Thursday, 29 October 2009

H.-J. Kraus on Biblical scholarship and theology

There has been a brief exchange on Jim West's Biblical-Studies List on the value of a "secular" Biblical scholarship, in contrast to ... something else (it is not clear what). I may post the elements of the exchange between myself and another (who, out of respect for Jim's rules, will remain anonymous). The initiator of the movement has a blog: Jim's Thinking Shop & Tea Room (which has some very amusing content; I also happen to think his project could produce some fruitful dialogue, and so welcome it). Until then, here is a fitting quote H.-J. Kraus:
Es ist erschreckend, wie stark der historisch-verobjektivierende Distanzierungseffekt einer der Phänomene registrierenden ‘Theologie’ die alttestamentlicheWissenschaft isoliert und sie im Gefüge theologischer Forschungs- und Lehrinstitutionen zu einer unwirksamen historischen Disziplin prägt. Diese Bemerkung sei verstanden als ein weiterer Beitrag zu der von B.S. Childs und R.E. Clements ins Gespräch geworfenen Behauptung einer Krise der Biblischen Theologie [*].
I should add that Kraus was one of the few Old Testament scholars who managed to hold a chair in Old Testament and Systematic Theology at the same time. Kudos. Something to emulate. There is a fascinating seminar going on at the University of Bonn at the moment on the (possible) relationship(s) between Old Testament scholarship and Systematic Theology. Though Bonn currently has both feet firmly in the tradition of consensus German critical scholarship (as did Kraus), Prof. Graupner (who did his PhD on the "theology of E," I believe) stated: "Der Alttestamentler ist zuerst immer ein Historiker. Zu einem Theologen wird er durch den Gegenstand." A bit naive, perhaps, but better than some of the other proposals out there.

[*]Kraus, Geschichteウ, 559, cf. 557.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Jonathan Sacks on "witness" and "substance"

I recently posted Brevard Childs' suggestion concerning the way forward for a Christian multiple-level interpretation of Scripture. John Hobbins of Ancient Hebrew Poetry gave his own two-part summary in the comments:
What Childs seeks to do is to keep together what others drive asunder. The traditional exegesis of the church, whenever it has proposed a meta-sense of the text as a replacement of one of its more foundational senses, has ultimately done a disservice to the church's witness to the Gospel.
Modern, historical-critical exegesis, whenever it has proposed a foundational sense in replacement of the meta-sense a text has within Judaism and/or Christianity, has severed the text from its own "Nachleben," a self-defeating operation.
An Orthodox Jewish friend of mine asked via e-mail what John was talking about. I tried to clarify both the content of my post as well as John's comments in terms of Rabbi Jonathan Sack's interesting introduction to the newly published Koren Siddur (John warmly recommends it here, and so do I, though I can't comment on ArtScroll]). My concern is simply to argue that, theologically speaking, one ought to go beyond plain sense of the text to a "deeper meaning", and then back again, in a dialectical movement.

Here it is:

In his introduction to the Koren Siddur, Sacks states that the whole of the Siddur, despite all it's diverse sources, creates a "calibrated symphony." The implication is that beyond the diversity of the parts, there is an inner harmony, a harmony that is not particularly visible when one just reads one of those parts. One needs the whole in order to grasp the full implications of the part, one needs to read the canon (of Scripture and of Tradition) in relation to itself (which for a Jew includes Scripture's liturgical use, and the oral torah, both of which constitute the Bible's Nachleben, to use Hobbin's phrase). Reading the part in light of the whole helps us grasp something of the transcendent beyond. As Sacks says:
The Jewish people ... have ... been singled out for the most exalted mission ever entrusted to mankind: to be witnesses, in ourselves, to something beyond ourselves: to be God's "signal of transcendence" in a world in which his presence is often hidden (p. xxiv).
Part of this Jewish witness is in the body of tradition it has handed down to us. Again, Sacks puts it thus:
The siddur is ... the book of Jewish faith. Scholars of Judaism, noting that it contains little systematic theology, have sometimes concluded that it is a religion of deeds not creeds, acts not beliefs. They were wrong because they were looking in the wrong place. They were looking for a library of works like Moses Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed. They should have looked instead at the siddur. The home of Jewish belief is the siddur.
So, it would seem (to me at least, do correct!), that in order to grasp something of this theological reality, one has to immerse oneself, not only in an exegesis of the particular texts of the Bible, but in the whole of the tradition which it has spawned. Only then is our vision adjusted to be able to "perceive the mystery" (as the Eastern Orthodox theologican Andrew Louth put it) that is hidden within the fragmented parts.

This assumption only works, of course, if we believe that God has been guiding the Jewish people through their history. Again, Sacks not only has this assumption, he also draws hermeneutical implications from it. In regard to the composition of the siddur he says:
The siddur as it exists today is the result of some forty centuries of Jewish history. Yet the result is not mere bricolage, a patchwork of random additions. It is as if the composition of the prayer book has been shaped by an "invisible hand," a Divine inspiration that transcends the intentions of any particular author. Specifically, form mirrors substance. The shape of the prayers reveals the basic shape of the Jewish spirit as it has been molded by its encounter with God (p. xxii).
He then goes on to discuss some of the structural features of the prayers (where, again, he points out that "form mirrors substance.")

As far as I can see, the conclusion one must draw from this is the following: God wishes the world to know him, and to this end he has elected for himself a people who must witness to him. Scripture and siddur are the literary products of this people, borne out of an active relationship with this God, and their function is to point beyond themselves to their substance, which is God himself (as the prayers themselves plead: "make the words of Your Torah sweet in our mouths ... so that we ... may all know your name ... " (check out this post on the goal of God's self-revelation). Yet, getting to know this "substance," the God of the text, involves being part of the community, in it's life and practice, and not just being a Biblical scholar. The sum of the Bible is greater than its parts.

There are only two differences here between what Sack's is saying and what Hobbins is saying: the substance of the Scripture is the Gospel, and the elected witnesses are the church (mysteriously grafted into Israel, not replacing it ... though I still need to work on understanding the relation). Sack's "symphony" is Hobbin's "traditional exegesis of the church"/Nachleben; Sack's "substance" is Hobbins' "gospel" or "meta-sense."

Hobbins adds, however, an extra element that I don't see in Sacks or even in Judaism (though I remember from past conversations that I may be wrong here). For Hobbins, the plain sense of the text not only functions as a witness to the substance (it's "spiritual sense," if you will), it also functions as a critical norm over against church tradition. In other words, if the church does too much allegorizing it runs the risk of drowning out the voice of Scripture and subjecting it to foreign ideology. There has to be a constant tension, or dialectic: on the one hand, the plain sense of the text has to be understood in relation to our broader understanding of the substance; on the other hand, our understanding of the substance has to be mediated by the plain sense of the Scriptural witness. The community of faith (church or synagogue) is not allowed to make the text say what it wants it to say, and so must always be willing to critique itself in light of the text.

As for historical criticism, it's main problem is ideological. Though it pretends to objectivity, in reality it has its own presuppositions concerning the nature of the "substance" of the text (I've also made similar comments in a post here on clarfiying the Bible's subject matter. Also, cf. my post of Medieval allegory and historical criticism). By jettisoning Christian tradition, it has adopted another one (modernism, for example).

I'd appreciate any feed back pointing out where I'm misrepresenting either Christianity or Judaism, or simply not thinking logically enough!

Update: Tzvee, of Tvee's Talmudic Blog, has a number of interesting and critical posts, gathered here, on Sack's understanding of the Siddur. Of particular relevance to this post is his post Welcome to the great Jewish assembly.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Barth's "canonical theory"

I have already posted a quote by Martin Buber which shows strong affinities to Childs' "canonical theory," followed by another quote by the Protestant scholar Jörg Jeremias. Today I add a quote by Karl Barth. It is a response to the question of the legitimacy of the churchly practice of "theology," given that the Bible itself seems to nowhere have a fully developed form of reflective theology. The Dutch Reformed scholar Frans Breukelman frames the issue as follows:
Nirgends ... sehen wir es geschehen ... , daß die biblischen Zeugen ... , ... außer ... was sie uns ... direkt zu sagen haben, .... nun auch noch einmal um der Deutlichkeit willen so etwas wie ein Stück "Theologie" als Erläuterung eigens dazugeben, wie etwa[]: "Seht, das sind nun unsere Motive und Argumente gewesen, es so zu sagen, wie wir es taten, die und die Absicht haben wir dabei gehabt, als wir uns mit der Formgebung unserer Texte beschäftigten, dies und das war es, was wir vor allem möglichst kräftig agen wollte[n], um damit zugleich gegen bestimmte Mißverständnisse und Abweichungen und Irrtümer möglichst effektive anzugehen (1986: 18).
My first thought was "wait a minute ... Canonical process?" I was thus relieved to hear him later say:
Und doch haben wir es in dem sermo de Deo des biblischen Zeugnisses mit "Theologie" zu tun. Bei der Exegese biblischer Texte spüren wir nämlich von Mal zu Mal, daß der Formgebung dieser Texte mit einer großen Mannigfaltigkeit von Tendenzen theologische Reflexion zugrunde liegt (p. 20).
He backs this up with a the following great quote from Barth:
Die Sache [nämlich theología] war der neutestamentlichen Gemeinde sehr wohl bekannt ... als die Frage nach der Gestaltung des christlichen Denkens, Redens, Handelns und Lebens im Licht seines Ursprungs, Gegenstands und Inhalts. Nicht nur die paulinischen und johanneischen, sondern alle Schriten des NTs sind offenkundig auch Dokumente mannigfaltiger, in diesem Sinn 'theologisher' Besinnung und Arbeit, die ihre Autoren damit auch ihren Lesern zugemutet haben. In den Tatsachenberichten wie in den Lehren der Apostel und der Evangelisten steckt ein nicht zu unterschätzendes Maß solcher Reflexion: sie haben sich - das bezeugen die erhaltenen Texte auf der ganzen Linie - die Frage nach dem Sinn und Recht ihres Sprechens, gemessen and dem ihnen vorgegebenen Objekt, gestellt, haben sie, Jeder in seiner Weise (immer im Blick auf die sie umgebende Gemeinde und in Auseinandersetzung mit allerlei besserer oder schlechterer Theologie, die auch in deren Mitte getrieben wurde) beantwortet, und, wie im besonderen die Pastoralbreife zeigen, auch an ihre Nachfolger weitergegeben ... ." (KD IV/3, pp. 1008; cited in Breukelman, p. 35).
Bibliography: F.-W. Breukelman, Umschreibung des Begriffs einer "Biblischen Theologie" (orig. niederl. 1980): Texte und Kontext Nr. 31/32 (1986) 13-39.
P.S. I haven't read this yet, but here is a fascinating-looking article on Breukelman, who really comes very close to Childs's canonical approach in the essay above, which includes anecdotes about a debate he had with Eberhard Jüngel in the presence of Karl Barth on the role of the Old Testament in the Church. If I've glanced through the article correctly, it looks as if Barth was with Breukelman.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Jörg Jeremias' "canonical theory"

I posted a quote by Martin Buber the other day from the 60's, though its seems he had had such ideas already in the 30's, concerning the nature of the process which gave birth to the final form of the Bible. This process was, in other words, "canonical." Here is another quote, again by a German, though this time a Christian, a historical critic, and one living in our day and age: Jörg Jeremias (on the right in the photo). It was originally part of his Abschiedsvorlesung, and was published in 2006 as part of his essay, "Das Wesen der alttestamentlichen Prophetie." Can you spot any differences to Buber's account?
So sehen wir die Propheten der spätpersischen und hellenistischen Zeit mit der Suche nach einem Gesamtwillen Jahwes beschäftigt. Zu diesem Zweck beziehen sie die mannigfachen überlieferten Einzelworte bzw. -texte der vorausgehenden Propheten aufeinander, um das eine Wort hinter den vielen Wörtern aufzudecken und insbesondere das Verhältnis von göttlichem Gerichts- und Heilswillen zu klären. Sie machen dabei, wie oben an Joel 2 gezeigt, keineswegs an der Grenze der prophetischen Schriften Halt, sondern beziehen die großen Texte des Pentateuchs mit ein. Die kanonische Funktion der Prophetie ist weit älter als der faktische Abschluss des prophetischen Kanonteils.
And again:
[Am Ende der prophetischen Überlieferung im Alten Testament] steht das Bemühen, die vielfältigen schriftlichen Zeugnisse von einem Reden Gottes durch Propheten zusammenzufassen, aufeinander zu beziehen und nach dem einen übergreifenden Willen Gottes zu fragen. Die Disziplin einer 'Theologie der Prophetie' ist keine moderne Erfindung, sondern längst schon in der späten Prophetie selbst angelegt. Die kanonische Funktion der Prophetie ist weit älter als der faktische Übergang der Prophetie in kanonische Dignität.
J. Jeremias, Das Wesen der alttestamentlichen Prophetie, in: ThLZ 131 (2006) 3-14, hier 13f (Hervorhebung im Original).

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Buber's "canonical theory"

I was surprised to read the following thoughts from Martin Buber, written in 1964 and yet inspired by a Bible course he had held in Germany between 1934 and 1935. They seem to pretty well prepare the way for Childs' canonical approach:
Biblische text sind als Texte der Bibel zu behandeln, das heißt: einer Einheit, die, wenn auch geworden, aus vielen und vielfältigen, ganzen und fragmentarischen Elementen zusammengewachsen, doch eine echte organische Einheit und nur als solche wahrhaft zu begreifen ist. Das bibelstiftende Bewußtsein, das aus der Fülle eines vermutlich weit größeren Schrifttums das aufnahm, was sich in die Einheit fügte, und in den Fassungen, die dieser Genüge taten, ist nicht erst mit der eigentlichen Zusammenstellung des Kanons, sondern schon lange voher, in allmählichem Zusammenschluß des Zusammengehörigen, wirksam gewesen. Die Kompositionsarbeit war bereits "biblisch", ehe die erste Vorstellung einer bibelartigen Struktur erwachte; sie ging auf eine jeweilige Zusammenschau der verschiedenen Teile aus, sie stiftete Bezüge zwischen Abschnitt und Abschnitt, zwischen Buch und Buh, sie ließ den tragenden Begriff durch Stelle um Stelle klären, ließ die heimliche Bedeutung eines Vorgangs, die sich in der einen Erzählung nur eben leicht auftat, in einer andern sich voll erschließen, ließ Bild durch Bild und Symbol durch Symbol erleuchten. Manches von dem, was man "Midrasch" nennt, ist schon in der Bibel selbst, in diesen Zeugnissen einer zur biblischen Einheit strebenden Auslese- und Koordinationsarbeit zu finden, deren stärkstes Werkzeug eine diskret folgerichtige Verwendung von Wiederholungen, Motivworten, Assonanzen war. Wir stehen hier erst am Anfang einer methodischen Erkenntnis. Es gilt den Blick für diese Entsprechungen und Verknüpfungen und überhaupt für die Einheitsfunktion in der Bibel zu schärfen. Dann ergeben sich uns ganz andre Gebilde als die der "Quellenschriften", auf die die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft der letzten Jahrhunderte den Bau der Schrift zurückzuführen sucht; es ergibt sich größere Verschiedenheit und größere Gemeinsamkeit und das in seiner Dynamik erkennbare Werden dieser aus jener. Damit soll nicht gesagt sein, daß man sich nicht mit den Thesen der modernen Wissenschaft vertraut machen solle. Man soll es tun; man soll nur auch wissen, was es ist, das man durch sie erfährt. Thesen kommen und gehen; die Texte bleiben. [*]
It could do with a bit of refinement, but it's a great start. I'd love to know where he got these ideas from ...

[*]M. Buber, "Ein Hinweis für Bibelkurse," in Werke: zweite Band: Schriften zur Bibel (Kösel-Verlang, Munich), 1964, pp. 1185-1186.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Foreign languages and Biblical scholarship

I honestly didn't marry my wife in order to keep up to date with German scholarship, but I have to say, doing so was really a great move as far as my doctorate is concerned. For one thing, two doctorates have already been published on my thesis (Psalm 24), and they are both in German! I may well have been able to learn the language well enough to plough through the languages with a dictionary, but living here and speaking the language on a daily basis has made reading in German a pleasure rather than a chore (well, most of the time. Barth was a bit of a headache at first).

Which brings me to my Bockmuehl quote:
A generation ago, lip service was still paid to “keeping up” with scholarship in other languages, even if it was already a custom more honored in the breach than in the observance. For anyone inclined to the old-fashioned view (still widely held in the natural sciences) that serious scholarly inquiry is at least in principle a global enterprise, it can only be disheartening to observe how ofen footnotes in English remain remarkably untouched by directly pertinent recent publications in German, French, or Spanish—and vice versa. Rare is the scholar who bothers comprehensively with the key international publications (Bockmuehl, Seeing, 35)
Bockmuehl finds some comfort in the fact that
at least an Anglophone dialogue continues despite the accelerating continental drift separating Europe and America in religious, cultural and geopolitical respects (36).

Saturday, 17 October 2009

A canonical Paul?

One of the things that astounds me about the scholarly career of Brevard Childs is his ability to push boundaries in scholarship in the most diverse (Biblical) fields. In his lifetime he published groundbreaking work in the following areas: concrete exegetical analyses of Old Testament texts and themes, historical overviews of the discipline along with proposals for ways forward, Old Testament introduction, New Testament introduction, Biblical theology, dogmatic theology, hermeneutics, and the history of interpretation. Luckily his final book, published after he died, seems to continue this trend, this time in the realm of Pauline studies. I haven't gotten round to reading it yet, but Paul e-. Trainor has done a handy review for the Review of Biblical Literature. The book is called The Church's Guide for Reading Paul: The Canonical Shaping of the Pauline Corpus. Read the review here, and if you have time, tell me what you think (you can also peek into it at google books).

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Assessing Biblical Law: A division of labour

I posted yesterday on the need for a multiple level interpretation of Scripture. Such an interpretation, however, is an arduous task, as it requires knowledge from all theological fields (Church History, Dogmatics, History of Interpretation, Exegesis, Biblical Theology ... ). How many scholars today can live up to such a challenge? One of the first scholars to pose the challenge was Brevard Childs, in his 1979 Exodus commentary. He divided his commentary up into various stages: diachronic analysis, synchronic analysis, the history of interpretation, and theology. Yet even here, he felt that the dialogue needed to go on, and so he proposes a kind of division of labour. Here's what he has to say on Christian appropriation of Biblical law:
Although the need to provide a far more adequate theological interpretation of biblical law remains primarily the task of the theologian and ethicist, the modern Old Testament scholar can aid in making available pertinent information from his discipline. [*]
According to Childs, then, the theologian needs the exegete, yet given the importance of "correct context," the exegete also needs the theologian. In the context of a discussion of the Christian appropriation of Biblical law, here is an example of what Childs thinks the exegete has to offer the theologian as part of the broader dialogue (he calls them "points that must be taken into consideration"):
  1. The historically conditioned nature of the Old Testament law, which includes the Decalogue, has emerged with an even greater clarity on the basis of close study of Ancient Near Eastern material.

  2. The Old Testament laws give evidence of having arisen in different historical periods and often performed different functions; there is, however, no clear patter of 'ethical progress' which can be established on the basis of Old Testament texts.

  3. Most modern New Testament scholars would seriously question whether Jesus ever intended to present 'a higher ethic'. Certainly his relation to the Old Testament was a different one entirely from that represented by the evolutionist.

  4. Jewish interpretation of the Mosaic law cannot be dismissed by Christians as 'rigid' or 'legalistic' but it must be understood, first of all, on its own terms before engaging in a theological debate with Christian theology.

Again, several points should be made which affect the constructive task of developing an adequate theology of biblical law:

  1. The idealistic categories which admit divine inspiration only to what is regarded as 'eternally valid' or 'perfect' for all contexts must be firmly rejected in handling the Bible.The theological data of Old Testament law cannot be restricted by an a priori schema of values, symbols, ontology or the like.

  2. A theology of biblical law must relate specifically to the structuring of the concrete historical life of the people of God, who in ancient Israel, in the first-century church, and today continue to participate both in the kingdom of God and in the world.

  3. All forms of law, Old and New Testament alike, must be ultimately judged in the light of the living God himself who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ through a life of complete faithfulness under the law.

I look forward to reading the recently published I am the Lord your God: Christian Reflections on the Ten Commandments, to see in what sense these theologians have responded to Childs' proposals.

[*] Childs, Exodus, 496.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

A multiple level reading of Scripture

I've been posting on the issue of "figural reading" of the Old Testament recently, in particular on the way in which Jesus relates to the OT both "narratively" and "ontologically." I gave an example of the kind of challenge this type of reading can pose here (with an interesting response by Luke). Today I look at a proposal made by Brevard Childs.

Childs defends a multiple level reading of Scripture according to different contexts, but one where the integral contact between text and subject matter is not blurred. What he proposes is
a single method of interpretation which takes seriously both the different dimensions constituting the text as well as distinct contexts in which the text functions (1997:61).
As I mentioned in a thread dealing with the literal and spiritual senses of Scripture, there is no fixed temporal order in the exegesis: we already come to the text with a dogmatic framework, which is then altered in the light of the text. However, for pedagogical reasons Childs illustrates this move by taking us from the more familiar exegetical activity to the more complex reflective enterprise (taken from his essay, "Does the Old Testament Witness to Jesus Christ?" pp. 61-63):

1.The Old Testament's witness must be heard in its own voice (as I pointed out in this thread), which means it must be interpreted within its historical, literary, and canonical context. The genre of story, for example, excludes the possibility of having Jesus Christ read back into it, as in this context promise and fulfilment cannot be fused.

2.This literal/historical reading can be extended by placing it within the context of the two part canon. Structural similarities and dissimilarities between both testaments are analysed in which the aim is to pursue a relationship of content. For example, in terms of an understanding of God, it inquires as to which features the two testaments hold in common respecting the mode, intention, and goal of God's manifestations. This theological relationship is pursued both on the level of the textual witness and on that of the discrete matter (res) of the two collections.

3.The pursuit of the theological relationships between the two testaments provides an avenue towards comprehending the greater theological unity of the Christian Bible. The reality which undergirds the two testaments should not be held apart and left fragmented, but be critically reunited. When this reality is confronted, however, the reverse move takes place, as the interpreter is compelled to understand the biblical text from the context of this fuller horizon. In reference to the Old Testament's witness to Christ, this means moving beyond the unique voice of the prophets' testimony to a coming royal figure. Rather,
in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the history of Israel, the texts of both testaments in their fragmentary testimony to God's utterly mysterious purpose of new creation and redemption take on fresh life. Thus, when the interpreter moves from the reality of God manifest in action back to the Scriptures themselves for further illumination, he or she is constrained to listen for a new song break forth from the same ancient, sacred texts. As a result, in spite of generations of scholarly denial, few Christians can read Isaiah 53 without sensing the amazing morphological fit with the passion of Jesus Christ.”
In sum, Childs is proposing
“a text-oriented hearing of Scripture by a Christian community of faith which allows biblical texts to resonate from the force of divine reality gained through an encounter with the entire Christian Bible.”

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The challenge of figurative interpretation: an example

Before I touch on this, I'd like to refer to the comment section of my last post on The "horizontal" and "vertical" nature of the Old Testament witness. Michael has responded with some excellent questions, to which I have responded in depth.

Now to the title of the post:

The challenge in question is the challenge the concept of "allegorical" or "figural interpretation" poses to the task of theological interpretation itself. As Daniel Treier points out, "Without the practice ... we cannot read Scripture religiously as a unified canon" (Introducing Theological Interpretation of Scripture, p. 50; my own review is forthcoming). Yet, there is still debate as to how one ought to go about doing it. Again, as Treier says: "How to handle the legitimacy of typological and/or allegorical interpretation becomes a major concern for theological interpretation of Scripture" (p. 50). He gives the following examples:
Some once read the number of Abraham's servants - 318 (Gen. 14:14) - in such a way that it pointed to Christ. On the arbitrariness of this, we might think, most theological interpreters today could agree. What, then, about Rahab's scarlet cord? Does it point to the blood of Christ, as Clement of Rome suggested, and if so, how? Many critical scholars might assert that there is no connection at all between the two, for the Old Testament writer could not have had the later event in mind. By contrast, many precritical interpreters would find such an association clearly willed by the divine Author. Is the color of the cord really ingredient to the story in such a a way that we should connect it to Christ? If a mental association based on scarlet is arbitrary, merely symbolic in itself, does that mean that we cannot read the text in a way the prefigures Christ? Or might it point us toward a deeper narrative connection, coherence that is more inherent within the story? In that case, we might consider how the divinely appointed object served as the sign and means of God's deliverance, typifying how God rescues people and brings them into promised blessing (pp. 50-51).
Tomorrow I will post Brevard Childs' thoughts on a multi-level reading of Scripture.

Monday, 5 October 2009

The "horizontal" and "vertical" nature of the Old Testament witness

Old Testament scholars, especially those influenced by Karl Barth (which seems to include most of the German post-war generation, such as von Rad, W.H. Schmidt, Zimmerli, perhaps Otto Kaiser; see this post), often talk of the "witness" of the Old Testament. In other words, they understood a central function of the Bible as being to point beyond itself to some kind of reality. How did the New Testament understand this reality?

On the one hand, this reality was obviously understood to be "the message of the Gospel." Yet how this witness was understood to be rendered is more complex. In the New Testament, this message is related to the Jewish scriptures both in terms of a historical sequence (i.e. Jesus appeared in the “fullness of time”, Gal. 4:4), as well as on an ontological plane. Brevard Childs cites John 1:1, Col. 1:15f, and Rev. 13: 8 as examples of “a mode of speech in relation to a subject matter which disregards or transcends temporal sequence.”[*] As Childs said in one of his first publications: the Old Testament is not just a preparation for Jesus Christ but a manifestation of him. [**] (See his discussion of Wilhelm Vischer's more "vertical" approach in contrast to von Rad's more "horizontal" Heilsgeschichte).

We thus have different ways of understanding the way in which Jesus is related to the Old Testament. On the one hand, we can take the now well-know heilsgeschichtliche approach, and talk about him fulfilling Israel's narrative. On the other hand, one can take a more "vertical" (rather than "horizontal") approach, and talk about Jesus as the ontological reality which the Scriptures point to at each stage of the way (see my post The need for ontological categories in Biblical exegesis). This kind of move leads to that type of move from "text to subject-matter" known as "allegory" (see my post, What is Christian allegory?).

Allegory is, of course, incredibly unfashionable at the moment in Biblical studies (though I sense the tide is changing). One criticism of this type of exegetical move is that when exegesis is loosed from the controls of historical critical exegesis it opens the path to uncontrolled flights of fancy. Another criticism (raised by Rolf Rendtorff, I believe, in response to Childs' Biblical Theology), is that such a hermeneutical approach undermines the canonical function of the Old Testament, which was to preserve Israel's Scripture according to its own integrity. I've responded to this issue already in terms of the hermeneutical circle and the literal sense in a previous thread dealing with Literal and Spiritual Senses of Scripture. In my following posts, I will focus on how a modern Christian interpreter can conscientiously practice a multiple level reading of Scripture.

[*] 1997: 60; i.e. Jesus was the eternal Word who was with God in the beginning, “the image of the invisible God, first-born of all creation”, “the lamb slain from the foundation of the world”.
[**] 1962: 103, Myth and Reality in the Old Testament (SCM Press: London). Here the relationship between Old Testament and church is expressed in terms of the “New Israel” as witness to divine reality.

P.S. Considerations such as these inspired the name of my blog: Narrative and Ontology.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Law and Grace in Pss 15-24?

Many scholars consider the Psalms group 15-24 to be a consciously redacted whole. The so-called "torah-entrance" Psalms 15 and 24 frame the whole, forming the outer boundaries of chiasm with 19 in the middle (see the articles by Hossfeld & Zenger and Patrick Miller for the details). Barbiero (in Das erste Psalmbuch als Einheit, 1999) claims that one of the effects of this composition is to give a depth dimension to the concept of "righteousness" before God. In my post Is Ps 15 "softened" by Ps 24? I quoted his claim that the righteousness required as prerequisite for entrance into the sanctuary in Psalm 15 is supplemented by Psalm 19's confession that such righteousness is impossible (Ps 19:12-13): "It is only when YHWH forgives, and not out of one's own strength, that the worshipper can become innocent."

Barbiero goes on to make a similar statement concerning the entire collection of Psalms 15-24 (first in German, than my translation in italics):
Die drei Psalmen 22-23-24 sind darüber hinaus durch das Wort צדק verbunden (22,23; 23, 3; 24,5). In ihnen bekommt das Wort eine andere Betonung als in den Psalmen 15-18 (vgl. 15,2; 17,1.15; 18,21.25). War dort von menschlicher Leistung die Rede (die Gerechtigkeit war die Bedingung, in s Heiligtum Einlaß zu bekommen bzw. von Gott erhört zu werden), so ist hier die Gerechtigkeit vorwiegend eine Gabe Gottes. In 22,32 wird die צדקתו, die Gerechtigkeit Gottes verkündet, die sich durch die Rettungstat als solche erwiesen hat. In 23,3 ist von einer Führung Gottes durch die "Pfade der Gerechtigkeit" die Rede. Sie ist als eine Andeutung auf die Tora zu verstehen (vgl. 19,10). In 24,5 ist nun die צדקה die Gabe, die der (gerechte) Tempelbesucher von dem "Gott seines Heils" bekommt (p. 283).
In addition to this, the three Psalms 22-23-24 are connected by the word צדק (Pss 22:23; 23: 3; 24:5). In these Psalms, the word receives a different emphasis to the the one in Psalms 15-18 (cf. Pss 15:2; 17:1,15; 18:21,25). Whereas there the emphasis is on human accomplishment (righteousness is the condition for either entering the sanctuary or being heard by God), here the righteousness of God is primarily a gift of God. The righteousness of God (צדקתו) is proclaimed in Ps 22:32 as something which has been proved itself by an act of salvation. In Ps 23:3 there is talk of being led by God within the "paths of righteousness." This is to be understood as an allusion to the Torah (cf. Ps 19:10). In Ps 24:5 צדקה is now a gift, which the (righteous) visitor to the temple receives from "the God of his salvation" (p. 283).
What do you think? Does this work?