Saturday, 4 April 2009

A canonical approach to the Twelve Minor Prophets

I've argued elsewhere that Christopher Seitz's conception of a "canonical approach" to Scripture (like Childs') is not a form of postmodern interpretation which brackets out all questions of historical development or authorial intentionality. It is a complex phenomenon, involving historical, literary, and theological considerations (see, e.g. my post Continuity in tradition-history). Below, see 1st) his summary of the final form of The Twelve as the product of intentional juxtaposition and 2nd) his understanding of the nature of the phenomenon:

1) Canonical Shaping of the Twelve:

It is "clear that the placements of later books next to earlier ones is an intentional move, arising from the canonical process itself, and is not a reader-response imposition by readers tired of older approaches and looking for new ones. Just as YHWH's roaring from Zion ends Joel and begins Amos, Amos ends with a promise of Edom's (9:12), and Obadiah unhesitatingly describes it. Jonah provides an occasion not of Israelite but of Ninevite repentance, which makes the prophet sore but which reminds the reader that God is not above relenting over evil powers like Edom (whom he has punished in Obadiah already) or even the powerful nation of Assyria. He can treat them with the same patience and kindness he has lavished on his own people, in different ways and dispensations, in Hosea, Joel, and Amos or in the context of Edom's destruction of Obadiah (17-21). Micah establishes the limits of God's patience, now toward the preserved remnant of Judah, strikingly at the exact middle point of the Twelve as a whole (3:12)—a prophecy that bore repeating in a later conflict over Jeremiah's similar preaching against the temple and king (see Jer. 26:18)" (p. 237).

2) The nature of the phenomenon:

"We know that as a historical datum, very soon after the final prophetic book (Malachi?) took shape, the Twelve are regarded as a collection (Sirach, Qumran). Indeed, in Sirach the existence of the Twelve is something of a cliché: it is referred to as a given, without argument or assertion. The literary evidence for internal editorial affiliation, linkages, and intentional juxtapositions is becoming increasingly clear as scholars turn to this sort of inquiry. And I have tried to probe into the theological coherence of the twelve-book collection that may be the intended consequence or, indeed, the originating engine, driving the historical and literary dimensions of canonical shaping "(217, emphasis original).


John Anderson said...

B12 is by no means my specialty. I have dabbled a bit in Micah 6 and Habakkuk (namely the Qumran pesher, 1QpHab, and biblical Habakkuk chs. 2-3). One of my teachers--and likely the second on my dissertation committee--James Nogalski, is a seminal scholar on the Twelve.

Dr. Nogalski and I differ methodologically very much. As you know, I am much more literary/synchronic, and he is very much 'German' in his methodology (see O.H. Steck, Old Testament Exegesis: A Guide to the Methodology, which Nogalski translated from the German). He, along with the majority of B12 scholars, now agree to a purposeful arrangement of the material in the 12, and ancient manuscripts and Jewish tradition can attest to the practice of reading these 12 together. The debate, though, revolves around how the material came together.

The two seminal figures here are James Nogalski and Aaron Schart (among others with whom I am less familiar). The models are no doubt wearisome to follow in many ways. For Nogalski, Nah and Hab become part of the 12 contemporaneous with Joel. Schart, conversely, sees Nah and Hab getting picked up by a pre-existing D-corpus (DK) consisting of Hos, Amos, Mic, and Zeph, and being inserted between Mic and Zeph. Later, for Schart, you also see a Joel-Obadiah corpus included. (I realize this does not cover the entire 12 . . . that stuff has gone out of my mind. But the above is a representative sampling of what kind of work is being done. Not my cup of tea, but interesting nonetheless).

Suggested reading for those interested:

*Nogalski, Literary Precursors to the Book of the Twelve
*Nogalski, Redactional Processes in the Book of the Twelve
*Schart, Die Entstehung des Zwolfprophetenbuchs
*Nogalski and Sweeney (eds.), Reading and Hearing the Book of the Twelve.

David Reimer said...

Interesting quotes, Phil. But don't you want to ... lean on Seitz just a little?

In the first quote, he asserts that the XII are ordered by "intentional move[s], arising from the canonical process itself" -- but the resonances picked out could be managed not only for the XII, but for the whole prophetic corpus. Indeed, it could equally be argued, for the entire Christian Bible! Perhaps, though, this is just the bi-product of picking out quotes, even extended ones, without seeing the supporting work.

In the second quote, the "historical/literary/theological" triumverate, under your rubric "the nature of the phenomenon" brings together three quite different things. "Historical" here clearly is just the "datum" (as Seitz puts it) that the XII were regarded as a single collection -- a commonplace in their study for over a century. "Literary" provides us with an set of inter-textual observations. "Theological" ... is it odd that Seitz swithers between "originating" or "consequence"?! And that this cause/result (!) drives the "historical and literary" only underscores a basic disconnect with how these terms are used earlier in the paragraph. (IMO) :)

@John - I think I know what you mean about Nogalski and Schart being "seminal", but my hunch is that that rhetoric should be reined in. (On "Grand National" day in the UK!) So Michael Shepherd can begin his recent ZAW article with this quote from Marti:

»Dass die Sammlung der prophetenschriften, welche im Zwölfprophetenbuch vereinigt sind, schon in relativ alter Zeit als eine zusammengehörige Einheit betrachtet wurde, lässt sich aus verschiedenen Anzeichen erschliessen« (K. Marti, Das Dodekapropheton, KHT 13, 1904, xiii).

Of course, this spawned work like R.E. Wolfe's 1933 Harvard Ph.D. which was summarized in a ZAW article of 1935 on the editing of the XII which (naturally for the times) was more interested in the editorial "glue" than in the nature of the "whole" it held together.

Which leads back to the point Phil was making at the start of his post. Unless one can see the sorts of things that Wolfe was interested in, you can't say much about the sorts of forces Seitz is interested in. I know people say things about the alleged parallels between Childs and postmodern readings, and not without reason. But having seen that they might be "cousins" of some sort, again it seems to me that Seitz is overstating his end of the argument. Indeed, even John Barton (while appealing to Edmond Jacob rather than Childs) can attend to the ways in which "canon" enabled Israel to "maintain its traditions and its identity" (in his own article on the canonical meaning of the XII) -- surely a historical interest of greater import than the one that Seitz cites! :)


David Reimer

Phil Sumpter said...

Sorry for the late reply guys,


Nogalski gets a frequent mention in Seitz's book. One of the points I've been trying to drive home in my series on the canonical approach (as Childs and Seitz understood it) is that the diachronic dimension belongs to the exegesis of the final form. As such, Childs and Seitz regularly refer to whatever classic critical scholarship happens to be in vogue. It just so happens that much recent critical work is confirming the kind of canonical editing that Childs spoke about. Ironically, it is Childs who has taught me to really appreciate historical criticism. When I started out on this doctorate I was very synchronic in my leanings. I wanted to bracket out extra-textual referentiality as much as possible and deal with a hermeneutically sealed canon. I struggled with various dimensions of this, but it was the direction I wanted to be going in. Childs held me back and taucht me how to appreciate the complexity of the entire process. Of course, at the end of the day Childs' approach focuses very much on the final form and so my exegetical interests are still, like yours, very literary/synchronic. A major task, however, for synchronic readings is determing just what the unity of the text is ... Childs felt it was ultimately "ontological." Again, I think the differences between Sternberg and Alter are instructive here. Sternbergs' opening chapter is phenomenal and can pretty much be read independent of the rest of the book.

I'd be interested to know why you are attracted to synchronic/literary readings; there are so many possible reasons: historical, aesthetic, theological ... Could be subject matter for a future post perhaps?


thanks for popping by.

But don't you want to ... lean on Seitz just a little?

I should have pointed out that this post is part of a broader series simply attempting to clarify what Christopher Seitz understands the "canonical approach" to be, rather than a concrete proposal for a canoncical reading of the Twelve per se. This post is an illustration of the theoretical bits that are summarized here.

he resonances picked out could be managed not only for the XII, but for the whole prophetic corpus.

That is pretty much what Seitz argues. He sees most of the OT as an intentionally shaped theological product. It belongs to the subtlety of his approach, however, that there are differences in kind between the various kinds of connections made. Isaiah/Jeremiah/Ezekiel are also linked in various ways, but they are linked differently. For one, the canonical presentation presents them as independent books whereas the Twelve presents its consituent parts as both independent as well as interconnected. There are different hermeneutical implications. This doesn't come accross in my limited quote though.

the "historical/literary/theological" triumverate ... brings together three quite different things

Sure, but the are the essential ingredients in the unified approach to the text which goes by the name of "canonical" (as Seitz understands it). They belong together.

And that this cause/result (!) drives the "historical and literary" only underscores a basic disconnect with how these terms are used earlier in the paragraph.

I'm not sure I get the disconnect you talk about. Could you clarify?

Again, maybe it's because it's late, but I'm not getting you when you say that Seitz "overstates his end of the argument." What is he saying that is overstated? And are you saying that the final form's function in maintaining group identity (á la Sanders) is a historical datum that is "more important" than the historical datum of the development of the final form? Sorry if I'm missing something, manchmal stehe ich auf dem Schlauch!

John Anderson said...

Briefly, my attraction to literary synchronic readings stems from a number of factors:

1) A growing agnosticism regarding more historical-critical ventures, which are laden with problems (circular reasoning, creating a text that by all intents and purposes does not exist, etc.). This is not to imply my methodology is without problems . . . I just think historical-critical methodologies are far far far more subjective.

2) A deep appreciation for the work of Robert Alter.

3) A desire to make the text relevant for the contemporary faith community. Historical-critical renderings do not do this, largely, in my opinion. They may attempt, for instance, to 'interpret-away' difficulties (for instance, Carr may be guilty of this in his Reading the Fractures of Genesis regarding Jacob as deceiver . . . I will have to peek at his treatment again.

There are other reasons, but these are primarily them. I am most concerned with interpreting the text we have a sopposed to the text we wish we had.

I do agree, though, that the two approaches do intersect at points. Nogalski is very particular about this. I do not, however, as of yet see him talking about what that final form means; he focuses only upon how the text came to be.

I do not think I am one who jettisons historical considerations. They just are not my primary MO.

David Reimer said...

Hi again Phil - thanks for the thoughtful replies. This is almost ... like ... a ... conversation! :)

...this post is part of a broader series...

And I confess I've skimmed rather than read some (err, most!) of them! Mea culpa!

[quote]the "historical/literary/theological" triumvirate ... brings together three quite different things[quote] ...

I'm not sure I get the disconnect you talk about. Could you clarify?

I'll try! In the quote you gave: by "history", Seitz means the observed fact of the "unity" of the XII. For "literary", we have what comes across here as "intertextual" observations -- and "intertexts" can bring together any texts the reader decides will produce an illuminating conversation. For "theological", Seitz cannot decide whether he is observing theological causes or effects. I fail to see how these uses of "historical", "literary", and "theological" "belong together" (your phrase). Of course hist-lit-theo do belong together, I just don't see that the way Seitz glosses them here functions in a coherent fashion -- thus my language of "disconnect".

Or maybe I'm just being thick! :P say that Seitz "overstates his end of the argument." What is he saying that is overstated?

Your opening quote from Seitz runs: "it is 'clear that the placements of later books next to earlier ones is an intentional move ... and is not a reader-response imposition by readers tired of older approaches and looking for new ones.'" (my ellipsis) I'm just reacting against, I suppose, what (for some?) has become a tired polarization. My sense is that observation of "final form" phenomena presuppose historical forces, and do not dismiss "intent" in the shaping process. At the same time, I think I understand where Seitz is coming from!

I think you said well in your reply to John how much integrating power there is in a method that attends to diachronic forces in order arrive at a reading which respects "synchronicity" :) (can I say that?), and reflects on it with profit.

[...manchmal stehe ich auf dem Schlauch! LOL! Hadn't heard that one before. :) ]

@John - you write: There are other reasons, but these are primarily them. I am most concerned with interpreting the text we have as opposed to the text we wish we had.

My sense is that it is worth thinking carefully about this claim! "Literary/syncrhonic" approaches are no less prone to concocting self-serving readings (some might argue they are more prone!) than "historcial/diachronic" ones!

John Anderson said...

Indeed, David, and as I mention above in #1, I am not trying to presuppose my methodological emphasis is any less subjective. Well, actually, I am in a way. I am at least grounded in something more or less concrete, the text. But I do recognize entirely that my methodology--any methodology for that matter--in a way imposes its own assumptions and grid upon the text.

I am curious about your claim that synchronic approaches, some would argue, may yield even more 'self-serving' readings. I suppose if one pushes things 'too far' (i.e., reader response, etc - which I am not a big fan of) I can see that possibility arising. No method, I suppose, is perfect or unprejudiced.

My main difficulty with diachronic type analyses is the assumptions, subjectivity, and assumptions, and subjectivity, that are often necessarily stacked on top of one another. I envision it as a giant Jenga tower--remove one piece and the whole is likely to totter or fall. This is not to say I do not think there are responsible, cogent, well-articulated diachronic analyses out there that are far more plausible than not. But for me, staying grounded in the text (and by that, I mean MT . . . at least until BHQ Genesis comes out!).

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi guys,

my track record of late for replying on time is really not looking good. I'm very sorry, there is a lot going on at the moment!


I sympathize with everything you have written. For me, point 3) motivates everything else I do. I also like your emphasis on the "concreteness" of what you are reading (the text as given). Childs never talked about final form exegesis being more objective, but he did talk about (more or less) object boundaries for interpretation, an interpretative arena, which functions as an authoriatative rule ... (canon). But these are theologically loaded categories which go a bit beyond many purely literary readings ...

You said: I am curious about [David's] claim that synchronic approaches, some would argue, may yield even more 'self-serving' readings.

I'm not sure if not more so ... but one critique that has been brought against purely final form exegesis is the fact that it does not always take into account the genre of the literature, which is historically conditioned. One cannot separate text from community (a great insight of Sternberg; Alter and Frei are the scholars he critiques here). One can theologically sharped this and ask, with Seitz, "in what does the final form consist?" Abstract thoughts I know, but I find them important.

Finally, I'm currently trying to get my head round text criticism. I'd love to know why you prioritize MT ... And what difference would BHQ make (how I yearn for the Psalms edition!).


I don't think I see the same stuff you see in Seitz's quote, but thanks for the conceptual analysis. I like being kept on my toes (I need it, really)! In my opinion, Seitz is just saying that the theological intentionality that gives specifically the final form its "umph" pervates the text in all its dimensions: it is a fact of historical intentionality and reception (both are important), it has been registered for our observation at a literary level, and this is the result of an original theological intentionality ('behind' the text) with a theological effect (in front of the text). Seitz admittedly uses the ambiguous term "theological coherence," and there is a bunch of dogmatic theology behind this word (in my estimate; see my post Seitz on the divine authorship of Scripture), but I still don't get the disconnect. As as for your use of the term intertextuality - this is a term that has been used by different interpreters in multiple ways. You have chosen the post-structuralist version which sees the intertexts as being created by the reader. Seitz is refering to consciously created intertexts by the editors (though the latter is of interest too, of course).

My sense is that observation of "final form" phenomena presuppose historical forces, and do not dismiss "intent" in the shaping process

This is precisely what Seitz is getting at. The canoincal approach is accused of being just reader response, and there are those who have taken the canonical approach in that direction. Seitz and Childs regularly argue against the "tired polarization," as you put it (so we agree )

And I agree that literary/synchronic readings can be ideologically loaded too. If as much as diachronic ones ... maybe. Interesting thought. For a "Childsian" canonical approach, the true context for interepretation is not, strictly, either the final form or its diachronic development. It's the "rule of faith" (regula fidei), of which the final form is a type ...

Thanks for interacting guys! Do keep it up.

Anonymous said...


Dear Philip,

I’m discussing with my brother, the likelihood that the book of Daniel has prophecy in it that was written after what it seems to be predicting. Have you posted or written anything on this?
I’m especially interested in the claims made about Daniel 9, that supposedly is “correct to the day” in predicting the number of years from Artaxerxes’ word to rebuild Jerusalem until the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Do you think that is the case?
Bob Moore

Phil Sumpter said...


I'd like to think about this, please give me time to respond.