Sunday, 20 July 2008

Childs on intentionality and reader-response

Childs struggled throughout his career with the relationship between authorial or editorial intentionality and the effect a particular constellation of texts had on a reader, regardless of whether this constellation was intended or fortuitous. The latter category takes him into the realm of reader-response, the former keeps him within the realm of traditional historical-criticism. Childs wanted both, though he still felt that in some sense an awareness of intentionality should play some kind of role in evaluating reader-response interpretation. The trick is how to correlate them. In his final commentary (Isaiah), one can see him trying to coordinate these two categories, especially in his treatment of intertextuality in third Isaiah.

I'm currently writing an essay on Childs' exegesis, so I hope to be able to post more articulately on this issue in the future. For now, an earlier quote on the topic, taken from Childs' response to critiques of his Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture.

At times there is clear evidence for an intentional redactional move being made, e.g. the positioning of Isa. 36-39. At other times, no conscious intentionality can be discerned in the joining of sources or traditions. Moreover, there is considerable evidence to show the effect of accidental and fortuitous factors in the shaping of the material. it is certainly possible, even likely, that chs. 21-14 of II Samuel received their present literary function late in the process. But the crucial point to make is that regardless of the exact nature of a text's prehistory, a new dynamic was unleashed for its interpretation when it was collected with other material and assigned a religious role as sacred literature. Whether or not one can determine the motivation for joining Gen. 1 with Gen. 2, the present juxtaposition within a larger literary context affects the semantic level on which ch. 2 is read.
B.S. Childs, "Response to Reviewers" (JSOT 16; 1980: 52 - 60), 54.

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