Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The need for proportional exegesis

What is proportional exegesis? Proportional exegesis is exegesis which takes into account all the dimensions of the text and gives them their proper due. The so-called "canonical approach," as conceived by Brevard Childs and developed by Christopher Seitz, attempts to do this - contrary to many misrepresentations of the approach as pure synchronic method (it's not even a "method"). In his book Prophecy and Hermeneutics, Seitz mentions three dimensions of the Biblical text, especially as they relate to the canonical shape of the Twelve: the historical, literary, and theological. I have commented on this in more detail my post The canonical shape of the twelve Minor Prophets.

Maintaining these three dimensions in proportion (there are no doubt more, feel free to suggest) requires a lot of subtlety on the part of the interpreter, what Seitz calls a "balancing act." For example, the distinction between the collection of the three Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) and the Twelve must be taken seriously. According to Seitz, for the Three, “different orders can exist, and the present arrangement is such that the integrity of the individual books is what matters, not their inner relationships or particular order” (91). The Twelve, on the other hand, have been preserved in a different way. “On the one hand, like the Three, they have their own integrity as a single independent work. Unlike the Three, however, they manifest a twelvefold internal character that is clearly marked and is an essential feature of them/it” (91).
Seitz goes on,

The question now is not one of whether historical particularity is a feature of Israel's prophetic witness in general or of the Minor Prophets in particular; it most surely is, and the superscriptions appear calibrated to make this aspect clear formally. What is at issue is how one handles this dimension of the witness in a proportional way and in accordance with the formal character of the witness (92, emphasis mine).
The implications this should have for the interpretation of the Psalms should be clear. In my interpretation of Psalm 24, I will be attempting to avoid the extremes of traditional form criticism on the one hand, which seeks only to interpret the Psalm within the context grid of some context external to the Psalter (though see Millard, Komposition, for a form critical analysis of the Psalter per se), and so-called "canonical approaches" (different to the one described above), which treat the Psalter as a book like any other, consisting of chapters strung along a plot line.
For similar thoughts by Brevard Childs on the need for proportionality in interpretation, see my post Two Testaments, four Gospels: The theological significance of juxtaposition. See also my post on Diachrony and Synchrony in a "canonical approach."

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