Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Son of Hamas gets asylum

I posted this afternoon on the trial awaiting Mosab Hassan Yousef, the "Son of Hamas." The answer is now out: he has been granted asylum:

Go here for a list of related news articles.

Pray for the Son of Hamas

If you subscribe to the Judeo-Christian faith then you will believe certain things. You will believe that the God of the universe condescends to hear the prayers of his people and not only hear but, in accordance with his will, to act thereupon. You will believe that a defining characteristic of this God is his חֶסֶד - covenant faithfulness to his people. Thus, if you pray for him to be faithful to those with whom he stands in covenant, will he not hear it?

Someone worthy of such prayer is Joseph, the son of the founder of Hamas and saver of hundreds of human lives: Israeli, Palestinian, American etc. For details on Joseph's life, further links and video interviews, go here. He currently stands, however, on the brink of being "betrayed" by the American government. Is betrayal too strong a word? If it isn't that, then it can only be an idiocy of such perversity that it makes George Bush's foreign policies look like case studies in cultural awareness.

Here's the situation, presented by Fox News:

For a later update, go here.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Interview excerpts with the Son of Hamas

Probably the most fascinating figure I have ever come across is Mosab Hassan Yousef, the eldest son of one of the founders of Hamas. After disillusion with Hamas' hypocrisy, Joseph (Yousef) went on a search for the truth ("who is my real enemy?" was his guiding question), and it led him to Christianity. The revolutionary moment for him was hearing from the lips of Jesus words he considered unthinkable: "Love your enemies as yourself." The story is long and I can't go into detail here (read his biography, which made it to the NY Times top 10; I've yet to get round to it). In short: he ended up spying for ten years for Israel's security body, Shin Bet, with the express intention of fulfilling Jesus' words: i.e. to save lives on both sides of the fence. He even negotiated with Shin Bet to have suicide bombers arrested rather than executed, risking his own life in the process. For me, one of the most fascinating and beautiful things about Joseph is the way he constantly emphasises the humanity of terrorists. In contrast to the simplistic and self-righteous attempt to explain them away by calling them "mad men," Joseph talks of them with love in his heart and a yearning for "their salvation," most of all salvation from their own ideology. In light of all this, the latest twist in his inspiring story is so perverse it could almost be in a comedy book rather than a tragedy: the US Inland Security wants him deported to the West Bank as a security threat. The reason: in his biography he describes how working for Shin Bet meant working within Hamas itself (seems obvious to me). Returning to Palestine would mean his execution of course, as conversion from Islam is a capital offence. The hearing, by the way, takes place to day. Pray for him.

For more info, John Hobbins has a round up of relevant sites and videos here. "Joseph's" Facebook page is constantly being updated with the latest news (for example, Inland Security in the States want him deported as a threat) and his website has various videos and information. He even personally authors a blog here.

Today I just want to share some of the latest video excerpts that I've come across in Youtube. They're taken from a Christian conference (I don't know which one) and give you an insight into what really does seem to be the motivating and sustaining factor behind everything that he is doing. If you think that his "political" work can be separated from his "personal faith" (a peculiarly modern dichotomy), than which this powerful interview with CNN's Amanpour. I get the impression that even this hardened interviewer was taken aback, even moved ... . Whatever you think of his opinions, I don't think his voice can be ignored.

So here are the most recent videos:

First, an account of his relationship to his father:

Here he answers the question: "who is my real enemy?:

Here are some comments on "how God is working the the Middle East":

Here he's talking about Jewish and Palestinian converts to Christianity:

Here's an anecdote about worshipping with an Israeli soldier:

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Historical criticism and theological reality: a case study

In light of the recent debates on the relation of faith and critical Biblical scholarship (see espeically the long dialogues on John Hobbins' blog here, as well as on mine here), I thought I'd provide an exegetical example for how it is possible to be one - critical (in the sense of "analytical" and not "cynical") - as well as the other - religiously committed (in the sense of subscribing to the basic theological truth claims of the Bible). Whether the result is successful or not I leave for you to judge. I don't want to claim that the relation is easy (contra this simplistic view)[*], but I do claim that with humility and the capacity to "eschatologically" suspend one's judgement ("one day this will come together - at some level, somehow"), the dialectic between reason and revelation can be fruitful.

My case study is Childs' analysis of the plague traditions in Exodus. I've already given a detailed overview of the "kerygmatic" nature of these traditions here. Today I focus on the question of the theological reality lying behind these witnesses (a question systematically ignored in Biblical studies as being, somehow, and yet inconceivably to me, "irrelevant").

Childs holds that the literary sources in Exodus grew out of a response to a prior tradition which was religiously authoritative for them. Exegetically more significant, however, is the question of the nature of this response. Childs holds that they are a theological response to a theological problem present within that ancient tradition.

For example, Childs notes the presence of a “strange atmosphere” of “historical distance” that pervades the combined testimony of the final edited form of the text.1 His search for the original Sitz im Leben of these traditions has led him through the history of transmission to “a primary, non-derivable stage.” There is, prior to the construals of J, P, and E (etc.), a level of tradition in which Moses is universally seen to be a man “possessed of power to perform miracles.” Yet, despite this power, he was unable to force the king of Egypt to release the Israelites.

In fact, this fundamental failure of the miracles to subdue Pharaoh accounts for the variety of reflections which sought an explanation. Pharaoh's heart was hardened; Pharaoh continued to renege on his promise; the magicians used magic to copy Moses. Only in the plague stories was a tradition retained in which such great miracles, constantly repeated, continued to fail. The fact that ultimately plague X did not accomplish its end, did not remove the difficulty of the earlier one, nor explain the failure.2

Childs concludes:

the sense of the mystery of Pharaoh's resistance lies at the root of the tradition. Now it is apparent that the essential problem with which we began is not ultimately form-critical in nature, but profoundly theological. The interpreter is still faced with the task of penetrating the mystery of God's power before human pride.3

Indeed, within the body of the commentary itself (i.e. interpretation of the final form rather than the prolegomena of form and literary criticism), Childs notes that despite the presence of different sources, in the final form there is no real tension.

Rather, they contribute to the richness of the narrative and vary the pattern of the series to prevent the threat of monotony in recounting the long series. Because the concessions reach an impasse, in the final analysis there is no real conflict in terms of content between the ... approaches to Pharaoh's resistance.4

What Childs has done here isn't in itself full-blown theological exegesis (which, given that the Bible is theological, is the most legitimate form of exegesis). That comes when one starts to think about the nature of the historical experience, and the nature of the responses to that experience. As I showed in my last post, a significant element of that response was the canonical shaping of Scripture itself. We thus move from "diachronic" to "synchronic" yet all the while with an eye to that one reality that (who) evoked the tradition, the source, the redaction, the interpretation in the first place.

What is the content of the Bible and how can we perceive it? Does a commitment to a dichotomy between faith and reason, the latter being compartmented to the sphere of private piety, really help us to understand the Bible itself? I think Hendel's claims will result in a methodological and thus exegetical catastrophe of the first order.

[*] "Der Konflikt von persönlichem Glauben und kritischer Bibelwissenschaft ist nichts Ungewöhnliches. Er tritt meist schon im Studium und bevorzugt bei Studenten mit pietistischem Hintergrund auf, die allerdings bald ergreifen, dass nicht die Geschichte den Glauben, sondern der Glaube Geschichte macht." (p. 45). [for translation see comments]Wie bitte? Is this supposed self-evident? The fact that it contradicts 2000 years of Jewish and Christian theology and the very substance of the Bible itself would imply that this is at best a personal decision on the part of the author. And as far as conservative students are concerned, I don't have the statistics but I can tell you that a large number don't simply "get" this "fact," they lose their faith altogether and leave the church (or stay in the church but abandon the creed to become sociologists of religion, cultural analysts, or social workers).

1Childs, Exodus, 142.

2Childs, Exodus, 149.

3Childs, Exodus, 149.

4Childs, Exodus, 155. Emphasis mine.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Theology, science, and Hendel

A lengthy discussion has ensued from my post responding to Hendel's recent critique of SBL. To put it starkly: I'm claiming that Hendel wishes to impose a particular theological dogma as a norm for determining who may legitimately read the Bible. This is a faith decision. There's nothing wrong with this per se - confessional schools do it as a matter of course, including, ironically, those institutions which gave birth to and still nourish critical Biblical study: the German theological faculties (see this fascinating article on the legal status of Gerd Lüdemann).

I'm grateful to Michael and Kyle, two valuable interlocuters who sit on opposite sides of the fence on this issue. Kyle has shared a link to an interesting article that might put Hendel's comments into perspective: "What Has Theology Ever Done for Science?" According to the author, the answer is "quite a lot." Of particular interest to me is the way that the actual content of our theology can effect the scientific enterprise, for better or worse.

I'd like to emphasize once again that I affirm the existence of an empirically reality that can be comprehended by reason and which can constrain our interpretations in a limited number of directions. Contrary to the author of the article above, however, I do no think that this necessarily contradicts "postmodernism" - though it does depend whose postmodernism we are talking about (for my interaction with an inadequate variety, see my posts on Walter Brueggemann). A very helpful take on this is James K.A. Smiths' The Fall of Interpretation . I quoted this book precisely on the issue of subjectivity and objective reality in my post Postmodernists believe in objective reality too! (Smith, by the way, also happens to author an excellent blog).

Thursday, 24 June 2010

J, E, P as theological witnesses

The logic of Brevard Childs' canonical approach flows out of a commitment to understanding the reality testified to by the historical prophets and apostles. He does not start with an a priori commitment to the final form of the text, synchronic exegesis for the sake of it, or a broad thematic approach to Scripture. Rather, he looks to the historical tradents that gave us what was to become Scripture and attempts to understand what they were getting at. From that diachronic analysis his gaze is directed elsewhere, but only after the tradents themselves have redirected him.

An illustration of Childs' understanding of the nature of these tradents can be found in his source critical analysis of the Book of Exodus. Childs finds here a diversity of tradents who were involved in the production of the text. The “Plagues of Egypt” narrative (Ex 7:8-11:10), for example, consists of Priestly and Jahwist sources with small fragments of the Elohist (P, J, E), supplemented by late glosses.1 Each source has its own narrative account of the plague, drawing on a common body of pre-existent oral tradition, and each witness originally stood independent of the others. These authors responded to their authoritative tradition in different ways, yet guided by the common desire to shape that tradition for the next generation of faith.

The Jahwist, for example, “shows tremendous freedom and imagination in fashioning his account,” despite the “traditional forces bearing on the writer which had determined in general the conclusion and general structure of the narrative.”2 J builds in a concession motif, for example, creating a sense of increased tension in which Pharaoh's reneging on a previously granted concession (8:28; 9:28) turns to an impasse created by the inadequacy of Pharoah's later offer, (10:8-11), climaxing in the final breakdown in communication (10:24-29). In addition to this, the Jahwist skilfully portrays Moses and Pharaoh as competing antagonists—despite the roles which tradition had assigned to them—and creates an interesting tension between the LORD's absolute demands for release and his willingness to negotiate.3

The Elohist, on the other hand, is only preserved in fragmentary form, though as a continuous strand nonetheless. The movement of his narrative follows that of the Priestly writer and seems to reflect more the original tradition which was their common source. The plagues come in quick series and have no affect on Pharaoh because of the hardness of his heart.

The editorial integration of E with J results in an expansion of J's basic schema, such as the transition from the Lord's executing the plague in J to Moses' being the agent.

Again, the Priestly source reflects a variant tradition to that of J. For example, there was a distinction between plagues and miracles which originally served to distinguish the traditions of P and J. In P's schema Moses and the magicians compete in the performing of miraculous signs, yet the signs soon take on the characteristic of plagues, whereas the J source speaks initially of plagues, but these shortly function as signs. P also interprets the function of the hardening of Pharaoh differently to E: rather than plagues being a result of Pharaoh's hardness, Pharaoh is hardened so that the Lord can multiply his signs. Another difference to J and E is that for P the killing of the first-born does not belong the the plague tradition but to an originally independent Passover tradition. This plague is neither a plague in a sequence nor a sign, rather in P's account it functions to bring about the release of the Israelites, in fulfilment of the promise of 7:3-5. P also links the plague tradition to the crossing of the sea, in contrast to J, for whom the sea tradition belongs to the tradition of the wanderings in the wilderness.

Not only do these authors actualize their sacred traditions in differing ways, the combination creates an actualization of its own. Both the passover and reed sea traditions are brought into closer proximity to the plague tradition and there is a merging of miracles and plagues so that signs function as plagues and plagues serve as signs. In addition to all this, the various glosses evidence further theological reflection on the content of the tradition, actualizing the text for later generations in various ways. In 9:14-16, God's long-suffering does not represent self-restraint rather than impotence. 9:19-21 evidences a didactic interest to distinguish between “god-fearers” and the unbelievers, providing a testimony that the solidarity of judgement against all Egypt could always be relieved by faith in God's word. 10:1b-2 is a theological expansion, Deuteronomic in character:

The author uses the hardening vocabulary of J, but the theology of P. Any clear-cut distinction between sign and plague has also been lost. The expansion reflects the early interest in the actualization of the plague for a later generation. Here the Deuteronomic interest is more didactic than liturgical (cf. Ex.13.14f.; Josh.4.21). The understanding of the plagues as a testimony to God's great power by which to make sport of mighty Pharaoh is at work.4

In terms of Childs' canonical approach, the following key ideas ought to be borne in mind: 1) there is a dialectical relation between later witness (the sources and their redactors) and prior tradition. Prior witness constrains later interpretation, later interpretation shapes prior tradition. The prior tradition is thus religiously authoritative; 2) this process of interpretation was theological and aimed at identifying God's will for later generations of faith (contra many proposals from contemporary scholars today, who consider the primary force at work in Israel's tradition as political manipulation); 3) the redactional shaping of the sources is an extension of the source's own activity of shaping the tradition. There is thus continuity: the continuity of (dialectical) theological reflection, indeed reflection on the content of the tradition. One could no doubt claim that the tradition prior to these sources also partook of this same process. 4) The final form represents the culmination of a process of theological interpretation within the context of a broader understanding of the will and identity of God.

1Cf. Exodus, 131, for Childs' suggested source divisions with glosses.

2Childs, Exodus, 135.

3Childs, Exodus, 136.

4 Childs, Exodus, 142

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

My 2 cents on Hendel's BAR piece

Hendel's recent criticism of SBL has been doing the rounds on the blogosphere. For comments, check out Ancient Hebrew Poetry, Biblia Hebraica, Exploring Our Matrix, Suzanne's Bookshelf, Euangelion, Jim West etc. etc. (James McGrath has collected posts to date). SBL has responded in part here.

Here are my two cents:

I appreciate Hendel's commitment to allowing objective reality - both of the text and of the external world - to function as a constraint on the kind of interpretive construals presenters at a Biblical studies forum are allowed to make. I also appreciate his commitment to reason as a tool for interpreting that reality. However, not only does his conception of what in fact constitutes a "fact" seem rather naive, he seems to contradict his own premise, namely that faith has nothing to do with responsible study of the Bible. He says:
facts are facts, and faith has no business dealing in the world of facts.
Isn't this a deist position? Even if it isn't, isn't it still the case that Hendel has taken a "theological" stance which will then inevitably constrain the way he approaches the subject matter of the Bible? He can be deist (or atheist, or whatever) if he wants, but he can't then claim that by being so he has left his cosmological presuppositions at the door of his academic office. The irony here is that the God of the Bible is simply not one that would fit into Hendel's implied creed - he is יהוה עשה השמים וארץ, the creator of ... facts, historical or natural. So even at the level of exegetical method one wonders whether his theological presuppositions are best suited to enabling him grasp the subject matter SBL has commited itself to studying.

I know this is a highly complex area, that commitments to various ontological, soteriological, anthropological and even eschatological systems has distorted our ability to grasp what is actually going on in the Bible. As a confessing Christian, I want to affirm with Hendel the existence of a the empirical realm which stands over against our prior faith commitments (see my posts on the dialectical nature of Biblical history). And yet, at the same time, all humans are subject to the kinds of presuppositions outlined above, we wouldn't be able to function without them. It seems to me that the best way forward is not (try and) suppress or ignore our theology but to try and improve it and then bring it into dialectical relation to "the facts." I'm sure Hendel himself would not appreciate being called a "deist," and I think a bit more theological reflection on what kind of a God he does believe in could not only do him some good, but also the broader community of Biblical students he's paid to serve (and the same goes for Waltke).*

*[One example from my own experience where a more refined theology has honed my "critical" skills is the area of the Immanent and Economic Trinity. Appreciating this ancient Nicene Dogma is helping me become more "liberal" in my take on Biblical historicity and the concept of the literary/theological unity of the text].

A professional new blog on Ancient Hebrew Grammar

John Hobbins has made me aware of an exciting new blog: Ancient Hebrew Grammar. The authors are respected Hebrew linguists John Cook and Robert D. Holmstedt. Not only will it be a forum for the publication of snippets of their current research, they also have links to a host of published work, including an entire Hebrew textbook, now available for free as pdf files. A wonderful example of open source scholarship!

While on the subject of ancient Hebrew, there's an interesting video on Youtube of a Samaritan reading Exodus 12 according to the Samaritan dialect. Thanks for this goes to Yitzhak Sapir from the Canaanite Languages and Literature list.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The exegesis of B.S. Childs: an overview

This post presents an overview of the the structure of my next thread, dedicated to illustrating Childs' manner of doing exegesis. I will update it by adding hyperlinks as the thread progresses.

3. The Witness
3.1 The profile of the tradents
3.3 The "effect" on the final form
4. The Substance
4.1 Force and Sachkritik
4.2 The res

[For a summary of posts dealing with canonical exegesis to date, go here]

Saturday, 19 June 2010

The heart of the Gospel is ontological

I named this blog "narrative and ontology" because of my interest in theological hermeneutics and my conviction that the church needs to emphasize both of these dimensions of Scripture. The text is kerygmatic, proclamatory, verbal discourse designed to do something. And the thing it does is point beyond itself to a reality, a "real" reality, something "ontological" and not just existential, psychological, or sociological. But at the end of the day, it's not the Bible but this reality that really matters. The Bible itself points beyond itself to what Childs called its "substance," its Sachverhalt, its res (Childs considers Biblical intertextuality to be "deictic"). Without the ontology the narrative is meaningless and I personally would lose all interest in the Bible.

So what is the Sache? I usually attempt to answer this by reference to the Church's traditional rule of faith. For an extended discussion on this go here. However, I read a quote this morning and then heard a sermon this afternoon which I think gets to the Sache (gets to the "point") far more succinctly. The quote is by Herman Bavinck:
The essence of the Christian religion consists therein: that the creation of the Father, destroyed by sin, is again restored in the death of the Son of God and recreated by the grace of the Holy Spirit to a Kingdom of God
Here, the substance of the Christian - I would say Biblical - faith really is ontological. It has to do with being. An eschatological being, perhaps, one that explodes all our current categories, but being nonetheless.

I then heard an impassioned sermon on this subject, fittingly preached on Easter Sunday, the day of the Resurrection. It's about Heaven, and Heaven is "Real." The preacher is Phil Hill and the congregation is the Arab Local Baptist Church in Nazareth. You can listen to it here.

[P.S. For thoughts on this issue in relation to the Piss Christ, go here].

Friday, 18 June 2010

Continuity in Childs' exegesis

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm starting a new thread looking at the ways in which Brevard Childs read the Bible. The content of these posts will be pretty simple: I'm simply going to be posting extracts from his two major commentaries: Exodus and Isaiah, juxtaposed in relation to each other and in relation to what I consider to be certain central themes in his work. One could argue at this point that these two commentaries stem from totally different points in Childs career and thus cannot be simply juxtaposed. Almost like a bracket, the Exodus commentary was written at a time before Childs had devloped the concept of a "canonical approach," whereas the Isaiah commentary was published at the end of his career, at a time when the very term "canonical approach" had begun to become problematic for him (due to its misinterpretation by others - do I now belong to that crowd? That's for you to judge).

That a development in thought occurred is clear. My task is nevertheless to highlight the continuity across Childs' career, and I will juxtapose his exegesis from both commentaries in relation to specific issues.

If I were to define this continuity in terms of a phrase, I guess I would say it is his Barthian stance vis-à-vis the Bible, namely, that the text is a "witness" to a reality outside of itself. This “genre category” (because it functions as a description of the nature of the text itself) provided Childs with the impetus in his later career for re-considering allegory as a legitimate mode of appropriating the Bible theologically. Already in a colloquium on Barth in 1969 Childs notes how
Barth wants to go through the text, to the reality, that the text becomes a transparency, that the walls that separate the reader are dissolved, and one then begins to confront the reality itself.”1
This was his point of difference with Hans Frei, who was also present at the colloquium. In contrast to pure narrative referentiality, Childs believes
One has to keep in mind that the early church, in the controversy with Judaism, took a quite different move. Where the Jews were saying, read the text! read the text!, the Christians said, there's something behind the text. It's what the text points to, namely: Jesus Christ. And there was a dialectic between the reality and the text.”2
In a later re-working of the same presentation, Childs notes with admiration how Barth's exbegesis was compatible “with the whole Christian tradition,” that there is a certain “family resemblance.”3

This final term became a key phrase in his look at the history of Christian interpretation of Isaiah.

We will see how this works itself out exegetically in the posts to come.

1Childs, “Karl Barth,” 34.

2Childs, “Karl Barth,” 56.

3Childs, “Karl Barth: The Preacher's Exegete,” unpublished lecture at Yale, 1969 (Thanks to Daniel Driver for providing me with a copy of this paper. He himself received a copy from Christopher Seitz). Childs' last publication before his death, Struggle, makes this phrase and reality programmatic.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The principles of Childs' exegesis

In my forthcoming posts - the subject of my next "mega thread" - I will be presenting examples of Biblical exegesis by Brevard Childs, the inspiration for my last "mega-thread." There will, however, be a logic behind the presentation. That logic is the logic of Childs' 'canonical approach,' (those are 'scare quotes,' by the way) as I worked it out in my last thread (also published as an article here) and refined through further study. What follows in this post is a roughly schematic summary of my understanding of the basic principles Childs operated by. I will then present examples of his exegesis in order to illustrate each of these principles.

I feel I should add a caveat: there is something awkward about having claimed to have understood someone else's approach. In fact, there is still much that is difficult for me and I am aware that even in those areas where I think I understand, I could be seriously mistaken. I always appreciate critical feedback.

A final note: I've scattered hyperlinks to the posts I've made over the last few years throughout the text. My selection is, due to time constraints and the limitations of memory, rather ad hoc and I may no longer fully stand behind the views expressed in the links. Feel free comment where you wish.

Our starting point should be Childs' alethiological stance, namely his theological commitment to the content of the testimony of the prophets and apostles, understood to be vehicles of truth. On the one hand, the historical nature of these witnesses requires a thoroughly historical critical analysis of their testimony in all its human particularity. The adequate tools for such an analysis are unlimited, so the exegete should make use of the best of contemporary scholarship. It is important that every dimension of the testimony be taken seriously. No one stage should be prioritized a priori over the other. If an earlier layer of tradition is more decisive for the thrust of the whole, then it should guide an interpretation of the final from.1 This commitment to human proclamation coupled with a recognition of the multi-layered nature of the text raises a particular challenge concerning the significance of intentionality, particularly in assessing types of intertextuality. It is not the case the one can freely garner texts from across the canon in order to observe the creative outcome of their interplay. Rather, just as there are different types of activity within the history of the text, so one must wrestle with different types of intentionality, or “different degrees of consciousness” as Childs put it.2 The juxtaposition of completed blocks of tradition such as the four Gospels or the two Testaments requires a different level of analysis to the citation of an earlier text by a later one or unintentional allusions due to a shared ideological background. Again, in line with current understandings of communicative acts, it would appear that the form of a text or tradition is integrally related to its function, both within the community and within the literary corpus to which it has been assigned.3 Until a better understanding of human communication is developed, it would appear that these two dimensions of the text must be continue to be kept in view.

On the other hand, it is not the witness himself who should be the focus of our case. He is ultimately only a vehicle to the revelation to which he witnesses. That means that if one wishes to take the intentionality of the prophets and apostles seriously one must move one's gaze from the proclamation itself to its actual substance, its res. We need to move beyond the descriptive task and wrestle with the “content of the witnesses' faith.”4 To stay at the “literal” level of the text would negate its kerygmatic function and lead to the anomaly of an “anthropocentric” interpretation of Holy Scripture. We must thus keep an eye out for talk of the theocentric focus of the text and the nature of the text's substance or content. In particular, it is the effect of the shaping of traditions on the final form that provides access to this reality. Again, the reality is mediated by but distinct from the textual vehicle, so that one can expect talk of the substance to break with the concrete contours of the text under discussion. Rather, it is at the thematic level that one can see how a particular text provides light on a broader reality testified to in the totality of Scripture and in the theological experience of the interpreter. The living nature of this substance who has continued to reveal Himself to his people throughout history requires serious attention to those who have also wrestled with this theological subject matter, responding to His coercion through the text.5 The history of interpretation, or perhaps more theologically adequate the text's Wirkungsgeschichte,6 therefore furnishes us with an invaluable resource for “piercing the text.” Of fundamental significance is the presence of a force. Identifying its movements helps point our gaze in the correct direction.

The move from text to reality takes the interpreter from the the realm of Biblical exegesis (the qualifier “theological” introduces an alien dichotomy) to that of Biblical theology. Though in reality the relationship between text and dogma (reality) is dialectical,7 the task of Biblical theology is a sphere of its own, outside of the domain of a commentary. The Biblical theologian extends the hermeneutical circle to include the relationship between different dimensions of the reality, the interaction of Word and Spirit, and includes a reverse movement from reality back to witness.8 The theological function of a commentary, on the other hand, is to stay close to the sequence of the Biblical text, and wrestle with interpretative questions.9 As far as exegesis is concerned, Biblical theology is an “ancillary discipline that better serves in equipping the exegete for the real task of interpreting the biblical text itself.”10

1Contra many misconceptions of Childs. See his discussion of the book of Judges in his Introduction

2Childs, “Response,” 54. It is for this reason that Childs prefers Thistleton's use of speech-act theory over Wolterstorff's, and Beuken's use of intertextuality over Steins'. See “Speech-act,” “Critique,” and Isaiah.

3Childs' commitment to function—“illocutionary stance” to use speech-act parlance—as a key ingredient to meaning explains his preference for M. Sternberg's literary analysis (for whom narrative is a “functional structure”) over that of J. Barr. See M. Steinberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative: Ideology and the Drama of Reading (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985; especially his critique of H. Frei, J. Kugel,and R. Alter , pp. 1-57), J. Barr, “The Bible as Literature,” in The Bible and the Modern World (London: SCM, 1972), 53-74, and Childs' comments in Biblical Theology, 20. In his exegesis of Isaiah 10, therefore, Childs can say: “Although accurate historical dating can at times be of exegetical significance, the crucial interpretative task lies in determining the narrative function to which the texts have been assigned, rather than in supplying a reconstructed setting apart from its present literary (canonical) context.” Childs, Isaiah, 94 (emphasis mine).

4Cf. Childs, “Psalm 8 in the Context of the Christian Canon,” Interpretation 23:1 (1969), 20-31.

5In conclusion to his analysis of the history of Christian interpretation of Isaiah, Childs proposes that “an investigation of this history of interpretation that focusses its analysis on the assumption that various cultural forces (historical, sociological, philosophical) are the controlling factors at work misconstrues the most central components of the church's theological reflections. ... there are theological parameters preserving the church that are continually being shaped by the Spirit's quickening in the understanding of its scriptures toward a faithful witness to Jesus Christ. ... we can derive new confidence in confessing with the creed: I believe in the one holy catholic and apostolic church.” Struggle, 322-333.

6Wirkungsgeschichte denotes the opposite direction of influence. The text exerts a “coercion” on faithful interpreters who submit to this “theocentric force.”

7“One comes to exegesis already with certain theological assumptions and the task of good exegesis is to penetrate so deeply into the Biblical text that even these assumption are called into question, are tested and revised by the subject matter itself.” In Childs, “Does the Old Testament Witness to Jesus Christ?” in Evangelium, Schriftauslegung, Kirche (ed. J. Ådna, S. Hafemann, O. Hofius, and G. Feine; Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1997), 57-64; here, 60.

8Cf. Childs, Biblical Theology, 85-88. He draws here on A. Louth, Mystery.

9Cf. Childs, “The Genre of the Biblical Commentary as Problem and Challenge,” in Tehillah le-Moshe (ed. M. Cogan, B. Eichler, and J. Tigay; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1997), 185-192.

10Childs, Isaiah, xii.