a theologian who will be getting far more of my attention in the future:

For the central truth, or mystery, of the Christian faith is primarily not a matter of words, and therefore ultimately of ideas or concepts, but a matter of fact, or reality. The heart of the Christian mystery is the fact of God made man, God with us, in Christ; words, even his words, are secondary to the reality of what he accomplished. To be a Christian is not simply to believe something, to learn something, but to be something, to experience something. The role of the Church, then, is not simply as the contingent vehicle - in history - of the Christian message, but as the community, through belonging to which we come into touch with the Christian mystery. [*]
Christian truth as a matter of fact, as a reality. That is the thrust of my current thread looking at the meaning of the regula veritatis (rule of truth) in the early church. It was something that Childs, much to the surprise of many, emphasised throughout his career, an emphasis that gave his brand of "canonical exegesis" its particular profile. As he said in penultimate publication:

Is there a determinate meaining within the biblical texts of the Chrisitian Bible? Traditional Christian exegesis took it for granted that the biblical witness was directed toward a specific reference. Its testimony provided access to the mysteries of divine reality. At times the reality perceived was earthly, bound in time and space. At other times it was a transcendent reality related directly or indirectly to sense perception, but requiring divine inspiration for its full comprehension. Accordingly, scripture contains multiple meanings, but all joined in some manner to a referent.[**]
Grasping this fact in all its subtle dialectical complexity should be a primary task of all those engaged in so-called "theological exegesis." It should function as a kind of compass guiding us through the murky disputes concerning the relationship between diachronic and synchronic exegesis, between literalistic and metaphorical reading, between academic and homiletic interpretation etc. etc.

I also think that grasping this truth leads to the joy that what we love about this world is lovable, and what we hate is redeemable, and that somehow, in all our broken particularity, faith makes total sense.

I have discussed this issue in a thread dealing with the sensus spiritualis and sensus literalis, summarised here (in which, I should add, my identification of the theological referent with the spiritual sense was challenged in the comments. I'd appreciate any feedback on the dialogue!)

[*] Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery. An Essay on the Nature of Theology, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983) 74. (Biblicalia, by the way, posts on a cheap offer of this book by Eighth Day Books here).

[**] B.S. Childs, The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture, 313.

Ooh, a patristics carnival!

Up until now I've only ever been linked to, if at all, on biblical studies Carnivals (see Getz for the most recent contribution). I was delighted, however, to see that there is such a thing as a patristics carnival and that the extremely industrious blogger at The God Fearin' Forum has taken time to read my recent postings.

So thanks to Tim A. Troutman for his time and especially for the really quite exhaustive work he's done on all things patristic within the blogosphere. He divides the relevant blogging activiy into the following helpful subcategories:

Hall of Fame: My hand-picked recommendations.

Introduction to & Biographies of the Fathers. New to the fathers? This is the place to start.

General Patristics. Posts surrounded by asterisks are especially worth viewing and should have broad appeal.

General Patristics. Posts surrounded by asterisks are especially worth viewing and should have broad appeal.

Book Review: Books of interest regarding the early Church & patristic literature.

Apocryphal Corner

Patristic Obituaries

That really is a phenomenal and benefical amount of work.