Monday, 10 December 2007

Retrospective Reading of Old Testament Prophets (overview of proposals)

In my last post on this topic I illustrated how the historical-critical analysis of the text is important to a 'canonical approach', when understood in its 'Childsian' sense. Interpretation of the text as Scripture requires that this context be normative due to the nature of the text itself. The literary development of the text was motivated primarily by a theological concern to broker a concrete message given in time and space within a broader historical and theological perspective. This requires not only a recognition of the multilayered nature of the biblical text, but also a particular understanding of how the various layers relate to each other. In the following series of posts I will review Childs' article (1996) in which he spells out what this means. They will come under the following headings:

1) Proposals for the Extension of Prophetic Tradition (today).
2) More on the Extension of the Prophetic Tradition
3) Temporal Sequence and Prophetic Dialectic.
4) Criteria of Prophetic Truth.
5) The Text as Tradent of Authority.
6) The final form of the text.

Childs first gives an overview of the various attempts to understand the nature of the extension of the prophetic tradition. First, the technique of adaptation was proposed (Seeligman, 1953), in which the innate poly-vocality of words enabled them to be interpreted midrashically by later generations who adapted the text to speak to their own religious and cultural concerns. Thus, the Greek translator of Isaiah 9:11 exchanged the prophet's references to the Aramaeans and Philistines for those of the Syrians and Greeks of his own time. Later commentators (e.g. Clements, 1982) extended this form of 'actualization' to themes that were reused in later contexts. Thus, in order to emphasize structural similarity, the imagery of the exodus from Egypt was re-used frequently to depict Israel's return from the exile in Babylon (cf. von Rad, 1960).

Zimmerli (1980) developed the concept of Fortschreibung, in which a book was seen to have developed from a core text (Urtext) which had been consistently expanded over time. The nature of the expansion was a secondary layering of the basic text much like a commentary, which was evoked either by the need for further explanation, or from some difficulty within the text itself, or by a tension which had developed because of the effect of subsequent historical events. Although the recognition of the process of Fortschreibung depended initially on a sense discontinuity between alleged levels within a passage, the basic concern expressed by Zimmerli was that of continuity between the basic text and its subsequent expansion.

OK, I have a birthday party to visit!! Time's up. I'll continue this tomorrow, where I'll look at Editorial Redaction, Etiology and Vaticinium ex Eventu, along with Childs' critique of the shortcomings of these proposals.



Unknown said...

Hi Phil. I've been insanely busy lately, which is about the best I can do for an apology for not commenting more along the way.

I did want to register that this is one of BSC's most important statements, in my view. It's a wind up for the Isaiah commentary (he refers to it there often) and it encapsulates many of his arguments over decades, from 1971 to 1979 through 1992.

Glad you're working through it.

Phil Sumpter said...

Hi Daniel, it's great to hear from you again. I had been hoping you'd pop in again.

Thanks for your encouragement, your right, this article is incredibly important! I only discovered it about a week ago and thougt, "how could I have written 9000 words on Childs without having looked at this gem?!". I'm actually quite glad I hadn't read it, as it forced me to work more intensley with his more standard works.

I'm currently reading through Barth's Einführung in die evangelische Theologie. They really were very similar, weren't they ...

Unknown said...

The Barth-Childs relationship is a tricky one. They are close in many respects, however, not least in having a high regard for the place of the OT in Christian theological undertakings.

Phil Sumpter said...

My goodness, the further I get in my book the more profound similarities I see between Childs and Barth! Barth's Einführung is a must read for anyone wanting to understand Childs!