Friday, 9 May 2008

Jewish Legalism?

As if in response to M. Noth's views about the "degeneracy" of later Jewish attitudes to their own laws, check out this short video clip from Jewish website

Given chabad's chassidic, Lubavitcher inclinations, I wonder of this video represents consensus Jewish opinion?


JR said...

Phil - in sorta brief: on Childs is a bibli-idolater.


Back at that time, I advocated to Rendtorff that: 1) his (Rendtorff’s) whole focus on compositionalism as a process and, 2) his rejection of Noth’s tradition-historicism, in addition to, 3) Rendtorff’s arguments against the existence of any single normative narrative (an argument not taken seriously enough by narrative-lovers today) plus, 4) Rendtorff’s claim that the coherency criteria (sorry for re-hashing this old trope ) for “canon” qua canon came quite late, that is, in later Deuteronomic legal synthesis – that all of these together mounted an argument for an open canon rather than a closed canon.

And no matter how one slices one’s love for Childs, Childs’ focus on “shape” is just not “shape-shifting” enough to allow an open canon. For reasons I won’t get into here, Childs’ closed-canon mentality is why Childs critiques both Steins and midrash. I argued to Rendtorff that Childs closes the canon for the worst reasons: theology. And not good theology at that. Rendtorff's "composition" is better fitted to open canon than Childs' shapes.

My point to Rendtorff was that any time canon invokes legal hermeneutics because of a faintest appreciation for the needs for ongoing periodic compositional revisions of the law, and when law isn’t foundationally moored to history (Noth), nor confined by a single grand narrative (I think Rendtorff is right about narrative - I don’t know if Frei gets this), then legal revisions a first time, and legal revisions a second time (Deutero), and legal revisions all the rest of the times - off into the unlimited future – means that any legal corpus requires open revisions in order to go beyond dealing with oxen that gore and covering cars that crash.

And if the canon is closed for ‘theological’ reasons (really, really stupid), then the law gets frozen in the closed canon (why stop at duetero?) and frozen law in a frozen canon makes both law and canon become mere legal-historical curiosities, frozen artifacts. So one way (not the only) for theology to go forward is via narrative ties to today, but divorced from casuistic legal praxes. But, guess what. The legal part of the all-venerated "canon" moves out from under theology and the law stays open. The legal canon stays open through any available mechanism (legislative, judicial, executive).

But, for the law to be constantly revised in order to accommodate car crashes and not just oxen, then the law must go on alone in its own open canon. Law becomes bifurcated from theological review. The law becomes secularized basically because the law must say “to-hell-with-theology” and its really dumb closed canon.

Look around and see the effects.

Thank your closed canon friends.

Worse, the bifurcation between law and theology makes theology stupid – speculative, abstract, ruminating, preoccupied with heavy tomes or fractured poetics – divorced from real praxes of legal casuistry.

In other words, what Noth said about the OT law becoming abstract is really the reverse: it's theology today that's abstract.

Law has stayed practical. In an open canon kind of way.

Closed canon: not good for theology. Nor law.

I like much in Childs. My criticism of Childs isn’t heavy. But, when you say that Childs wants to avoid biblicism, then his anti-biblicism is standard trope Reformed stuff – don’t put text over God. Blah. It’s not the same as an open canon. And I think closed canon does put text over God. No matter how many disclaimers get issued otherwise. God is frozen out of open legal-canonical process. And closed canon stuff is not just text-over-God, but more, closed canon stuff is text-elevated-over-life itself. Because life is an open system.

Rendtorff knew that the Deuteronomist knew this. Yesterday’s laws need revision. Constantly. And to close the process down for theological reasons is stupid theology. Otherwise there wouldn’t have been ah, er .. a whole Deuteronomic school!

Rendtorff loves Jewish-Christian dialogue. For many reasons owing to the Jewish experience in his Germany. His heart is extremely tender toward Jewish-Christian mutual readings of the scripture! So .. I would commend to you and to Rendtorff (again), and all the rest of the closed-canon cronies, to take a fresh look at contemporary Jewish experience under the Law of Return (well: we’re beyond Deuteronomy now!) in the Jewish homeland. Look at how some (not all) Jewish intellectuals in Israel are arguing for a return to an open canon.

See, Avi Sagi, “The Open Canon.”

And presto: the open Jewish canon ought to be integrated into the law and ongoing legal reforms, including the Law of Return (see Gidon Sapir, “How Should a Court Deal with a Primary Question that the Legislature Seeks to Avoid? The Israeli Controversy over Who Is a Jew” 2006; Sapir quoting Sagi’s ideas as reasons why).

Here, Jewish experience may re-open their own canon! What a joke on Christians! And contemporary Jews might re-integrate an open canon with ongoing legal reform.

It's Deuto all over again!

If a new open canon happens there, then it might show closed-canon Christians that the Jewish canon should never have been closed in the first place!

We'll see how far that gets with closed Christians. I don't see Childs and camp ever buying it. Ever. Too much invested.

But, this kind of thinking will be done. "Outside the camp."

Sure, Childs has ways of learning from auxiliary disciplines: law, history, form criticism. He's nuanced. And smart. But, his accomodations miss the point. The whole worship of the closed canon as a frozen state makes theology miss out on legal praxes and miss out on perpetual practical legal reform and renewal wed to that praxis.

That’s the short of it.



Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I only have time for a brief response as a friend is arriving today from England and I haven't fulfilled my work quota!

What do you mean by "open canon"`? Constantly updating laws for new situations like the continually expandic halachic material? But even the Talmud etc. are predicated on a closed body of law. All thinking since grows out of that fixed matrix. What opens up the past to the present in the Bible is not the ability to endlessly expand the content of the Bible, it's the eschatological dimension built into the narrative and consummated in Christ. Belief in Jesus as the fulfilment of the OT distinguishes Christians from Jews, so it's inevitable that we will have a different mode of applying the laws of the OT.

And anyway, Childs' canon is not totally closed. He's open to the ambiguity between LXX and MT, though that may not be what you're getting at.

JR said...
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JR said...

Phil - an outstanding response: “What opens up the past to the present in the Bible is not the ability to endlessly expand the content of the Bible, it's the eschatological dimension built into the narrative and consummated in Christ.”

Man, you’re killing me. In the best of death-to-self ways.

First, thanks. Thanks for not over-reacting by forcing an exploratory thesis (open canon) tested in the halls of academia into a formal fixed idee pinned onto a donkey (me) in ass-like conveyance of a Balaam-like preposition that an outsider (Balaam) can open the canon by the projectile force of a curse (a curse on closed canon) contradicting God’s prior (closed canon?) prophecies of blessing.

I’m a duly speaking and reprimanded ass: “it's the eschatological dimension built into the narrative and consummated in Christ.”

Man, that hurts.

Second, I too am a bit rushed today. All I can say for now is that the eschatological “narrative” (I’m going to burn the whole world down if I hear this term - narrative - one more stinking time – but, since I’m a good guy, I’ll play along) as “consummated” has a few holes both in the narrative and in the consummation. Because, the beloved narrative says that Jesus healed all the sick in whole villages, and yet, when the disciples go back to some places after the all-glorious consummation, there are still more sick to heal: eschatologically speaking ... but, I know what you mean. You and Ladd, Barth, and even Schubert Ogden for that matter: who differentially make Christ “decisive” - but, for what?

Third, I’ll get back to this open-canon stuff; but in short, I’d say the canon is already still open today. No mater how many disclaimers get issued contrariwise.

Fourth, for mind candy until then. Just ask Peter Enns who did exegesis on the very vaunted sacred “canon” of scripture by calling it “God’s own words” only for Enns to run afoul of Westminterins’ auxiliary Presbyterian “canons” of interpretation. The Enns case is a trivial drop of water in the oceanic sea of individual cases through history in which auxiliary canons in service of the canon decide the fate of individuals. Nobody’s fooled. Join your community. Take your chances. That’s the hard and skinny of it in the real world.

Fifth, for starters. In Childs’ case (I love Childs here: I think he’s more generous than the Westminsterins), I’d just say that in real congregations in the real world wherever midrash is repressed because of normative values attached to canon, that midrash still gets done inside the individual heads of parishioners.

And midrashic stuff may be why (*may*) a whole long litany of hard-core empirical studies show the near operational irrelevance of confessional theology in every-day life. But, midrash is repressed. Until one publishes; and perishes: Enns.

But, as to an open-canon as a normative project: that would require a collaborative praxes of a conciliar (which is why I can’t answer your question), or, an extremely strong force of individual character (or stupidity; or a polymath) committed to individual expressions, ranging from Hans Kung amidst the Catholics, a George Fox among the Quakers, or to individual prodigies acting under non-creedal axioms and pro-individual liberties like those of Baptists. Which is just about what we have to some degree already: “I’m of Barth!” .. “I’m of x, y, z!” The real attention and affection paid to the canon of scripture is a factual question (not a theoretical one) where only empirical science can save theology from, as Eienstein said, being “lame” (“religion without science is lame”). Which is why the whole Noth-Childs-Rendtorff triage team sent to save canon is sorta working in the blind: because critical histories are too much lost; and all we mostly have are current affiliations, allegiances, and love of camp. I’m not po-mo about this: I’m way too much a scientific realist .... take the canon as a positive posit and see how far you get ...

Sixth ... I see Poirier’s evil question haunting in the background, how/why does Childs know that God mid-wived the canon qua canon (to paraphrase) ... just where, pray-tell for Childs, did God sit in the dock and answer Childs to this ... because if Childs has only probabilistic knowledge (still, a guess) ... the question of canon is open even if the “shape” is closed ... which is just about what we’ve already got ..