Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Is Ps 15 "softened" by Ps 19?

Barbiero, in his book Das erste Psalmbuch als Einheit: eine synchrone Analyse von 1-41 (Peter Lang, 1999) seems to think so. After highlighting all kinds of inter-textual links between the two Psalms (such as the terms, תמים [Pss 19:8; 15;2], צדק [Pss 19:10; 15:2]; אמת [Ps 19:10; comp. 8 and 15:2], and כבוד [Pss 19:2 and 15:4]), he adds that there is an Akzentverschiebung ("shift in emphasis"):
Hier ist aber eine wichtige Akzentenverschiebung zu bemerken. Zwischen der Beobachtung der Tora (19,12) und dem Gefallen JHWHs (19,15) steht in 19,13f. das Eingeständnis der eigenen Schuld, was in Ps 15 fehlt. Der Gedanke, daß der Gottesfürchtige schulding ist, ist Ps 15 fremd. Derjenige, der sich schuldig macht, gehört zu einer anderen Gruppe, er verdient nur "Verachtung" (בזה 15,4). Ps 19,13f. ist vom Bewußtsein der eigenen Schuld und der eigenen Unfähigkeit, schuldlos zu leben, geprägt. Der Frevel ist nicht nur bei den "anderen", sondern er ist beim Beter selbst, wie es auch die Geschichte Davids zeigt. Nur wenn JHWH vergibt, nicht aus eigener Kraft kann der Beter schuldlos sein (19, 14 "dann bin ich vollkommen").
Das Gesetz wird nicht aufgehoben, es wird aber durch die Verzeihung ergänzt. Neben das Prinzip der Gerechtigkeit wird deutlich das Prinzip der Gnade gestellt. (pp. 263-264).

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Tillich on Youtube

Paul Raymont of the blog Philosophy, lit, etc. links to a series of interviews with important figures from the past, including Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr.

I don't know too much about Tillich, so really the main thing that stuck out for me in the opening lines of the interview (which is all I have watched so far) is his statement that one of the reasons why he left Germany for the States in 1933 was his express conviction that the Old Testament is an abiding theological witness for the church (to use Chris Seitz's phrase; I think Tillich just said it is "valuable"). This comment stuck out for me, not just because I'm a Christian who studies the Old Testament, but because I do that hand in hand with a hero of mine: Brevard Childs. Childs himself, it seems, was critical of Tillich on just this point. Here's what he had to say, in the context of a broader discussion about the relation of Scripture to the Reality it witnesses to:
P. Tillich speaks freely of the reality of the New Being which conquers existential estrangement and makes faith possible. Jesus as the Christ is the symbolic expression of this New Being, and the biblical portrait of this symbol mediates a knowledge of God. Participation, not historical argument, guarantees the event on which faith is grounded as a sign of the continuing transforming power of this reality once encountered by Jesus' disciples. That the Old Testament plays a minor role here is apparently taken for granted.
Given my ignorance on such matters, I don't want to judge whether Childs has got him right on this matter or not. But it just goes to show that affirming the Old Testament theologically in theory is one thing, but doing this in practice can be another thing altogether.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

What is Christian allegory?

Here's what the Orthodox theologian Andrew Louth has to say from his excellent book Discerning the Mystery:

- "... allegory is a way of holding us before the mystery which is the ultimate 'difficulty' of the Scriptures - a difficulty, a mystery, which challenges us to revise our understanding of what might be meant by meaning; a difficulty, a mystery, which calls on us for a response of metanoia, change of mental perspective, repentance" (p. 110).

- Allegory "is an attempt to respond to the mira profundatis of Scripture, seen as the indespensible witness to the mystery of Christ" (p. 112)

- Allegory is not a technique for solving problems, but an art for discerning mystery (p. 113).

- Allegory is "a way of focusing on the mystery to which the Scriptures bear witness" (p. 114)

Note that on this account, allegory is less a matter of the Christian interpreter playfully exercising his or her interpretative freedom with the text and more a matter of a disciplined penetrating of the text to that which is is really all about. Allegory thus presupposes the existence of an real textual referent.

Louth emphasises this dimension of penetration when he talks about the relation between the allegorical (or mystical) sense of the text and its plain sense (which he, rather misleadingly it seems to me, also calls its historical sense) as being one of movement, a movement through the plain sense to the spiritual sense. Thus he can say:
the movement to allegory is not at all a movement away from history, but we might say a movement into history, into the significance of the sacred events that are the object of our faith. The literal sense is the object of faith: this is what we are to believe, to believe in, in a God who meets us in history, becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth. The allegorical sense represents our attempt to understand the mystery we discern here. It is a move from fides to intelligentia (p. 116)
There is no doubt a move back again, from spiritual sense to literal, but I haven't got that far yet.

For parallels between historical criticism and allegorical interpretation, see my post Historical Criticism and Medieval Allegory: Some Parallels.

For my whole thread on the issue of the spiritual and literal sense of Scripture, go here, in particular the post on the relation between the literal and spiritual senses.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Louth drew on Childs (or the "complentarity of tradition and scripture")

Brevard Childs drew on Andrew Louth's Discerning the Mystery in his Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, especially when talking of the dialectic between the literal and plain sense of the text. I'm reading through Louth's interesting book at the moment and I have just discovered that Louth had already paid Childs the compliment. Here's what he has to say (which, I should add, shows an excellent grasp of what Childs was trying to get at in his Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture):
The tendency of the historical-critical method has been to concentrate on originality and regard what is not original as secondary: but if we see here a process of inspired utterance and reflection on - comment on - inspired utterance within the tradition, itself regarded as inspired, then we have a more complicated, but, I suggest, truer picture. The formation of the Hebrew Scriptures is an object lesson in the kind of complementarity of Scripture and tradition - or inspired utterance and tradition - that I have outlined. The art of understanding is more complicated, and richer, than an attempt to isolate the earliest fragments and to seek to understand them in a conjectured 'original' context: we hear the voice and the echoes and re-echoes, and it is as we hear that harmony that we come to understanding. As I see it, it is this perception that underlies the notion of 'canon criticism' [sic], associated particularly perhaps with the name of Brevard Childs. (Louth, Discerning the Mystery, 108-109).
He mentions in a footnote that some of these concerns had already been raised by A.G. Herbert (especially The Throne of David (London, 1941) and The Authority of the Old Testament (London, 1947) ).

For an more extended quote on the symbiosis of tradition and scripture from the same chapter, check out a post by Ora et Labora.

For an extremely detailed blog thread working through Louth's book section by section, check out Sister Macrina's A Vow of Conversation.

Picking up posting again

Almost precisely a year ago, I posted my last post in a thread that has yet to be finished: my overview of what (I think ought to) constitute Christian theological exegesis, inspired by the work of Brevard Childs. You can see an outline of all posts in my summary: Faithful and Critical Scholarship: Interpretation within Boundaries.

I've decided to pick this thread up again and try to invest more time in blogging. As people may have notice from the dearth of posting, I've been busying myself of late with far too many extra-doctorate-related things (well, extra in the "academic" sense of the word; involvement in Church life is not exactly tangential to theological research, whether Old Testament or not). I've set my priorities and will now hopeful get back into the swing of things.

The next section of my task with be dedicated to "the Christological content of the Christian Bible," as Childs put it. A contentious, complex, and important issue. This will be the subject of my next post. For now, here are some links from the past where I have already attempted to deal with the issue:

Feel free to tell me I'm making a huge mistake (oh, and point out how/why).

Friday, 18 September 2009

The Biblical editors

Editors are often misunderstood and their work despised. It seems intrusive and short of the original literary mark. They may seem pedantic, mediocre, and mean. The misunderstanding generally depends on taking the token for the substance and in supposing that the mark that they made is all that they meant. The mark is meant for the reader, however, and the reader is supposed to know that any text has a beginning, from which it may be read, and an end to which the reading tends. The signs of editing are signals to read on, pay attention, and look for more. Editors generally did not set out to spoil the text they transmitted and preserved, but they regularly made it more complex, meaningful, and difficult to understand. If there is misunderstanding it is the reader who picks and chooses and shuns the task, rather than the editors who understood what they read, who may be at fault.
Brian Peckham, "Writing and Editing," 364-383, here: 383; in Fortunate the Eyes that See (Eerdmans, 1995).

Monday, 14 September 2009

A theological problem with "postmodern" exegesis

I place the word "postmodern" in scare quotes, as I don't think that much of what passes for "postmodern exegesis" is really (necessarily) postmodern. As far as I can see, what Brevard Childs says here could fit very nicely with the theological hermeneutic of the postmodern philosopher/theologian Jean-Luc Marion (see his article "Of the Eucharistic Site of Theology"):
I remain critical of those interpreters who attempt to force exegesis into narrowly defined structuralist categories, or who restrict its only legitimate role to synchronic analysis. The relation of the synchronic and diachronic dimensions is an extremely subtle one in the Bible and both aspects must be retained (cf. Childs, Biblical Theology, 98ff.; 211ff.). Basically, my resistance to much of postmodern literary analysis derives from theological reasons. Although I have learned much from modern literary techniques, I differ in my theological understanding of the nature and function of scripture. I regard the biblical text as a literary vehicle, but its meaning is not self-contained. Its function as scripture is to point to the substance (res) of its witness, to the content of its message, namely, to the ways of God in the world. For this reason I remain highly critical of many modern literary proposals, which are theologically inert at best, and avowedly agnostic at worst.
Childs, Isaiah, 4.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

The need for "Godly exegetical instincts": George Adam Smith as case study

A major implication of the "canonical approach" as conceived by Childs and then developed by Christopher Seitz is that theologically viable exegesis is not just the preserve of practitioners of one tightly defined hermeneutic.

In their conception, the diverse parts of the Bible witness to a single theological reality, a reality which constitutes the "ontological unity" of Scripture. As such, if an interpreter is connected with and focussed on this theological reality, he or she has the ability to develop what Seitz calls “godly exegetical instincts” (243). Equipped with these instincts, one is protected against making exegetical moves which dramatically distort the text.

One such interpreter whose instincts were honed by his acquaintance with the regula fidei of Christian faith is the historical critic George Adam Smith. Smith's commentary on the Minor Prophets (1896) recasts their canonical ordering into a chronological sequence. Seitz notes how this exegetical move poses a theological problem for him: is God really like Amos says? (131) According to Smith's critically reconstructed Amos: God is a god of almost pure judgement. How does this God relate to the God of the prophet Hosea, with his different message?

Seitz continues:
Smith is not content with a simple law-versus-grace distinction, nor will he say that Hosea brings something forward that Amos simply did not know. Amos is a true prophet and his account of God is true; God is as Amos says he is. What Smith is struggling with is a penetrating account of the theological reality of God, spoken of in one way by one prophet and spoken of in another way by a successor, but both men speaking truly. It is the subject matter of prophecy—the God to which the prophets refer—that concerns Smith. Even though the prophets may be distinctive figures to be ranged on a historical grid, they are affiliated at a level deeper than even their own grasp of the matter. Smith is convicted of this, and it is this specific theological gravity that keeps his reading drawn within the orbit of older concerns for affiliation, now in a new model that would threaten this aspect in other hands.
… The question is … : Why does Hosea form the lens through which our understanding of God—in relationship to Israel, the nations, time, and creation—is focussed? Why does his particular, comprehensive witness serve best in introducing first Joel and the Amos? Smith finds persuasive the arguments of historical criticism for the priority of Amos before Hosea. But in the end, it is the theologically expansive witness of Hosea that serves to illuminate the more partial account of Amos, in Smith's conception. In this manner, though he works with a fresh model of historical sequence, Smith has intuitively retained the insights that the canonical form itself sought to enforce (131-132, third emphasis original).
This brings us to the key ingredient of the canonical approach as understood by Childs (see my article “Childs as Critical and Faithful Exegete,” though be careful with what I wrote in section 2! I'm rethinking that bit) : the witness of Scripture to a single divine reality. Seitz puts it thus:
My basic argument here is that the canonical form, when it is appreciated, even on the other side of historical accounts of priority, anteriority, and posteriority, serves to guard these kinds of crucial theological insights. The prophets are related, not in some easily reconstructed historical or sociological sense, but in the nature of their activity as spokesmen for God. … It is God himself who sees to the affiliation proper to his character, mediated through his servants the prophets (134, emphasis mine).

Friday, 11 September 2009

Propotional exegesis in the Minor Prophets

In my last post, I claimed that a canonical approach to Biblical exegesis, at least in the sense in which Brevard Childs and Christopher Seitz understand it, does not lead to flat, synchronic reading. Rather, it requires what Seitz called proportional interpretation, "a balancing act."

In relation to the Book of the Twelve (the Twelve Minor Prophets), the example given in my last post was the necessity of distinguishing the different types of juxtaposition found within the Twelve and between the Three (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel). "Proportionality" also needs to be maintained when correlating the general with the particular. Thus, regarding Jonah, Seitz says:

[b]oth the specificity and historicity of Jonah's world of reference, and the larger design within which one is to comprehend that, are guarded in a canonical reading, allowing Jonah to speak from within the witness of the Twelve (148, emphasis mine).
Here is a more detailed quote on Obadiah:
Working simply on the basis of Obadiah as in independent work, Childs and others point to the careful way in which Edom retains a distinctive historical specificity, but at the same time has been brought into explicit association with a larger theme—the day of YHWH—in respect of all national powers.1 Neither side of this association has been blurred in the final form of the book. The Day of YHWH theme, whatever else it may be in Obadiah, and in association with Edom, in prominent in the book of the Twelve as a whole. Indeed, for many it is the chief theme under which any number of different editorial moves have been organized in the final form of the collection. Without endorsing this view, it remains a valuable if partial insight. What may be said about the profile of Edom and the nations within Obadiah as a single witness holds true as well for the theme of the Day of YHWH in Obadiah, on the one hand, and in the surrounding witnesses of the Twelve, and the other. That is, the integrity of both realities must be guarded and not merged. (137, emphasis mine; Seitz references Collins, Mantle of Elijah, 70.).
To play on a term from Karl Barth, we need a Zusammensehen and not a Zusammenklappen (Barth, Einführung).

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The need for proportional exegesis

What is proportional exegesis? Proportional exegesis is exegesis which takes into account all the dimensions of the text and gives them their proper due. The so-called "canonical approach," as conceived by Brevard Childs and developed by Christopher Seitz, attempts to do this - contrary to many misrepresentations of the approach as pure synchronic method (it's not even a "method"). In his book Prophecy and Hermeneutics, Seitz mentions three dimensions of the Biblical text, especially as they relate to the canonical shape of the Twelve: the historical, literary, and theological. I have commented on this in more detail my post The canonical shape of the twelve Minor Prophets.

Maintaining these three dimensions in proportion (there are no doubt more, feel free to suggest) requires a lot of subtlety on the part of the interpreter, what Seitz calls a "balancing act." For example, the distinction between the collection of the three Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel) and the Twelve must be taken seriously. According to Seitz, for the Three, “different orders can exist, and the present arrangement is such that the integrity of the individual books is what matters, not their inner relationships or particular order” (91). The Twelve, on the other hand, have been preserved in a different way. “On the one hand, like the Three, they have their own integrity as a single independent work. Unlike the Three, however, they manifest a twelvefold internal character that is clearly marked and is an essential feature of them/it” (91).
Seitz goes on,

The question now is not one of whether historical particularity is a feature of Israel's prophetic witness in general or of the Minor Prophets in particular; it most surely is, and the superscriptions appear calibrated to make this aspect clear formally. What is at issue is how one handles this dimension of the witness in a proportional way and in accordance with the formal character of the witness (92, emphasis mine).
The implications this should have for the interpretation of the Psalms should be clear. In my interpretation of Psalm 24, I will be attempting to avoid the extremes of traditional form criticism on the one hand, which seeks only to interpret the Psalm within the context grid of some context external to the Psalter (though see Millard, Komposition, for a form critical analysis of the Psalter per se), and so-called "canonical approaches" (different to the one described above), which treat the Psalter as a book like any other, consisting of chapters strung along a plot line.
For similar thoughts by Brevard Childs on the need for proportionality in interpretation, see my post Two Testaments, four Gospels: The theological significance of juxtaposition. See also my post on Diachrony and Synchrony in a "canonical approach."

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Fighting for Torah

Here is one of my favourite lines from Chaim Potok's The Promise. The context seems to be a typical motif in Potok's work: the tension created within the Jewish community by the clash of modern, rationalistic, critical approaches to Bible, Talmud and spirituality with older, traditional certainties and modes of being. For a great quote on "those crazy Hasidim," go here. In this instance, the fiery and almost tragic figure of Rav Kalman embodies something of the latter approach (he's also a holocaust survivor). His counterpart and seeming nemesis is the intelligent, educated, and open-minded rabbinical student, Reuven. Reuven took his rabbinical exam with Kalman and refused to budge on his commitment to the validity of form criticism for Talmudic study. Yet, despite this seeming heresy, Kalman could not get over the intense love Reuven has for his subject matter: the holy Torah. He grants Reuven a position on the yeshiva faculty. Here's what he says to him afterwards:
I will be able to keep my eyes on you here," he said. "I could not have influenced your father. But you I can influence. Why should I give you to Gordon when I can keep you here? I have lost too many students. Too many ... I will take a chance on you, Reuven. I have given you my smicha and will keep my eyes on you to watch how you teach. We will have many fights. But they will be for the sake of Torah (1997: 340).
I love that.

P.S. For a series of quotes from this book, go here.