Thursday, 25 November 2010

Was ist christliche Erkenntnis?

I'm revisiting old essays and reworking them for the final form of my thesis. In the process I'm discovering Karl Barth in a new dimension. Childs is often said to be Barthian, and this is surely right. But I'm still not sure the implications of what that means have been fully worked out. Is there a treatment to date which expresses the canonical approach in terms of Barth's teaching of the Three Forms of the Word (neither Xun nor Driver mention it)? Unfortunately, I'm only going to be briefly touching on this myself as 50% of my thesis is enacting Childs' hermeneutic and not explaining its intellectual ancestry. Nevertheless, grasping the dogmatic underpinnings of the "canonical approach" (as Childs understood it) is key to implementing it exegetically. I'm grateful to Childs for having introduced me to Barth, whose writings make my heart race almost as much as those of Childs. I do wonder how much my love of Childs is in fact a love of Barth, where the one stops and the other continues. I don't know my Barth well enough to judge just yet.

Here's an awesome quote on the nature of Christian (Biblical) truth that embodies what it is that I love about Barth, and what it is that makes the canonical approach so rich:
Der Begriff des Wissens, der scientia, genügt nicht, umd das zu beschreiben, was christilche Erkenntnis ist. Wir müssen vielmehr zurückgehen auf das, was im Alten Testament die Weisheit genannat wird, was der Grieche sophia nannte und der Lateiner sapientia, um das Wissen der Theologie in seiner Fülle zu erfassen. Sapientia unterscheidet sich von dem engeren Begriff scientia, Weisheit unterscheidet sich von Wissennicht dadurch, daß sie nicht  auch Wissen in sich enthielte, aber darüber hinaus redet dieser Begriff von einem Wissen, das ein praktisches Wissen sit, das die ganze Existenz des Menschen umfaßt. Weißheit ist das Wissen, von dem wir faktisch, praktisch leben dürfen, ist die Empirie und ist die Theorie, welche darin gewaltig ist, daß sie sofort praktisch ist, daß sie das Wissen ist, welches unser Leben beherrscht, welches wirklich ein Licht auf unserem Pfad ist. Nicht ein Licht zum Bestaunen und Betrachten, nicht ein Licht um allerhand Feuerwerke damit anzuzünden - und wenn es auch die tiefsinnigsten philosophischen Spekulationen wären! - sonder das Licht auf unserem Weg, das über unserem Tun und über unserem Reden stehen darf, das Licht in unseren gesunden und in unseren kranken Tagen, in unserer Armut und in unserem Reichtum, das Licht, das nicht nur dann leuchtet, wenn wir Momente der Einsicht zu haben meinen, sonder das uns begleitet auch in unsere Torheit hinein, das nicht verlöscht, wenn alles verlöscht, wenn das Ziel unseres Lebens im Tode sichtbar wird. Von diesem Licht, von dieser Wahrheit leben, das heißt christliches Erkennen. Christliches Erkennen heißt in der Wahrheit Jesus Christi leben.
Karl Barth, Dogmatik im Umriss, in der Universität Bonn vorgelesen, 1946.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Quote of the day: Gunkel/Barth

Daß es sich im Alten Testament um eine bewegende Sache handeln möchte, fing mir erst in Berlin bei Gunkel aufzugehen (Nachwort 190f.; Busch, Leben 51; cited in Bächli, Das Alte Testament in der Kirchlichen Dogmatik von Karl Barth, 3.
What was it that Barth saw in Gunkel? I won't share my thoughts here, as my own answer constitutes part of my thesis (though see Bächli on pp. 324-325). I just wanted to share this quote as a witness to the fact that Barth, and Childs, never intended or wanted to escape the challenge of either the Enlightenment or historical-criticism. Their approaches go through it and thus result in a vision of Scripture and God which, as far as I am concerned at least, makes my heart burn. I worry that the contemporary growth in "theological exegesis" hasn't fully grasp the move made by Barth and then Childs on this score.

Otto Bächli's book is awesome (I'm surprised Childs' didn't cite it in his Biblical Theology). Incidentally, he was born in Switzerland in 1920 and there a section on him on this amazing website by the Swiss Reformed Church dedicated to the memories of Swiss pastors during the war. Here's the reason he got into Old Testament:
Wir hatten ein Bauernhaus mit vier Wohnungen, und in einer lebten Juden. Wir sprachen auch Jiddisch im Umgang mit jüdischen Kindern. Wohl aus diesen Erfahrungen heraus wurde später mein Hang zum Alten Testament und zum Hebräischen sehr stark.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Barth, Ps 24, and the unity of the Testaments

Christians believe that the Old Testament witnesses to  God-in-Jesus. Jesus himself made this clear to his disciples as he walked with them on the road to Emmaus, opening their eyes to the way the Law and the Prophets spoke of his suffering and resurrection. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, if you enjoy thinking about this kind of thing), he didn’t leave behind a divinely inspired hermeneutical key which can infallibly illuminate the manner in which the Old Testament goes about doing this. We are left with a frustrating inner conviction but the impossibility of proving this conviction to the unbeliever. This reminds me of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ demand for a sign, when he simply states that what he says is true because he is the one who says it. I can imagine how frustrating that must have been! Somehow the truth is “self-affirming.”

For my part, I do believe that the Old Testament witnesses to God-in-Jesus, and the church has consistently confessed the same (cf. the abundant allegorical interpretation for the vast majority of the church’s history, including throughout the Reformation). However, like many in the church, I also struggle to back up this claim with a philosophical or theological account of how this happens. To draw another analogy with responses to the historical Jesus, I find myself in the similar position of Jesus’ neighbours in Nazareth, who , when confronted with his claim that he is the initiator of the kingdom of God, responded with the question: “isn’t that Joseph’s son… ?” (note the title of a recent book whose contents would seem to affirm this surface recognition as the last word on the matter). The analogous Christian version that I hear again and again is: “is that the God of the New Testament?” The answer is “yes,” and if you can’t figure out why or how than you better take stock of the adequacy your own grasp of the gospel. I experience this challenge regularly.

This is not to say that there are not a host of helpful theses that each in their own way shed light on the phenomenon, allowing Christians to both deepen their own faith as well as present it to others. The recognition of mystery ought to function as an invitation to enter it, rather than as an excuse to just give up wrestling with the issue in the first place (cf. A. Louth, Discerning the Mystery).

One thesis that touches on this issue was made by Karl Barth, which I will now share in massively reduced form (primarily because I have only read this thesis in a paper about something else, namely  the influence of Barth on Miskotte). It’s about the continuity  and discontinuity between the Testaments:

Similarity
Disimilarity
Both Testaments see God as one who freely initiates relationship with human kind.
The OT has a variety of covenants and only an implicit Messianic hope. The NT has only one covenant and the Messiah is identified as Jesus of Nazareth.
Both Testaments recognize the mysterious hiddenness of God.
The OT sees this hiddenness in God’s judgement of the nations, including Israel. The NT sees this in God’s judgement of his Son. God’s judgement in the NT is, in some sense, final.
Both Testaments have an “already-not yet” eschatology (my phrase), as God is both one who is already experienced but also one who is coming.
The NT not only see’s Jesus as the One who is coming, it is waiting for the one who has already come [though I have to admit, I don’t see how this is any different from the OT perspective, for there God also already came … ].

The framework for these similarities/differences is Barth’s concept of the relationship between Divine Revelation and time. There are three “times,” the time of the expectation of revelation (Old Testmaent), the time of the fulfilment of revelation (Jesus’ history), and the age of remembering the fulfilment of revelation (New Testament). It’s important to note that the NT is not the fulfilment of the OT (contra Louth, cited above), Jesus is. The NT and OT both function to point to a single referent that stands outside of themselves. They do this in their own idiom and from their own perspective (hence the differences), but their referential object is the same (hence the similar structure and content).

As you may have noticed from my comments in square brackets, it seems to me as if Barth is not doing full justice to the OT (though feel free to correct me here). In short, he seems to overemphasises the NT’s “already” element in contrast to the OT’s “not yet.” Isn’t it the case that the OT already witnesses to a past fulfilment that provides the “ontological” ground for the possibility of the history that ensues? The example I’m thinking of is the opening strophe of Ps 24: “The earth is the LORD’s … for he has founded it upon the seas … .” Isn’t this past act as decisive in its grounding of God’s history with his people as Jesus’ resurrection from the dead? E. Otto talks of God’s acts here as  creating the “Möglichkeit” (possibility) for the obedience found in vv. 3-6: There can be such a thing as a righteous, obedient Jacob (v. 6), because God’s stabilization of the earth in the face of chaos guarantees the validity of such obedience. In a similar way, the New Testament talks of resurrection life in the Spirit creating a heart of flesh and the capacity to be obedient to the Torah.

So how do I interpret the relation of Ps 24:1-2 in relation to the NT? Jesus can’t have “fulfilled” it because Ps 24:1-2 is not pointing forward to a moment yet to be fulfilled, it is pointing back to something already established once and for all. As mentioned, the relation  seems to be of a structural nature. In fact, the analogy can be expanded to apply to Jesus’ entire mission, for just as in Ps 24 strophe 1 (vv. 1-2) is the precondition for strophe 2 (vv. 3-6), these two strophes are somehow “consummated” by strophes 3 and 4 (vv. 7-10; on my interpretation of the poetic structure, I should add). Similarly, Jesus was raised from the dead (strophe 1), has cleansed his people (strophe 2) and will return again to consummate his work (i.e. Advent; strophes 3-4). Except that even here our analogy runs into conceptual difficulties, for it is the case that  Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension are all contained in vv. 7-10: his death was a battle with death, his resurrection was his victory and his ascension was its consummation (i.e. Ascension not advent). So are vv. 7-10 about Christ’s return to earth as king or his ascension to heaven to be enthroned? In addition to this, where does this leave strophe 1 if the resurrection in is the final two strophes? The odd thing is that strophe 1 in fact has the same content as strophes 3-4, albeit on a “mythological” rather than “historical” plain! Strophe 1 is also a kind of battle, this time with the seas, and it is also a proclamation of victory, i.e. the establishment of a viable living space. So does Ps 24 taken on its own, regardless of its correlation to an external event in time (not in space: Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem!) contain its own odd witness to “ontological-unity-in-temporal-sequence”? Srophes 3 and 4 “consummate” strophe 1, even as the “recapitulate” its content. The “chronos” is different but not the “chairos.”

 The intermediate conclusion  all this mind bending has for me is that every time I try and relate Psalm 24 to the Gospels my temporal categories are consistently being confirmed (there is a genuine analogy) and subverted. It’s like a lover who tempts me with a kiss and a flash of her eye-lashes but teasingly disappears around the corner, leaving a trail of perfume to beckon me on (Song of Songs was always had a hermeneutical function for church and synagogue!).  I see the analogy, am breathless at the sheer scope of who Jesus is and what he has achieved, and yet still am left to struggle and see how the past and present within an Psalm’s “narrative world” is “fulfilled” by the Gospel’s presentation of past and present, a past and present that can be collapsed into one moment.

I mentioned above that the OT’s inevitable and consistent challenge to the Christian claim about its Christological content ought to primarily be a challenge to Christians, not to prove their faith to the sceptics but to deepen the content of their own faith, which is always far from perfect. I can’t claim to have a concrete answer to my issue with Ps 24 above (though I’m working on it!), but it has forced me to return to my own construal of the “gospel” and to see it with new eyes. Of particular relevance here is the concept of the relation between the “ontological” and “economic” Trinity, God in himself and God for us. McGlasson summarizes the relation as follows:
God’s sending of his Son for our salvation and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit are a replication in time of God’s eternal self-identity. God’s redemptive love for humanity is an expression of God’s free decision to draw us into a relationship with himself, which is based on the relationship of love that he himself is (McGlasson, Invitation, 198).

As Barth implies above, the NT is not the fulfilment of the OT, it points to it’s fulfilment. This means that drawing structural analogies between the OT and the NT can only take us so far. They point us in the right direction, as the content of the NT is the same as the OT. But the reality itself is greater than what is at most the partial testimony of both Testaments (cf. Childs, Biblical Theology). Hence the necessity of higher level dogmatic theology in order to grasp what is really going on in Scripture. The practice of theology, after all, originally consisted in nothing other than meditation upon the mystery of the ontological trinity. I think I ought to learn to do the same.  


[For a post on Moberly's interpretation of the Emmaus story, go here; see also my post Reading in a Revised Frame of Reference].

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Wellhausen's Prolegomena on the Net

Anyone interested in reading Julius Wellhausen's groundbreaking historical critical introduction to the Bible can download the book for free here. Gutenberg have also now digitalized the entire International Critical Commentary, which is an awesome service.

I'll be giving a paper tomorrow on the canonical approach in front of a faculty that, on the surface at least (and part of my thesis is in fact that the differences are not so big after all), reads the Bible in a manner that would seem diametrically opposed to anything resembling synchronic exegesis. I'm giving my paper as descriptive analysis of Childs' approach, but I think it's pretty clear that I'm also out to defend him. If any of my readers are into praying, then pray for clarity, wisdom, and generosity on the part of all (oh, and pray for my German, too).

Friday, 29 October 2010

I can't stop saying "ontological"

I posted this comment on Facebook and a friend asked me what "ontological" means. My answer turned into a short essay  outlining not only what it means for me but also why I can't stop saying it. Here's my answer:


It literally means "the study of being,” but I’m using it in a particular way. When I say something "is" something, and emphasise that by saying that something "is ontologically" something, it means that I am making a fundamental statement about its "nature." 

It's a vague concept, I know. I'm not actually interested in proposing a general theory of the nature of reality - I don't think human language and concepts can even do this as we are part of what we're trying to describe and we can't stand outside "it" in order to analyse it. Rather, I'm interested in the question of how we should read the Bible. This entails asking what it "is." The answer to this involves saying things like: it's a composite product of an ancient Israelite culture produced over a long time span. 

There is also another element, however, of what the Bible "is," for one finds all over the Bible statements that its purpose - regardless of its human particularity - consists in communicating the will and the identity of God to those who want to know it. It says that this purpose is something that God himself wills, that it is in fact the primary reason for the Bible's existence in the first place, and that God himself makes sure that this purpose is fulfilled within the lives of those who read it. So, if you take this self-depiction seriously, then according to the Bible the answer to the question of what it "is" is that it is a vehicle of divine revelation and salvation. In other words, the Bible sees itself as part of a broader context, a context even broader than the human one, namely the context of a history of salvation in which the eternal God is constantly revealing himself to humanity through this book. 

Yet, there is one further step: the Bible also says that what God himself decides to do in our created space and time is ultimately an expression of something that he himself eternally "is." God himself has a "being" but this being is dynamic, not static. The church calls this the "ontological Trinity," because it believes that God "is" an eternally loving relationship of three distinct persons, who we call the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (this, by the way, is what Christians mean when they say God "is" love; this is an ontological statement; God's being "is" the love of the Father and the Son in the Spirit). It therefore follows that the answer to the question of what the Bible "is" is ultimately related to the question of who God "is." Eternally, the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father and the bond that unites them is the Spirit. Temporally, i.e. in our created time, this eternal relationship "unfolds" to allow us to participate in the relationship. The Son became flesh and through his work of salvation for mankind by conquering the power of death on the cross he "brings" us into the eternal relationship that exists between him and his father. 

This process of "bringing in", however is, from our perspective not yet complete. In other words, those who now in our time put their faith in the Son receive a "foretaste" of a fuller relationship that is to come. This is why Christians are people who are "waiting" for the fulfilment of time, the "kingdom of God" on earth in which humanity can finally enter into the eternal relationship that God is. In the "meantime," that moment between the Son's historical redemption of humankind (around 33 A.D) and his return, humankind itself is to grow in that relationship that has been started but not consummated. And it does this by reading the Bible. The Bible "is" the place where this relationship grows. God already knows us. The Bible "is" the place where he makes himself known to us “in the meantime”, so that we can respond to him in worship and adoration in anticipation of the day when we can finally “come home,” which is into his arms as a son into the arms of his father. 

This has consequences for question for how I should read the Bible, which I won’t go into now as I’ve already written a ridiculously long comment! My point is just this: when most people ask themselves what the Bible “is,” and therefor how they should read it, they often just stop at the human bit and so end up reading it partially. Their decision to do this, however, is not only inadequate to the nature of the Bible, it is based on a prior assumption about what “ultimate reality” really is. Whatever that reality is, it doesn’t look like the one I just described above. They are commited to a different "ontology" than the one the Bible witnesses to. This is why the category of “ontology” is so important for reading the Bible. It helps us think about what the Bible “is” in a way that does justice to what it claims for itself.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Theological parallels between Israel's wisdom traditions and salvation-historical traditions

It's often said that Israel's wisdom traditions are devoid of the kind of theology one finds elsewhere in the Old Testament. Brueggemann represents the majority opinion: 
wisdom teaching, in the book of Proverbs as elsewhere, completely lacks the primary marks of Israel's history or of Israel's covenantal tradition. As a consequence in this teaching, Israel stands alongside its non-Yahwistic neighbours in pondering the inscrutible mystery of life, even as that mystery permeates the most concrete and mundane dimensions of daily existence [*]
The following is a thought experiment in relation to this. Assuming a single theological pattern, in which God creates a material universe for the purpose of giving it to humanity to enjoy, yet making that enjoyment conditional upon obedience to will, I came up with the following parallels:

Wisdom:

i) The ultimate telos of wisdom is "salvation," understood in the "this worldly" sense of a long happy life in the land.
ii) The means of achieving this is through 1) discovering and then 2) implementing the insights of wisdom.
iii) The place where one goes in order to acquire this salvific information is the created order, in both its "natural" and "social" dimensions (i.e. through the observation of natural and sociological patterns and the development of codes of conduct).
iv) The epistemological condition for comprehending this reality is "the fear of the Lord." There is no neutral starting point.
v) The source of this information is the Lord. I.e. God himself, through revelation of himself, creates the epistemological conditions by which we can perceive his will in creation.
vi) The reason why this reality (wisdom) does what it does (i.e. give life) lies within the will of the Lord. It's what he wants.
vii) Identifying this reality (wisdom) is equivalent to identifying the Lord's will/purpose (i.e. to offer us salvation in a material paradise).
viii) Wisdom reveals the Lord to the degree that it reveals his will, which is for a healthy created order (Garden-of-Eden-style).

This seems to correspond to the theological logic found in the Pentateuch:

i) The ultimate telos of history is "salvation," understood in the "this worldly" sense of a long happy life in the land.
ii) The means of achieving this is through 1) discovering and then 2) implementing God's revealed will (Torah).
iii) The place where one goes for this salvific information is the Lord's history with his people, in both its experienced and then narrated/liturgically re-enacted dimensions (i.e. tradition and Scripture).
iv) The epistemological condition for comprehending this reality (i.e. truly understanding the spirit of the law, its purpose) is thankfulness to the Lord for what he has done prior to the revelation of his will (e.g. I.e. redemption from Egypt; this experience provides the categories for understanding how to treat ones own slaves).
v) The source of this information is the Lord.
vi) The reason that this reality (his will in Torah) does what it does (i.e. give life) lies within the will of the Lord. It's what he wants.
vii) Identifying this reality is equivalent to identifying the Lord's will/purpose (i.e. salvation).
viii) History (as narrated in the Pentateuch) reveals the Lord to the degree that it reveals his will, which is a healthy created order (i.e. saved from Egypt for Canaan).

Given these parallels, you can see how the Bible exerted a certain "co-ercion" on early Jewish interpreters (Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon) to collapse wisdom and torah into one reality. This wasn't an attempt to impress the Greeks, it was a response to the total witness of Scripture, a response consistent with the Bible's own logic.

To make the parallels more explicit, you get the following pairings:

Law / Wisdom (object to be sought)
Thankfulness for historical preservation / Fear of the Lord (epistemological condition for perceiving this)
land of milk and honey / a good long life (goal of seeking)
obedience / obedience (means of implementation)
the Lord / the Lord (source)
instruction from priests, parents, Scripture etc. / instruction from wise men, parents, Scripture etc. (vehicle for source)
history / creation (location)

Any thoughts?

[*] Brueggeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 306.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Dealing with anachronism in Exod 16:1-36

Assuming one wishes to read the Old Testament as "Christian scripture," how does one deal with the presence of anachronism in the storyline? As part of my general overview of Childs' approach to Biblical exegesis, I turn today to Childs' treatment of the anachronism that is found in the story of the manna and quails (Exodus 16:1-36).

According to the story, God commands that the jar of manna be placed “before the Testimony” (i.e. tablets of the Ten Commandments; עדות; v. 34). The problem is that the Ark, which contains the Testimony, hasn't been built yet. Childs rejects both the pre-critical solution to this problem, which says that God's command was given by way of anticipation, as well as the typical historical-critical solution, which say it was simply an oversight on the part of the redactor. Childs interpretation is also not “post-critical,” in the sense that he does not attempt to bracket out the question of the history of the text and remain within the "story world" of Exodus. Rather, he notes that it is often the case that “chronological inconsistencies usually reflect definite theological concerns” on the part of the Biblical editors[1] and proceeds to deduce that intentionality from the effect created by its present placement. In light of this broader editorial activity, he concludes the following:

It is much more likely that also here there is a theological point which caused the writer to override the chronological sequence. A jar of manna which is the sign of God's sustaining mercy is kept alongside the tablets of the law. Indeed, the sign of divine grace preceded the giving of the law of Sinai! Still the emphasis of this passage does not fall on establishing the priority of the manna, nor should the chronology be pressed. Rather, the point of the text focuses on the testimony that the manna and the tablets belong together before God. In New Testament terminology, the gospel and the law cannot be separated.[2]

Note that Childs is happy to let the tension stand at the level of the narrative: there is a genuine anachronism. But this is only a problem to a modern reader, for whom chronological consistency is an overriding concern. When seen in the light of its diachronic development, Childs tries to get to the matter that was editor's concern, and that is theology. You could say God's time over against our time. The "divine economy" trumps "profane history," such that we catch a glimpse into the order of events that really matters: in salvation history, grace always precedes law. 

Childs is also sensitive to the issue of over-weighting the editorial concern. In his opinion, the weight of the text does not consist in the fact that it is now placed before the giving of the Law. It still has a degree of independence over against its larger narrative context. The main point is "pericope immanent": gospel and law cannot be separated.

[1]     Childs, Exodus, 291.
[2]     Childs, Exodus, 291-292.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Rosenzweig on the essence of Judaism/Christianity

The context of the following statements is Rosenzweig's critique (yet round-about affirmation) of Mendelssohn's translation of the tetragrammaton as "Das ewige Wesen." As a Christian, I appreciate the way in which he draws the Trinity into the orbit of the Biblical understanding of God, critiquing Maimonides' "Aristotelianism" in the process. I think he is right to say that the essence of Christianity - in its better moments - is at one with both Judaism and Scripture. At the same time, I'm not sure how it is that he can still (implicitly, at least, if I read him right) maintain the validity of the idea that God is יָחִיד, which is more than saying that he is אֶחַד. How is the "pagan/Aristotelian" concept of unitarianism (as Rosenzweig calls it!) still a necessary pre-condition - albeit a limited one - for affirming that the Creator is also the historical Redeemer? Rosenzweig actually says that this formulation was against the impulse do Jewish tradition. What other ways does Judaism provide of conceiving God's transcendence and immanence? In a course with Rabbi Dan Cohen-Sherbok I learnt that Jewish mysticism always stood in tension - even outright conflict - with the philosophical strand in Judaism. Does the doctrine of the sephirot, do a better job of conceiving this? Can it be reconciled with Maimonides' unitariansism? And, as far as questions of "Jewishness" are concerned, when does one cross the boundary thus find oneself outside the fold? 

Mendelssohn hat also die Entscheidung falsch getroffen, beeinflußt durch den Vorgang Calvins und einflußempfänglich geworden durch den rationalistisch-klassizistischen Geist des von Jugend auf verehrten, doch eben hier wie so oft aristotelisch beeinflußten Maimonides gegen den sicheren Instinkt der jüdischen Tradition verbündete. ... Der biblische "Monotheismus" besteht ja nicht in der Erkenntnis einer Einheit des göttlichen Wesens; wäre er das, so ermangelte er jeder Besonderheit: es gibt kein "Heidentum", das nicht ... seinen "Polytheismus" ... in der Einheit eines "Religiösen" überhaupt ... zusammenfaßte. Sondern das Eigetümliche des biblischen Gottesglaubes besteht darin, daß er diese "heidnische" Einheit - mit dem Kusari zu reden: den Gott des Aristoteles - zwar voraussetzt, aber diesen Gott in seinem Einssein mit dem persönlichst und unmittelbarst erfahren - wieder mit dem Kusari gesprochen: dem Gott Abrahams - erkennt. Die "heidnische Einheit" ist dabei nicht etwa nebensächlich; ein teilgebliebener Gott (etwa ein Gruppengott), der beanspruchte, "der Ganze" zu sein, wäre ein Götze und unfähig, in die Ineinssetzung mit dem "Gott Abrahams" einzugehen ... ; aber ihre, sozusagen, monotheistische Pointe erhält jene heidnische Einheit erst durch diese jüdische Ineinssetzung des fernen mit dem nahen, des "ganzen" mit dem "eigenen" Gott. Diese Ineinssetzung erst ist das "Wesen des Judentums" und durch das trinitarische Dogma, wie sehr auch gebrochen und in Gefahr des Rückfalls in die vor- und außerjüdische Spaltung, auch das Wesen des Christentums (den Ernst und die Aktualität deser Gefahr zeigen in der Gegenwart wieder Barth und Gogarten). Und diese Ineinssetzung ist der Offenbarungskern der Bibel und das, was sie zur jüdischen Bibel macht; der Unterscheid der jüdischen Bibel vom "Alten Testament" liegt darin, daß vom Neuen Testament aus allzu leicht der Gtt des "Alten" dem "Vater Jesu Christi" gegenüber weider gewissermaßen auf den "Gott des Aristoteles" reduziert wird. Und eben diese Ineinssetzung ist es, die mit ihrer aus dem ICH BIN DA-Ruf vom brennenden Dorn hervorschlagenden Glut in den Gottesnamen die ganze Bibel in eins schmiedet, indem sie überall die Gleichung des Gottes der Schöpfung mit dem mir, dir, jedem Gegenwärtigen vollzieht, - diese Gleichung, deren Feuer am heißesten brennt an den Stellen, wo der Gottesname und das Wort für Gott aufeinander prallen, wie in den Paradieskapiteln der Genesis oder in dem Einheitsruf des "Hör, Jisrael", überhaupt den Stellen, wo Mendelssohn "der Ewige" nicht genügt und er duch "das ewige Wesen" das Bezogenwerden auf die Namensoffenbarung des Exodus in seiner Weise ganz sicherzustellen sucht."
F. Rosenzweig, "'Der Ewige.' Mendelssohn und der Gottesnahme," in Reinhold and Annemarie Mayer, eds. 
Zweistromland: Kleinere Schriften zu Glauben und Denken (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff Publischers, 1984), 109-110.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The literal vs Messianic Torah: Quote of the Day

Regarding the Torah in its literality, which is the Torah of the mundane world, it is worthless when compared to the Messianic Torah and the Torah of the world to come … Regarding the Mishnah, there can be no doubt that the Mishnah’s literal aspects are but veils, shells and outer wrappings when compared to the hidden mysteries which are inherent and insinuated in its inner aspects (i.e. Kabbalah). [*]
[*] Hayim Vital, Etz-Hayyim [Warsaw, 1891; Jerusalem, 1910], ‘Introduction to the Gate of Introductions’, p. 2. Cited in Elior, R. (1997). "Not All is in the Hands of Heaven: Eschatology and Kabbalah." In H. Graf Reventlow (Ed.), Eschatology in the Bible and in Jewish and Christian tradition (H. Graf Reventlow, Ed.) (58). Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

"Ontological thirst": my new favourite phrase

While perusing the fascinating collection of essays contained in Resurrection: Theological and Scientific Assessments, I came across what has now become one of my favourite phrases: "ontological thirst." We all have it, though I wonder how many theories of "theological hermeneutics" are constructed in denial of that fact?

The context of the quote is the relation between science and theology, rather than theological hermeneutics, thought I do think that Welker's essay has hermeneutical implications (for the relationship between "history" and "ontology" go here and here).

Here's the context for the phrase:
Only knowledge of reality constitutes truth, and only truth can quench the thirst that leads to research. ... The point of departure [for scientists and theologians] is difficult. We recognize ... that we find ourselves in a worldwide cultural communication but with multiple rationalities. .. Within this pluralism of rationalities, however, science and theology share something in common. Both are driven by ontological thirst, by the thirst to know reality as it is. Both shun delusion. Both are pursued by truth-seeking communities." (Resurrection, p. xiii).

Friday, 8 October 2010

Is "canonical exegesis" too difficult?

Christopher Hays, in a review of Childs' The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture, has the following to say about the difficulty of doing the kind of exegesis Childs called "canonical":
The intellectual entrance fee for writing good theological exegesis must be very steep. If Childs or his heirs want to claim an elevated status for their project, that ambition should come with an even higher standard of training and preparation than “mere” historical-philological scholarship. Childs certainly met any standard that anyone could set, but not every theological interpreter does. He once called for a “single method” comprising both dimensions of the text, but it is here that his omission of 20th century theologian-exegetes is most lamentable: Younger scholars pursuing a “single method” approach receive no road map from Childs—they cannot learn, in this book, from the successes and errors of their immediate predecessors. (Nor do younger scholars who are less inclined to be sympathetic receive any constructive criticism, unless they are acolytes of Brueggemann.) 

Even if Childs had explained his “single method,” there are few who can and will ever master all of the necessary skills. It may be that the array of tools one needs to conduct theological biblical criticism is so extensive that canonical criticism is not really a young scholar’s game. How then could theological exegesis be carried out without requiring one person to master both biblical studies and theology?[*] 
I appreciate the final question. I'd say that one must strain to master both. Perhaps the solution to the problem lies in the way that university/seminary curricula are structured and integrated? Can they be adapted so that future students can receive the foundation they need to go on and wrestle with the "substance" of the text?

[*] "Bard Called the Tune," JTI 4.1 (2010), 151.

Monday, 4 October 2010

The significance of B.S. Childs?

Much of this blog has been dedicated to extolling the praises of a man whose work has deeply influenced me, both spiritually and intellectually: Brevard Childs. I rarely come across statements that express something of the depth of my appreciation, though perhaps Seitz's comments come close. Recently, however, I read a eulogy that tops anything I have said on this blog. In fact, the praises are so high I'm left wondering whether I can fully agree with them. Perhaps my lack a full breadth of knowledge of the field disqualifies me from being able to make an informed judgement, but based on my experience to date I do think I can identify with McGlasson's sentiments. The following is taken from the preface to his Invitation to Dogmatic Theology:
The third decisive influence [on my approach] is the biblical work of Brevard S. Childs. I attended Yale Divinty School primarily in order to learn directly from Childs, and my eager expectation was met by an even greater reality. It is now clear that the work of Childs on canon amounts to nothing less than a brilliant new vision of scripture without parallel in the history of the church, though deeply rooted in the church's tradition of reading scripture. Every theologian worthy of the name has turned directly to scripture as the one source for the knowledge of God. Where else does the church learn to know Jesus Christ? However, never before has the church been closer to the shape and subject matter of scripture than in Childs's work on canon. The confession of canon was the first and foundational creedal affirmation of the ancient church; yet not until Childs's work have the full implications of that confession been so crystal clear and inviting for reflection. Once again, a new era has begun. Theology can never again go back behind Childs when it wrestles with scripture, nor can it count as genuine Christian theology unless it sees with precision the full force of the vision he articulates. The future of dogmatic theology lies with realizing the connection of the discipline with the Bible, and that connection depends upon a firm theological grasp of the issue of canon. The confession of canon is an ontological necessity for dogmatic inquiry and the proper beginning of all valid theological reflection (14-15).
So, how do people feel about that?

Saturday, 2 October 2010

A further (Jewish) critical thought on the Oxford Psalms Conference

In my last post I shared some critical thoughts about the recent Oxford Psalms conference. Given that I'm a Christian and one of my issues with the logic of the conference had to do with that fact, I'm delighted that a Jewish friend of mine shared her critical thoughts on the matter in response to the post. She wasn't present for various reasons, but one of them will become clear in her comments (which I post with permission):
I'd like to add my own pesky little issue here which has less to do with the content (although ultimately it most likely does) but rather the organization of the conference. If it was the intention of the organizers to foster a dialogue between communities I do wonder what prompted them to schedule the conference exactly on one of the important Jewish festivals, i.e. Sukkot? By this scheduling blunder they effectively excluded and silenced one particular segment of the Jewish academic and clerical community (namely the Orthodox). I do realize that there were some Jewish participants; however these would not represent, speak for and from that particular segment which is also part of the larger Jewish group. This is interesting because it is exactly that absent group that takes the Psalter (or they would prefer Sefer Tehillim) very seriously as a living tradition, both in liturgy as well as in individual petionary prayer. So, as far as the organizers are concerned – for the umpteenth time in comparable circumstances: it’s their loss. Sad thing though is, they probably don’t even realize that they did suffer a loss and will whisk it away as an irrelevant irritant….
This fact was pointed out at the conference, for which the organizers apologized. I'm not sure of the reasoning, but I think there were organizational complications that couldn't be avoided. However, given that the explicit agenda of the conference was to encourage a mutual "moving beyond" differences in Christian and Jewish exegesis, the absence of an incredibly significant segment of the Jewish population - a segment which stands in most continuity with the traditions that define Judaism - seriously limits the conference's capacity to make progress on its stated goals.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Critical thoughts on the Oxford Psalms Conference

I've just returned from the Oxford Psalms conference, of which Bob MacDonald has provided an overview in a series of posts (along with some photos and a youtube video of the reconstructed Temple Psalmody we heard in the chapel). The experience was enriching, eye-opening, and in particular motivating as far as my own particular strand of work is concerned (Childs' approach to the Bible). Despite a technical hiccup with the publication of my abstract, I had two amazing conversations with two of the Psalms' greatest contemporary students: Erhard Gerstenberger and Frank-Lothar Hossfeld. The beauty of these two separate dialogues is that Hossfeld and Gerstenberger are in fact Gegenspieler as far as methodology is concerned: Gerstenberger representing the "older" form critical approach (an approach whose presuppositions are rightly still foundational for much contemporary interpretation) and Hossfeld representing the "newer" synchronic approach (Sitz im Buch rather than Sitz im Leben). Part of my thesis is that there is, in fact, a bridge over the apparent chasm that separates these two approaches (one that allows for two-way traffic), and that Childs, properly understood, is the man who has brought that reality most clearly to view.

And therein lies the problem I have with an otherwise excellent conference: the complete silence  (beyond a few minor footnotes) concerning Childs' own contribution to the field that, I would claim, he helped shape into its present form. I find this problematic for a minor and for a major reason. Of minor significance is simply the irony that it is ultimately the work of Brevard Childs that has made the peculiar scope of this particular conference possible in the first place. Am I exaggerating? Perhaps - I'm not an expert on the history of scholarship. But before Childs' ground-breaking work, did not "Wirkungsgeschichte" belong in the church/Jewish history department? And wasn't "Jewish/Christian" dialogue a concern of systematic theology? And why should the Psalm's liturgical actualization within a community of faith now migrate from the department of liturgy to that of Biblical exegesis? Aside from the obvious (though seemingly forgotten) fact that it was Childs who put both the Psalm superscriptions and the shape of the Psalter on the interpretive agenda, was he not also the first to insist that the full scope of research questions displayed at this conference was in fact an integral and necessary part of the exegesis of the text itself?

My primary concern here is not, however, about apportioning recognition where it is due. My major concern is with the coherence of the conference itself and, along with that, the discipline of Biblical studies. One impression that accompanied me throughout the conference was the disjointed manner by which the various fields of research were brought into relation. A historical critical reading of a Psalm was simply one possibility alongside an analysis of the history of its interpretation. The musical renditions of the Psalms in the chapel were aesthetic (perhaps spiritual), but not connected in any academically accountable way with the actual meaning of the texts themselves. Even talk of the "convergence" of Jewish and Christian interpretation in the modern period seemed disconnected from actual faith claims made by these communities (can Christian exegesis be non-Christological?) as well the constructive interpretive proposals made by Biblical exegetes, whose primary task is to look at the meaning of the text itself.

It is one thing to present an "array" of approaches to the Psalms, but the very act of arraying presupposes that there is some unity which the diversity of approaches ought, in some sense, to illuminate. Even in a so-called "postmodern" context, a conference such as this one must at least, at rock bottom, assume the presence of a single subject matter: the Psalms themselves. Are they not the ultimate object of research? Ought not the various subject areas thus arrayed function to enlighten our reading of the Psalms themselves rather than something else connected to the psalms? I fear that the very telos of such a conference is threatened when there is no attempt to bring diachronic, synchronic, reception history (etc.) perspectives into dialogue with each other, a dialogue that is about the Psalms themselves.

If the conference was not about the Psalms, what was it about? What was its unifying object of inquiry? If one is to argue - as seems implied - that illustrating the tension between peshat and midrash is interesting in its own right, that questions of the ordering of the Qumran Psalms or Rastafarian reinterpretation or medieval religious usage are all interesting in their own right, then it seems that the only thing uniting these approaches is the phenomenon of human cultural endeavour, as it is engaged in referring to or preserving or creating or inspiring or involving in some manner Israel's psalms. It seems that our Psalms conference was ultimately an exercise in cultural anthropology. If what matters is what humans have done and do then it is perfectly understandable that Rashi is simply juxtaposed with Akhenaten, the Temple archives with Anglo-Saxon Psalters, Qumranic textual variants with postmodern paraphrase. On this view, the proper object of inquiry is not the text itself as a vehicle of some concept or reality but us, humanity in its aspect as cultural being. The consequence is that the intertextual web is expanded indefinitely and Biblical studies migrates to the cultural anthropology department, where it threatens to dissolve upon arrival.

The irony in this is that the conference's explicit agenda was theological, not anthropological. It's title, "Conflict and Convergence," points to a desire to overcome readings by the Jewish and Christian faith communities which are mutually exclusive. The assumption is that the modern university can now, finally, after centuries of conflicting exegesis, provide a context whereby the exegeses of these two religious entities can finally "converge." Yet, can an approach to the Bible which is ultimately anthropological fulfil that task? Though both Jews and Christians confess that God's Word comes in humans words, those human words are also understood to be vehicles of God's Word. This is why Scripture is "holy," it has something to do with God, and not just in phenomenologically sense that they claim this to be so, but in the ontological sense that it really is. Christians and Jews are ultimately not interested in what humans have done or do with the Psalms, they are interested in what they should do because of the Psalms.

I would summarize my issue with the Oxford conference as a question: what constitutes the coherence under-girding the broad (and ever expanding) scope of interests arrayed for our attention? If, as the conference has implied, that coherence is human existence per se, the conference's own theological agenda will be undermined. But is there another way of conceiving the unity of the approaches? Could it be that Old Testament studies' typical Sitz im Leben in the theology rather than anthropology department is not an accidental misjudgement but rather an indication of the true coherence under-girding both the text and community? And if so, what does this kind of coherence mean for Jewish and Christian dialogue? Which is another way of asking, "how do we grasp the meaning of the Psalms?"

It is here that Childs can, once again, provide a pointer for the future (providing he is divested of the distortion that constitutes much of his own reception history). Childs was not only the originator of attempts to appropriate the full breadth of Jewish and Christian exegesis, seen as being intimately connected to the diachronic and synchronic dimensions of the text, he did so for the sake of a single object of inquiry: the Biblical text itself. Which is the same thing as saying: he did it for the sake of the subject matter of the Biblical text. Already in the preface to his ground-breaking 1974 Exodus commentary (although admittedly it took a while for the ground to break) we gain hints at his grasp of the potential organic connection between the history "to" the text and the history "from" the text, a history that, despite its temporal extension in our time, turns to rotate on that central hub that is the Bible's own time, which is God's time.

Childs' own proposals for the coherency of the discipline are bound to remain contentious (even when correctly understood), and this is necessarily so because of their unapologetically confessional rootage. But the challenge he poses still remains open to those who would unknowingly walk in his footsteps without taking a glance at the interconnected coordinates he set to map the way: What is the Bible ultimately about? What is the most adequate context for its study? Wherein lies the coherence under-girding the diversity of fields of research displayed and awkwardly correlated  at the Oxford Psalms conference? In other words, and I think this is the decisive question: what constitutes their unity? Can the answer to this question - regardless of where it falls on the ideological spectrum - be anything other than confessional?

My hope is that one day Childs will indeed get the credit he deserves. I do not hope this for his sake, however, but for the sake of Biblical interpretation, which is for the sake of the interpretive community, whether Jewish, Christian, or secular.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

McGlasson on Hughes Oliphant Old's The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church

I noticed that Logos have Hughes Oliphant Old's 7 volumne tome on pre-pub and thought I'd most comments that Paul McGlasson made on the volume:
The horizontal and vertical dimensions of Christian proclamation are held together best in the expository sermon. In his comprehensive history of preaching, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, Hughes Oliphant Old has sought to recover the brilliance and excitement of the grand tradition of Christian proclamation. His multivolume survey clearly lays before the contemporary reader the vast range of powerful and exciting voices from the Christian past, with the corresponding challenge that those voices present for the future. Old has done the universal church an enormous service. Above all, his endeavor to show the magnificent reach of proclamation in every time and place across the face of the globe sets a hight standard for the work of the coming generations. In this introduction, Old charts what he sees as the primary forms of proclamation that ebb and flow across the years: the expository sermon, evangelistic preaching, catechetical preaching, festal preaching, and prophetic preaching. There is no doubt that Old has accurately captured the wide range of preaching in this classification. Throughout the volumes, he is able to show the various forms shaped and reshaped  according to the changing resources of the church. Furthermore, every working minister knows that the form and function of sermons occasionally differ according to changing circumstance. Surely any real progress in contemporary proclamation will depend upon a fresh recovery of the grand tradition that Old describes.
P. McGlasson, Invitation to Dogmatic Theology: A Canonical Approach, 168-169.

Monday, 13 September 2010

An Abstract of my doctoral thesis on Ps 24

The following is an abstract of my doctoral thesis on Ps 24 which Susan Gillingham has kindly offered to publish at the forthcoming Oxford Conference on the Psalms. It focusses on the exegetical dimension, leaving aside the hermeneutical and dogmatic parts of my doctorate. I'd appreciate feedback and questions (and bear in mind that the content of this blog is copyright):


My thesis is an attempt to read Ps 24 in the context of B.S. Childs' “canonical approach,” rightly understood. The first half outlines the coherence of his approach, which is not a method but a comprehensive construal of the particular nature of Israel's religious traditions that factors in the ontological reality its God. 


Turning to Ps 24, I argue that it is a poetically structured reworking of prior authoritative traditions with the goal of constraining future reception of those traditions, accomplished dialectically in the context of Israel's broader theological heritage, with the goal of witnessing to the true theological substance of that heritage. In particular, I argue that Ps 24 attempts to penetrate to the heart of God's ways in the world by drawing on Israel's core traditions of creation, Sinai/Zion, holy war, and the Davidic king and by subtly structuring their interrelations. 


The interpretive crux is the poetic juxtaposition of two portrayals of character: the obedient character of those who may access the fullness of creational life within the temple on Zion, accrued upon completion of the journey of pilgrimage, and the character of the author and guarantor of this life, the Lord, presented as a mighty warrior, about to enter into that very same location. The juxtaposition entails a subtle poetic movement of “actualization,” enacted within the protological/eschatological horizon of creation, whereby the Lord appears to accomplish what is only a possibility for Jacob. The significance of this juxtaposition, however, remains vague at the level of the Psalm alone. An account of Israel's cult along with a “theology of the Psalter” proves the paradigmatic centrality of Ps 24's themes to Biblical faith and strengthens the sense of their interconnectedness, yet it does not resolve the significance of their poetic presentation. 


A significant hermeneutical key is provided by the “canonical marker” לדוד, which asks us to read the Psalm in relation to the theological persona of David, a hermeneutical construct within the Psalter that takes its cue from the Book of Samuel. In Samuel we find that the context that constitutes David's identity mirrors the structure and content of Ps 24. On the one hand, David is an historically particular free agent who, out of love for God and Israel, acts on Israel's and his own behalf in obedience to torah in order to bring it and himself, through battle, to full creational blessing on Zion (2 Sam 6-8). On the other hand, David's story is embedded in a broader eschatological narrative in which David is a vehicle of the true agent of history, the Lord, who similarly acts in order to bring about his own purpose of divine communion with his righteous people in full creational blessing on Zion. As Ps 24 implies, God, through David, is the true subject of Israel's redemption in Zion, though not without its obedience. Given the persistent presence of disobedience, this fulfilment in time remains proleptic and the ancient cycle of Israel's struggle for life and divine judgement/redemption is perpetuated. This same dialectical pattern applies to the “David of the Psalter” whereby, on the one hand, “David” struggles for his own and Israel's life and witnesses to the Lord's intervention in judgement/salvation and, on the other hand, this cycle is situated within the ultimate context of divine reality. 


Ps 24's paradigmatic nature and hermeneutical function for Biblical faith becomes clearer when it is read as the frame and climax of the chiastically structured sub-collection of Pss 15-24. As part of the frame (Pss 15 and 19), it functions to set the remaining Psalms within the context of base realities: obedience to torah for the sake of creation. As the climax of the collection, understood as a series of intensifying parallelisms, it depicts the fulfilment of that reality with an arrival in Zion/new creation itself, albeit an arrival by the Lord with Jacob apparently in his train. 


A final clarification is provided by the Book of Isaiah, itself related to the Psalter, which deals with the persistent problem of Israel's disobedience by reconstituting it by means of the “Servant,” the “father” of 3rd Isaiah's redeemed “servants.” Thus, similar to 2 Sam 7 and in line with the dialectic of Ps 24, the Lord's creation intentions come to fruition in Zion upon the entry of a newly constituted Jacob, created and led by the Lord. Like Ps 24, however, Isaiah closes with the Lord still poised before the gates, leaving the consummation of Israel's pilgrimage open to the future. 


Finally, in an attempt to clarify the Psalm's theological subject matter in its “economic” and “ontological” dimensions, this reading of Ps 24 is brought into dialogue with patristic and rabbinic exegesis, Jenson's Trinitarian metaphysic of heaven and Farrow's treatment of the Ascension

Friday, 10 September 2010

The substance of Psalm 24

This is a provisional attempt to briefly summarize my understanding of the reality to which Psalm 24 testifies. I'd appreciate critical feedback or suggestions:
The reality attested to by the final form of Psalm 24 is a protological/eschatological narrative in which God's own destiny consists in communion with a righteous people in the context of new creation, a reality proleptically experienced in the temple yet consistently interrupted by the presence of cosmic and human evil and thus the need for divine militant intervention. Despite the requirement of wilful human participation in this reality, it is ultimately God himself who not only creates the space of new creation but also the people to inhabit it.
Even this is not the "rock bottom" reality to which Psalm 24 witnesses, as it is only the economic unfolding of the eternal ontological being of God himself. Thus, the reality to which Psalm 24 witnesses is not the "narrative" of God's activity but the eternal substance of his being himself. But I'm writing this for an Oxford Psalms conference so I have to watch my language.

Friday, 3 September 2010

My daughter, Jasmine

Jasmine
This bundle of cuteness is one reason for my lack of posting of late. She arrived a tad early, but the birth was without complications and all in all she's as fit as a fiddle. I do hope to get back to posting, but getting used to my transformed Sitz im Leben will take a while. In addition this, the doctorate is drawing to a close and I have a number of translation jobs (German-English) in the pipeline, which will leave me with less time than usual. However, this blog has been such a blessing that I don't intend to let it die off altogether. For those who are interested, my current thread consists in a treck through Childs' Exodus and Isaiah commentaries with an eye to examples of exegesis which illustrate what I consider to be the building blocks of his canonical approach. For an overview of posts to date, go here.

Oh, and being a father rocks. Though I'm still struggling with its ontological implications, I can say with certainty that it constitutes the next big boundary crossing moment after these two.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

WordPlay: a sumptuous video

A friend sent me this sumptuous video this morning: 

I watched it the first time and just enjoyed the pageant of sounds, images, and evocations. I felt that there was an inner logic but it evaded me, until my astute friend suggested I pay attention to how one scene after another portrays a different dimension of the semantic range of a given word, and then the lights went on. Still, the blurb on the web page seems to promise something more philosophically profound:
In this stunning video, filmmakers Will Hoffman and Daniel Mercadante bandy visual wordplay into a moving exploration of how language connects our inner thoughts to the outside world.
How does the video help us see this? I suppose it highlights the logic involved in expanding a basic meaning of a word (e.g. "fall" as a type of movement) to more metaphorical extensions ("fall" means "autumn" because that's when leaves fall).* But is that the criteria for their connections? In what sense are "light" as "luminescent" and "light" as "not heavy" connected? As far as I now their homophony is coincidental, as the two meanings seem to have two different roots. Is the idea rather that regardless of the etymology of a word, the fact that we now use a "word" (whatever that is: are "light" and "light" the same word?) to refer to a range of referents leads us to subconsciously see some kind of inner connection between the various referents? But that is bad linguistics, something that James Barr called "illegitimate totality transfer." As an Englishman I don't call Autumn "Fall," but that fact alone doesn't mean that I therefore perceive Autumn differently to an American.

Or maybe I'm missing the deeper point altogether, so please feel free to enlighten me. Yet even if the video doesn't have a deeper philosophical point, it's still beautiful to watch.

Check out their other awesome videos here.

* I'm aware that some debate the existence of "basic meanings." See, e.g., Clines' introduction to the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew. I side, however, with the views expressed by Michael Fox in his article on the semantic field of folly.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Third Isaiah, intertextutality, and history

In my post The Biblical canon and Biblical referentiality, I stated that, as far as Childs is concerned, the final form of the canon of Scripture is not a totally hermeneutically sealed unit, such that one can make sense of the parts without reference to extra-textual realities. He certainly credits the final form of the text with far more integrity than many of his colleagues, but nevertheless the meaning of this final form is contoured to a large degree by the particular manner in which it came to existence. This calls for a subtle form of exegesis, one which takes into account the different "levels of consciousness" present within the "final form."
"First, Third Isaiah remains a prophetic collection, both in form and content, which means there is an encounter with actual historical realities, albeit seen in the light of the divine. This dimension dare not be flattened simply into a type of learned scribal activity dealing exclusively with literary texts. Second, not every occurrence of a parallel [with Second or First Isaiah] can be assigned to an intentional reuse. A critical assessment must be made that reckons with the theological substance at stake beyond merely identifying formal parallelism discovered by the perusal of a concordance.1"

Childs' reference to the "theological substance" of the text here highlights another dimension of his concern to respect the historical nature of the text. Christianity claims that the Old Testament is a witness to a divine reality that was ultimately revealed in Christ. This was the concern of allegorical exegesis. Historical Criticism rightly retains this sense of extra-textual referentiality. Rejecting the constraints of the historical dimension and treating the text as a space for free-floating signifiers risks dampening its ability to point beyond itself the the reality that undergirds both past, present, and future.

1Childs, Isaiah, 462. S

Friday, 6 August 2010

An intoxicating song

I hope to get back to more theological/Biblical posting in due course. In the meantime here is the most intoxicating song I've heard in a long time. I can't get enough of it:

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Thiselton on the canonical approach

any suggestion to the effect that a 'canonical' approach is harmonizing or ahistorical rests upon a mistaken mythology generated by critics who have never properly engaged with it ("Canon, Community, and Theological Construction," p. 9).
Stark but true.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Why was the early church persecuted?

I'm off to Holland for a few days. Before I drive off, here's an interesting excerpt from N.T. Wright's The New Testament and the People of God. I have certain theological issues with Wright's approach to Biblical exegesis (e.g. I don't think "worldview" = "theology" - I find that rather "anthropocentric", and I disagree with his the way he appropriates both the Old and the New Testaments for the contemporary church), but the guy's a stellar historian and eloquent to match. The following is interesting food for thought:

But why was the early church persecuted? Why is any group persecuted? We have already looked at the pagan persecutions, and the answer at first sight is various: because Nero wanted a scapegoat; because the Christians were suspected of secret vice; because they were atheists; because they would not do the required homage to the emperor. All of these make sense, and are clearly part of the sufficient condition for persecution in each instance; but they do not quite explain the regularity of the persecution, nor the apparent frequency of people, not themselves in authority, informing against Christians. Lots of cults in the empire practised vice, whether secretly or openly; plenty of people had eccentric theological views; some, like Cynic philosophers, made light of their obligations to the authorities. The Christians came into all of those categories in the popular mind, but none of them is big enough to do justice to the evidence.
What we seem to be faced with is the existence of a community which was perceived to be subverting the normal social and cultural life of the empire precisely by its quasi-familial, quasi-ethnic life as a community. Evidence of similar phenomena abounds in our own time. A member of a tight-knit Roman Catholic community in rural Quebec becomes a Baptist; his house is burned down, he has to flee the village, and the police do nothing. A Protestant pastor in Northern Ireland makes a gesture of reconciliation, on Christmas Day, towards the Roman Catholic priest on the other side of the square; he receives death threats, at the communion rail, from senior members of his own congregation. A Muslim boy in the occupied West Bank, cared for in a Christian hospital, converts, and is unable to return to his family because they will kill him. A Jewish woman is told that if she becomes a Christian her right to live in Israel will be called into question. When communities react like this, it can only be because they feel that their very foundations are being shaken. Mere belief—acceptance of certain propositional statements—is not enough to elicit such violence. People believe all sorts of odd things and are tolerated. When, however, belief is regarded as an index of subversion, everything changes. The fact of widespread persecution, regarded by both pagans and Christians as the normal state of affairs within a century of the beginnings of Christianity, is powerful evidence of the sort of thing that Christianity was, and was perceived to be. It was a new family, a ‘third race’, neither Jew nor Gentile but ‘in Christ’. Its very existence threatened the foundational assumptions of pagan society. In Crossan’s happy phrase, apropos Matthew’s story that Pilate’s wife had troubled dreams on the night of Jesus’ trial,

That never happened, of course, but it was true nonetheless. It was a most propitious time for the Roman Empire to start having nightmares.

But why did Jews persecute Christians? Were they not both in the same boat—branded as atheists, regarded as the scum of the earth, scorned when doing badly and resented when doing well? The answer here clearly lies in the ferocity of polemic between different pressure-groups, parties and/or sects within the same parent body. Sibling rivalry is fiercest when the siblings have an inheritance to share, or when one feels that another is ruining the chances of any of them inheriting it at all. Reading between Paul’s lines, that seems to have been what was going on in his case at least. The Pharisees’ programme of Torah-intensification was radically questioned by the Christian movement, not because they threw open their doors to Gentiles (lots of Jews ate with Gentiles; there was, as we saw in chapter 8, something of a regular sliding scale of assimilation, and so far as we know the Pharisees did not use violence to curb it), but because they claimed that precisely in doing so they were celebrating the fulfilment of Israel’s long-cherished hopes. This has a direct analogue in Paul’s surely deliberate irony in 1 Corinthians 7:19: neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, since what matters is keeping the god-given commandments, of which of course circumcision is one. There are some things that can only be expressed through such irony and apparent contradiction, and I suspect that the early Christian claim is one of them: the claim, that is, to be acting in accordance with the whole divine purpose for Israel, precisely in dismantling those aspects of traditional praxis, and in disregarding those traditional symbols, by which for centuries Jews had ordered their lives.
Here we reach the heart of it. What evokes persecution is precisely that which challenges a worldview, that which up-ends a symbolic universe. It is somewhat threatening to other first-century Jews to regard your community as the true Temple, and perhaps it is just as well to keep such ideas within the walls of an enclosed community in the desert; but since the belief, as held in Qumran, involves an intensification of Torah, the vicarious purification of the Land, the fierce defence of the race, and the dream of an eventually rebuilt and purified physical Temple in Jerusalem itself, one can imagine Pharisees debating it vigorously but not seeking authority from the chief priests to exterminate it. It embodied, after all, too many of the central worldview-features. The equivalent belief as held within Christianity seems to have had no such redeeming features. No new Temple would replace Herod’s, since the real and final replacement was Jesus and his people. No intensified Torah would define this community, since its sole definition was its Jesus-belief. No Land claimed its allegiance, and no Holy City could function for it as Jerusalem did for mainline Jews; Land had now been transposed into World, and the Holy City was the new Jerusalem, which, as some Jewish apocalyptic writers had envisaged, would appear, like the horses and chariots of fire around Elisha, becoming true on earth as it was in heaven. Racial identity was irrelevant; the story of this new community was traced back to Adam, not just to Abraham, and a memory was preserved of Jesus’ forerunner declaring that Israel’s god could raise up children for Abraham from the very stones. Once we understand how worldviews function, we can see that the Jewish neighbours of early Christians must have regarded them, not as a lover of Monet regards a lover of Picasso, but as a lover of painting regards one who deliberately sets fire to art galleries—and who claims to do so in the service of Art.
I therefore suggest that the beginning of the break between mainline Judaism and nascent Christianity came not with AD 70, not with some shakily reconstructed decree promulgated by the historically dubious ‘Council of Jamnia’, but with the very early days in which a young Pharisee named Saul believed it his divine calling to obtain authority to attack and harry the little sect. Analogies within the Jewish world suggest that this pattern is correct. The deep divisions between the Essenes and the Hasmoneans on the one hand, and the Pharisees on the other, emerge bit by bit in the Essene writings, and yet the actual splits which produced them clearly occurred at specific times which considerably antedate those writings. So, too, the even deeper division between those who claimed to be the heirs of the scriptural promises on the basis of Temple, Land, Torah and race, and those who claimed the same thing on the basis of Jesus and his spirit, goes back behind any writings or decrees which we possess or can guess at, to the moment when some hitherto frightened and puzzled Jews came to the conclusion that Israel’s hope, the resurrection from the dead, the return from exile, the forgiveness of sins, had all come true in a rush in Jesus, who had been crucified. This, it should be noted carefully within present debate, does not make Christianity anti-Jewish, any more than the Essenes, the Pharisees, or any other sect or group, were anti-Jewish.
The church, then, lived under pressure from the very first. It is perhaps this, as much as anything else, which kept it united when so many other pressures might have driven it towards division.

Wright, N. T. (1992). The New Testament and the People of God (449–452). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.