Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Musalaha - an organization worth checking out

Musalaha is a non-profit organization that seeks to promote reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians as demonstrated in the life and teaching of Jesus. We endeavor to be an encouragement and advocate of reconciliation, first among Palestinian and Israeli believers and then beyond to our respective communities. Musalaha also aims at facilitating bridge building among different segments of Israeli and Palestinian societies according to biblical reconciliation principles.
Do people know of other, similar organizations?

Update: They also have a new blog: Musalaha's Musings. Their posts are sporadic at the moment but they hope to change that. The first is an excerpt from the youth leadership training seminar for youth leaders in the West Bank. It emphasises the importance for youth leaders of practicing what they preach, as youth tend to justify their actions on the basis of those of their leaders. Palestine really does need decent leaders.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Jonah and the nations: a "figurative" reading

What is the correct context for interpreting the Book of Jonah, the context that gets us to the substance of its witness? The classic historical approach would locate it in its post-exilic setting and come up with something along the lines of Blenkinsopp: the forgiveness of the evil Assyrians represents "the breaking of the bond of divine causality" inside the prophetic office (Seitz, Prophecy and Hermeneutics, 147). What about its canonical/literary context, however? I've posted on Seitz's understanding of typology, both as inner-biblical literary technique as well as prophetic hermeneutical intention. What would it mean to read Jonah as a book “figured into” a larger divine history? Seitz offers the following thoughts on how the canonical “universe of associations" into which the book of Jonah “has been figured and within which it establishes its ongoing prophetic address as the fifth witness of the Twelve” (147) creates a different picture of divine forgiveness and the nations:

Yhwh is “slow to anger”—but he his also “great in might, and YHWH will by no means clear the guilty” (Nah. 1:3). Of Assyria it was ultimately said, “for upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?” (3:19). Jonah ended with a question about divine compassion. Nahum ends with a question about worldly power and its capacity to look divine grace in the eye, as well as an episode of true repentance, and then carry on according to its own dark designs. Here Nahum is telling no detached theological truth, but is speaking of the way of worldly power as it moves through the chapters of history. And Habakkuk sees a worse chapter coming than the one about which he registered his initial complaint (1:2).

This makes me furious



Saturday, 28 March 2009

My sister's a nun

OK, mine isn't, but this blogger's is. Susan Pigot, the author of the blog OT Prophetess has written a delightfully eloquent post on her sister's becoming a nun - of the "full-blown habit-bedecked cloister-enclosed sort" - and what that meant for her initially traumatized family.

Check it out: My Sister the Sister.

Friday, 27 March 2009

What is the Psalter?

Based on positioning of the "framing" Psalms (Rahmenpsalmen) 1-2 and 146-150, here is Erich Zenger's answer, first in English (my translation) and then in the German original:

It is

a praise of the divine, universal rule of Yhwh, which he desires to assert in an act of eschatological judgement. This rule is grounded in Tora and creation, and will be asserted by means of both his (messianic) king (cf. Ps 2), who Yhwh has established in Zion, as well as his messianic people (cf. Ps 149, who exist amongst the nations (cf. especially Ps 2:10-12 and Ps 150, but also Ps 148).

Es ist ein

Lobpreis der universalen in Schöpfung und Tora grundgelegten Gottesherrschaft (vg. besonders Ps 2,10-12 und Ps 150, aber auch Ps 148) ... , die Jhwh durch seinen auf dem Zion eingesetzten (messianischen) König (vgl. Ps 2) und durch sein messianisches Volk (vg. ps 149) inmitten der Völkerwelt in einem eschtatalogischem Gericht durchsetzen will. [*]
Three questions:

1) How is my translation? This seems to be an example of the marvelous German ability to pack a lot of concepts into one sentence. I had no trouble understanding it but struggled with the translation.

2) Is it true? I certainly want to believe it.

3) How does this quote relate to the image (I don't know who it's by; I just typed eschatological judgement into google image)?
[*] Zenger, Einleitung.
Update: If this topic interests you I'd recommend peeking at the comments. John Anderson's are pariticularly informative, as I'm learning to expect! There is also an very interesting dialogue on this on Richard's blog here.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Prophetic intertextuality

In my post Biblical figuration as literary technique I pointed out that Biblical figuration is, well, a literary technique. The next question is why? What was the hermeneutical intention animating the creation of such literary associations? For Seitz, the term figural denotes the way in which the prophetic tradents wished to direct our attention towards the effect of their juxtapositioning of later and earlier witnesses.

Literary associations are not made for reasons of esthetic matching or for smoothing out possibly rough literary transition (if such had been the intention, we would struggle to spot secondary editing and derivative association in the first place, quite apart from interpreting its possible hermeneutical significance). Rather, these associations are made on the basis of theological convictions concerning God's character through time, God's sovereign purposes with the nations, God's deliverances of judgment and of mercy through time, and God's eschatological determinations derived from protological announcements and anticipations in the events of his historical life with Israel (250).

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Barth's Dogmatics, searchable and for free, online!

Jim West, via Stephen Cook, links to an amazing online resource: Karl Barth's entire Church Dogmatics, in English, searchable and for free on the Internet!

Is there anything else that can brighten up your day more than that?
OK, something else brightened up my day today. On this post, John Hobbins said this:
The most vital form of biblical criticism has always been Sachkritik, that is, straightforward engagement, disagreement not excluded, with the substance of a biblical text.
The word Sachkritik and its emphasis on substance has become so central to me over the past couple of years, yet, apart from Childs, I've not come accross anyone who uses it. So thank you John: you also made may day!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

When was the Psalter closed?

John Anderson of Hesed we'emet has shared some extremely informative insights in the comments section of this post. I thought I'd share them here and add a few thoughts by Erich Zenger from his Einleitung:

Re: the closing of the Psalter, I used to have this information very much at the tip of my mind, but alas, much of it has gone away. Here, though, is how I would respond:

The issue is of course a complex one, especially with the Qumran material now in play. Wilson's The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter notes three possibilities with the Qumran evidence in mind: 1) a sequential linkage [i.e. 11QPsa-->MT150]; 2) parallel collection [i.e., 11QPsa a more inclusive collection, with MT 150 becoming official canon at the end of the first century CE]; 3) MT 150 stabilized prior to the 4th century BCE [thus making the Qumran material of a different sort]. The Qumran pss material certainly seems to point to a fixity for Books I-III early on, and a greater fluidity with Books IV-V even into the first century. This issue is compounded all the more, I think, by how one understands the Qumran community (just how 'sectarian' are they?) and, more importantly, what constitutes scripture for them? I would argue the Qumran community certainly has a much looser view of Scripture (see, for instance, the double citation and intentional alteration of 'scripture' in two lemmata in the Habakkuk pesher (1QpHab), or even the many Rewritten Scripture texts, or Genesis Apocryphon, or Jubilees), and thus it is conceivable to me--but still equivocal--that the Qumran pss material may not be decisive in solving the question . . . but it is no doubt seminal.

Peter Flint, in his The Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls and The Book of Psalms argues that the corrections in 4Qpse suggestion an earlier edition (11QPsa) that was corrected toward a text similar to the MT. He thus sees three editions of the Psalter at Qumran: 1) early edition [Pss 1/2-89] used before the founding of the community ca. 150 BCE; 2) Edition IIA [11QPsa], which has scriptural status; Pss 90ff joined with Edition I before the Qumran period by those advocating the solar calendar; 3) Edition IIB [the MT 150], completed prior to the Qumran period. Flint also points out that the fact the MT arrangement is attested in a LXX trans in the second half of the 2nd century BCE corroborates this view).

Two other views deserve brief mention. Patrick Skehan sees 11QPsa as dependent upon MT 150. George Brooke argues that Books I-III are stable in the early Second Temple period, but Books IV-V compiled at a later date (cf. Wilson).

Now that I've done my history of scholarship (wink) . . . it seems to me the Qumran evidence provides a terminus ad quem of around the first century CE. But the LXX attests to a period a few centuries earlier. This point, however, cannot be an unequivocal terminus ante quem . . . one would have to go back further and have other mss. evidence to corroborate. There are, though, compelling arguments for reading the Psalter in a post exilic (Persian?) context. That said, I would conclude with two provisional points.

1) The Psalter achieved its final canonical form sometime between, roughly, the 4th century BCE-1st century CE. A huge span of time, but right now, without doing further reading to refresh my memory, I don't feel safe getting any more specific.

2) 11QPsa--and other Qumran pss material--likely knew and derived from at the very least a well established Books I-III, or perhaps even the entire MT 150.

Here are some additional thoughts from Erich Zenger, who tries to narrow the time frame down to 200-150 BCE. History of thought issus seem to play a significant role:

1) The editorially placed Psalter framework (Pss 1-2 and 146-150) reflect the language and theology found in Jesus Sirach (175 BCE).
2) The same goes for Qumran's wisdom text musar lammebin and the "Book of Mysteries" (Tora wisdom, eschatology, ethnic-cosmological dualism, praise of God).
3) The Qumran Pesher 4QMidr.Eschat(a ) (71-63 BCE) combines the sequence of Ps 1:1 and Ps 2:1f. with other Biblical quotes and applies them eschatologically to the Qumran community. For the order of the Psalter to have had such authority, A. Lange reckons it must have accepted with the grounding of the community in 152 BCE.
4) The LXX translation (Jerusalem, 100 BCE?) affirms the MT ordering and the number of Psalms.
5) The paleographic manuscript Masada Psalms b (2 half of 1st cent. BCE) confirms the order.
6) The differing order in 11QPs [a], could, as you say, be due to liturgical usage. It may even have been made to compete with the MT, which would just confirm the dating.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

A new OT blogger

There's a new Old Testament blogger on the scene, a certain John Anderson, with a taste for literary/synchronic reading (though not the the exclusion of the diachronic). His academic interests

include the book of Genesis, specifically the texts of deception in the Jacob cycle; Old Testament Theology; Psalms; historical Jesus; Gospel of Matthew; ancient and modern Jewish history and philosophy; and anything pertaining to the study and origins of Judaism.
He's a third year PhD student at Baylor University and has decided to call his blog Hesed we'emet.

Welcome to the blogosphere, John!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Biblical 'figuration' as literary technique

According to Seitz, the Biblical text bears “witness to a process of tradition-building” (72) in which a particular conceptuality concerning time and providence was at stake. This conceptuality was inherently theological and it was the task of the tradents of the Biblical tradition to pass it on to the next generation. Given this fact, what was the best means available to the tradents for capturing, preserving, and communicating this conceptuality? According to Seitz, Israelite prophecy, including its Wirkungsgeschichte within the community, is inherently figural. The term figural denotes both a literary phenomenon and a hermeneutical intention. Today I quote Seitz on figuration as literary phenomenon, tomorrow as hermeneutical intention.

As literary phenomenon, figuration is

the means by which temporally distinct witnesses have been intentionally associated in the material form of their canonical presentation. The way this has been achieved is diverse in application. Entire books have been crafted in order to deliver their intention in association with prior, written witnesses. The effect is by no means monolithic, due to the reciprocal way in which a fresh witness affects and is affected by its association with (literarily) prior and later books. On other occasions, editorial linkages establish connections between books with a prior history of development. Technical studies are available that provide speculations about the nature of the various moves that now correlate the witnesses of the Twelve Minor Prophets … (249).
For a related and fascinating post from a New Testament perspective, see my Christian eschatology and historical methodology: the case of John.

A Trinity bibliography

Nick Norelli of Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth has published a manificent bibliography of journal articles, seminar papers, dissertations/thesis, and books related to the important issue of the Trinity. It really is worth bookmarking, especially as it is in pdf and so is searchable.

A rabbi learns from a pope

The chief rabbi of Poland wrote a beautiful article for Ha'aretz recently: What I learned from Jean Paul II.

Here is a touching extract:

The end of Pope John Paul II's life, on April 2, 2005, was a very difficult time in Poland. The funeral was held on a Friday. My synagogue in Warsaw announced a memorial prayer for him at the start of Shabbat. As I approached the synagogue, I was shocked.
The line of those waiting to get inside was huge. Over 1,000 people attended - a few hundred were local Polish Jews, but the rest were Polish Catholics. Just think about it - hundreds of Catholics accepting that it was normal to share a prayer for the Pope in a synagogue in Poland! In that moment, I saw before my very eyes how Pope John Paul II had changed the world. How so much of what he practiced during his own life had truly inspired others to act similarly. For me, this is the ultimate tribute to the teachings and life of Pope John Paul II.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Thomas à Kempis as canonical exegete?

Here is Thomas á Kempis on theological hermeneutics, taken from his The Imitation of Christ: Of the Reading of Holy Scripture (15th C.):

“Charity is to be sought in Holy Scripture and not eloquence. And it should be read with the same spirit that it was first made. We ought also to seek in Holy Scripture ghostly profit rather than curiosity of style, and as gladly shall we read simple and devout books as books of high learning and cunning. Let not the authority of thine author mislike thee, whether he were of great cunning or little: but let the love of the very pure truth stir thee to read. Ask not who said this, but take heed what is said. Men pass lightly away, but the truth of the Lord endureth for ever.

Almighty God speaketh to us in His Scripture in divers manners without accepting of persons: but our curiosity oft hindereth us in reading of Scripture, when we will reason and argue things that we should meekly and simply pass over. If thou wilt profit by reading of Scripture, read meekly, simply, and faithfully, and never desire to have thereby the name of cunning. Ask gladly and hear meekly the sayings of Saints, and mislike not the parables of ancient Fathers, for they were not spoken without great cause.”

I think that's a great characterisation of the canonical approach, with its emphasis on the substance of the text, its res. I wonder what impact this could have on the guild of Biblical studies?
Udpate: Ben Myers of Faith and Theology has an excellent related quote by Autustine, in We don't interpret Scripture, Scripture interprets us.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Spring Book Giveaway

Bitsy Griffin is giving away a copy of Ravi Zacharias’ The Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our Lives.

Here’s the giveaway rules:

-Reply to [her] post letting [her] know you want to be entered.
-This is just a plain old drawing - names in a hat. One will be drawn.
-Your name can be added a second time by posting this info on your blog.
-All entering must have a USA mailing address, and the book will be mailed by USPS Media Mail.
-Contest begins immediately and will continue through midnight on Sunday March 22nd (EST).
[She’ll] draw Monday when [she] get[s] home from school.

I'm always up for a free book so I'm in (and yes, I do not live in the States, but my cousin does so I'll get it sent to him, if I win).

Monday, 16 March 2009

Bauckham as canonical interpreter?

Here is a quote from New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham, which nicely parallels my comments concerning Seitz and the Old Testament in my post Tradition-history: a two-way movement.

In one of the few Markan narratives that John also tells, John, like Mark, has Jesus saying, “It is I” (i.e., “I am” [εγώ ειμι]; Mark 6:50; John 6:20). In John this becomes the second of the Gospel's theologically potent series of seven absolute “I am” sayings (4:26; 6:20; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8). For readers/hearers of Mark, this series would not only develop the christological significance of the “I am” sayings they already knew in Mark 6:50 but also inform their understanding of the “I am” saying in Mark 14:62. In ways such as this, it would be possible to argue that John provides readers/hearers who already know Mark with a much fuller and more developed christological and soteriological interpretation of the Gospel story, but one which had clear continuity with the Markan Christology and soteriology they already knew. They would not perceive John's interpretation of Jesus as correcting or invalidating Mark's, but as extending and deepening it. … With the benefit of John's explicit interpretations of the few “signs” of the Jesus which he has carefully chosen for his highly selective Gospel narrative, they could also read with fresh perception the “many other signs” (John 20:30) that Mark records. While the fourth evangelist surely meant to lead his readers further and deeper into the significance of Jesus and his story than Mark's Gospel had done, he need not have intended them henceforth to leave Mark aside and to read only his own Gospel. He did not aim to replace Mark, but to write a different kind of Gospel: one which, by selecting far fewer traditions, left space for the reflective interpretation that is the distinctive characteristic of the Fourth Gospel. [*]
That, quite simply, rocks!

[*] R. Bauckham, “John for Readers of Mark,” in The Gospel for all Christians: Rethinking the Gospel Audiences (ed. Richard Bauckham; Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1998), 169-170; cited in Seitz, Prophecy, 180-181

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Von Rad was a Barthian

And this, curtesy of W.H. Schmidt, proves it (I think; there is now an English summary beneath):

"Im Grunde sucht G.v.Rad in vierfacher Hinsicht als Zusammenhang zu verstehen, was historisch-kritschem Denken auseinanderzufallen droht:

1) "Was Israel selbst von jahwe direkt ausgesagt hat", also das Glaubens-Zeugnis oder Bekenntnis Israels, und die (überlieferungs- bzw.redaktionsgeschichtlich gewonnene) Intention der Text in ihrer Situation. "Der Theologe muß sich vor allem unmittelbar mit den Zeugnissen beschäftigen, also ... nach der jeweiligen kerygmatischen Intention fragen" (I4, 118).

2) Die Geschichte - G.v.Rad kann sagen: die "Geschichtstatsachen", "Fakten" (118) - und die alttestamentliche Deutung der Geschichte aus dem Glauben.

3) Die Offenbarung Gottes - "Der wesentlichste Gegenstand einer Theologie des AT ... das lebendige Wort Jahwes, wie es an Israel ... je und je ergangen ist" (125); "Was Israel selbst als den eigentlichen Gegenstand seines Glaubens angesehen hat, nämlich die Offendbarung Jahwes" (127) - und Israels Glaube, der bekenntnishafte Bericht von Gottes Wirken.

4) Gottes Taten und Gottes Wort, "die Offenbarung Jahwes in der Geschichte in Worten und Taten" (127; vg. II4, 381ff).

Von diesem Ansatz aus gelingt es G.v. Rad, statt Einzelaussagen aus verschiedenen Zusammenhängen zu einem Gedankenkomplex zusammzustellen, in einem hohem Maße, Theologie als Exegese zu betreiben und umgekehrt die Exegese in die Theologie einzubeziehen, die Texte selbst zu Wort kommen zu lassen und dabei Feinheiten theologischer Differenzierungen in den einzelnen Literaturwerken aufzunehmen.

[...here Schmidt critiques the limitations of von Rad's emphasis on "history"...]
Ausdrücklich möchte G.v.Rad mehr und anderes bieten als eine geschichtliche Darstellung der alttestamentlichen Religion oder eine "Geschichte des Jahweglaubens" - so nur der einleitende I. Hauptteil. Da Israel in seinen Geschichtszeugnissen "nicht auf seinen Glauben, sondern auf Jahwe hingewiesen" hat (I4, 124), der Glaube also nicht "Gegenstand", vielmehr nur "Träger, Mund" des Bekenntnisses war, wird eigentlich "die Offenbarung Jahwes in der Geschichte in Worten und Taten" (127) zu Gegestand einer Theologie des Alten Testaments." [*]

No wonder Childs loved him so much!
I was asked in the comments to briefly summarize this in English. Here it is:

In short, von Rad tries to hold 4 things together that historical-criticism threatens to separate.:

1) The confessional witness of the text and the historically particular intentionality of the text. The Bible, in its particularity, is kerygmatic.

2) The interelation between the facts of history and their interpretation (I'm not too sure what Schmidt was saying here).

3) God himself as the living object of the Bible's witness and the human witness to this.

4) God's deeds and his word.
Schmidt goes on to say that by holding these things together von Rad was able to practice "theology as exegesis" as well as bring exegesis into theology without overlooking the nuances of the particular texts. The text in bold reads:

Because Israel, in its historical witnesses, did not refer to its own faith but rather to Jahwe himself, in other words, because faith was not the "object," rather the "bearer, mouth" of its witness, the revelation of Jahwe in history in words and deeds becomes the object of a theology of the Old Testament.
[*] Werner H. Schmidt, Alttestamentlicher Glaube (Neukirchner Verlag, 2004), 18-19.

Israel vilified?

Another video to add to the confusion about what is actually going on in Israel/Palestine:

I have to agree, however, that comparing Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto is an example of extreme historical distortion that I can only describe as sick and irresponsible. Though feel free to contradict me (just use reasonable arguments!).

Friday, 13 March 2009

Brueggemann on "canonical interpretation"

Canonical interpretation never gives an absolute grid for interpretation. It only permits us to find a reading through which we can be faithful. There is no eternal interpretation, so single "meaning." There is only timeless literature and timeful readings, and these together comprise canonical interpretation.[*]
I wonder how Childs' concept of the Holy Spirit, the coercion of the text, and the significance of the regula fidei fit into this?

[*] W. Brueggemann, "Canonization and Contextualization," in Interpretation and Obedience. From Faithful Reading to Faithful Living (Minneapolis, 1991), 119-142; here, 131.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Tradition-history: a two-way movement

Although this post can be read on its own, it is part of a longer thread analysing Chris Seitz's Prophecy and Hermeneutics (go here for an overview).

According to Seitz and Childs, the canonical approach is predicated upon some conception of theological continuity within the development of the Biblical tradition. Within this framework, later tradents of the sacred tradition were
seeking to hear the original word, overtaking them and enclosing them, in the context of a new set of circumstances, constraints, hopes, and divine judgments (129).
What are the hermeneutical implications of this for those interpreters today who want to grasp the word itself, the living word active throughout the process?

The theological continuity between traditions means that one can read older traditions in light of their later development, and thus gain a fuller understanding of their original witness (Childs would have said that the old is infused with its “full ontological reality”). The prophetic word of the past lays claim to the future,

without ever ceasing to be relevant on the terms of its original delivery. The dynamic character is fully on view, but the bridge being built enables us to move in two directions and not just one. The book of Joel shows a present generation enacting the repentance (2:12-29 … ) called for in the days of Hosea (… Hosea 14.1 …). In so doing, one is drawn back into the world of Hosea to learn again what the character of God is truly like. More than this, one is given the chance to stand before the mystery of God's ways and the penetrating insight offered through the canonical witness of Hosea to that, which had gone unheeded or was only partially comprehended in the days of the first delivery (125-126, emphasis original).
Again, von Rad is Seitz's foil. In von Rad's attempt to bridge the gap between earlier and later tradition, including the New Testament, by means of a critically reconstructed, non-canonical theory of prophecy's “forward thrusting” movement, the bridge

self-destructs once it has arced from the past into its next phase (125, emphasis removed).
Next in the series I will post a parallel insight from the New Testament, furnished by Richard Bauckham.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Is Obama the Anti-Christ?

Tim LaHaye - that's a name that will either fill your heart with apocalyptic fervour or send shudders down your spine. I've not read any of his more theological work, but I have read his book on sex for married couples. To be honest, I found it black and white and overly simplistic.
Here's what he has to say about the Anti-Christ and Obama:

[HT The Church of Jesus Christ, who summarizes the discussion with his own input]

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Blogger seeks dialogue

One of the main reasons - perhaps the only reason - I started blogging was my need for dialogue concerning issues I'm wrestling with in my PhD (I've posted my research proposal, which has admittedly changed a bit since then). I'm a long distance student based in Bonn, Germany (my supervisor is Gordon McConville in Gloucestershire, England) and after one year of talking to myself in my office I noticed signs of insanity cropping up. A friend put me on to these things called "blogs," the first of which (and the best of which) is now dead, and then to Chris Tilling's excellent Chrisendom. From there I moved on to the Biblical Studies List and finally decided to take the plunge myself. Though I sometimes wonder about the countless posts that have disappeared into the ether (probably to be dug up and embarrassingly revealed by my future employer), I'm am truly grateful for the many people (all of whom I have never met) that have taken the time to read my posts, register their responses and criticisms, and engage me in dialogue. It's brought me further along the way and I can only recommend it to others who find them in a similar situation.

Which brings me to the actual point of this post ...

A certain Martyn Smith has just started a doctorate in theology and seems to have found himself in a similar situation to myself. He's set up a blog - appropriately named Faith Seeking Understanding - and has declared himself ready to engage people in dialogue on the issues that concern him. He only has one post up so far, but bookmark him and see what he has to say.

The best of luck to you Martyn!

Canon and the fullness of extrinsic reality

In response to James Barr's (and thus proleptically to all those who only read Childs through the lens of Barr) accusation that Childs opposes every extrinsic historical reconstruction as a vantage point for interpretation and thus severs the Old Testament from all extrinsic reality, Childs has the following to say:

I certainly confirm that Israel's faith was grounded in anterior reality. First in oral tradition and subsequently in written form Israel bore testimony to God's redemptive intervention on its behalf. These events of divine deliverance were not simply recorded, but continually re-interpreted throughout history. Israel actively shaped its traditions while at the same time being formed by the very material being transmitted.
Because of of the peculiar nature of Israel's tradition which is reflected in the multi-layered testimony of the canonical text to this sacred history, there is no direct access to the fullness of that extrinsic reality on which the faith was grounded apart from Israel's own testimony. One important purpose of establishing a normative canon was to mark the special relationship of the community to these witnesses.
... The central point to be made is that the nature of Israel's testimony to historical events varies greatly and that extrinsic reality can be represented in innumerable ways ... . [*]
The key word here is fullness. Mark it well.

Does anyone else's heart "burn within them" when they read this?

[*]Childs, "Response to reviewers of Introduction to the OT as Scripture," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 16 (1980), 52-60; here, 57 [ATLAS has a free pdf of the responses and Childs' response]

Friday, 6 March 2009

What exegetes can learn from Origen

In contrast to what most people seem to think, the most fundamental category for Brevard Childs' Canonical Approach to Scripture was not a pristine, self-contained collection of writings called the "Bible." It was in fact the so-called "community of faith," the community to whom God has, does, and will reveal himself. Given this reality, the history of the development of the texts and traditions this community "treasured" (a loaded word ...) - the so-called "canonical process" - is just as important as the history of the texts' reception, the completed Bible's so-called Wirkungsgeschichte (German for "history of effects," or perhaps better in Childs' view: the "history of the coercion of the text"). Within this schema, the exegete will want to ask after the text's "function" within the "community of faith." The text is not an absolute entity, a resource of fixed propositions to be extracted and pieced together once and for all. It is rather a "vehicle" that fulfills a special role within the community, which itself fits within the broader eschatological plan of God's redemption.

Given this reality, what can exegetes in the 21st century learn from Origen? I only have time to post Childs' three conclusions, taken from his unpublished paper, "Allegory and Typology within Biblical Interpretation" (presented at St Mary's College, University of St Andrews, 2000):

1) First, Origen raised the basic issue of addressing the function of Scripture for the church which is to be a living and continuous vehicle of divine revelation.
2) Origen struggled to do justice both to the particularity of the literal sense of the text and also to its fuller, spiritual role as a divine pedagogy in hearing testimony to the salvific work of Jesus Christ to the church and world.
3) Origen raised the question as to the faithful role of the interpreter in the exercise of creative response in receiving and transmitting the truth of the Sacred Scriptures to a community of faith and practice.
He adds a quote by Frances Young, who he believes refelcts Origen's concerns, when she wrights:

Without a form of allegory that at least allows for analogy, the biblical text can only be an object of archaeological interest.
(p. 3 Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture)
Check out this fun post from Bishop Alan. I particularly like the latin ditty from Nicolas of Lyra!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

My first 'sermon' (Psalm 34)

My mother-in-law recently celebrated her 70th birthday. The entire "tribe" got together and spent a weekend at the North Sea to celebrate. One part of the celebrations consisted in a Andacht we held in the evening, which consisted of worship and a kind of retrospective of her difficult life. My parents-in-law are Russian-Germans, which means that they are Germans who grew up in Russia under Stalin. A major part of their lives has consisted in persecution, segregation, and deprivation. Throughout this, they have maintained their faith in God and passed this faith on to a new generation. My contribution to the evening was the short "sermon" I held on Psalm 34: 1-11,18-20,23 (plus superscription!). Here it is:

Liebe Alice, lieber Waldemar,

David wurde von Samuel schon im 1. Sam 16 als König gesalbt, nachdem Gott Saul für seine Sünde verworfen hat. Ab diesem Zeitpunkt war David in Gottes Augen schon der wahre König von Israel. Nichtdestotrotz, hat es lange gedauert bevor diese Wirklichkeit sichtbar werden konnte. Inzwischen wurde David von Saul durch ganz Israel gejagt. David musste viel in seinem Leben leiden, und ich kann mir vorstellen, dass es ihm schwer gefallen ist zu glauben, dass er der wahre König war. Er war der König, aber für lange blieb es nur eine Verheißung. Er war schon gesalbt, aber noch nicht eingesetzt. Dieser Psalm ist in dieser Situation enstanden—diese spannungsvolle Zeit zwischen der Verklärung seiner Königschaft und das sichtbare Eintreten dessen Wirklichkeit. Die Geschichte können wir nachlesen im 1. Sam 21:10-15:

Und David machte sich auf und floh an jenem Tage vor Saul und kam zu Achis, dem König von Gat. Da sprachen Achis' Knechte zu ihm: Ist das nicht David, der König des Landes? Ist das nicht der, von welchem sie im Reigen Sangen: “Saul hat seine Tausend geschlagen, David aber seine Zehntausend!” Diese Worte nahm sich David zu Herzen und fürchtete sich sehr vor Achis, dem König zu Gat. Und er verstellte sich vor ihnen und raste unter ihren Händen und kratzte an den Türflügeln, und ließ den Speichel in seinen Bart fließen. Da sprach Achis zu seinen Knechten: Ihr seht doch, daß der Mann verrückt ist? Was bringt ihr ihn denn zu mir? Fehlt es mir etwa an Verrückten, daß ihr diesen Mann hergebracht habt, damit er gegen mich tobe? Sollte der in mien Haus kommen?
Der wahre König Israels sucht Zuflucht vor dem Falschen. Er muss sich vor den Heiden verrückt verhalten, um überhaupt überleben zu können. Was für ein Paradox! Wieso lässt Gott das zu? Irgendwie ist Davids Erfahrung ein geheimnisvolles Muster für alle Kinder Gottes —Königskinder, die so leben müssen, als ob diese Wirklichkeit gar nicht stimmen würde. Laut der Bibel, sind alle von uns in diesem Raum Gottes Kinder. Wir werden eines Tages leuchten wie die Sterne und neben unserem Vater auf Thronen sitzen. Er wird uns eine Krone geben und reine, weiße Kleider. Diese zukünftige Wirklichkeit gilt uns jetzt. Wir sind jetzt Könige, auch wenn es nicht so aussieht. Auch wenn es leicht ist zu glauben, dass die dunklen Mächten dieser Welt die wahren Herrscher sind. Dieses können wir von David lernen: nicht aufzugeben, an unsere wahre Identität zu glauben; “am Ball” bleiben, in Gehorsam und Vertrauen, bis die Wirklichkeit eintritt.
Aber David hat uns viel mehr zu sagen! Wir können viel mehr von ihm lernen. Nicht nur hat er an der Verheißung festgehalten, trotz seiner alltäglichen Erfahrungen, er hat auch immer wieder “geschmeckt, dass der Herr gut ist” (Ps 34, 9). Auch bevor er König wurde, hat er erfahren, dass der Herr ihm antwortete und ihn errettete (V. 5). Wie David müssen wir oft durch das finstere Todestal gehen, bevor wir endlich ans Ziel kommen. Aber, wie wir in diesem Psalm sehen, gab es immer wieder Hoffnungszeichen. Der Herr handelt! Auch jetzt, vor der Vollendung aller Dinge, kann Gott uns erretten “aus aller unser Furcht” (V. 6). Auch im Jammertal des Lebens gibt es genug Gelegenheiten für unsere Gesichter zu strahlen (V. 6). Wir sind nicht allein und dürfen erfahren, dass Gott wirklich bei denen ist, “die ihn fürchten”.

David hat mal gelitten, mal gejubelt. Und was tut er, wenn er jubelt? In diesem Psalm sehen wir, dass er an diejenigen denkt, die elend sind! Wie er sagt: “Meine Seele rühme sich des Herrn; die Elenden sollen es hören und sich freuen” (V. 3). Seine Heilserfahrung wird zum Anlass, diejenigen zu ermutigen, die immer noch im Dunkeln sitzen. Er kann ihr Leid vielleicht nicht theologisch erklären; er kann keine einfache Antwort geben, wieso sie so elend sind. Aber er kann aus eigener Erfahrung sagen: “Bleib am Ball! Gebt nicht auf! Suchet den Herrn mit aller Kraft und er wird Handeln. Ich weiß es und verspreche es euch!” Und so wird David, durch sein Leid hindurch, zum Vorbild für Andere, die seinen schwierigen Weg noch nicht gegangen sind. Sie können auf ihn schauen und Hoffnung bekommen, dass Gott auch für sie eintreten wird.

Und das, liebe Alice und Waldemar, seid ihr für uns (oder mich zumindest). Ihr habt vielleicht nicht viel gelernt in der russischen Schule, aber ihr habt viel gelernt in der Schule des Lebens—und Gott war euer Lehrer. Deshalb danken wir euch, dass ihr, wie David, nicht aufgegeben habt, nie vergessen habt, wer ihr wirklich seid und dadurch ein Licht geworden seid für eine neue Generation. Ich hoffe und bete, dass wir das auch werden können für unsere Kinder. Die Welt braucht solche Menschen.