Monday, 31 December 2007

What I Learnt this Year

One of my favourite Christmas presents this year was an Andachtsbuch (devotional book), written in 1883 by a certain Johannes Paulsen, a Lutheran Pastor who played a role in the pietist revivals. The entry for Dec. 31st containts the following exhortation:

"I beg you, dear Christian, to sit in silence this New Year's Eve and contemplate the [divine] guidance you have received over the previous year."
Well, Ingrid and I actually plan to spend New Year in Berlin, which is hosting the world's biggest street party this year. Luckily, I have already done my contemplating and so am able to share with you some of the truths that have become a reality for me over the past year. Central to the entire experience has indeed been God's guidence and mysterious faithfulness, not just over the past year, but over my entire life (and in particular the last eight years). Here's what I have to offer. I invite contradiction and criticism, but expect a response!

- God is sovereign. It's his world, his plan and his will. He stoops down into our world and works within our categories and traditions, but he isn't bound by these categories and traditions. When he wishes, he hides himself and leaves us dangling (biblical echo: 1 Samuel 4-7).
- God places a high premium on human responsibility. So high it's scary. Part of that responsibility is taking care of the purity of your own heart. The connection between 'inside' and 'outside' is more important than piety and religious posturing. He wants you, he wants genuine, sincere, full-hearted workers and warriors in his kingdom and he's willing to put you through hell to make you realize where your priorities lie (biblical echo: King David's career, the 'deuteronomic' version).
- God, despite seemingly overwhelming evidence to the contrary, is a solid rock and eternal foundation, a fortress to those who seek shelter from the storm. But this God is not an abstract principle to be nodded at or an indulgent father to manipulate. He's a man with a plan, and this plan is of eternal significance. This plan is called the Gospel, and those who would find shelter in this safehaven must first be gripped, propelled and infused with this vision. Adoption into God's family means playing according to his agenda, and this agenda determines the nature of the relationship (biblical echo: the Book of Job).
- God's agenda is good, very good. This can seem hard to grasp when the battle is grim (and all too easy to forget) but the end is of a joy that is so substantial that all previous pain evaporates in the presence of tasting what life was meant to be from the very start. The greatest meaning and significance one can receive is participating in this movement, struggle, from falleness to restoration. Hope consists in 'tasting' this reality and realising there is more to come. Motivation for mission consists in wanting others to see this reality and be redeemed by it.
- One practical lesson I've learned is connected to my first point: you can't manufacture spirituality by doing your Bible Study, liturgy, quiet time, meditation or joining a religious organisation. These activities only become truly spiritual when they become places for meeting the God of your salvation, the God of the Gospel. The Gospel is the pre-condition for genuine spirituality, which can only be a response and participation, and not the result. Our work flows out of our vision, and not vice versa.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Yemenite Hebrew Audio Clip

Ever wanted to hear Yemenite Hebrew, or the way Yemenite Jews chant the Bible? I'd heard that the tradition was ancient so I certainly did, and was delighted to finally hear some here for the first time (Gen. 1:1ff). How cool is that?!

It sounds similar to Arabic and pronounces distinctions which modern Hebrew has forgotten (e.g. taf, ghimel and dalet with dagesh). I have to say, I find it a pity that modern Hebrew has lost the tonal variety it once had (which Arabic has retained). The modern variety just sounds flat.

(Hat Tip to Dvar Akher. Read the comment section for more info)

Saturday, 29 December 2007

New Year in Berlin and Open Source Scholarship

This is just a quick note, scribbled from my in-law's place in Berlin, that posts will be sporadic till I get back after New Year. That includes responses to comments on my posts. I promise to be thinking about an answer before I get back!

I should quickly use this opportunity to draw attention to Dave Beldman's useful list of open source links for biblical scholarship. He also has a great bibliography for Ecclesiastes here.

Another exciting resource is Yale University's online introductory courses, which you can either watch with Quick Time or listen to on your iPod. Deane has a great summary of their introduction to the Old Testament (by Christine Hayes) here. Other courses on offer are:

Astronomy
English
Philosophy
Physics
Political Science
Psychology

So, till I get back to the Internet, have a happy new year!

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

It's Christmas Time ...

... so I guess, given the heavily theological tone of this blog, that I should say a few seasonally fitting words.

The problem is that this has not been one of the most 'Christmasy' Christmases for me. The day itself came almost as a surprise, and the church services did not particularly speak to me (German language barriers aside). But that fact in itself throws in sharper relief what I really have learnt over this past year about the true nature of 'Advent faith'.

What have I learnt over the past year? What follows is a summary of truths I've come to know in more than the abstract, 'theological' way that characterizes so much academic thinking. Feel free to contradict or query anything that I say.

- God is sovereign. It's his world, his plan and his will. He stoops down into our world and works within our categories and traditions, but he isn't bound by these categories and traditions. When he wishes, he hides himself and leaves us dangling (biblical echo: 1 Samuel 4-7).
- God places a high premium on human responsibility. So high it's scary. Part of that responsibility is taking care of the purity of your own heart. The connection between 'inside' and 'outside' is more important than piety and religious posturing. He wants you, he wants genuine, sincere, full-hearted workers and warriors in his kingdom and he's willing to put you through hell to make you realize where your priorities lie (biblical echo: King David's career, the 'deuteronomic' version).
- God, despite seemingly overwhelming evidence to the contrary, is a solid rock and eternal foundation, a fortress to those who seek shelter from the storm. But this God is not an abstract principle to be nodded at or an indulgent father to manipulate. He's a man with a plan, and this plan is of eternal significance. This plan is called the Gospel, and those who would find shelter in this safehaven must first be gripped, propelled and infused with this vision. Adoption into God's family means playing according to his agenda, and this agenda determines the nature of the relationship (biblical echo: the Book of Job).
- God's agenda is good, very good. This can seem hard to grasp when the battle is grim (and all too easy to forget) but the end is of a joy that is so substantial that all previous pain evaporates in the presence of tasting what life was meant to be from the very start. The greatest meaning and significance one can receive is participating in this movement, struggle, from falleness to restoration. Hope consists in 'tasting' this reality and realising there is more to come. Motivation for mission consists in wanting others to see this reality and be redeemed by it.
- One practical lesson I've learned is connected to my first point: you can't manufacture spirituality by doing your Bible Study, liturgy, quiet time, meditation or joining a religious organisation. These activities only become truly spiritual when they become places for meeting the God of your salvation, the God of the Gospel. The Gospel is the pre-condition for genuine spirituality, which can only be a response and participation, and not the result. Our work flows out of our vision, and not vice versa.
So what does all this have to do with Advent faith?

Advent is that funny time of year when we are doing two things at once: looking back and looking forward, rejoicing and fasting, ending something and starting something new. As someone caught by the vision of God's good news and drawn into its outworking in history I'm stuck in this intermediate period: the God of goodness has revealed his plan for a redeemed creation. I've been born anew and allowed to taste what life should be like. Yet this reality still remains a 'should' and there's work to be done. I hesitantly look into a future of which the only certainty is the victory of God and I'm humbled that he knows me by name.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

The Text as Tradent of Authority

For an overview of posts in this thread, go here.

"Prophetic authority is related to the function of the biblical text. The text is the tradent of authority in establishing a link with specific prophetic figures. The literature has no life apart from Israel's life, institutions, and offices. The prophet serves as the living voice of God now preserved in a living text of Scripture. The text can certainly be extended beyond the scope of the original prophecy, but the theological link with its origin must be maintained in order to sustain its authority. It is impossible to have free-floating literary constructs which are totally without historical rootage because authority ultimately rests on divine communication through these prophetic messengers. The prophetic text is not a creation of nameless editors to manipulate for a private agenda, but it remains the irreplaceable vehicle in the service of God for the sake of Israel.

There are different functions of textual authority which directly relate to the issue of the retrospective reading of the prophets. One such role provides the proper theological explanation for the function of etiology with the biblical prophecy. The technique of historical retrojection is not an attempt, as often claimed, to buttress a failing prophetic authority, but rather a means of confirming its recognized truth. Events in history were retrojected into the past precisely to confirm the authority of the prophetic voice. Thus, most likely the savage imagery of the utter destruction of Jerusalem in 587 was used post-factum in Isa. 6:11ff. to register the truth of the prophetic threat which the editors viewed as a unified reality according to its substance which unfolded in history as predicted. Similarly, Isa. 22:8b-11 appears to be a retrojection of the destruction of the city which functions as the voice of the prophet who outlined the plan of God which was never heeded by Israel either in the 8th or 6th century.

Then again, the role of the biblical text as tradent of prophetic authority explains the important feature of intertextuality common to the prophetic corpus. A prophetic text is specific and concrete, yet its imagery continues to reverberate within the tradition. It continues to exert a coercion on future generations of recipients and gives evidence of its force in the way in which a text is repeatedly actualized to remain highly existential even in changing historical contexts. This echoing effect arises from a widespread conviction that the authority of a single text extends to the larger story and partakes of the selfsame reality. By means of intertextuality a text can be extended into the future by means of Fortschreibung or it can be retrojected into the past by expanding and enriching the earlier imagery from the content of later events. Both redactional movements employing intertextuality rest on the same inner logic of Scripture's textual authority."
B.S. Childs, "Retrospective Reading of the Old Testament Prophets" (1996: 375, 6) ZAW 108 362-77.

Friday, 21 December 2007

An Awesome Cyber-Psalm

I don't know about you, but watching those interviews with Fred Phelps and his cronies yesterday made me feel dirty. As a remedy to that, I recommend this beautiful Cyber-Psalm, which I've copied from its author's website, Lingamish. I hope David Ker doesn't mind me simply reproducing a post that he himself wrote, but if he's anything like the prophets of the Old Testament, he'll understand that its the truth of the poem that matters and needs to be propagated and not adherence to rules of copyright and ownership.

For your delectation:

Cyber-Psalm 15


What would heaven be like
if books of theology
were written by children not men?

And what if sermons were delivered by the poor.
And devotional books were written by the hungry.
And hymns were composed by the sick and the old.

The Sermon on the Mount requires no interpretation,
unless you are fat and happy.

If our hope of heaven were colored
with children’s crayons and felt tip markers.

And our theology of hell were tempered
by the dying breath of those who suffer.

The hair-splitting and hand-wringing
of over-educated men in ivory towers
goes largely unnoticed by grandmothers in their kitchens
and office workers in their cubicles.

They go on putting silly magnets on their fridge
And trading forwarded e-mails about heaven.
Two thousand years of systematic theology
Disturbs them not a bit!

God is honored and praised
Hoped for and prayed to
By myriads who never learned Greek.

Their revelation is not a scroll
But a hope vaguely imprinted
On a soul made by God.

The sick and the blind and the poor
Receive Jesus with gladness.
The Gospels require no spiritualized application.

Feed us, friend Jesus.
Our stomachs are empty.
You are the one our hearts hope for.

Heal us who are sick.
We ache and we suffer.
Save us in death.
We are dying in darkness.
Savior Jesus, our hope at life’s end.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

God Hates Fags?

I was genuinely blown away when I accidentally came across the website of Westboro Baptist Church the other day. It really is amazing, it depicts in the most blunt and explicit terms how totally depraved interpretations of God and his Gospel can be extracted from the Bible. It's as if the Bible is a beach of different coloured stones, and it's up to the interpreter to pick them up and rearrange them in what ever fashion he wants. The criteria for arrangement may well say as much about him and his culture as about the Bible itself.

So what is their central message? God hates you! Isn't that amazing? They actually consider it their God-given duty to tour America with placards, picketing military funerals and other symbolic events with the message that everyone (but them) are going to burn for an eternity in the lake of fire, where "their worm shall not die", in the most exquisite agony, in full display of the elect in heaven.

Not only is the message shocking and bemusing, but so is the professionalism of the website. Whoever did this is not an unintelligent red neck whose education consists in stacking shelves at Walmart.

The congregation is led by Fred Phelps, who defends his "profound theological statement" that "God hates fags" in a video clip here. You can watch clips of other members of his congregation (most of whom are relatives of his) defending the various placards they carry here. Here are some of the slogans they carry: "Thank God for 9/11", "God hates fags," "AIDS cures fags," and "Fags die, God laughs (or mocks)", "priests rape boys".

A full documentary of the man has been made here.
A great clip from a church sermon plus interview with Louis Theroux can be found here.
A new generation? Phelp's scary granddaughers are interviewed here.

What does this say about theological exegesis? One thing it does for me is emphasise the importance of 'ecclesial tradition' as a mediator of the gospel. From earliest times, Christian reading of the Bible was understood to be a 'ruled reading', in which a specific theological framework was already presupposed, the regula fidei or 'rule of faith'. This rule of faith, or the 'Gospel', was not understood to be an alien structure imposed onto the Bible, but a faithful summation of the content of the Bible, or perhaps better, the reality to which the Bible witnesses (its 'substance', as Childs puts it). The starting point of all our thinking is not an abstract commitment to a book, but our relationship with the resurrected Son of God. Through his eyes we turn to Scripture as his primary witness, and there starts the dialectical dance as wrestle with God (Israel=Yisra-'el) in hope and faith.

Fred Phelp's primary problem is not his biblical interpretation, it's the God he worships.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Criteria of Prophetic Truth

After a break of a few days, I return to my summary of Childs' article, "Retrospective Reading of the Old Testament Prophets" (1996). For previous posts in this thread, read the following: 1, 2, and 3.

Because what Childs has to say here is so concise, succinct and important, I'm simply quoting it in full. Of all that Childs has written, this is one of his most illuminating articles!

"The prophetic understanding of truth is not determined by conceptual consistency. This prophetic message is not transmitted in the form of theological tractates nor of philosophical ruminations about abstract moral ideals. Rather, the prophets bear witness to a divine reality by which they have been constrained. Their response is not always logically structured and often a divine encounter is only indirectly perceived. The prophet communicates the divine will for Israel and for the nations in a great variety of different forms, styles, and images. Often the content is too awe-inspiring for conceptual clarity and its ad hoc articulations appear fragmentary, visceral, and partial. Frequently the subject matter runs roughshod over temporal and logical categories, and the editors link together events of similar qualities of time according to their substance. This move accounts for the consistently theocentric orientation of the prophets. Little attention is paid to the psychological state of the messenger, nor to the modern concern over the nature of the filtering process by human tradents. Rather, prophetic truth is measured by what rightly conforms to its divine subject matter and evokes a faithful response from its recipients (Isa 8:11ff).

The implications from this biblical perspective is that too much weight cannot be assigned to the logical inconsistencies or to conceptual tensions within a given passage as a means by which to reconstruct unified literary redactions. Because the nature of prophetic speech was to reflect an encounter with the reality of God, an analysis of a prophetic oracle as if it were simply a freely composed literary construct does not do justice to the material. Careful attention to the function of metaphors in rendering reality is usually more indicative of the prophetic meaning than the coherence of larger literary structures.

Again to assume that meaning can only be rightly determined when it is firmly located within a conceptually evolving trajectory rests on a questionable semantic foundation. Because the prophetic writings were soon treasured as authoritative Scripture, textual expansion occurred in the process of continual usage not toward the goal of correcting concepts deemed false - a concept quite unthinkable in Judaism - but in order to elucidate and confirm for its hearers the truth of a prophetic message which it was assumed to possess." (1996: 374-375).

Monday, 17 December 2007

The Awful German Language!

Mark Twain's The Awful German Language (1880) is one of the most hilarious essays I have read for a long long time; it literally had me on my knees, slapping the floor in howls of laughter! Maybe it's because I happen to be reading through Karl Barth in German at the moment that I can so totally identify with the frustrations he's going through. After making the general diagnosis that "there is not another language that is so slipshod and systemless, and so slippery and elusive to the grasp," he goes on, in the most ingenious manner, to describe the linguistic insanity that really is just a reflection of the overall German tendency to make everything as obscure, opaque and complicated as possible.

Because of it's relevance to anyone trying to read Barth in the original, and because it's the funniest part of the essay, here is an excerpt on what Twain calls "the Parenthesis distemper":
"There are ten parts of speech, and they are all troublesome. An average sentence, in a German newspaper, is a sublime and impressive curiosity; it occupies a quarter of a column; it contains all the ten parts of speech -- not in regular order, but mixed; it is built mainly of compound words constructed by the writer on the spot, and not to be found in any dictionary -- six or seven words compacted into one, without joint or seam -- that is, without hyphens; it treats of fourteen or fifteen different subjects, each inclosed in a parenthesis of its own, with here and there extra parentheses which reinclose three or four of the minor parentheses, making pens within pens: finally, all the parentheses and reparentheses are massed together between a couple of king-parentheses, one of which is placed in the first line of the majestic sentence and the other in the middle of the last line of it -- after which comes the VERB, and you find out for the first time what the man has been talking about; and after the verb -- merely by way of ornament, as far as I can make out -- the writer shovels in "haben sind gewesen gehabt haben geworden sein," or words to that effect, and the monument is finished. I suppose that this closing hurrah is in the nature of the flourish to a man's signature -- not necessary, but pretty. German books are easy enough to read when you hold them before the looking-glass or stand on your head -- so as to reverse the construction -- but I think that to learn to read and understand a German newspaper is a thing which must always remain an impossibility to a foreigner.

Yet even the German books are not entirely free from attacks of the Parenthesis distemper -- though they are usually so mild as to cover only a few lines, and therefore when you at last get down to the verb it carries some meaning to your mind because you are able to remember a good deal of what has gone before. Now here is a sentence from a popular and excellent German novel -- which a slight parenthesis in it. I will make a perfectly literal translation, and throw in the parenthesis-marks and some hyphens for the assistance of the reader -- though in the original there are no parenthesis-marks or hyphens, and the reader is left to flounder through to the remote verb the best way he can:

"But when he, upon the street, the (in-satin-and-silk-covered-now-very-unconstrained-after-the-newest-fashioned-dressed) government counselor's wife met," etc., etc. [1]
  1. Wenn er aber auf der Strasse der in Sammt und Seide gehüllten jetzt sehr ungenirt nach der neusten Mode gekleideten Regierungsräthin begegnet.
That is from The Old Mamselle's Secret, by Mrs. Marlitt. And that sentence is constructed upon the most approved German model. You observe how far that verb is from the reader's base of operations; well, in a German newspaper they put their verb away over on the next page; and I have heard that sometimes after stringing along the exciting preliminaries and parentheses for a column or two, they get in a hurry and have to go to press without getting to the verb at all. Of course, then, the reader is left in a very exhausted and ignorant state.

We have the Parenthesis disease in our literature, too; and one may see cases of it every day in our books and newspapers: but with us it is the mark and sign of an unpracticed writer or a cloudy intellect, whereas with the Germans it is doubtless the mark and sign of a practiced pen and of the presence of that sort of luminous intellectual fog which stands for clearness among these people. For surely it is not clearness -- it necessarily can't be clearness. Even a jury would have penetration enough to discover that. A writer's ideas must be a good deal confused, a good deal out of line and sequence, when he starts out to say that a man met a counselor's wife in the street, and then right in the midst of this so simple undertaking halts these approaching people and makes them stand still until he jots down an inventory of the woman's dress. That is manifestly absurd. It reminds a person of those dentists who secure your instant and breathless interest in a tooth by taking a grip on it with the forceps, and then stand there and drawl through a tedious anecdote before they give the dreaded jerk. Parentheses in literature and dentistry are in bad taste.

The Germans have another kind of parenthesis, which they make by splitting a verb in two and putting half of it at the beginning of an exciting chapter and the other half at the end of it. Can any one conceive of anything more confusing than that? These things are called "separable verbs." The German grammar is blistered all over with separable verbs; and the wider the two portions of one of them are spread apart, the better the author of the crime is pleased with his performance. A favorite one is reiste ab -- which means departed. Here is an example which I culled from a novel and reduced to English:

"The trunks being now ready, he DE- after kissing his mother and sisters, and once more pressing to his bosom his adored Gretchen, who, dressed in simple white muslin, with a single tuberose in the ample folds of her rich brown hair, had tottered feebly down the stairs, still pale from the terror and excitement of the past evening, but longing to lay her poor aching head yet once again upon the breast of him whom she loved more dearly than life itself, PARTED."
However, it is not well to dwell too much on the separable verbs. One is sure to lose his temper early; and if he sticks to the subject, and will not be warned, it will at last either soften his brain or petrify it. Personal pronouns and adjectives are a fruitful nuisance in this language, and should have been left out. For instance, the same sound, sie, means you, and it means she, and it means her, and it means it, and it means they, and it means them. Think of the ragged poverty of a language which has to make one word do the work of six -- and a poor little weak thing of only three letters at that. But mainly, think of the exasperation of never knowing which of these meanings the speaker is trying to convey. This explains why, whenever a person says sie to me, I generally try to kill him, if a stranger."

Sucking Someone's Life Out



This is a fascinating interview with an ex-porn producer turned trainee pastor (!). In it, he recollects how new models would turn up at the studio, and in a matter of weeks you could see the life being sucked out of them. There was always a transformation, and always for the worse.

I made the mistake of drinking coffee at 7 p.m. last night, which meant I had the opportunity to lie in bed wide awake until 4 o'clock in the morning, thinking about the things that interest me. And I tried to figure out, what it means to have the 'life' sucked out of someone. Somehow, I feel I know what this means. I've experienced both 'life', true life, overflowing vibrancy in which my interconnectedness to this creation was so complete the thought of non-existence was terrible. And I've also felt 'death', the feeling that something vital has been destroyed, leaving a vacuum between me and the world of which I, technically, should intrinsically be a part.

But what does that mean!? I'm sure there are some great theologians or philosophers out there who can explain this to me. For now I'm just left to muse. I'm sure it has something to do with the true meaning of 'shalom' as interconnected wholeness, the goodness of creation, the relationality of our being, the insufficiency of an isolated existence. Pornography seems to utterly deny all of that.

So, any thoughts or pointers would be appreciated. This post should tide me over till tomorrow, when I hope to pick up my main thread and talk about the criteria of prophetic truth.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Eleven Funky Barth Quotes

I'm currently reading through Karl Barth's Einführung in die evangelische Theologie, and I have to say, I quite like the chap.

Here are some funky Barth-quotes from Wikepidia (numbered, in case people want to comment on them):

1) “Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He is Himself the way."

2) "The best theology would need no advocates: it would prove itself."

3) "Belief cannot argue with unbelief, it can only preach to it."
4) “There is a notion that complete impartiality is the most fitting and indeed the normal disposition for true exegesis, because it guarantees complete absence of prejudice. For a short time, around 1910, this idea threatened to achieve almost a canonical status in Protestant theology. But now, we can quite calmly describe it as merely comical. ” (Church Dogmatics 1:2, 469)
5) "The center is not something which is under our control, but something that controls us.” (Church Dogmatics)
6) "Barth’s dedication to the sole authority and power of the Word of God was illustrated for us… while we were in Basel. Barth was engaged in a dispute over the stained glass windows in the Basel Münster. The windows had been removed during World War II for fear they would be destroyed by bombs, and Barth was resisting the attempt to restore them to the church. His contention was that the church did not need portrayals of the gospel story given by stained glass windows. The gospel came to the church only through the Word proclaimed. …the incident was typical of Barth’s sole dedication to the Word. "
Elizabeth Achtemeier
7) "To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world."
8) "In the Resurrection the new world of the Holy Spirit touches the old world of the flesh, but touches it as a tangent touches a circle, that is, without touching it." (Barth 1933, p. 30)
9) "What expressions we used — in part taken over and in part newly invented! — above all, the famous ‘wholly other’ breaking in upon us ‘perpendicularly from above,’ the not less famous ‘infinite qualitative distinction’ between God and man, the vacuum, the mathematical point, and the tangent in which alone they must meet." (Barth 1960, p. 42)
10) "It may be that when the angels go about their task of praising God, they play only Bach. I am sure, however, that when they are together en famille they play Mozart and that then too our dear Lord listens with special pleasure."
11) Once a young student asked Barth if he could sum up what was most important about his life's work and theology in just a few words. The question was posed even with gasps from the audience. Barth just thought for a moment and then smiled, "Yes, in the words of a song my mother used to sing me, 'Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.'"[2]
UPDATE:
Princeton Seminary has a Centre for Karl Barth Studies, where you can download a bunch of interesting-looking articles for free. One essay that's caught my eye is Hans Küng: "Barth and the Postmodern Paradigm" (1998)

Friday, 14 December 2007

Temporal Sequence and Prophetic Dialectic

After summarizing the various proposals for the nature of the extension of prophetic literature, along with a critique of these proposals, Childs offers his positive alternative. This is where things start to get interesting! (Note - most of what follows is simply citation, a paraphrase would divest Childs' words of their intrinsic juiciness).

Childs, in good historical-critical (and traditional theological!) fashion affirms the historical conditionality and particularity of the prophetic message: "the prophets were not proclaimers of eternal truths within a timeless context." (1996: 373).

However, within this real history - "the year that King Uzziah died" - there is the entrance of another history and another time. The nature of God's rule which had been revealed to Isaiah obtained long before the death of Uzziah. The whole world is filled with God's glory and has always been. When within the book of Isaiah passages of salvation and judgment are juxtaposed (2:2-5 / 6 - 22), this structure certainly reflects a late redactional ordering. However, the theology expressed in this juxtaposition is already deeply embedded in the earlier tradition. Isa. 2:2ff. offers an eschatological vision of God's coming rule which picks up a variety of ancient motifs. The brittle quality of the present literary structure only confirms the basic theological point that eschatological history, that is God's time, cannot be smoothly combined with empirical history, nor can the two be cleanly separated. The subtlety of the book of Isaiah turns on the dialectical relationship of this interaction. What seems to be a political threat to Judah from the Assyrians suddenly becomes the entrance of an eschatological divine judgment.
The hermeneutical point is that for Isaiah history is understood in the light of prophecy, not prophecy in the light of history. In contrast to the aforementioned critical proposals (here and here), prophetic eschatology is not an unmediated derivative of empirical history, but of a different order of divine intervention which is only dialectically related to temporal sequence (-sorry, but that makes my mouth just water). Reconstructed political history cannot supply the source of Isaiah' eschatological hope nor provide the explanation for textual extensions which rather reflect the ongoing experiences of Israel with God mediated through Scripture. An interpretation which flattens this distinctive, dialectical approach to history can only result in serious exegetical reductionism.

Was ist Theologie?

I'm currently ploughing through Barth's Einführung in die Evangelische Theologie (English: Evangelical Theology - An Introduction) in a bid to better understand Childs' canonical approach to the Bible as Scripture. They have a lot in common! As time is short, I only have time today to quickly copy out another interesting quote (I will get back to my previous thread ... tomorrow ...):

"Was ist Theologie? Nach diesen unseren bisherigen, ihren Ort umschreibenden Sätzen kann sie gerade nur theologisch definiert werden: sie ist Wissenschaft in Erkenntnis jenes in Gottes Werk gesprochenen Wortes Gottes, Wissenschaft in der Schule der jenes Wort Gottes bezeugenden heiligen Schrift, Wissenschaft in der Bemühung um die der durch jenes Wort Gottes berufenen Gemeinde unausweichlich gestellte Wahrheitsfrage. So und nur so - im Uebrigen wirklich voraussetzungslos - erfüllt sie ihren Begriff also menschliche Logik des göttlichen Logos. So und nur so hat sie - von aussen gesehen tatsächlich in der freien Luft schwebend - Grund, Recht und Ziel. Die Macht, in der sie existiert, ist die in jenen Sätzen verborgene Macht."
(1961: 58, 9).

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Barth on the Nature of Theological Exegesis

I do intend to continue my thread on Childs' understanding of the nature of the extension of prophetic texts. For now I simply offer this great quote from K. Barth (for the best online German-English dictionary check out Leo):

"Man hört heute so oft: die exegetisch-theologische Aufgabe bestehe in der Uebersetzung der biblischen Aussagen aus der Sprache einer vergangenen Zeit in die des modernen Menschen. Das klingt merkwürdig so, als ob der Inhalt, der Sinn und die Absicht der biblischen Aussage verhältnismässig leicht zu ermitteln und dann also irgendwie bekannt vorauszusetzen seien, als gehe es in der Hauptsache nur darum, sie an Hand irgendeines sprachlichen Schlüssels ("Wie sage ich das meinem Kinde?") verständlich und in der modernen Welt wiederholbar zu machen. In Wahrheit verhält es sich doch so, dass gerade die biblische Aussage also solche, d.h. eben: das von der Bibel bezeugte Wort Gottes in keinem Kapitel oder Vers auch nur einer jener Schriften einfach auf der Hand liegt und also gemächlich vorauszusetzen wäre, sondern dass eben nach ihm - gerade nach ihm in seiner tiefsten Einfachheit - mit allen zu Gebote stehenden Mitteln philologischer und historischer Kritik und Analyse, in sorgfältiger Erwägung der näheren und ferneren Textzusammenhänge und nicht zuletzt unter Aufgebot aller hoffentlich auch vorhandenen divinatorischen Phantasie gefragt werden muss. Es ist die Frage danach und nur sie, mit der man der Intention der biblischen Schriftsteller und also ihren Texten entspricht und gerecht wird. ... "Was dasteht" - in den Texten dieses Buches nämlich - ist die Bezeugung des Wortes Gottes, ist das Wort Gottes in dieser seiner Bezeugung. Eben dasss und inwiefern das "dasteht", will aber fort und fort entdeckt, ausgelgt und erkannt, will also, was ohne Bemühung darum nicht abgehen wird, erforscht sein. Als Gegenstand dieser Forschung begegnen der Theologie die biblischen Zeugen, begegnet ihr die heilige Schrift."
Einführung in die evangelische Theologie (1962: 43, 44) EVZ-Verlag: Zürich

I'm beginning to see how indebted Childs is to his hero.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Urzeit and Endzeit in Prophetic Hope

In one of Childs' earliest works he analysed the elements of continuity and discontinuity in Israel's view of reality in terms of 'myth' and 'eschatology', which the following quote nicely illustrates:

“The prophetic hope of the new age was pictured in terms of God's former redemptive acts. However, the last events were now to fulfil the original purpose of the first. The return to the past signifies the continuity in the one will of God; the newness of the end indicates the full intensity of the light which at first shone only in dim reflection. The new of the Endzeit became the criterion for determining what was qualitatively new at the Urzeit.
Myth and Reality in the Old Testament (1960: 81, italics mine) SCM Press: London.

Once again, we catch a glimpse of the nature of the relationship between later and earlier traditions, as well and their interdependency. That later hope functions as a criterion for the earlier tradition is not a matter of external imposition of an alien ideology. It is a response to what has gone before, one that faithfully submits to God's providential guidence. It is only in light of the whole that we can see what is really going on.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

On the Extension of Prophetic Tradition

Having summarised the midrashic theories of prophetic extension as well as Zimmerli's influential theory of Fortschreibung (see my post yesterday), Childs (1996) looks at two more theories and then critiques the lot.

The theory of Editorial Redaction holds that texts are reworked by later editors in accordance with a particular perspective. Thus, H. Barth (1977) isolated an "Assyrian redaction" of the book of Isaiah during the period of Josiah. Though similar to Fortschreibung, the two approaches differ in emphasis. The major force evoking Fortschreibung is the desire for clarification of a text. The impulse is specific and text orientated, whereas in editorial redaction there is a shift in focus. The emphasis falls on the effect of changing sociological forces on the editors who then sought to harmonize and original text with their new perspectives through a systematic process of literary layering. Nevertheless, in both cases there is a core written tradition which is reinterpreted and extended, in which later historical perspectives are retrojected, and which requires critical reconstruction in order to disengage the levels.

Etiology has been used as a means of historical retrojection, understood as a particular form of causality. An etiological story is one which proceeds from observing an existing phenomenon in nature (Gen 19:26) or in the cult (32:32) which it links causally and retrospectively to an ancient occurrence in the primordial past. This form of explanation can be extended to entire redactional layers, O. Kaiser (1981), for example, claimed that a layer in Isaiah stressing divine retribution functions to etiologically explain a sociological change which occurred in the Persian or Greek era.

Despite the genuine contributions of these approaches, Childs outlines serious problems with each approach:

Fortschreibung

Despite Zimmerli's concern to retain a meaningful continuity along a developing trajectory, as exemplified in his Ezekiel commentary, younger scholars working with the same exegetical assumptions ended up deconstructing this theological continuity within the book of Ezekiel e.g. Garscha, 1974). Fortschreibung became absorbed within redactional criticism along with its emphasis on literary tension and discontinuity. Later, Greenberg (1983) argued that Ezekiel's style was from the beginning non-memetic and did not develop in a trajectory. Much of Zimmerli's hypothesis came to be seen as unproven.

Conceptual Rationalization and Literary Fragmentation

The problem with redactional analysis is that under the guise of diversity "the biblical text is subjected to the criteria of rigorous, conceptual coherence which has been defined according to modern conceptual categories" (369). The result is acute fragmentation accompanied by the lack anything even vaguely resembling a scholarly consensus. Though Childs accepts that major tensions are to be found, the crucial exegetical task remains how skillfully to handle the different kinds of tension present.

The Misapplication of the Term "Midrash"

In addition to pointing out that contemporary uses of the term "midrash" misunderstand its original function, Childs claims that theories of textual expansion which use the concept do not rest on a descriptive textual analysis, but on a prior theological value judgement respecting the content which equates a story with fantasy and illusion. Under the rubric of midrash a whole set of assumptions regarding the content of a story has been made which exceeds the task of tracking editorial redaction.

Theological Reductionism through Etiological Reconstructions

Within modern redactional criticism, the concept of etiological causality has been expanded, so that post factum events now function retrospectively as a means for explaining the growth of redactional layers. By reversing the direction of the main force of growth, Israel's history becomes a literary construct without genuine historical rootage.

Though Childs recognises the presence of post factum elements in the prophetic literature, he resists seeing this as the major force in the development of the entire prophetic tradition. He notes three exegetical implications:
  1. Traditional historical controls for dating the material are weakened, as history is now simply a matter of patterns of events retrojected into the past.
  2. The influence of Israel's religious faith on the shaping of the prophetic corpus has been largely subordinated to political, economic, and social factors which are deemed to be the only real forces at work in the world. The result is a massive demythologizing of the OT.
  3. Retrospective redactional criticism presents a major threat to the theological substance of the Hebrew Bible. The literature which claims to be Israel's response to divine intervention is now rendered into ideological constructs of editors whose agenda is largely determined by wishful thinking or self-interest.

Childs concludes this section thus:

"The point is not to deny that human factors were at work, but the total impact of the prophetic literature calls into question this cynical evaluation of the whole" (372, italics mine).

What is this "impact of the whole" that leads Childs to a different understanding of the nature the whole? That is the subject of my next post: Temporal Sequence and Prophetic Dialectic (isn't that a juicy title?).

I understand that this post is highly condensed. I'd love for it to generate discussion, so please feel free to ask questions for clarification, or point out that Childs is missing the point and that this is really just a waste of time!

Monday, 10 December 2007

Retrospective Reading of Old Testament Prophets (overview of proposals)

In my last post on this topic I illustrated how the historical-critical analysis of the text is important to a 'canonical approach', when understood in its 'Childsian' sense. Interpretation of the text as Scripture requires that this context be normative due to the nature of the text itself. The literary development of the text was motivated primarily by a theological concern to broker a concrete message given in time and space within a broader historical and theological perspective. This requires not only a recognition of the multilayered nature of the biblical text, but also a particular understanding of how the various layers relate to each other. In the following series of posts I will review Childs' article (1996) in which he spells out what this means. They will come under the following headings:

1) Proposals for the Extension of Prophetic Tradition (today).
2) More on the Extension of the Prophetic Tradition
3) Temporal Sequence and Prophetic Dialectic.
4) Criteria of Prophetic Truth.
5) The Text as Tradent of Authority.
6) The final form of the text.

Childs first gives an overview of the various attempts to understand the nature of the extension of the prophetic tradition. First, the technique of adaptation was proposed (Seeligman, 1953), in which the innate poly-vocality of words enabled them to be interpreted midrashically by later generations who adapted the text to speak to their own religious and cultural concerns. Thus, the Greek translator of Isaiah 9:11 exchanged the prophet's references to the Aramaeans and Philistines for those of the Syrians and Greeks of his own time. Later commentators (e.g. Clements, 1982) extended this form of 'actualization' to themes that were reused in later contexts. Thus, in order to emphasize structural similarity, the imagery of the exodus from Egypt was re-used frequently to depict Israel's return from the exile in Babylon (cf. von Rad, 1960).

Zimmerli (1980) developed the concept of Fortschreibung, in which a book was seen to have developed from a core text (Urtext) which had been consistently expanded over time. The nature of the expansion was a secondary layering of the basic text much like a commentary, which was evoked either by the need for further explanation, or from some difficulty within the text itself, or by a tension which had developed because of the effect of subsequent historical events. Although the recognition of the process of Fortschreibung depended initially on a sense discontinuity between alleged levels within a passage, the basic concern expressed by Zimmerli was that of continuity between the basic text and its subsequent expansion.

OK, I have a birthday party to visit!! Time's up. I'll continue this tomorrow, where I'll look at Editorial Redaction, Etiology and Vaticinium ex Eventu, along with Childs' critique of the shortcomings of these proposals.

Ciao!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Chaucer's Parson

Like most Protestants, I had a fairly bleak picture of medieval Christianity. The picture one gets is usually a self-serving hierarchy, superstition and corruption, coupled with bad doctrine and a complete ignorance of the content of the Bible. A brief reading of Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) should dispel that picture. As I work my way through his Canterbury Tales I'm impressed with how diverse life was back then. There was no such thing as a medieval spirituality, equally applicable to all members of society. Just like today, there were the frauds, the sincere, the simple and the educated. Chaucer doesn't hold back from pilloring typical examples of hypocrisy and evil within the church (as our stereotypes perhaps confirm), yet I nevertheless found it refreshing to read his description of the country parson. It was possible to make a distinction between "Cristes gospel", which could be exemplified in the lives of those who took it to heart, and the phony religious scams practised, perhaps, by the majority of the ecclesial guild.

Here's Nevill Coghill's modern translation:
A holy-minded man of good renown
There was, and poor, the Parson to a town,
Yet he was rich in holy thought and work.
He was also a learned man, a clerk,
Who truly knew Christ's gospel and would preach it
Devoutly to parishioners, and teach it.
Benign and wonderfully diligent,
And patient when adversity was sent
(for so he proved in much adversity)
He hated cursing to extort a fee,
Nay rather he preferred beyond a doubt
Giving to poor parishioners round about
Both from church offerings and his property;
He could in little find sufficiency.
Wide was his parish, with houses far asunder,
Yet he neglected not in rain or thunder,
In sickness or in grief, to pay a call
On the remotest, whether great or small,
Upon his feet, and in his hand a stave.
This noble example to his sheep he gave
That first he wrought, and afterwards he taught;
And it was from the Gospel he had caught
Those words, and would add this figure too,
That if gold rust, what then will iron do?
For if a priest be foul in whom we trust
No wonder that a common man should rust;
And shame it is to see - let priests take stock -
A shitten shepherd and a snowy flock.
The true example that a priest should give
Is one of cleanness, how the sheep should live.
He did not set his benefice to hire
And leave his sheep encumbered in the mire
Or run to London to earn easy bread
By singing masses for the wealthy dead,
Or find some Brotherhood and get enrolled.
He stayed at home and watched over his fold
So that no wolf should make the sheep miscarry.
He was a shepherd and no mercenary.
Holy and virtuous he was, but then
Never contemptuous of sinful men,
Never disdainful, never too proud or fine,
But was discreet in teaching and benign.
His business was to show a fair behaviour
And draw men thus to Heaven and their Saviour,
Unless indeed a man were obstinate;
And such, whether of high or low estate,
He put to sharp rebuke, to say the least.
I think there never was a better priest.
He sought no pomp or glory in his dealings,
No scrupulosity had spiced his feelings.
Christ and His Twelve Apostles and their lore
He taught, but followed it himself before.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

The Bible Experience


When I first heard of this I was pretty cynical. There's something sinister about marketing a product by referring to it as 'God breathed'. Not that God can't use things like this, but the line between God's work and human manipulation of it is pretty thin.

Having said that, I was impressed with this video clip presentation. The audio Bible cast is impressive and I found the crucifixion clip very moving. Check it out (the trailer is ten minutes long).

You can listen to excerpts for free on the right hand of the website here. What I find particularly interesting is the juxtaposition of Old Testament prophecies and their New Testament fulfilment. Although straight forward narratives such as the gospels are pretty easy to listen to, I wonder how successful the recordings of the Prophets are? Commentators have struggled throughout history to make head or tail of Isaiah. Luther may well have had Isaiah in mind when he commented:

"The prophets have a queer way of talking, like people who, instead of proceeding in an orderly manner, ramble off from one thing to the next, so that you cannot make head or tail of them or see what they are getting at."
I wonder if the atmospheric music, passionate reading and dramatized characters will help ease the complexity?

Friday, 7 December 2007

The Significance of the Diachronic Dimension for a Canonical Approach to the Bible as Scripture

In his 2001 commentary on Isaiah, Childs defined his understanding of canon not just in terms of scope, but in terms of "the quality of the theological testimony" (3). It is the 'canonical quality' of the traditions-become-text that justifies a focus on the final form, and not an arbitrary commitment to the final form for the sake of it. This understanding of the 'canonical quality' of the text entails assumptions about intentionality and the nature of the relationship between source and later tradents. Without the presence of this 'canonical quality' at the diachronic level, the theological integrity of the final form is eviscerated, along with the validity of the canonical approach. As such, Childs is committed to history. He cannot just sit back and watch the "structure burn" (á la Bultmann). His approach, like his faith, has an investment in the way things actually happened. I made this point most strongly in my post on Politics and the Religious Role of Canon.

In addition to my recent comments on Moses, I would like to illustrate this once more by looking at Childs' understanding of the compositional history of Genesis. In his Introduction to the Old Testament (1979) Childs is at pains to point out that the literary development of Genesis was not simply a matter of juxtaposing independent literary strands which previously had little to do with one another.

“Rather, the development of the book underwent a complex process of growth and change in which different literary traditions mutually influenced each other in a dynamic interaction within the community of faith. Thus it seems increasingly evident from the close parallelism of sequence that the editors of the Priestly writings were aware of the earlier epic traditions and did not develop their composition in complete isolation as often suggested.” (148, italics mine).
After illustrating this interdependence with a few examples, Childs goes on to conclude that "it is this interaction which we have identified as the canonical process occurring as the biblical literature is selected and ordered by its actual use in the community.” (149, italics mine).

The canonical process exists at the level of the development of the text and can, to a degree, be described and analysed with the standard tools of historical criticism. It is the description of this developmental process that is the task of historical criticism, a task which Childs considers to be vital to genuine theological exegesis. Childs' move, however, is to relativize the significance of this task within the context of exegesis for the church. As the church claims to stand within the tradition, so too must the lens of the tradition be taken seriously as the means to fully understanding the ways of God. Description of the process is the means to a more theological end.

In his focus on this broader theological vision, Childs often skips over the diachronic dimension in order to interpret the more mature witness of the final form. This shouldn't, however, lead to the conclusion that the process itself is insignificant. Often, one can catch a glimpse of what might have happened, as Childs would like it to have. When discussing how the redactionally later 'promise motif' gave the patriarchal narratives their current eschatological perspective, Childs wishes to give traditional critical research its due: "There is sufficient evidence to indicate that the promises, particularly of the land, were originally directed to the patriarchs with the prospect of immanent fulfilment" (151). Despite the later theologizing that gave this promise its new twist, Childs still holds to the claim that there actually was a promise to the patriarchs, its later development being genetically connected to that which took place in chronological history.

This is the canonical approach's Achilles' heel, that it stands or falls on whether it accords with the actual nature and development of the text. The interaction between tradents and tradition was of a certain quality, one in which the original traditions exerted a theological force which constrained the direction in which their expansion was to flow.

I'll expand on this in my next major post.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Adventsgedanken von Jochen Klepper

The following is a poem by the German Lutheran novelist and poet Jochen Klepper (1903-1942). It's about Advent and hits the nail on the head. We need such poetry today, as Advent is reduced to a matter of acquiring more physical comfort and spoiling oneself. I won't give a translation, but if anyone wants to give it a shot thengo ahead and I'll give my comments (not that I'm totally fluent myself!):

Mein Gott, dein hohes Fest des Lichtes
hat stets die Leidenden gemeint.
Und wer die Schrecken des Gerichtes
nicht als der Schuldigste beweint,
dem blieb dein Stern noch tiefverhüllt
und deine Weihnacht unerfüllt.

Die ersten Zeugen, die du suchtest,
erschienen aller Hoffnung bar.
Voll Angst, als ob du ihnen fluchtest,
und elend war die Hirtenschar.
Den Ärmsten auf verlassenem Feld
gabst du die Botschaft an die Welt.

Die Feier ward zu bunt und heiter,
mit der die Welt dein Fest begeht.
Mach uns doch für die Nacht bereiter,
in der dein Stern am Himmel steht.
Und über deiner Krippe schon
zeig uns dein Kreuz, du Menschensohn.

Herr, daß wir dich so nennen können,
präg unseren Herzen heißer ein.
Wenn unsere Feste jäh zerrönen,
muß jeder Tag noch Christtag sein.
Wir preisen dich in Schmerz, Schuld, Not
und loben dich bei Wein und Brot.
My favourite strophe is the third:

"The festivities have become too colourful and jolly,
with which the world celebrates your festival.
Please make us more ready for the night
in which your star hangs in the heavens.
And already, over your crib,
show us your cross, you Son of Man."

For an excellent post on the theological catastrophe of consumerism check out inhabitatio dei's Eugene McCarraher on Personhood and “the Secular”.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

God, Moses and Scripture

In a recent comment, the following statement was made:

"... the Bible is not itself envisioned as an act of God, and the fact that the prophecies that the Bible contains are genuine does not make it so. In short, while Childs keeps pushing everything toward the "final form", the Bible itself locates revelation at the initial form, at the pre-textualized phase. I see nothing within Scripture to warrant associating revelation, inspiration, or God's authoring of something with the final form of the canon."

As I've come to see, Child's understanding of the authority of the Bible is far more nuanced that this. Though he claims that for the church the authority of Scripture lies at the level of the final form, the final form is authoritative in a derivative sense. As Childs said in 1972,

"... the formation of the canon in the first centuries of the Christian era testified to a fundamental understanding of the nature of the Christian faith. By tying the Christian faith to an authoritative body of Scripture the church sought to establish its truth in terms of both a historical and theological continuity with the prophets and apostles." (713, italics mine)

In other words, it is fundamental to our faith to affirm the inspiration and authority of the prophets and apostles as historical personages, rooted in time and space. This involves a commitment to the text as an intentional act of communication rather than a timeless text floating above history. The authority of the final form is derivative of the authority of the historical prophets and apostles.

The question arises as to the nature of the relationship between the texts that evolved from these historical sources and the sources themselves. Is it the task of theology to dig behind the accumulated tradition in order to uncover what these historical personages actually said?

I believe that the answer is 'no' and in this and forthcoming posts I will try to demonstrate why. Today I will look at the example of Moses in Deuteronomy (taken from Childs' Introduction pp. 132-135). Tomorrow I'll take this post further by looking at Childs' article"Retrospective Reading of the Old Testament Prophets" (1996) ZAW 108 362-77.

Here's what Childs has to say on Moses and the phenomenon of 'scripture':

"Within the Pentateuch, Moses' writing activity is closely tied to his mediatorial role in receiving the divine law at Sinai. Whereas God himself is portrayed as writing the decalogue (Ex. 34:1; Deut. 4:13; 10:4), Moses not only proclaims the 'words and ordinances' of God to the people (Ex. 24:3), but he is also commissioned to write them (v. 4; cf. 34:27). The significance of Moses' writing of the law receives its clearest formulation in Deut. 31. The context of the chapter is the impending death of Moses, and his commissioning of the writing of the law. Several crucial points are made in the chapter. The law, which derived from God's speaking to Moses, applies to every successive generation of Israel (31:11-13). It serves as a witness to God's will (v. 28). The law of God has now been transmitted for the future generations in the written form of scripture. It is placed next to the ark in book form to be read to the people periodically (10ff.). Indeed, the original role of Moses as the unique prophet of God (34:10) who proclaims the word of God as a witness (31:27ff.) will be performed by the book of the law in the future (31:26ff.). Moses will shortly die, but his formulation of the will of God will continue. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament the identification of the divine law with Moses' writing of it in a book is continued (Ezra 6:18; Neh. 13:1; II Chron. 25:4)." (133,4).

We thus see that within the divine economy provision is made for the for ongoing knowledge of the will of God, revealed to a prophet, yet safeguarded in a text. This text is understood to be sufficient for revealing God's will to future generations, without the need for the physical presence of the prophet.

Given Childs' commitment to the historical dimension of the text, a logical corollary of his commitment to a faith revealed to the prophets and apostles, how do we explain the historical evidence that the canonical form of the Pentateuch contains much material which is obviously later than the age of Moses?

In the context of Childs' essay, the main concern is to determine the canonical function of Mosaic authorship. As such, Childs does not focus attention on the historical question of 'how' the text got to its final form, preferring instead to focus on the significance of the fact that such a move was made ("The claim of Mosaic authorship functioned as a norm by which to text the tradition's authority").

In the light of the challenge posed above, however, namely that for Christians the Bible should function as an archive within which one must peal back the accretions to get to the real Moses, the question of the 'how' becomes important. If it is the case that our faith is based on the testimony of the prophets, are these later accretions legitimate?

This is the subject of my next post. For the meanwhile, it is interesting to note that in Childs' Introduction one possible historical scenario is posited: Perhaps the role of Moses was continued in an office and later persons accordingly added material in the name of Moses? Though Childs quickly brushes off the theory for lack of evidence, it is telling that at the level of the diachronic dimension he is committed to some form of theological continuity between the layers. It is the 'quality' of the relationship which counts.

Monday, 3 December 2007

'Immanuel' in a Canonical Perspective

How can a canonical approach help us to understand the identity of Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14?

A canonical approach begins with the recognition of the diachronic depth dimension to the text. Nevertheless, the hermeneutical question turns on how this dimension relates synchronically to the text's final form. This entails not only identifying the various redactional layers, but looking at the quality of the relationship between them. Childs and Seitz, for example, argue that the canonical tradents faithfully interpreted earlier traditions and then shaped these traditions in such a way that they would broker that message within a broader historical and theological perspective (Seitz, 1993: 4). The original identity of Immanuel, for example, has frustrated historical critics: is he a son of Isaiah, a son of Ahaz, children in Jerusalem, a future messianic king? Even at the level of the final form read as a unity, the identity of this figure has remained mysterious. Nevertheless, later tradents of the ancient tradition, who themselves submitted to the 'coercion' of this word, have embedded clues to guide our interpretation of the figure's 'canonical identity'. This identity includes both a historical and an eschatological dimension. Thus within the broader literary context, both within this sub-unit (chs. 7-9) as well as across broader swathes (chs. 7-9 contrasted with 36-39), it would seem that Immanuel is initially identified with Hezekiah, the ideal king who's deeds enable the Lord to demonstrate what 'Immanu-el' (God-is-with-us) means. Yet the mysteriousness of the figure has not been fully eradicated in the final form. Interest in Hezekiah is theological, not nostalgic or memorializing. What Hezekiah is as king, how he conducts himself, becomes a type for later kings to follow. This is ensured by the conjunction of the royal Immanuel traditions with the vision of future messianic rule in ch. 11:1-9. The former has been reinterpreted by the latter - but no so severely that the original historical referent is lost.“What kingship shall become in Israel, and for the nations, it becomes with reference to the Immanuel child and the historical rule of Hezekiah. Out of that historical matrix a model for kingship emerges that is filled full in the person of Jesus ... .” (75).

Seitz sums up:

"... the messianic role that Jesus fulfills is not an eternal "type" with no earthly referent. The church confesses that out of the messiness of earthly government, specifically rooted in the house of David, God prepares a place for his son to rule as King. That Jesus explodes all mundane aspects of kingship is itself no unprecedented. Israel's own vision of kingship, and from time to time its own historical kings, prepared the church to see in Jesus a king like no other, yet like what Israel longed for and at times experienced a foretaste of in kings like Hezekiah." (73)

Saturday, 1 December 2007

In My Heart

This song and video is enough to make me weep. I have this yearning. It's like a fissure or crack in my soul that involves incredible effort to hold it together. The world is constantly trying to tear it apart, as if the broader the chasm the easier it is to escape into a nothingness that will soothe.

But the two parts belong together, and though it hurts and it's hard I refuse to let them fall apart.

I feel that the modern State of Israel and the segmented Occupied Territories, with their loaded histories and screaming needs represent a microcosm of what is really wrong with this world, and what is really needed. This sliver of land is a stage where where all the agonies and yearnings of the world, its past and its future, is being played out in a seemingly hopeless spiral of disillusion and angry refusal to give up.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

(HT: Ancient Hebrew Poetry. Read his great comments on another of David Broza's songs. I should point out that the man on the left sings in Hebrew, the man on the right in Arabic.)

Friday, 30 November 2007

Muslim Christian Conciliation?

On October 13, 2007, on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, 138 Muslim scholars and clerics sent an open letter "to leaders of Christian churches, everywhere." The signatories to that letter, titled A Common Word Between Us and You, include top leaders from around the world representing every major school of Islamic thought. The text of A Common Word Between Us and You appears at http://www.acommonword.com/.

The text opens with the following words:

" Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.
The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbour. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity."
These two principles are then demonstrated in both the Qur'an and Bible.

The Christian response can be found here. It was drafted by scholars at Yale Divinity School's Center for Faith and Culture. It was issued by the first four signatories on the document and endorsed by almost 300 other Christian theologians and leaders, including those listed here. To promote constructive engagement between these major religious communities, planning is underway for a series of major conferences and workshops involving many of the signatories to A Common Word and to the Yale response, as well as other international Christian, Muslim, and
Jewish leaders. Events will be posted at www.yale.edu/faith, where readers can also view the complete list of signatories as well as add their names to the list.

I agree that the issue of Muslim/Christian relations will be the major topic for the next epoch of our history. What fruit this meeting will bring, I can't say. One thing I am convinced of is that without an adequate knowledge of our own identity as Christians, dialogue will dissipate into truisms that will leave us vulnerable to be led by those who do know what they believe.
NB: for the expected conservative reaction, go here.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Literary and Canonical Approaches

I'm grateful to have Dave Beldman as a dialogue partner. He has recently posted an essay in which he looks at the possible implications of newer literary approaches to biblical interpretation, especially as these impact historical critical theories concerning the development of texts. He asked me to compare this literary approach with Childs' canonical approach, as I have recently outlined it in my last thread. Though I answered him in the comments (here), I've touched my response up a bit in order to post it here.

Though there are many similarities between a canonical approach which privileges the final form of the biblical text and literary approaches which work with the assumption of unity, Childs explicitly distances himself from such approaches. The difference is in the starting point.

Childs starts from a theological premise, rather than an aesthetic or literary one: the God of creation has elected for himself a concrete people and has chosen to relate to that people in space and time (see here). This historical relationship has brought the text of Scripture into being , a text whose function within God's economy is to point to Him and his ways (see forthcoming thread). Just as our four different gospels are diverse textual witnesses to the one Gospel outside the text, so the whole of scripture testifies in diverse ways to the reality of the one God, the Gospel, or Jesus (or however you wish to define the text's ultimate subject matter). This kerygmatic function of the text means that its reality is not self-contained. Though one can posit a world 'in' the text as a useful hermeneutical tool, it is not the case that the world in the text exhausts the truth of the text. That text is part of a greater whole which points beyond itself to what really matters: 'divine reality', Jesus, or whatever. This is how I understand Vanhoozer's statement about theological interpretation: it is interpretation oriented to the knowledge, not of the text (literary approaches), nor of historical circumstances (historical critical approaches), but of the God who called the text into being in the first place (JTI vol. 1, Intro).

As a result, interpretation which is to do justice to the nature of the text must be theological. A literary approach, which looks at structure and rhetorical devices can only be one step in comprehending what the text is about. We need to be piercing 'through' the text to its ultimate subject matter. This subject matter is outside the text (I'm not sure I would say 'behind' ... ), it is the ultimate subject matter of the text, what the text is really all about, and is not reducible to the level of the text itself.

This has implications for heremeneutics. A realization that the text is a 'witness' and not the reality itself frees the Christian from what Childs calls 'biblicism', the need to reduce the reality of God to the level of the text itself. Because the Bible is not about itself but about God, it is OK if there are contradictions and disjunctions at the surface level, and I mean real contradictions, not just artfully placed ones that actually fulfil some subtle literary purpose. The unity of the Bible is not a literary unity, but rather a theological unity. It lies in the subject matter to which the text points. The one Gospel to which the four gospels point is where the unity should lie, not in attempts to reconcile contradictions amongst the gospel witnesses themselves.

As such, focusing on the text in the literary fashion that Josipovici recommends is just one part of the overall activity of theological exegesis. The literary approach of Josipovici is useful only to the degree that it helps us understand the kerygmatic intentionality of the text of Judges or Job. Using it as a tool to iron our tensions is fine to the degree that it gives an adequate account of the text itself (as I'm sure you will agree). But I think it bears pointing out that a theological approach, at least the one that Childs recommends, requires attention to the kerygmatic/canonical intentionality of the text, and this in turn means attending to the historical dimension. Escaping from the real world into a narrative world is, according to the theological premise of Childs, to contradict the foundational assumptions of a God who dwells with us (not that Josipovici is necessarily doing this, though many narrative theologians such as Frei and Linbeck come close). History and commitment to a certain type of authorial intentionality are necessary parts of exegesis oriented to knowledge of God. That the unity of scripture is outside of it means we are not required to get rid of editorial additions and surface level contradictions.

Childs wryly notes the theological agnosticism present in much narrative theology. It is possible for theologians from both the extreme right and extreme left of the discipline to do narrative theology, coming to similar conclusions, while sharing fundamentally different views about the actual world in which we live.

I wrote a post on the way Childs' understanding of the formation of the text provides the grounds for broadening theological reflection beyond the horizon of the Old Testament here. Here we have something of the marriage of history and theology that theological exegesis needs to maintain.

(For the record, I think Sternberg does a good job of providing a literary approach which takes seriously the historical world 'behind' the text. Childs cites him approvingly.)

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

The Hermeneutical Implications of the Canonical Shaping of the Pentateuch

To round off his presentation of the canonical shaping of the Pentateuch, Childs briefly sketches a few of the hermeneutical implications of this approach to Scripture:

1) First, the present shape of the Pentateuch is a theological witness which is lost if its shape is destroyed in order to reconstruct a chronological sequence. The present arrangement preserves a basic critical norm as to how the tradition was to be understood in the life of the people of God.
2) Divine revelation is not buried in past historical events which depend on recovery by archaeology in order to be made available to the church. Rather, the long history of the development of tradition reflects God's continuing revelation of Himself to His church which left its mark in the canonical shaping of the Pentateuch. The growth of the Pentateuch was not an arbitrary selection and arrangement by individuals apart from the ongoing life of the community of faith. The final shape of the Pentateuch is canonical, that is, normative for the life of faith, because it reflects the fullest form of the church's understanding of God's revelation.

3) The decisive factor in shaping the tradition was the concern to render it in a form so that it could be correctly understood and rightly appropriated by the succeeding generations of God's people. This is the role and function of canon. Scripture became the vehicle by which the original historical events were remembered, but also theologically interpreted to function as revelation for the generations yet unborn. The decisive hermeneutical role of canon was to guide the church in moving from the past to the present.

4) By taking seriously the canonical shape of the Old Testament the Christian interpreter suddenly discovers that he stands in the company of all the great Christian expositors of the past. Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, rather than being regarded as museum pieces of an uncritical age, are found to be wrestling with the fundamental issues of faith.

Childs concludes:

In the end, the goal of all our endeavors is that we interpret the Scripture so that men and woman will recognize in them the living Christ, and God willing, some will perhaps even testify: "Did not our hearts burn within us when He opened to us the Scriptures?" (722).