Sunday, 31 August 2008

Subverting "Hebraic" and "Hellenic" ontology

I just posted a great quote from Halden's blog here. Within a few minutes I came across this fascinating post and just have to share it. Here's his conlusion:

Thus, Athanasius is actually the Hellenist and Arius is the Hebraist (albeit, perhaps one of the exteremely Philonic variety). If anything this shows that the revelation of God as Triune is just as subversive of an allegedly pure “Hebraic” notion of God’s being as it is of the “Hellenic” theology that is so often decried. It is, in the parlance of Scripture, both a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.

The "martyr complex"

Halden's provides us with another fascinating quote:
“The pathology of a martyr complex is often a heavy-handed attempt to escape the vulnerability of speaking the turth without the means of convincing others that it is true. It signifies impatience with the freedom of others not to believe. It betrays an insecurity that cannot bear its own knowledge without compulsion for everyone else. In a word, it expresses doubt. Such doubt may explain why martyrdom is sometimes misconstrued and applied to the deaths of fighters. For the New Testament, martyrs do not die because they fight for what is right but precisely because they refuse to fight for what is true. A fighter fundamentally dubts whether his truth is true and anxiously grasps at it, preferring secure knowledge to uncertain promise made certain only through faith. Fighters do not stand by the truth of their convictions.”
~Craig Hovey, To Share in the Body: A Theology of Martyrdom for Today’s Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 148.

The unity of Scripture in its diverse transmission

Despite the Jewish people’s role as tradents of the Old Testament witness, the Christian church received the Jewish Scriptures largely through Greek translations. A hermeneutical problem thus arose when it was perceived that the Hebrew text and the Greek Septuagint did not always agree. Over the years, various hermeneutical attempts have been offered by which to address the issue, such as allegory, various forms of harmonization, the subjugation of the Old Testament to its New Testament reception, dismissal of the issue by reference to history-of-religions categories, or post-modern appeals to the freedom of the creative imagination. (See Childs, Struggle, 311-312)

The purpose of my next few posts is to look at how Childs' canonical approach deals with this issue. Stay tuned!

Saturday, 30 August 2008

How to understand the ways of God: Some pointers

I have given an example of what Brevard Childs considers to be the difference between a "spiritual" interpretation of the Bible and a more mundane one in my post The Spirit, Bonhoeffer, and Gunkel. The fact, however, that the shift in perception experienced by confessional scholars is due ultimately to the agency of the Spirit should not lead to the conclusion that such a shift is purely irrational or arbitrary. Theologically, the creation of the canon of Scripture was never claimed by the church to be its own work, but was itself understood to be a response to the divine coercion of the living Word of God. Thus, according to Childs, “the concept of canon was a corollary of inspiration.” ("Speech Act Theory," 381). Within this rule-of-faith, understood as both the hermeneutical structure of the canon and the summa of authentic Christian response to the substance of this canon, Childs identifies the following five pointers for understanding the ways of God in the world (from "Interpreting the Bible Amid Cultural Change," 210-211):

1. Christian spiritual vitality necessitates wrestling with the Bible as the vehicle of God’s word. “To speak of moving beyond the Bible always signals a return to the wilderness and a loss of divine blessing.”

2. Scripture functions properly within the life of the church only if it is heard addressing issues of life and death. When received as a divine gift to believers, the Bible becomes a guide for faith and practice.

3. There is a family resemblance among the ways in which faithful response to the Bible occurs. A likeness arises from the serious encounter with the selfsame God who shapes obedient response into Christian likeness, with a parallel family resemblance on the side of unbelief and scepticism.

4. The Bible calls for faithful reflection, but also for faithful action. Where there is true understanding of the Scriptures, by necessity there arises an imperative for evangelism and mission, a care for the impoverished and suffering.

5. Finally, built into the New Testament’s proclamation of the gospel is the promise of fresh growth and understanding. Change in the sense of growth in the knowledge of God is built into the Christian faith. Our understanding of the Bible can never be static: “Its pages continue to radiate fresh guidance into the knowledge of God and his Son.”

Jesus and Jewish tradition

Here's what Hermann Diem has to say, taken from my notes on his excellent Dogmatics (the continuity with Childs' canonical approach should be clear!):

Jesus grew up in the Jewish faith in the tradition of Sinai, and recognised its validity by His attitude. In arguments with pharisees, Jesus does not reject the paradosis [Greek for tradition] as such, but applies to it a critical norm as follows: (155)
“where the Law as the content of the paradosis is no longer understood to be the present concrete requirement of God, demanding the self-surrender of man, but rather serves as a form of human righteousness which can be manipulated by man himself in the interests of his own self-justification, then the law in question is to be rejected.” (155)
“opposes the tendency to establish the Law as an absolute by putting forward the point of view that the Law exists for the sake of man and not man for the sake of the Law. By this means He refers us back from the Law to the Lawgiver, and thus changes as radically as possible the meaning of the Law itself by restoring its original connexion with the divine Covenant. The Rabbis have forgotten the consolation and the promise of the law and no longer envisage the Scriptures as a whole, as the Book of the Covenant, the document which bears witness to the Covenant grace of God.” (157)
Thus we see His connexion with the Rabbinic tradition of teaching and at the same time the source of His conflict with it. He does not violate the authority of the Scribes and Pharisees ... (Mt. 23:2f), just as much as no iota of the Law will be allowed to perish until all things be accomplished (Mt. 5:18).

Friday, 29 August 2008

Questions for Biblical Theology

Nick Norelli posts the following two questions posed by Richard Bauckham in his article “Biblical Theology and the Problems of Monotheism”:

Has New Testament theology any need to take an interest in the historical reconstruction of Jesus attempted in the quest of the historical Jesus, or are the canonical renderings of Jesus in the four Gospels the only proper and sufficient concern of New Testament theology? Similarly, is a history-of-religions account of the origins and development of ancient Israel’s exclusive Yahwism relevant to the understanding of faith in YHWH that must be central to an Old Testament theology, not to mention a pan-biblical theology?
Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation, 197.

Here's the answer I wrote in response:

I think your answer to this depends on your dogmatic presuppositions concerning the nature of the Gospel. Brevard Childs would obviously take the canonical option, but theologically he was a Barthian. I think Childs' canonical approach can be greatly elucidated if you take into account Barth's concept of the "three times of the word," the nature of the texts as "witness" to revelation, and his understanding of the gospel as something which arises out of the dialectical interplay of the two testaments. Childs was also a fan of Hermann Diem, who wrote concerning the kerygmatic nature of the text that Jesus is both the subject and the object of the proclamation, during his earthly ministry but also afterwards in the preaching of the apostles. I think he extends this to the OT, thus giving theological legitimacy to tradition-criticism. Childs' canonical approach (which Baukham is inevitably referencing here) grew out of a tradtion-critical approach, arguing that if one is consistent then one must take the final form as authoritative given its critical nature in relation to earlier levels.

Sometimes, when I read the stuff I write, I wonder if it makes any sense to those outside the speciliased circle of an initiated few.

[HT Vox Stefani]

Eine Fürbitte für die Christen im Irak

My Bible study group dedicated last night to learning about and praying for the Christians in Iraq (and I think we managed about a fifty/fifty balance of prayer and learning). Not only did we use the most recent articles on the topic, we also had the pastor of the arab congregation which meets on our premises. Eyes were opened (wide), emotions were stirred, souls searched, and horizons broadened. I hope and pray it wasn't a one off wonder, but that we will continue to bear our brothers in prayer and remember our responsibility to the larger church. The following is a litany I swiped from the EKD website:

Liturg: Gütiger und barmherziger Gott,
wir legen unsere Hände zusammen
und halten Fürbitte für die verfolgten Christen im Irak:

Sprecher I:
Gott, Ruhe und Sicherheit
gibt es noch immer nicht im Irak.
Die Situation ist so verworren, wie nie zuvor.
Die Bevölkerung lebt in großer Angst
und ihre Hoffnung wird kleiner
angesichts der vielen Anschläge und der vielen Toten.
So viele Menschen sind auf der Flucht -
Christen, Muslime, Yeziden,
Mandäer, Kurden, Araber, Turkmenen -
der ganze Irak scheint unterwegs zu sein.
Wo gibt es Sicherheit, wo Schutz, wo Geborgenheit
in diesem friedlosen und von Gewalt erschütterten Land?
Wann wird dieses geschundene Land
endlich im Frieden leben dürfen?

Höre unser gemeinsames Rufen: Kyrie eleison.

Sprecher II:
Gott, wir machen uns große Sorgen
um unsere christlichen Brüder und Schwestern -
grausame Nachrichten erreichen uns fast täglich,
sie müssen, um ihr Leben bangen.
Von fanatischen Islamisten werden sie gejagt und vertrieben.
Ihre Gotteshäuser sind Zielscheibe von Zerstörungen.

Höre unser gemeinsames Rufen: Kyrie eleison
Sprecher I:
Gott, wir können es nicht fassen,
dass Christen im Irak wegen ihres Glaubens
ermordet werden.
Stärke die Kraft ihres Glaubens;
halte deine Hand über alle,
die Angst haben;
gib ihnen Menschen zur Seite,
die sie schützen und für sie beten;

Höre unser gemeinsames Rufen: Kyrie eleison

Sprecher II:
Gott, wir denken an die vielen Flüchtlinge unter den Christen,
die aus Angst ihre Heimat verlassen haben,
deren Familien auseinander gerissen sind,
die um einen ihrer Lieben trauern.
Vor unseren Augen vollzieht sich gegenwärtig
der größte Exodus von Christen weltweit.
Wir denken an die Kinder,
die heimatlos geworden sind;
wir denken an die Eltern, die nicht wissen,
wie es mit ihnen in Jordanien und Syrien weitergeht;
Wir denken aber auch an die Menschen,
die sich um diese Flüchtlinge kümmern,
die sie begleiten und trösten.
Gib ihnen Kraft, barmherziger Gott,
und Mut für diesen wichtigen Dienst.

Höre unser gemeinsames Rufen: Kyrie eleison

Inner-referentiality in the New Testament and the Scriptures as "divine vehicle"

In response to my claim that the canon of Scripture is not just a useful source for historical reconstruction but a vehicle of ongoing divine revelation, a commentator has pointed out that such a view is not found within the Bible itself.

Granted this point, how does one respond to it?

The answer is the one does not draw a doctrine of Scripture form propositional statements made within the individual texts themselves, but rather from an overall understanding of the function of these texts within the life of the community of faith that treasures them and that claims to have been formed in response to them. When one pays attention to the functional dimension of the texts, one sees that they were not only treated as a lens for perceiving the divine reality that had broken into their lives, but as an ongoing source for deeper understanding. This can be seen in the intense intertextuality that characterises the entire Bible. At both earlier and later diachronic levels of the text, one sees a constant dialectic at work in which, on the one hand, the divine reality is understood in terms of sacred tradition and yet, on the other hand, that tradition is "critically shaped" in terms of a deeper understanding the God who had thus revealed himself. Traditions are collected, juxtaposed, subordinated, streamlined etc. to form a coherent whole. At a later stage we have the literary shaping of entire blocks (e.g. torah, prophets, writings), in which the parts are constantly related to each other in order to gain a deeper impression of the whole. The theological implication is that God makes himself known in history, yet this revelation is interpreted within a larger theological framework brokered by tradition (later canonical Scripture).

One example of this intertextual activity is David Trobisch's interesting analysis of the nature of the church's search for a holistic and unified grasp of its scriptures in his The Final Redaction of the New Testament: An Investigation of the Formation of the Christian Bible (probably translated as this one). I take my summary from Childs in his article "Jesus Christ the Lord and the Scriptures of the Church" (1998):

Trobisch argues that there is evidence to show that there already was a definitive edition of hte entire New Testament by the end of the second century. One piece of evidence is the presence of a conscious inner-referentiality within the entire New Testament canon, in which the titles of authorship assigned to each of the writings - Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude - are consciously intertwined, thus forming a unified authoritative whole. For example, Mark is linked in Acts with both Paul and Peter and he also is greeted in the letter of 1 Peter. Luke likewise is referred to in the Gospels, Acts, and the Pauline collection, and is linked with Mark. John is named in the Fourth Gospel, the synoptics, Acts, and Revelation. Similarly, the Genereal Epistles are consciously linked through cross-referencing to James, Peter, and John. Childs concludes:

The effect is that a knowledge of the whole New Testament corpus emerges as an actual literary force in shaping once independent writings into a unified composition.
In addition to this, the conflict between Peter and Paul, referred to in the letter to the Galations, is brought to a conscious harmonious end in Acts 15. Likewise, Paul and James are joined in a shared plan in Acts 21 to unite Jewish and Gentile Christians in a common collection for Jerusalem. In fact, the major function of the book of Acts is to provide an introduction to the Catholic Epistles and the historical background for the Pauline letters. It also is not accidental that in the last letters of both Paul and Peter the public reading of Scripture within the community of faith is highly recommended.

Though at the time of writing Childs was still not sure of the full implications this work, it illustrates a fresh turn in New Testament studies of seeking to understand the nature of the Church's search for a holistic and unified grasp of its Scriptures.

No doubt Childs discusses this in his posthumous How to Read Paul.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

The Spirit, Bonhoeffer and Gunkel

If it's the case, as I argued in my post The Spirit and inspiration in theological exegesis, that the human words of Scripture become a means of revelation by the operation of the Holy Spirit, what does that look like in practice? Childs attempted to answer this question in his fascinating article "Interpreting the Bible Amid Cultural Change," Theology Today 54 (1997), 200-211.

He turns to a major source of personal inspiration: the Germany theology of the Confessing Church during the 1920s and 30s. He notes that theologians of this period underwent a paradigm shift that brought them into fresh and empowering contact with God and his Gospel. Karl Barth, among others, talked of the strange new world of the Bible, a vision which empowered him to resist National Socialism “like an ancient Hebrew prophet.” (203) While he admits that cultural or political factors certainly contributed to this shift, such explanations do not get to the heart of the matter. Those involved in this new vision of the Bible spoke of responding to a powerful voice from Scripture itself, language echoing with older models exemplified by the church Fathers and the Reformers.
“The coercion of the biblical text occurred in different ways, often matching the unique personalities of each interpreter, but theirs was always a stance of reception. ... In every case, the Scriptures were the vehicle for the transformation of perspective.” (204)
In order to demonstrate this, Childs compares Hermann Gunkel’s interpretation of Genesis 1 with that of Bonhoeffer. Gunkel, inspired by German romanticism of the period, sought to instil in his readers an aesthetic appreciation for the creative genius of this ancient, primitive document. Bonhoeffer, on the other hand, saw in Gen. 1:1 an affirmation of the Gospel which plunges the reader into a new dimension of reality. He says the following:

“The Bible begins with God’s free affirmation, ... free revelation of himself. . . . In the beginning, out of freedom, out of nothing, God created the heavens and the earth. This is the comfort with which the Bible addresses us . . . who are anxious before the false void, the beginning without a beginning and the end without an end. It is the gospel, it is the resurrected Christ of whom one is speaking here. God is in the beginning and he will be in the end. . . . The fact that he lets us know this is mercy, grace, forgiveness and comfort.” (Creation and Fall: A Theological Interpretation of Genesis 1-3 (London: SCM, 1959), 11, 16.)
In awe Childs exclaims: “What a different vision from that of Gunkel! Were they even reading the same text?” At the heart of this paradigm shift

“was a new perception of the reality of God and a fresh grappling with the substance of the Bible as providing the true content of the Christian faith.” (206)
I've dealt with this Bonhoeffer quote elsewhere, in relation to the difficult question of whether non-believers can really "understand" the Bible.

Sefer ha-Bloggadah - what a great blog name!

Check it out here. As the subtitle goes on to elucidate:

We're studying all of Sefer Ha-Aggadah, a little bit every day for 2 years, and blogging it as we go.
The introduction to the project tells us the following about the Sefer ha-Aggadah:

Compiled by the Hebrew poet Hayim Nachman Bialik and the editor Yehoshua Ravnitsky, it is a collection of thousands of stories and folklore from the Talmud and throughout rabbinic literature, from the creation of the world to the world to come.
Perhaps this interactive site is an ideal opportunity for outsiders such as myself to learn more about the fascinating world of Jewish theology, life, and exegesis ... Blogging rocks!
[I have just noticed that the illustrious Iyov is a contributor]

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

The Spirit and inspiration in theological exegesis

In my post on the Divine and human authorship of Scripture, I raised the following question: "how was it possible that fallible human words could have been received as words from God?"

Brevard Childs' answer is that

“they were regarded so not only because of their divine source, but also by their assigned role as medium of God’s continuing communication.” ("Speech-Act theory," 379).
In particular:

“The crucial action of rendering the human words of the past as the continuing divine message – the rendering of human speech into divine speech – was achieved by the promise of the Holy Spirit” (Ibid. 380; cf. John 14:26; Acts 1:8, 16; 1 Cor. 2:10, 13).
In this process it is important to note that

“the human words were not appropriated, changed or semantically filtered, but illuminated in their original temporal form as a divine vehicle.” (Ibid.)
This spiritual element of divine guidance introduces into the equation an element of subjectivity which cannot be totally controlled or circumscribed. Childs talks of the dynamic nature of the Biblical God who both makes himself known and also hides himself (cf. Amos 8:11-12). The ability of the Scriptures to continually evoke new and fresh understandings was commensurate with the promised Spirit of the resurrected Christ to illuminate and guide the church through the Word. Scripture thus has a voice that exerts coercion on its readers. Faithful interpretation involves a response to this theocentric force. In this way, a significant element of the challenge of “wrestling with Scripture” lies in the struggle to acquire the capacity to receive its message (Struggle, 315).

In my next post I will illustrates this dynamic by taking a glance at the modern history of the church.

A new Biblical Theology blog

I am delighted that the issue of Biblical Theology is not dead, as can be seen by the establishment of a new blog dedicated to the issue (I'm sure Childs would be delighted!). Here is their opening statement:

This blog exists for the glory of God, in service to the church, to promote the study and discussion of biblical theology’s history, methodology, aims, achievements, developments, direction, and points of contact with other approaches to the study of the Bible. This will be a collaborative effort, and the purpose of this post is to introduce the contributors to the blog.
The blog has an impressive cast of moderators (with the promise of more):

Dr. Desi Alexander is Director of Christian Training for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, based at Union Theological College, having previously lectured for nearly 20 years in Semitic Studies at the Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK. He co-edited the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (IVP) and has recently written a book on biblical theology, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, published in the UK by IVP and coming out soon in the US from Kregel. An elder in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, he is married to Anne, and they have two children, Jane and David.

Dr. Michael Bird is Tutor in New Testament at the Highland Theological College in Dingwall, Scotland. He is an Australian and holds a Ph.D from the University of Queensland. Michael’s research interests include the historical Jesus, the Gospel of Mark, Pauline theology, New Testament theology, and Christian origins. He is married to Naomi and they have two children and together they attend Dingwall Baptist Church.

Dr. Steve Dempster is the Stuart E. Murray Professor of Religious Studies at Atlantic Baptist University, New Brunswick, Canada. He is the author of Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, and he contributed to the Anchor Bible Dictionary, New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, and Biblical Theology: Retrospect and Prospect.

Dr. Jim Hamilton is Associate Professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, USA, having previously served as Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Houston campus and as the preaching pastor at Baptist Church of the Redeemer. He is married to Jill, and they have three sons.
Posting from Ireland, Scotland (by an Australian), Canada, and the United States, we are excited about the international character of this blog, and we hope it will serve you well. We seek to know God in Christ by the power of the Spirit as revealed in the Bible.

Justin Taylor is evidently responsible for the idea for the blog. The tone has already been set by the Evangelical Text Criticism blog, as summarized by P.J. Williams, who wrote

I want this forum to be robust in two ways: first, it is not going to be embarrassed about believing that the Bible is true and that the Bible is made up of particular words which come from God. Secondly, it is going to be a place where we discuss textual criticism based on a familiarity with the issues involved. . . .
The blog will not generally try to justify the historic evangelical perspective that says that the inspired text of the Bible is Greek for the NT and Hebrew (or Aramaic) for the OT. Justifications may emerge within this group, but it will be more profitable to those involved if we take this as our basis.
What is said there about text criticism can be applied here about biblical theology, and we hope you will find this blog profitable.
I look forward to hearing more!

Hmmm ... the question is: which blog roll do I add them to: "biblical studies" or "theology"?

[Hat tip: Celucien Joseph of the blog Christ my Righteousness]

Die unerträglichen Qualen der Christen im Irak

My Bible study group will be praying for Iraqi Christian refugees tomorrow night. For those who can read German, I've gathered some recent articles on the subject of their plight. Germany has decided to give Christians special attention in assigning refugee status, due to the severity of their situation (which reminds me of the EU's decision to give refugee status to Pakistani women on the basis that they are a persecuted minority).

Die Welt summarises the situation succinctly:

Die Liste der Gräueltaten gegen Christen im Irak ist lang: Schutzgelder werden erpresst, Läden geplündert, gebrandschatzt und enteignet, Kirchen in die Luft gesprengt, Mädchen vergewaltigt und zwangsislamisiert, Priester enthauptet oder gekreuzigt. Deutschland setzt sich in der EU für die Aufnahme von Flüchtlingen ein.

There is also an English language website dedicated to the Christians of Iraq.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The divine and human authorship of Scripture

Today I start a new thread as part of my overall project of looking at what B.S. Childs identified as the six constitutive features of Christian exegesis. The previous three threads include The authority of Scripture (which is best supplemented by looking at Childs' essay here); the literal and spiritual senses of Scripture; and the two-testamental nature of Christian Scripture.

The church has always confessed that it is God’s voice in Scripture addressing people in divine speech (Exod. 20:1ff.; 34:1ff.), while at the same time human authors were designated as communicating the teachings of God (Moses, David, evangelists and apostles; Childs, Struggle, 309). The relationship between the two, however, has never reached a consensus. Childs lists various attempts throughout history to clarify and defend this reality, such as Thomas Aquinas’ concept of the human authors as “instrumental cause,” Calvin’s theory of accommodation, and orthodox views of inerrancy. Each view has had its currency and has then been overwhelmed by new challenges. Childs’ concern is not to develop an alternative theory but rather to delineate the contours of the theological claim and thus the arena within which genuine Christian struggling with this issue can continue.

Within the Bible itself, the human agents of God’s will to Israel and the church claimed within their own writings that their testimony had been inspired by God. This claim to be delivering a message from God was made in different ways, such as narrative descriptions of a theophany in which divine words were received and transmitted to the people (Exod. 19:1-20), introductory formulae such as “the vision that Isaiah saw” (Isa. 1:1) or “thus saith the Lord.” The continuity of God’s speaking is best formulated in Heb. 1:1-2: “In many and various ways God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days has spoken to us by a Son" (Childs, "Speech-act theory, 309).

The question arises, how was it possible that fallible human words could have been received as words from God?

We will deal with this question in my next post.

Eisenbrauns' August Web Sale

As James Spinti has informed us. You can get roughly 60% discounts. Two books that caught my eye: David and Zion

David and Zion
Biblical Studies in Honor of J. J. M. Roberts

Edited by Bernard F. Batto and Kathryn Roberts
Eisenbrauns, 2004
xxvi + 444 pages, English
Cloth, 6 x 9
ISBN: 1575060922
List Price: $55.00
Your Price: $11.00

and A God So Near

A God So Near
Essays on Old Testament Theology in Honor of Patrick D. Miller

Edited by Brent A. Strawn and Nancy R. Bowen
Eisenbrauns, 2003
xviii + 439 pages, English
ISBN: 1575060671
List Price: $59.50
Your Price: $17.85

Unfortunately, by the time I got to check out I realised that postage and packaging (for Germany) had doubled the price ($22), so I decided to stick to interlibrary loan in Germany. Nevertheless, a bargain for those who live in the States (who represent the bulk of my readership)!

Monday, 25 August 2008

On handling continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testament

I argued in my literal/spiritual sense of scripture thread that the literal sense must be preserved from being subsumed in a construal of its "spiritual" referent. In the same way, the the integrity of the two testaments must be preserved in their joint witness to their one theological reality. As Childs says,

“The Old Testament bears its true witness as the Old which remains distinct from the New. It is promise not fulfilment. Yet its voice continues to sound and it has not been stilled by the fulfilment of the promise” (Biblical Theology, 77)
This fact should warn Biblical theologians against the extremes of overemphasising either continuity or discontinuity between the two testaments. On the one hand, the New Testament is neither the culmination of a unified traditio-historical trajectory nor a midrashic extension of the Hebrew Scriptures. On the other hand, the designation of the Old Testament as “old” is not a reference to its failure and rejection. The canonical relationship is far more complex, in which the Old is understood by its relation to the New, but the New is incomprehensible apart from the Old. The Christian canon asserts the continuing integrity of the Old Testament witness, so that it must be heard on its own terms. Yet the New Testament too tells its own story in which something totally new enters the picture. The complexity of the issue is seen in the fact that this totally new witness is borne in terms of the old, and thereby transforms the Old Testament. In reflecting on the whole Christian Bible with its two very different voices, it must be borne in mind that there is no one overarching hermeneutical theory by which to resolve the tension. The continuing challenge of Biblical theology

“is to engage in the continual activity of theological reflection which studies the canonical text in detailed exegesis, and seeks to do justice to the witness of both testaments in the light of its subject matter who is Jesus Christ" (Childs, Bilbical Theology, 78).

This is the last post in my thread on the two-testamental nature of Christian scripture, a subset of my overall look at traditional Christian exegesis. My next thread will deal with the issue of divine and human authorship of Scripture.

The Transcendence of God and Human Historicity

This morning I posted a quote by Childs on the Incarnation as an analogy for the dialectical relation between the Bible as a human creation and the Bible as a witness to God. The following quote by Paul Minear, from his astounding book The Bible and the Historian (go here and here), serves as the perfect compliment. He is interested in the significance of the paradigm of modernity (á la Kuhn) for Biblical exegesis:

At the moment we are especially interested in how this paradigm deals with the dimension of transcendence. The simplest answer is that the method encourages either antagonism or neutrality toward the presence of such a dimension. Altizer, for example, says, “We inherit the historical revolution of the nineteenth centruy, a revolution which stripped all historical events of a transcendent ground” (Thomas J.J., The New Apocalypse, xiv). In the less enthusiastic words of A.E. Loen, the historical process has been “de-divinized,” since the message of the Bible comes to be seen as “determined exclusively by historical factors.” The sequence of historical events is sundered from its metaphysical ground, so that “forgetfulness of the sphere of being robs history of its essence, just as it robs man of his.” (Secularization, 7, 10).

Can exegetes transfer that task to the preacher and the theologian and limit their own work to the business of objective historical description? Should they do this, their decision will reflect their mastery by the paradigm of historical science as well as mastery over it. (pp. 40-41)

Minear concludes his chapter with the following words of wisdom:

The task of contemporary exegetes is to allow Scripture itself to criticize both the assumptions and the methods that are used in its study. They must listen also, of course, to secular historians and to theologians. Success in their task will be possible only through a conviction that the temporal distance between this and earlier centruies is itself bridged by the eternal purpose of God and by the participation of the church in that purpose. But it will also be possible only if there is more effective collaboration between historians and theologians. Even the ideal cooperation among scholars, however, will never lead to reducing God's transcendence to the size of our various conceptual boxes. (49).
Oh how not only the academy but also the church needs to hear this!

A completed thread on A. Louth's Discerning the Mystery

I am delighted to announce that Sister Macrina Walker, osco, author of the blog A Vow of Conversation, has completed a thorough review of Andrew Louth's important work, Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology. Why is he important? To be honest, from my perspective it's because his name keeps popping up in Brevard Childs' work in an area that is foundational to the entire enterprise of theological exegesis: the nature of allegory. I have yet to read the book myself and am glad to have to opportunity to catch a preview in Sister Macrina's posts.

For more online material on Andrew Louth, the Statesman has a series of articles.

Incarnation and Childs' subtle dialectic

The dialectic is in the relationship between historical-criticism of the Bible and the Bible as witness to God. Childs explains it this way:

The Bible in its human, fully time-conditioned form, functions theologically for the church as a witness to God's divine revelation in Jesus Christ. The church confesses that in this human form, the Holy Spirit unlocks its truthful message to its hearers in the mystery of faith. This theological reading cannot be simply fused with a historical reconstruction of the biblical text, nor conversely, neither can it be separated. This is to say, the Bible's witness to the creative and salvific activity of God in time and space cannot be encompassed with the categories of historical criticism whose approach filters out this very kerygmatic dimension of God's activity. In a word, the divine and human dimensions remain inseparably intertwined, but in a highly profound, theological manner. Its ontological relation finds its closest analogy in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, truly man and truly God.
Brevard Childs, "The Canon in Recent Biblical Studies: Reflections on an Era, " Pro Ecclesia 14 (2005): 44-45.

For the perfect compliment to these reflections, see my post on The transcendence of God and human historicity.

I should add that Hyperekperissou has made some related comments in relation to a forthcoming book review on Augustine and the Psalms.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Disturbing trends in Eastern Orthodoxy?

A member of my Free Evangelical Church here in Germany was sent to Kosovo on some kind of mission with the military. He held high level talks with members of the Cathlolic and Muslim communities, and though he noted that the Catholics and Muslims get along admirably, the Catholics and Orthodox live in deep enmity with eath other. There is no communication amongst these two groups, he told us, and the Serbian Orthodox Church has offically banned contact. Christian witness to God's reconcilation is thereby deeply hindered.

A NYT article documenting Russian Orthodox persecution of Protestant denominations ("At Expense of all Others, Putin Picks a Church", if you prefer video go here) cites the following from a sermon, held on Televesion by Rev. Aleksei D. Zorin, a chief priest, and repeated every few hours:

“We deplore those who are led astray — those Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, evangelicals, Pentecostals and many others who cut Christ’s robes like bandits, who are like the soldiers who crucified Christ, who ripped apart Christ’s holy coat."
My father-in-law grew up in Russia and has maintained contact with the villiage his family were sent to by Stalin. Though he hasn't talked of offical oppression in post-Communist Russia, the local priest in his village apparently encourages youngsters to vandalize Protestant property. A new Bapist church is being set up, but they were advised against doing it in the intended spot as it is next to a kindergarten and locals would complain.

What's going on?

No doubt one has to distinguish between politics and religion, against minority groups within the church and corrupt leaders, and against fear of things culturally foreign, but I have to say I come across these kind of statements more than I would hope to in connection with Orthodoxy.

Update 1: I should add that I have come accross an interesting looking blog called Eirenikon - Towards Catholic-Orthodox Reconciliation.
Update 2: Jim West links to a news article from Forum 16 detailing the latest persecution.

Barth and Bultmann on Romans: Who's the better exegete?

In commemoration of Rudolf Bultmann's birthday, the question was posed on the Bibical Studies List as to who was a better exegete: Bultmann or his life-long antagonist Karl Barth?
The following responses represent a typical understanding of Barth's exegesis:

Barth was a horrible exegete. His Romans commentary is Paul Lite. 99% Barth, 1% Paul. Barth was a theologian much more than an exegete.
One thing about Bultmann is that he was very honest, ... . He clearly makes distinctions between what he believes as a "modern" reader of Scripture, and what the writer of the text believed. With Barth, you get his ideas and theology, and these can be brilliant, but there is often a disconnect with the text if you are looking for anything resembling exegesis.
Here's my response:

My minor point:

if theology is based on false exegesis, then how can it be brilliant?

My main point:

I'm not sure the difference between Bultmann's exegesis and Barth's is a matter of honesty or dogmatic overlay. What is at stake are two fundamentally different ways of conceiving the nature of the text and the discipline of exegesis.

Childs compares Barth's and Bultmann's exegesis of Romans 5.12ff in his chapter on “Humanity: Old and New” in his Biblical Theology (p.588ff) and concluded that whereas “Bultmann follows the usual norms of historical critical exegesis,” Barth “is not only focussing on the verbal sense of Paul's original argument,” he is seeking “to pursue Paul's witness beyond the text itself to reflect theologically on the substance (res) which called forth the witness.” (589). Though Bultmann's exegesis has the strength of staying close to the literary structure of Paul's argument, Barth went beyond what Paul was saying to the issue itself: “the substance of true humanity revealed in Jesus Christ.” Barth was fully aware of the contrast that Bultmann pointed out, but unlike Bultmann, Barth wasn't content to stay at the “literal sense” (my term). His exegesis was an exercise in Biblical Theology, which may explain why Bultmann didn't understand what Barth was doing exegetically.

To repeat: the issue has less to do with honesty or capability and more do with a conception of the nature of the text and the function of exegesis.

I should add that I think Bultmann's use of the word Sache (see my recent post on Bultmann here) parallels Childs' use of the word res. It's the goal of exegesis, except that for Bultmann the text's true subject matter was authentic existence, whereas for Childs and Barth it is God in Jesus Christ.
I have also recently posted on the relation between Bultmann, exegesis, and ideology.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Some thoughts on Bultmann's birthday

OK, it was a few days ago, as Jim has reminded us on the Biblical Studies List. Nevertheless, I belatedly share the following thoughts I jotted down while reading through Hermann Diem's most excellent Dogmatics a while ago in order to commemorate his memory, and of course be corrected by those who know infinitely better.

According to H. Diem, Bultmann's program of de-mythologization was a theological response to the challenge of historical criticism to theology. His answer to Lessing's questions of how (1) a specific historical event can have decisive significance for faith, and (2) how the historical gulf is to be overcome so that this event can affect us now, is that the two have nothing to do with each other. This then frees the historical critic to conclude what he likes about the historical reality behind the text and the theologian to construct relevant theology despite these results. How does Bultmann achieve what for the rest of Christendom was an impossibility?

He has a good hard think, reads a bunch of books, chats with his friend Heidegger and concludes that what's really bothering “modern man” is the problem of his “historicity.” It is the existential question of how I can have “meaning” in the present despite the fact that I am influenced by my past and responsible for my future. Bultmann, drawing on the hermeneutical principle of “pre-understanding,” turns to the Bible and discovers that happily there is indeed a solution to this particular problem, at least in nascent form, in Paul and John, though admittedly prepared by Jesus and the OT. That is, what really matters, what these texts really want to communicate to us, is that the grace of God allows us to be set free from our past, to existentially step outside of history, and so be able to realize ourselves.

Decisive to the validity of Bultmann's theological proposal is that this is what the NT writers themselves actually intended. Though the authors considered that the historical events were important to salvation, this was only accidental to their true motive which was existential. In the minds of these authors faith as the means of assimilating salvation was *existential* in character and as such is fundamentally separable from the assertions concerning the factuality of certain events. For us “modern men,” then, if we really want to understand the true “substance” (Sache) of the NT, need to read the texts for what they have to say about existence. Eliminating the need to believe that these events are factual actually helps us to achieve this.
What is interesting to me (if this analysis is correct) is that Heidegger's essentialist philosophy helps Bultmann to see what is there, it opens his eyes, so to speak; it helps him get to what the Bible “is really all about.” Without this broader philosophical understanding, we would be blinded by the fact that the “primitive” thought of the NT actually believed that God interacts in history. Our more developed, modern world-view would “get in the way,” and so existentialist analysis of being helps us discern what Jesus and the disciples were all about.

This approach to exegesis is bolstered theologically by the claim that it is the true meaning of “justification by faith alone.” Regardless of the correctness of this interpretation of dogma, or of Heidegger's philosophy, is it not the case that Bultmann is as dependent on his ideology for exegesis as any other human, whether secular interpreter or Southern Baptist fundamentalist?

The solution to good exegesis is not to try and “stop being ideological” but rather to develop a good, healthy ideology.
P.S. For a guy who claims to have discovered authentic existence, he certainly looks grumpy!

The intertextual reader-writer

The following is a quote taken from Beth LaNeel-Tanner's helpful The Book of Psalms through the Lens of Intertextuality (2001). It represents her own understanding of how exegesis of the Bible should proceed if one wishes to plumb its possibilities. Her phrase "reader-writer" references the fact that all our reading is also a form of metaphorical writing, as the text is brought into dialogue with our own personal history, and thus a meaning unique to us - in a sense "authored" by us - is created:

The intertextual reader-writer does not always look for a fixed meaning of a word or phrase, but for a more fluid possibility. The intertextual reader-writer is always looking for how a text refers to other "texts," sometimes as a simile, sometimes as a parody, sometimes as a presupposition. The intertextual reader-writer uses other texts to say more than is apparent in the printed text - words and even worlds hidden between the lines, and meanings are formed from a variety of spheres of reference.
At some point in the future I intend to engage these more postmodern approaches from canonical perspective.
For further pontifications on the subject, see my post A chat with my wife on the meaning of a story.
And in case you think post-modernism is about creating your own reality, see my post Postmodernists believe in object reality too!
And finally, concerning the question of the significance of authorial intentionality, I had a bash at it in my post Authorial intentionality and the final form.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Two testaments, four gospels: the hermeneutical significance of juxtaposition

I indicated in my post on the relation of the New Testament to the Old that a primary characteristic of the Christian two-testamental Bible is that these two testaments are simply juxtaposed to each other. There are no attempts to redactionally link them together, as we find in individual books such as Isaiah, or attempts to update the text of the Old Testament so that it speaks of Jesus more unambiguously (by inserting Jesus' name in Isaiah 53, for example).

In short, this juxtaposition of the two testaments is of a different order than the canonical shaping that gave us the individual books in the first place. According to Childs, this type of "canonical shaping" is comparable to the composition of the fourfold Gospel collection. Just like the two testaments, the Gospels were also simply juxtaposed without an attempt to make the individual books conform to a single redactional pattern. This has hermeneutical significance in that it is the resulting effect of the juxtaposition, rather than in a single editorial intentionality, that should guide theological interpretation. (This also demonstrates, I should point out, that canonical exegesis is commited to reckoning with various types of intentionality when dealing with the totality of Scripture.)

In contrast to the two-testamental canon, however, there is no cross-referencing within the fourfold Gospel collection amongst the individual Gospels. Each of the individual Gospels, however, makes constant and explicit reference to the Old Testament – albeit in different ways. Indeed, the use of the Old Testament plays a major role in the canonical shaping of each of the Gospels and many of the New Testament letters as well. Childs draws the following implication from this observation:

the influence of the Old Testament on the individual shaping of the Gospels belongs to the level of the New Testament’s compositional history and cannot be directly related to the formation of the Christian Bible qua collection. This means that the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament, either by direct citation or allusion, cannot provide a central category for Biblical Theology because this cross-referencing operates on a different level. There is no literary or theological warrant for assuming that the forces which shaped the New Testament can be simply extended to the level of Biblical Theology involving theological reflection on both testaments (Biblical Theology, 76).

What does Barth mean when he says that the criterion of truth is the "essential being of the church"?

Somehow this conceptuality just doesn't go into my head. How does that work? Isn't the regula veritatis (the rule of truth) the criterion of truth (as I argued in my summary of an article by B. Hägglund on the subject, especially in my post The rule of faith as the reality behind doctrine, tradition, and scripture)? Any elucidations would be appreciated.

Pornography and murder: an interview with Ted Bundy

Jacob Stein, of the blog Jewish Philosopher has posted the following interview with Ted Bundy, a serial rapist and killer, a few hours before his execution.

The issue of pornography has concerned me in other posts. I have linked to a video documentary analysing teenage porn addiction in Britain as well as an interview with an ex-porn producer turned trainee pastor.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

The relation of the New Testament to the Old

In the comments to my recent post on figural interpretation, questions were raised concerning the correct way to read the Old Testament as a Christian, especially in relation to the New Testament. Should the OT say what the NT claims it said, should we have the freedom to allegorize beyond that what the NT did say?

This is an issue that Childs wrestled with throughout his career. In my review of his theological approach (summarized here), the categorization of the biblical text as a "witness" has consistently been of fundamental significance. I've summarized Childs on this issue in my post, Canonical Process and the Text as "witness."

The choice to see the text as “witness” to something beyond itself (its substance, which for Childs is God, Christ, the regula fidei, the divine reality etc.) also plays a central role in contemplating the nature of the relationship between the two testaments. According to Childs, the juxtaposition of the two testaments to form the Christian Bible arose, not simply to establish a historical continuity between Israel and the church, but above all as an affirmation of a theological continuity. In other words, it was believed that in some way the unity of the two testaments lay in its theological referent. How exactly these two testaments were to be correlated in order to witness to this reality most fully has been a matter of debate for centuries. The two testamental nature of the Christian Bible consists of simply a juxtaposition of two entities, and this juxtaposition has led to a number of strategies by which to understand the nature of the relationship, such as the one purpose of God, the one redemptive history, the one people of God, prophecy and fulfilment, law and gospel, shadow and substance, etc. [*]

Rather than arguing for the appropriateness of this or that construal (though see my comments on prophecy and fulfilment), in my next post I will look at the theological significance of this simple juxtaposition of two testaments, which is comparable to the juxtaposition of the four gospels.

[*] See Childs' Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, 74.

Balance: a video

I'm not entirely sure what this was doing on a liturgy website, but I found it interesting nonetheless:

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Bibliography for the figural reading of scripture

This is Christopher Seitz's recommended reading, printed on p. ix of his outstanding book, Figured Out: Typology and Providence in Christian Scripture.

I've only read the article by Childs, which is exciting as ever, but I intend to work through the rest in due course. Any thoughts on the others?

J. Barr, "Allegory and Typology," in Old and New in Interpretation (Harper & Row, 1966), 103-48.
B.S. Childs, "Allegory and Typology within Biblical Interpretation" (unpublished paper delivered at the University of St Andrews, April 2000).
H. Crouzel, "The Interpretation of Scripture," in Origen (ET; T&T Clark, 1989).
R. Greer, Theodore of Mopsuestia: Exegete and Theologian (The Faith Press, 1961).
___, Broken Lights and Mended Lives (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986).
A. Louth, Discerning the Mystery (Oxford, 1983).
T.E. Pollard, "The Exegesis of Scripture and the Arian Controversy," BJRL 41 (1958-9), 414-29.
M. Simonetti, Biblical Interpretation in the Early Church (T&T Clark, 1994).
K. Torjesen, Hermeneutical Procedure and Theological Method (de Gruyter, 1986).
J.W. Trigg, Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third Century (SCM, 1985)
___, "Allegory," in Encyclodpedia of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Garland, 1998)
Frances Young, "Exegetical Method and Scriptural Proof: The Bible in Doctrinal Debate," Studia Patristica 29 (1989) 291-304.
___, "Allegory and the Ethics of Reading," in The Open Text. New Directions for Biblical Studies? (F. Watson, ed.; SPCK, 1993)
___, "Typology," in Crossing the Boundaries: Essays in Biblical Interpretation in Honour of Michael D. Goulder (S.E. Porter, P. Joyce, D.E. Orton, eds.; E.J. Brill, 1994) 29-48.
___, Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture (Cambridge University Press, 1997).

I note that R. N. Longnecker's Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (Paternoster Press, 1992) isn't on the list. I randomly bought the book at the age of 19 (?) from a Doulos ship and still haven't got round to reading it. I hear he's critical of patristic interpretation ... Is that why he's excluded from this list?

Brueggemann audio online

Chris Tilling has shared with us the impact that listening to a Brueggemann lecture on a bus one day had on his theological development. In the comments, links are provided for the Totally Unofficial Walter Brueggemann Page, a great site full of useful links (Brueggemann has even written a few blog posts in his time!). I particularly appreciate blah blah blah's making us aware of a series of online audio material held at a Presbyterian church, in which Brueggemann takes us through the major parts of the Old Testament.

I was a major Brueggemann fan for about three years, from when I read him as part of a post-modern/N.T. Wright circle in Paris to when I started reading Childs last August. There was so much that excited me about these new approaches, especially as they helped me respond to questions that arose in my cultural anthropology degree which conservative Evangelicals were not able to answer. And yet, as always, with each inch that my horizen shifted in one direction, gaps started appearing in another corner. Those gaps remained unsolved until I started seriously trying to figure out Childs, who is the first scholar I have come accross who has dealt with the issue of theological exegesis so comprehensively. I haven't figured out all the answers (of course!), but I feel a Childsian "canonical approach" is so much more substantial than Brueggemann's post-modern approach. The fact that Brueggemann has misrepresented Childs in a number of publications doesn't do much to win my sympathy (but then again, who hasn't done that concerning Childs?).

I've dealt fairly intensively with the Childs vs Brueggemann question over the past year, particularly in dialogue with Stephen, a keen Brueggemanian, and have collected my posts together here.
Update: Those interested in free online audio introductions to the Old Testament, I'd highly recommend the detailed one given by Christine Hayes at Yales University, available on iTunes. I comment on and link to it here, with an additional comment here.
Update 2: Thanks againt to becoming Peresh for another link to a sermon by Brueggemann on Isaiah and the mission of the Church. There are also a number of other sermons by, e.g., Brian McClaren and Steve Chalke (the only other names I recognise). When will I have time to listen to all this?!

Monday, 18 August 2008

Some quotes for the Valley of the Shadow of Death

A while back I went through a bit of a crisis. All the threads of my life seemed to unravel and I felt like I had been brought to the point of virtual death. I hung on for a long time, and I see now how God hung on to me. And then, in the end, a miracle of huge proportions occured. All the unravelled threads were picked up in one scoop and rearranged in their proper order. The only metaphor I can think of is childbirth. I hear the joy of the miracle of life is so great that the agony of being torn apart is totally forgotten.

It's an odd world we live in. In that time I collected the following quotes in my Facebook account that reflected my mood and situation. I figured that now I'm at a new stage in my life I need to find some new ones.

"When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul ....I have no Faith." (Mother Teresa)
"I am a child of doubt and unbelief. What terrible suffering it has cost me and still costs me, this longing to believe, which is so much the stronger in my soul as more arguments against it rise up within me. ... My 'hosanna' has passed thorugh the crucible of doubt." (F. Dostoyevski)
"Truly God is good to ... those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.... All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.... If I had said, "I will speak thus,"I would have betrayed the generation of your children.But when I thought how to understand this,it seemed to me a wearisome task,until I went into the sanctuary of God;then I discerned their end.... But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,that I may tell of all your works." (Psalm 73)
He has put eternity into man's mind, yet in such a way that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3.11)
He has showed you, O man, what is good;and what does the LORD require of youbut to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
If you would be the light, you must endure the burning (a French monk)

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Musical appropriation of the Psalms (and why I dig Gregorian chant)

In response to a post on an Australian psalmic-pop group, Esteban and Richard have called my attention to two other styles of appropriating the Psalms: Reformed Presbyterian Psalm singing

and Anglican plain song:

(Richard has also posted audio clips of Psalms 8, 90 and 100 [their source is here]).

I've been looking for ways to appropriate the Psalms in my own devotional life. They are practically non-existent, as far as the Free Churches that I know go. The one I'm at now is an exception, in that we read a Psalm about once a month.

Luckily, a Gregorian chant fanatic at the Protestant faculty here in Bonn has led a course on the subject over the past two semesters. I only had time to visit 3/4 of the first and the singing of the Divine Office to round of the second and I've since become a major fan. I'm not sure what it is, but that monotone somehow helps carry me through the endless text. I feel like I'm floating, observing the content of the Psalm from above. It's as if the "music" creates a space in which I can be alone with the Psalm. This was brought home to me as we chanted a particularly bloodthirsty psalm. On the one hand, the aesthetic of the chapel with the mellow candels, chilled atmosphere and gentle chant didn't gel well with a text about destroying our enemies and grinding their bones into dust. On the other hand, from that "chanting state," I was able to look down from above,as it were, and oberserve what was going on in a different dimension of realty.

I now do it everyday on my own and have managed to stick to it far more consistently than other projects I've tried ... so far. I find that it provides an especially healthy corrective to my otherwise intellectualized engagement with the text, which tends to rush over stuff that one normally thinks "one already understands." It also holds me back from my usual rush to extend my knowledge by reading more and more rather than reading deeper and deeper, which requires far more patience and a special disposition. Oh, and the last benefit of Gregorian chanting, it simply helps me remember the text better. I need less and less read the text and recite everything by heart, which also has the advantage that I can do it wherever I want.


Sister Macrina, Citercian nun and authoress of the blog A Vow of Conversation, has linked to her Abbey in Holland, where you can listen to the sisters chanting the divine office in Gregorian chant, a large percentage of which is psamoldy. You can even watch them on video.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Comic of the Day: The creative process

Calvin was a major role model for me in my youth. In many ways he still is.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Video lecture of Marcus Borg's Religious Pluralism: Seeing Religions Again

David Hymes of the blog Hebrew Scriptures and More ... posts an interesting looking one hour video clip of a lecture given by Marcus Borg on Christianity and religious pluralism. As usual, I'm having to add this link "to favourates," as I just don't have time to watch it right now, but it'll be fairly high on my list of what to watch when I do have time.

Most helpfully, David posts a detailed outline of the major points of the lecture in order to make it easier to follow. To save myself from stealing too much from someone else's post, I'll post the video clip here and link you to his course outline here.

I should add that I posted a short critique Christopher Seitz made of Borg here, drawing on Augustine.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

A psalmic pop-group: The Sons of Korah

I'm currently trying to get through a translation of an essay on the relationship between the German Protestant church and the establishement of the State of Israel which has to be done by tonight. Hence, the paucity of posting. Here's one I drafted before rushing off to Italy. I soon hope to get back to my "mega" thread: principles of Christian exegesis (see the summary so far here).

Richard of תהלים links to a interesting band from Australia, The Sons of Korah. Their music consists in one thing only: singing the Psalms. And I don't think worship music can get any better than that. The leader singer has a PhD in theology/philosphy and has even written a commentary to every Psalm that has appeared on their various albums.

They have a great intro to the importance of the Psalms in worship here, with an interesting bit about the story of the Korah family as a story of God's grace.

You can listen to samples of their music here. I'm delighted to see that they've covered the two Psalms that will be busying me in the near future, Psalms 15 and 24 (click the link for an audio sample). Unfortunately, they are on two separate albums, but then it is my birthday soon ...

Monday, 11 August 2008

The Passing of a Palestinian Poet: Mahmoud Darwish

Laila of Raising Yousuf and Noor informs us that the celebrated Palestinian poet passed away yesterday. I have often heard of this poet, but still haven't got round to reading his work - something I'd love to rectifiy. Lailia posts a poem, from which I recognised a line. It has been used by Edward Said as the title for an eloquent elegy (or is it a paen? I'm no good at poetry) for his beloved people, After the Last Sky. I should add that the blog Improvisations has posted an interesting review of his book Memory for Forgetfulness. And finally, related in theme, is this music video In my Heart.

The Earth is closing on us
pushing us through the last passage
and we tear off our limbs to pass through.
The Earth is squeezing us.
I wish we were its wheat
so we could die and live again.
I wish the Earth was our mother
so she'd be kind to us.

I wish we were pictures on the rocks
for our dreams to carry as mirrors.
We saw the faces of those who will throw
our children out of the window of this last space.
Our star will hang up mirrors.
Where should we go after the last frontiers?
Where should the birds fly after the last sky?
Where should the plants sleep after the last breath of air?
We will write our names with scarlet steam.
We will cut off the hand of the song to be finished by our flesh.
We will die here, here in the last passage.
Here and here our blood will plant its olive tree.

- Mahmoud Darwish

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Jewish and Christian appropriation of the Law of Moses

A friend wrote me an e-mail today with a question on the differences between Jewish and Christian appropriations of the Law of Moses. As anyone mildly acquainted with this blog will know, I can't do anything other than think in Childsian categories, so I post the spontaneous answer I wrote with the hope that if I'm wrong some kind soul on the Internet will point this out:

This is a complex area, Jewish and Christian hermeneutics. I think B.S. Childs had the best insights, but his views are hard to understand and not particularly systematically worked out in one place (they presume a knowledge of other works, such as Barth and Hägglund, which I'm still trying to get through). His point is that regardless of the hermeneutic we use to interpret the Bible, it is always undergirded by a specific theology. Christianity inherited the Old Testament as Holy Scripture, just like the Jews, but how it functioned within the community was different. This is seen in the fact that for Jews midrash was the primary mode for appropriating Scripture, whereas for Christians it was allegory. For the Jews, with their focus on Torah as the centre of Scripture, there was a strong emphasis on making the various parts fit into an interconnected whole which could then be put into practice. The boundaries of the canon, the order of the books, the language of the text, where all firmly fixed so that the text could be "applied" as strictly as possible. The church however, confessed that the centre of Scripture is Christ. The text was seen to point beyond itself to another reality, which was not necessarily to be identified with the literal meaning of the text but which as the same time could only be accessed via it. Hence the development of "allegory" as a means of moving beyond the literal and on to the spiritual sense.
This has implications for how the church appropriates the law. Along with the rest of Scripture, it can't be taken literally - read "legalistically," - as to do so runs the danger of missing the real point. The law is connected with God's eschatological will for His people and makes ultimate sense within that framework. Reading it in the light of Christ, then, provides the church with the angle of reading that can open up what the text "is really all about," what its true kerygmatic function is within the overall economy of God.
This doesn't give you a concrete answer, but I think it shows a starting point. I think the hermeneutical implication is that for the Christian the narrative framework relativizes the legal content by placing it within its utlimate eschatological framework (e.g. Genesis 12.1-3). I don't know how a Jew relates law and narrative in this sense. A great way of seeing these two different theological hermeneutics at work is to look at the history of interpretation. Childs' 1974 commentary on Exodus does this helpfully. I strongly recommend you get hold of it and read the section on the Ten Commandments. He outlines the history of thought and looks for general trends, differences and similarities between the two traditions.

Why Brian Welch left Korn

The fate of Israeli Hebrew ...

The New York Times has published an interesting article looking at the development of modern Hebrew. It seems that some are concerned about the future of the language. Here are some excerpts:

The revival of Hebrew "is often hailed as one of the greatest feats of the Zionist enterprise; today Hebrew is the first language of millions of Israelis, a loquacious and literary nation that is said to publish an average of 5,500 books a year.
But in a country where self-doubt and insecurity run deep, even a linguistic triumph can be a cause for concern. After such a meteoric comeback, some worry that the common language may already be in decline, popularized to the point where many Israelis can no longer cope with the rich complexities of traditional Hebrew prose.
There is the creeping foreign influence, as urban sophisticates pepper their Hebrew speech with accented English affectations like “please,” “sorry” and “whatever,” along with a noticeable loss of nuance and relative paucity of vocabulary in regular use.
But he [Rosenthal, a popular Hebrew guru] and other Hebrew watchers point to a potentially more disturbing trend: living Hebrew has moved at a fast pace, and in the process, it has become increasingly estranged from its loftier ancient form.
“We used to understand the biblical language better, and our language was closer to it,” said Ronit Gadish, academic secretary of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, the state’s supreme guardian of the national tongue. “Now, what can we do to keep up the continuity?”
After reviewing the historical development of the language, the author's conclusion is particularly interesting:

Mr. Birnbaum, like most of the experts, views what is apparently the deterioration of Hebrew as a natural process, if it can be considered degeneration at all. The reality, they say, is not as bad as it sounds. Rather, the anxiety may stem less from the state of Hebrew and more from the Israeli state of mind.
“It comes from a lack of security,” said Mr. Rosenthal, who was born in 1948 and explained the linguistic qualms as part of the collective summing up of the past 60 years. “The state of Israel has no confidence in its continued existence.”
The language may have moved on since the days of the prophets, but perhaps the sense of doom has not.