Monday, 22 December 2008

Call for Papers: Genesis and Christian Theology

I doubt I'll be there, unfortunately, but it looks interesting!

Call for Papers: Genesis and Christian Theology

14-18 July 2009

St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews

The University of St Andrews is pleased to announce its third conference on Scripture and Christian Theology. Since the first conference on the Gospel of John in 2003, the St Andrews conferences have been recognized as one of the most important occasions when biblical scholars and systematic theologians are brought together in conversation about a biblical text. The conferences aim to cut through the megaphone diplomacy or the sheer incomprehension that so often marks attempts to communicate across our disciplines. We invite you then to join us and some of the best theological and biblical minds in careful and often lively interaction about one of the most theologically generative of biblical books: the book of Genesis.

We are now calling for papers that integrate close readings of Genesis with Christian theology. While we are particularly interested in explorations of the dynamic relationship between Genesis and Christian doctrine, we also welcome proposals that combine careful reading of the text of Genesis with theological attention to art, creativity, ecology, ethics, the history of interpretation, or Jewish and Christian dialogue.

The call for paper proposals closes on 15 March 2009. Please visit our website for further details or to submit a proposal:

Saturday, 20 December 2008

A dialogue on Childs

It's not often that I get an dialogue partner who understands Childs' work as well as Brad of bradandgeo. He recently wrote an interesting critique of certain points in my post Some critiques of Childs (in that place made by another competant reader of Childs, John Lyons of Reception of the Bible). I've taken time to respond, and think the exchange is worth its own post. But do read Brad's entire post in the comments section here!

His comments are in italics, my response below:

it ... seems that his exegesis never quite lives up to what is expected based on his methodological work.

I totally agree with you, and I think he knew that himself. He was a pioneer, cautiously, very cautiously, trying to spy out the promised land from the wilderness, not wanting to forget all the lessons that have been learnt along the way. To that end, I think his exegesis often has the feeling of one pushing forward in a direction, yearning to get there, but not wanting to betray the route that is set out for us. He kind of says this in the intro to his book Struggle:

I have recently finished a technical, modern commentary on the book of Isaiah. The task of treating the entire book of sixty-six chapters was enormous, but in addition, the commentary had necessitated restricting the scope of the exposition. That entailed omitting the history of interpretation and relegating many important hermeneutical problems to the periphery of the exegesis. After the commentary had been completed, I was painfully aware that many of the central theological and hermeneutical questions in which I was most interested had not been adequately addressed” (emaphsis mine).
The scope of Isaiah is one reason why he couldn't go as deep as in Exodus (both commentaries are roughly the same size), but as I said: I think he was incredibly cautious and wanted to restrain himself from “rushing to the referent.” My doctoral thesis is an attempt to do what you are looking for (and which Childs himself has done in a haphazard manner), and make the move from text to referent and back again (on Psalm 24).

[rather than recommend his Isaiah commentary, I think it is better] to see what he does with exodus

Agreed, this is the best model for a commentary and it is the one I will follow.

Concerning the Isaiah commentary, I agree with you that he focusses a lot more on the text than the substance, but I think for various legitimate reasons. One is the reason of caution given above; another belongs to the genre of "commentary." Though I think Childs would ultimately like to get to the allegorical intensity of Luther or Augustine, he wants to do it through intensive exegesis, and it is the role of a commentary to prioritise the literal rather than the spiritual sense. And I would call his redactional analyses “throat clearing” only in the positive sense of the phrase … Close analysis of the text always precedes talk of its substance, at least in a commentary. There are places where his diachronic analysis has direct repercussions on his perception of the substance. See his critique of certain redaction-critical trends in Isaiah studies on p. 462:

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 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.
It's these kinds of nuanced insights and his constant straining to hold everything in correct proportion, always in light of the text's res (which figures more, I think, than in Exodus), which makes his commentary so exciting for me. But it certainly isn't a commentary to end all commentaries. It's a call to persevere on a journey in a certain direction!

This [focus on redactional issues] was frustrating, not least because at that stage in his career you would think we could have taken some of those arguments as read.

My impression is that his balancing act between diachrony (Westermann) and synchrony (Beuken) was quite unique, and so by no means read. Perhaps I've not read enough other commentaries …

i know he says we need to take the compositional history seriously alongside of the canonical shape, but he also states that those issues will only take you so far. so why give them so much space?

I asked myself this. I had the feeling it was more like light shining through the cracks then standing in front of a text turned transparency to the divine (a metaphor he used for Barth's exegesis). But then I think the reasons I gave above account for this, along with his comments in Struggle

what sets this commentary apart from other offerings on isaiah?

I think I've answered this: his straining to keep balance and proportionality in light of the text's subject matter, given its genre as canonical scripture.

if, as you claim, childs's exegesis is consistently misread and not adequately understood, how so?

Not his exegesis. In fact that's the remarkable thing, I'm not sure his exegesis is read that much at all. Otherwise, people wouldn't make the comments they do about him advocating a hermetically sealed, self-referential canon (e.g. Barr). When they do, they usually act bemused and call him schizophrenic because they can't see how theory and practice fit together.

his volume on the history of interpretation i thought was much better, and actually dealt with more of the substantive issues of understanding and reading isaiah than the commentary did.

Well, again, I think it belongs to the genre of such a book that the move to the referent is easier, especially when the bulk of exegesis was ecclesial. See his comments in the intro to Exodus! Ideally things wouldn't be so divided, but that's the way things are.

it seems to me a bit of a double standard to say that childs's work was not a method, was not methodologically programmatic for others, but then for childs (and some of his followers) to be constantly upset at what passes for 'canonical' interpretation.

I'm not sure I get your point here. Why can't people's approach be critiqued too? For example, regardless of the soundness of G. Steins' philosophical theories concerning Bakhtinian intertextuality and their applicability to interpretation, Childs still critiqued his proposal and exegesis for not taking into account the theological nature of Christian-scriptural referentiality (i.e. allegorical and not midrashic). I'm not sure allegory is a method … it's a stance within a community guided by a rule of truth (regula veritatis).

if what he wanted to do was, as you say, 'articulate the hermeneutical implications of a certain stance vis-à-vis the text', it seems to leave the door quite open regarding what the use of those 'hermeneutical implications' might look like.

The door swings on a hinge, but there is still a hinge on which it turns, and so there is room for diversity (Childs appreciated an extraordinarily diverse range of interpreters, ranging from Augustine to von Rad!) as well as critique (again, applied by Childs to a diverse ranger of interpreters).

Friday, 19 December 2008

Jüngel on Psalm 24

This post represents my summary of the logical content of an early Advent sermon on Psalm 24:7-10, preached by Eberhard Jüngel (in Predigten, 1965). I have my critiques. I think his overly existentialist inerpretation of the substance of Scripture biases his appropriation of the Psalm for his congregation. But feel free to give me your thoughts:

The text allocated to Jüngel to preach on is not the whole Psalm, rather it is only its third and final strophe. He thus takes its content as the starting point for the sermon. He is aware, however, of the Psalm as a literary unity and so brings in the first two strophes as they bear on the message of the third.

His logic seems to go through four stages, each dealing with the concept of “gates” and “God” alternately, moving in the following order: gate, God, gate, God.

Gate 1: He opens with thoughts on the nature of gates in general: they serve both to guarantee and to deny access to a place beyond them. In particular, when the world beyond the gate and the world in front of it clash, then the gate remains closed. It functions as a barrier and not an entrance.

In our text we also have two “worlds” that are about to meet each other, separated for now by a gate. Their identity is supplied by two types of “inter-textual” connections. No doubt drawing on key words in strophe 2 (hill of the Lord/holy place), as well as critical scholarship,1 Jüngel concludes that, in one sense, the world beyond the gate is the interior of the temple. He does, however, think that this designates the true referent of the text. Drawing on the logic of Biblical theology, he believes that the interior of the temple represents the created order. This is a nuance it gains when it is seen elsewhere in the Bible as the centre of the cosmos, a resonance that seems to be affirmed by the creation theology of strophe 1. In conclusion, the gate provides access to the world of humanity.

God 1: The identity of the person in front of the gate is provided by the immediate context of the strophe: it is “the Lord of hosts.” This immediate identification, however, does not immediately speak to Jüngel's “the clash of two worlds” scheme, so he turns to strophe 1, which identifies Yhwh as creator of the cosmos. As such, the one desiring entrance into the world is its own creator.

This creates an odd, “spectral,” scenario: the Lord wishes to enter a temple devoid of his presence, a Godless world. If he stays outside, the world will remain like a “spectre,” devoid of its true life. What ever metaphysical questions this dichotomy may raise, however, are ignored by the Psalm, whose focus is thoroughly theocentric. What matters is what is going on in front of the temple.

Strophe 3 depicts quite a fanfare, as a mighty warrior demands entrance. Jüngel relativises this, however, by reading it in the light of strophe 2. God isn't the only one desiring access, humanity desires this too. Their means of access is a moral lifestyle. Jüngel believes that the direct juxtaposition of the two strophes leads to the conclusion that the Lord's means of access parallels that of humanity (“Auf dem Weg der Menschen zum Heiligtum kommt Gott daher”). He too must wait outside, before the doors are opened from the inside. Jüngel even goes as far as to say that he submits himself to the rules of humanity, standing to justify himself at the door. In short, the fighter comes, but he doesn't fight.

Gate 2: Jüngel then attempts to “get to the heart of the matter.” He returns to his pontifications about the function of gates. Working on the assumption that it is the function of the gate that is the key to its true significance, Jüngel seeks out similar barriers or entrances that function as metaphorical gates. He concludes with the gate of the human heart, which is, in some sense, the “ultimate” gate (“Auch an diese Tür und an sie vor allem klopft der Adventspsalm”). In terms of relationships, we can open ourselves up and be transformed by someone else, or bar them from access. This is our decision. The gates of the temple, then, which are the gates to the created order, become the gates of our hearts. Jüngel even draws allegorical significance from the command that the gates be “lifted up”: “Wer sich Gott öffnet … der muß sich ihm ganz aufschließen.

God 2: Having identified the true temple, Jüngel returns to the person desiring access. He is not only the Creator of the Universe who has come along the path of his own creation, he is a mighty warrior, the Lord of Hosts. Jüngel draws two conclusions from this, one for each appellation. Interpreted in the light of an anthropomorphised temple, Jüngel considers the paradox that this warrior does not fight his way into our lives. He waits for us to accept him. If this is done, he can be a warrior for us rather than against us. Finally, this warrior leads not an earthly army, but a heavenly host. Granting access into our lives of this heavenly leader permits us to participate in his divine life.

Given that Jüngel's theological hermeneutic requires the exegete/preacher to so interpret the text that he is "left alone with it," what do you think? Is this a faithful exposition?

Quote of the day: Küng on heresy

"Eine polemisch definierte Wahrheit ... grenzt in besonderer Weise an Irrtum", so daß nicht ohne Grund "die wahre Verurteilung des Irrtums dem anderen als falsche Verurteilung der Wahrheit" erscheint"
Quoted in Jüngel, "Thesen," 284.

Das Urereignis aller Häresien

1.44 Das Urereignis aller Häresien ist diejenige Gestalt des Aberglaubens, die den Glauben an Jesus Christus als "das eine Wort Gottes, das wir zu hören, dem wir im Leben und im Sterben zu vertrauen und zu gehorchen haben", unmöglich macht, in dem sie "außer und neben diesem einen Wort Gottes auch noch andere Ereignisse und Mächte, Gestalten und Wahrheiten als gottes Offenbarung anerkennt".

1.441 Häresien sind Versuche, den Glauben illegitim zu bereichern.


1.45 Die Ursache aller Häresien ist die Unfähigkeit (Unlust), Gott in Jesus Christus ausreden zu lassen.

1.451 Der Unfähigkeit, gott in Jesus Christus ausreden zu lassen, entspricht der Zwang (die Lust), Gott ins Wort zu fallen.


1.4621 Häresien sind heillos.


1.474 Die bloße Rezitation des Bekenntnisses zu Jesus Christus bewahrt die Theologie nicht davor, häretisch zu werden, sondern macht sie erst recht häretisch. Bl0ß rezitierte Bekenntnisse sind christologischer Aberglaube.

From E. Jüngel, Thesen zu Grundlegung der Christologie, 283-284; in the awesomely named Unterwegs zur Sache (Chr. Kaiser Verlag: München, 1972).

Monday, 15 December 2008

Why don't we write "Biblical"?

I recently posted the following question to the Biblical Studies List:

What explains the growing tendency to spell the adjective Biblical with a small "b"? "Bible" is a proper noun isn't it? Only the Germans don't capitalize their adjectives.
I got the following answer:

You'll find that most publishers' instructions to authors require l.c. for all adjectives. Thus also deuteronomic rather than Deuteronomic. I think the only exceptions are adjectives derived from personal names, such as Josianic, Isaianic.
Here's my response:

This is interesting as there is no reason given here. According to English grammar adjectives are capitalized if they refer to Proper nouns, e.g. "English," "Bultmannian," "Jewish." The question is, is the "Bible" a proper noun? Here's a definition of proper noun:

A proper noun has two distinctive features: 1) it will name a specific [usually a one-of-a-kind] item, and 2) it will begin with a capital letter no matter where it occurs in a sentence.
The SBL handbook of style spells it with a capital: Bible. Not only that, it's logic on the rules of capitalization can only mean that Bible is a proper noun:

4.4.5. In general, a word or phrase used as a title of the whole or a specific part of the Bible is capitalized; the name of a genre is not capitalized. Thus any ancient and modern designation for the Bible, a book of the Bible, a division of the biblical canon (e.g., Pentateuch), or a discrete section of a biblical book (e.g., Primeval History) may be a proper noun and so capitalized.
What is the Bible (not bible) if not "a word ... used as a title of the whole"?

Here's an instructive example, again taken from SBL:

Psalms of Ascent is the name of a discrete subsection of the book of Psalms, but psalms of ascent is a genre of psalms like royal psalms.
In Biblical studies, the term "Bible" is not used to refer to a genre but to a particular collection of books. When we say "Bible" we know what it means without having to qualify it. The only context in which it is no longer a proper noun would be where it is just a genre designation, e.g. "The Silver Spoon is the bible of Italian cooking."

Writing "biblical" just feels ... I don't know ... disrespectful. Would you feel comfortable writing "bultmannian"? It somehow dissolves his identity into some larger category of phenomena.

Update: I'm delighted to see that I'm not the only one who thinks about such things. Kevi Edgecomb of biblicalia posted a related complaint three years ago in biblical or Biblical? He points out the logical inconsistency of the Chicago Manuel of Style, the role model for the SBL Handbook of Style.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Wellhausen's resignation

In his own words:

I became a theologian because the scientific treatment of the Bible interested me; only gradually did I come to understand that a professor of theology also has the practical task of preparing the students for service in the Protestant Church, and that I am not adequate to this practical task, but that instead despite all caution on my own part I make my hearers unfit for their office. Since then my theological professorship has been weighing heavily on my conscience.
For details (this quote is taken from a James Kugel speech), see Menahem Mendel.

I wonder if this has anything to do with the following quote from that genius, Paul Minear:

it is increasingly difficult for the historian, within the domain of conventional historiography, to deal with texts that claim to embody God's address to mortals. on the one hand, the Bible presents us with stories of God's eternal power working in, with, through, under, and beyond temporal events. On the other hand, historical methodology suggests that these stories are best dealt with if that power were not present. This methodology is weighted in the direction of a historicism that A.E. Loen has described in these terms: "Historical reality is complete in itself and God as a transcendent reality must be bracketed out" (in The Bible and the Historian, 38).

Friday, 12 December 2008

Some critiques of Childs

The following critiques of Brevard Childs' work were recently made in a comment on this blog. They are brief and elliptical. Nevertheless, I thought it would be a good opportunity to clarify my thoughts further. Here they are, critique in italics and my (spontaneous) response beneath:

His weaknesses primarily lie ...

... in his reformed theology (with its questionable assumption that its God is clearly good!)

I'm really not sure how Reformed Childs was. I'd like to know how ... He certainly was a great fan of Barth and Calvin, but his basic theological approach to Scripture was often very open to non-Protestant approaches, especially later in his career with his turn to allegory. He talked of the need to keep Word and Tradition in healthy tension, the need to take into account the dogmatic tradition of the church, the subordination of text to substance etc. He was inspired by Orthodox theologian Andrew Louth and said things that sound similar to recent statements by the current Pope.

As for the idea that God is always good, I would have thought that that is a basic tenet of Biblical and Christian faith …

... in his tendency to over-state his case at some points (e.g. in connection with Sanders)

I'm not sure what this means.

... in his failure to provide really convincing examples of canonical exegesis

That depends what “canonical exegesis” is. Childs' approach is consistently misunderstood, so that critiques of his work tend to measure him according to a standard he himself never set up. Some call him too synchronic, others too diachronic (e.g. Rendtorff). Childs has always said the key lies in maintaining the tension, keeping a proper sense of proportion, most significantly in relation to the text's theological subject matter (its res). In fact, Childs was so disturbed by what was passing for “canonical interpretation” that in his Isaiah commentary he tried to refrain from using the term altogether. Richard Schultz's article for the PTR (available online here) points out how diverse the term is just amongst Evangelicals. So again, what is the “canonical approach," and what are the criteria for evaluating Childs' work? his over-reliance on historical criticism in a piecemeal and non-systematic way

This comment is really interesting, especially as it relates to the former critique. A Childsian "canonical approach” is predicated on a historical-critical assumption and a commitment to the historical intentionality of Prophetic and Apostolic witnesses. This is his starting point, as I have argued in a recent paper I submitted to IJST. Once that is accepted, working out how he bridges the gap to “synchronic” interpretation is very interesting … but it doesn't have much to do with theories of speech, intertextuality, or reader-response. Something more like a commitment to ontology and the power of the Spirit. That, in my opinion, is the stance from which a critique of his use of historical-criticism needs to be made.

... in his failure to provide a detailed blueprint as to how others should follow him in his work.

This complaint has often been made (most recently by Georg Steins, in his own attempt at a kanonisch-intertextuelle Lektüre, see my critique here). I think the problem with this critique is that Childs never set out to develop a “method.” Rather, he wanted to articulate the hermeneutical implications of a certain stance vis-à-vis the text, which means taking into account his whole historical-critical, philosophical and most of all dogmatic assumptions. That is the reality out of which the canonical approach lives and breathes and has its being. The canonical approach is an approach and not a method.

I wonder if many of the problems we have with him are simply that we are either not reformed enough or that we are not theologically capable enough.

I think so. This emphasises the holistic dimension to Childs' work. See his statement of the significance of von Rad.

I'm more than happy to be corrected on any of these points!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The real context of Scripture

Yesterday I posted on the true ecosystem within which each Biblical pericope finds its place. This quote, one of my favourites, talks of the true context of the of the Bible as a whole, according to ancient Christian understanding:

... classical scriptural interpretation proceeded from a rich and complex sense of Scripture's place and role within the economy of salvation; Scripture functions as a quasi-sacramental instrument of the Holy Spirit, through which the Spirit makes known the mystery of Christ in order to form the church as a sign of his messianic dominion. The church's knowledge of Scripture as inspired has therefore interpretive consequences; it calls for a specific art, or perhaps a concatenation of arts, of faithful reading, exposition, and application by which Christ is glorified and the church built up in its distinctive life and mission.
D.G. Yeago, “The Spirit, the Church, and the Scriptures: Biblical Interpretation and Interpretation Revisited,” in Knowing the Triune God: The Work of the Spirit in the Practices of the Church (ed. J.J. Buckley and D.S. Yeago; Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmanns, 2001) 49-93; here, 51; cited in Stephen Chapman, “Reclaiming Inspiration for the Bible,” 193

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Nature photography and canonical exegesis

I seem to be able to pick up the implications of canonical exegesis everywhere I look. One of the best places for inspiration is Phaidon's The Photo Book (for other photographic Anstöße go here). The comment on the photo above reveals an interesting insight into the beneficial function of nature photography as a remedy for the human drive to objectify and possess. I think Childs' canonical approach to Scripture has a similar function within the field of biblical scholarship:

Photography, of the kind practised to perfection by Lanting, both represents and realizes nature's objects in a way which answers to and deflects our need to possess. Thus, having seen these wary birds eating their way through a drying river bank, it will be hard to imagine them as having an independent existence away from their habitat. Lanting's idea, as stated in National Geographic, where his work often appears, is: 'To turn wild creatures into ambassadors for whole ecosystems.'
I like this idea of nature photography answering to and deflecting our needs. In a similar way, when we read the Bible, we notice its foreignness and particularity. We have a need to grasp this, to make it our own by philolgical, literary, and historical analysis. This is OK; it's part of the text. But when we start grappling with this dimension, we see that the text ultimately points away from itself. The particularity of each pericope wants to draw our attention to a larger, unified reality which undergirds the whole.

This is the function of canon. No one text stands on its own, but rather dialogues with other texts in an attempt to give voice to their common source. When we catch a vision of the theological whole - the ontological unity of Scripture - it's hard to imagine each pericope (or redactional strand, or source, or gloss etc.) having an independent existence away from their literary habitat. Each work of canonical interpretation functions as an ambassdor, reminding us that the true ecosystem of the part is the canonical whole.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Todestag Karl Barths

Danke an Jim West, für die Hinweisung. Jim weist uns auf einen Artikel von dem Sonntagsblatt Bayern hin. Hier sind meine zwei lieblingszitate: Karl Barth seufzte:

»Im Grunde ist meine ganze Theologie eine Theo­logie für Pfarrer.«
An einer anderen Stelle, heißt es, dass er Folgendes gefragt wurde:
»Herr Professor, werden wir droben unsere Lieben wiedersehen?«
Seine Antwort:

»Ja, aber die anderen auch.«

For a decent tribute along with another great Barth quote, this time admonishing us to listen to the Church Fathers, check out David Guretzki's comments at Theommetry.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Zitat des Tages: Kunst feiert

"Kunst feiert. Kunst entgrenzt und öffnet Türen zu einem Überfluß von Gedanken und Gefühl. Kunst ist eine Schwester des Festes. Ein Glaube ohne Feste steht im Verdacht, der Gnade nicht zu glauben. Ein Beschenkter kann seine Arbeit ruhen lassen und feiern. Kunst-Pausen, Oasen, Stationen auf dem Weg zu dem einen großen Fest."

Oliver Kohler

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Reading Neusner (or at least wanting to)

Kevin Edgecomb of Biblicalia , in response to my claim to want to read everything by Neusner, has kindly shared some of his wisdom on how best to approach this prolific scholar. I thought the information would be of general interest so I'm posting them here, along with my response (in which, as always, I manage to work in a reference to Childs).


I'd recommend starting with his Introduction to Rabbinic Literature, which is part of the Anchor Bible Reference Library (or, now, the Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library). But I would also have to recommend the book I've been going through, The Theology of the Oral Torah: Revealing the Justice of God. I think it would be a very helpful thing to read in order to experience a kind of selective immersion into the literature guided by someone so very familiar with it. For information on structure, dates, and so on of the Rabbinic literature, you simply have to have Guenter Stemberger's Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (the English translation by Markus Bockmuehl is slightly updated since Stemberger's last German edition, as I recall).

Christian scholars simply don't get the in-depth exposure to the Rabbinic literature that they should have. Just look at the various ways so many (ab)use the word midrash as an example. Christian interaction with the Rabbinic literature, the documents of the Oral Torah, seems always to have been according to a Christian agenda, disallowing the documents to speak for themselves, often at best serving as simply a mine for interesting tidbits stripped of context, used in Christian historical or exegetical programs. The Oral Torah must be understood on its own terms, root and branch, and only then can a fruitful comparison begin to be attempted. This is a project only now in its beginnings.


you are a legend. Thank you so much! I agree with you on the issue of midrash. Brevard Childs (the hero of this blog) shared a flat with him for a while when they were both students and I think Neusner had a big impact on him, even though they were to later challenge each other on the significance of "canon." Childs has often critiqued the way that midrash has been indiscriminately used in Old Testament studies (esp. in his articles "Midrash in the OT" and "Retrospective reading of OT prophets").
Jacob Neusner has contacted me and kindly given me the following advice:
If you want to know the books of mine that I most value, I would say JUDAISM: THE EVIDENCE OF THE MISHNAH, THE TRANSFORMATION OF JIUDAISM: FROM PHILOSOPHY TO RELIGION; and THEOLOGY OF THE ORAL TORAH. These cover my work in literature, history, and theology.

Friday, 5 December 2008

What is wrong with England?

I often get the urge to post on the disastrous turn English culture has taken over the last few years, but I often lack the time to create a post adequate to the subject matter. The same applies today, alas, so I will just post some thoughts and an article from the BCC News that is, tragically, typical (if somewhat extreme).

In England they're called "lager louts," young men and women who go out on the town and drink themselves into a stupor. In my small town of Taunton, Somerset, you can barely walk through the streets after 10 p.m. on a Saturday night without being accosted by gangs of leering youth, shouting, fighting, puking, and "pulling" whatever skirt they can get their hands on. It's gotten so dangerous that people I know no longer trust themselves to walk through town on their own. I left a long time ago, but when I was at school I got "started on" a number of times for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I recently had a visit from the States. I wanted to show them a bit British culture, so we went out on the town and even I was shocked by the depths to which we have sunk. Every single pub turns into a disco, in which half naked women dance in ways reminiscent of a strip club. In the street were gangs of girls going about shouting to gangs of blokes. One walked into the middle of the street and pulled up her skirt to greet a passing fire engine. The driver whistled and a youth yelled "you fucking slut." They loved it.

Am I being a prude? German media has regular articles on contemporary British culture. Here's one, translated as "Drunk, fat, and addicted to Television." The worst thing is, their information is taken from the latest Lonely Planet Guide. We are, apparently, addicted to celebrity TV, Internet porn, and alco-pops. I'll spare the statistics.

This is one of the reasons why I'm far happier living in Germany than England.

In any case, what inspired this mild rant is the latest news on the BBC: Farm Students in Village Rampage. Here are the details:

Students from the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester were forced to pay a Cotswold village £6,000 damages after going on a drunken rampage.
Sharyn O'Flynn from the Black Horse said: "They ruined our village, they raped our village.
"They trashed the fence, smashed it down, they turned the picnic benches upside down.
"We lost about 120 glasses, they threw them, the whole of the lawn is covered in shards of glass.
"They broke furniture, they urinated against the bar, they stole bottles of port, vodka, everything that wasn't fixed down, they ripped off and took with them.

"They trashed the village, they stole paint and poured it across the village."

I'll be back in Taunton this Christmas, this time with a couple of German friends on their first ever visit. Let's hope the Brits do me proud!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Symbolism and prophetic referentiality

Here is Brevard Childs' final example of the way in which prophetic oracles, spoken in time and space to a particular audience for particular reasons, have been rendered as Sacred Scripture for future generations of the faithful. The rest are collected in my post, Canonical Shaping of the Prophets.

8 ) Prophetic symbolism has been given a radical new eschatological interpretation by shifting the referent within the original oracles. Scholars have long recognized that the visions in Zechariah 1-6 appear once to have functioned independently of each other and to have been addressed to particular historical situations both preceding and following the return from the exile (cf. Galling). But the tension between the original visions and their present framework points to an intentional theological shaping. The prophetic visions of Zechariah are now set in the second year of Darius, that is to say, some twenty years after the return from Babylon. The deliverance from the exile now lies in the past. Although the traditional language of the second exodus from slavery has been retained, it has been given a new reference. The language of hope now points to a still future event in which Israel's redemption lies. The original focus has been eschatologized and projected once more into the future. The community of faith which lives after the return still anticipates the future in the language of the past. Israel will still "flee from the land of the north," "escape to Zion," and God will dwell in her midst ( Zech 3 : 6ff. ).

The Book of Joel offers another example of a radical eschatologizing of an original oracle (Joel 1—2) which had only faintly adumbrated the full mension of the End in the locust plague, but Israel learned to understand it as the prelude to the Day of Yahweh when God would hold the final assize (Joel 3).

To summarize, these examples of canonical shaping of the prophetic literature in the history of ordering Israel's tradition as Scripture do not begin to exhaust the richness of Old Testament interpretation, but at least they give a hint of the creative dimension involved in the collecting process.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Quote of the day: Proof of the inspiration of the Bible

... in the last resort, the proof of the inspiration of the Bible—not, indeed, in every particular, but in its essential message—is to be found in the life-giving effects which that message has produced, wherever its word of truth has gone. This is the truth in the argument for inspiration based on the witness of the Holy Spirit. The Bible has the qualities claimed for it as an inspired book ... It leads to God and Christ; it gives light on the deepest problems of life, death, and eternity; it discovers the way of deliverance from sin; it makes men new creatures; it furnishes the man of God completely for every good work. That it possesses these qualities history and experience through all the centuries have attested.
J. Orr, Revelation and Inspiration, 217-218; cited in Stephen Chapman, “Reclaiming Inspiration for the Bible,” 198.

Minimalism-Maximalism: a typology of scholars

Dr. Claude Mariottini has posted a helpful classifcation of scholars in this field according to their degree of minimalism or maximilism. If I ever get round to reading on this subject this system may prove a helpful orientating point. So, thank you Dr. CM for making the effort!

The Ultra-Conservative Approach

Kitchen, K. A., On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans,

Hoffmeier, J. K., and Millard, A., eds., The Future of Biblical Archaeology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004.

The Conservative Approach

Aharoni, Y., The Land of the Bible: A Historical Geography. Trans. A. F. Rainey. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979.

Mazar, B., The Early Biblical Period: Historical Studies. Jerusalem: The Israel Exploration Society, 1986.

Mazar, B., ed., The Patriarchs. Volume II of The World History of the Jewish People. Jerusalem: Masada Press, 1971.

Mazar, B., ed., The Judges. Volume III of The World History of the Jewish People. Jerusalem: Masada Press, 1971.

Malamat, A., ed., The Age of the Monarchies. Volume IV of The World History of the Jewish People. Jerusalem: Masada Press, 1979.

Malamat, A., History of Biblical Israel: Major Problems and Minor Issues. Leiden: Brill, 2001.

Rainey, E. and Notley, R. S., The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World. Jerusalem: Carta, 2006.

Dever, W. G., What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?: What Archaeology and the Bible Can Tell Us about Ancient Israel. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001.

Shanks, H. ed., Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple. 2nd rev. ed. Washington: Biblical Archaeology Society; 1999.

The Moderate-Critical Approach

Ahlström, G., The History of Ancient Palestine from the Palaeolithic Period to Alexander's Conquest. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. Supplement 146. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993.

Finkelstein, I., and Silberman, N. A., The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. New York Free Press, 2001.

Liverani, M., Israel’s History and the History of Israel. London: Equinox, 2005.

Miller, J. M., and Hayes, J. H., A History of Ancient Israel and Judah. Second revised edition. Louisville., Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2006.

Na’aman, N. Ancient Israel’s History and Historiography. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2006.

The Revisionist Approach

Davies, P. R., In Search of “Ancient Israel.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. Supplement 148. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992.

Garbini, G., Myth and History in the Bible. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. Supplement 362. London: Sheffield Academic, 2003.

Lemche, N. P., The Israelites in History and Tradition. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.

Thompson, T. L., The Bible in History: How Writers Create a Past. London: J.Cape, 1999.

Update: Jin Yang Kim of Old Testament Story has a helpful outline of theories concerning the emergence of Israel.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

What are B.S. Childs' weaknesses?

This is the question I was recently asked by John Lyons of Reception of the Bible. Here's a provisional answer.

Childs is simultaneously the most stimulating and most frustrating Biblical scholar to read, especially when one first discovers him. The fact that, in my opinion, he is one of the most misunderstood scholars is not surprising, given both the content and the context of his work (he's often been associated with the wrong intellectual currents, e.g. French post-structuralism). I first started reading him properly about two years ago, with the intention of starting with the “grandfather” of “theological exegesis,” before moving on to more contemporary thinkers. I soon discovered that one cannot “just start” with Childs and then put him to the side. His thinking and influences are so comprehensive (umfassend), that you really need to read the whole before you can start appreciating the parts. In that sense, reading Childs' “canonical corpus” requires a similar hermeneutical stance to the one he proposes for the Bible! His later work provides an invaluable perspective by which to correlate everything which has gone before and, in my opinion, Karl Barth's approach to Scripture as “witness” provides the golden thread. One finds echoes of his earliest thoughts from the Sixties in his final publications, and when one pieces them together one can avoid the odd psychological theories that have been devised by his critics in order to make sense of a proposal only partially perceived (interestingly enough, his critics often apply a sort of “source critical analysis” to Childs' “canon,” dividing his books into different phases which are then judged to stand in no relation to each other. The result is a “schizophrenic” Childs [Brett] who “doesn't know his own mind” [Barr], divided into, e.g. "the authorial-intentional Childs" and "the post-structural Childs").

Given this integrated nature of his approach, I find it difficult to critique him. In the process of discovering him, there are all kinds of criticisms that come to mind: what about the diachronic dimension? Wait, how is that a “synchronic” reading? Isn't Childs' too “conceptual”? Wait, doesn't he focus too much on the particularity of the text? How can one affirm both the literal sense and the dogma of the church as exegetical context? How can one at times bracket out historical questions, and at other times let them be decisive? How can one abandon historical critical speculation and at the same time make one kind of critical construal constitutive for interpretation?

For me, every time I find something to criticise, Childs addresses the issue from another angle. My notes are full of cross-references and colour coding in an attempt to figure out what is going on. I'm amazed how easy it is to use “Childsian” exegetical categories to describe this process of reading his own work. In the process of Zusammensehen (syn-opsis, the term is Barth's), where each part is constantly compared with another, a fuller vision of the the subject matter (res) with which Childs himself wrestled and to which he wished to direction has slowly emerged. I've needed to read other works by Barth and Diem in order to understand some of Childs' basic assumptions (information about "reality," as Childs might put it), and now, near the end of the process, I find that my horizon has been expanded beyond what I could have hoped for and in directions I wasn't expecting.

In short, I'm still too involved in the process of figuring Childs out to be able to properly criticise him. It's ironic, given that he is one of the most controversial and heavily critiqued figures of the 20th century! But, as far as I have been able to ascertain, his critics have either not had the benefit of reading the parts in light of the whole (or have not wanted to: Barr et al ignore his Biblical Theology), or have been so repulsed by his proposals that they haven't been able to bring themselves to properly understand the arguments that he uses to get him there in the first place. As Daniel Driver has concluded in his recent doctoral dissertation, the Childs of the secondary literature is a “Frankenstein,” one who has almost nothing to do with the living scholar whose proposals are still waiting to be registered by a world ignorant of his actual work.

Why aren't Messianic Jews Jewish?

I don't get it. An atheist or a buddhist with a Jewish mother is Jewish. But a biological Jew, who believes that the Mashiach is Jesus is not. Why?

Here's a disturbing report from the Jerusalem Post on Birthright Screening out Messianic Jews. Here are some details, taken from the blog Religion and State in Israel:

Trip organizers for Birthright have begun screening American candidates interested in free trips to Israel to prevent Messianic Jews from participating.
A questionnaire of a Birthright (Taglit) trip organizer that was obtained by The Jerusalem Post includes a question regarding applicants' religious faith.
Under a category entitled "eligibility rules," applicants are asked to declare that they are Jewish.
They are also asked to declare that "I do not subscribe to any beliefs or follow any practices which may be in any way associated with Messianic Judaism, Jews for Jesus or Hebrew Christians."
It seems I am not the only one who finds this wrong. According to the article:

Attorney Calev Myers, founder and chief counsel of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, a nonprofit organization that provides legal counsel to Messianic Jews in Israel, called the screening practice "blatant, ridiculous discrimination" and "a shame."
Read the whole thing, it's fascinating!

Update: Joel Katz from Religion and the State of Israel kindly links to Birthright Israel's elegibility policy. Here's the relevant bit:

Eligible individuals are those recognized as Jewish by the Jewish community or by one of the recognized denominations of Judaism; or if either parent is Jewish AND the applicant does not actively practice another religion

Monday, 1 December 2008

Divine revelation: text or reality?

Is the Bible itself God's revelation, or does it just point to God's revelation? If it is just a pointer, and not the reality itself, then is it dispensable? But what if it is the only medium adequate to the subject matter it is trying to broker? What if there is no other way to make revelation known? What if Scripture as text has been elected by God himself to play a central role in his unfolding plan of salvation? Would there be any justification in calling the Bible itself God's revelation? Is there a more accurate terminology to keep the different nuances in check?

This doesn't seem to be a recent "Protestant" issue, as the early church itself used a similar term in an ambiguous way: the "rule of faith/truth" (regula fidei/veritatis). Here's B. Hägglund's summary:

The regula fulfils the function of being a fundamentum of the doctrinal tradition through the mediation (Vermittlung) of the holy scripture. We can perceive the reality of the revelation, the facts of salvation history only through the witness of the prophets and the apostles, through the writings of the Old and New Testaments. This witness must be interpreted and expounded again and again, but also recapitulated (zusammengefasst) and literally reproduced. In the process, however, the regula itself, the truth to which the scripture witnesses, maintains its position as an unchanging foundation. It is not a coincidence that the Greek word for rule, κανων, became more and more a fixed designation for the holy scripture. The original witness is not only “canonical” because it is endowed with the authority of the prophets and apostles, but also because it is a bearer (Träger) of the revelation, a mediator of the reality of salvation." (My translation; for the full context go here).
Perhaps one of the better attempts to formulate this tension is Karl Barth's theory of "the three time's of the Word" (or das Wort Gottes in seiner dreifachen Gestalt). Here's Diem's summary of the three forms of God's revelation:

(1) the present preaching of the Church as related to the word of Scripture and referred to it as a norm; (2) the witness of Apostles and Prophets as contained in the canon of Scripture to the Word of God; and (3) the Word of God itself as revelation. (Diem, Dogmatics, pp. 57-58).
How else can we formulate the relation between each stage? It should be pointed out that for Barth, God is the speaking subject in each phase and his revelation has the character of an active force, one that convicts our consciences and shows us that we can also be part of God's story.
Update: Check out Glen's helpful comments in the comments section on a Trinitarian ontology.

Einheit in der Vielfalt

The search for unity within the diversity of Scripture is not just a concern of those interested in synchronic exegesis. Check out the following quote from W.H. Schmidt:

Der Auslegung ist nicht nur das Verständnis des jeweiligen Einzeltextes, sondern auch die Frage nach dem Zusammenhang des Einzelnen mit dem Ganzen, nach der Einheit in der Vielfalt, notwendig und unverzichtbar aufgegeben.