Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Continuity in tradition-history

As I mentioned in the most recent post of my thread analysing Seitz's Prophecy and Hermeneutics, Seitz's canonical approach does not exclude the historical dimension of the text. The "canonical approach" is not a repudiation of historical criticism but rather an adaptation of the older tradition-historical model. In Seitz's words, it wishes to

take into consideration the effect of the final form of the text, once the prehistory has been appreciated and interpreted (130).
It is important for this approach, however, that there is theological continuity between the layers of tradition. In contrast to von Rad, Seitz does not believe that later tradents (or “traditionists”) were “manifestly misdrawing” an earlier tradition in order to extract its doxa (to quote von Rad, p. 250). Rather,

they are seeking to hear the original word, overtaking them and enclosing them, in the context of a new set of circumstances, constraints, hopes, and divine judgments (129).

In the spirit of the original prophecy, [the] canonical shaping has sought to hear God's word overtaking the generations designed by God for just such an apprehension (Zech. 1:6). Such an understanding of time is better calibrated to the intentions of the author of time and to the canonical portrayal that is providentially under his care, beginning with the original prophetic witness and carrying on through the process of development and consolidation until the witness receives a stable canonical form in the book of the twelve (134, emphasis mine).
Here we see that the continuity is theological—Childs had said “ontological”—and it is guaranteed by the ultimate author of Scripture, God, its subject and object. Again, von Rad's weakness was the theological discontinuity in the message of the prophets that his approach seems to imply:

His work was a brilliant and insightful effort to connect prophecy to the wider canonical achievement by means of a tradition-historical conception. This came at the cost, however, of seeing the abiding characteristic of the prophets as their “forward leaning” capacity, based upon a reconstruction that isolated the prophets from one another … The prophets build a bridge into the New Testament by means of constant change and adaptation of their message, of such a nature that it is unclear how their original deposit is meant to maintain its force within a meaningful providential design and as an integral part of the Old Testament as Christian Scripture (150, emphasis original).
My next post in the series will look at how Seitz thinks the texts ought to be read, when understood as witnesses to divine reality in terms of their present form.


Bill said...

The "canonical approach" is not a repudiation of historical criticism but rather an adaptation of the older tradition-historical model.

As far as I understand that line, Phil, I think it pretty well sums up the main reason I'm interested in your research. As always, please do keep at it fervently. :)

Phil Sumpter said...

Will do :)