Review of Naïve Readings

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naive readingsFor various reasons, some texts are more challenging to read than others. This reality is sometimes the result of the readers’s distance from the author in time, space, or culture. At other times, this reality is the result of an author’s writing style. In any case, Lerner, in his book Naïve Readings, begins with this simple fact and attempts “experiments in reading complex texts” (p. 1).

Lerner is the Benjamin Franklin Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago, and this book represents a collection of many essays that he has previously published. The book itself is comprised of 10 chapters (chapters 1, 5, 9, and 10 being the original essays). Chapter 1 opens the book very effectively and provides this collection of essays with a coherent theme. In the remainder of the book, Lerner conducts close readings of texts from Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Francis Bacon, Edward Gibbons, Alexis de Tocqueville, Judah Halevi, and Moses Maimonides.

Most notably, Lerner opens chapter 1 by identifying a common error in reading challenging texts, namely hastiness. Lerner rightly recognizes that readers often “yield to impulse,” “rush to dig deep, dissect, and deconstruct what we take to be the core of the text” (p. 1). However, as Lerner points out, this is a mistaken technique because it fails to take serious the challenges of reading as well as the way that our presuppositions about how an author chooses to communicate his ideas might cloud our judgment and understanding. To this problem in reading Lerner offers two solutions.

The first of Lerner’s solutions to this reading problem is to slow down and read with caution and patience. Of course, the reader may say that this is too simplistic. However, as Lerner points out and demonstrates in the remainder of his book, many mistakes in comprehension can be avoided if the reader would only be more careful.

The second of Lerner’s solutions to this reading problem is, in biblical studies terms, to read with a hermeneutic of faith rather than a hermeneutic of suspicion. In the case of challenging texts, Lerner encourages his readers to assume the linguistic proficiency of an author. In other words, Lerner believes that the best approach to reading a challenging text is to assume that the author has not made a mistake in his communication, but that the reader simply has not fully comprehended the author.

Lerner’s book is an interesting exercise in reading comprehension, because he demonstrates with non-religious texts what I believe is the proper approach for biblical interpretation. This approach is one that is governed by the virtues of faith, hope, and love. Lerner demonstrates love for the author by his attentiveness to the text that the author has written. He demonstrates faith that the author has the necessary skills in communication in order to convey his message. And he demonstrates hope in his conviction that through hard work, comprehension can ultimately be obtained.

Lerner’s is a fascinating book and I believe that it can be used as a tool to assist the Christian reader to become a better reader both of secular books and of the Bible. This, however, is not to say that the Bible should be read like any other book or that every other book should be read like the Bible. The Christian conviction is that the Bible is unlike every other book in that in it God reveals himself, and through it God speaks. However, the Bible was written by men who used human modes of communication. These modes of communication, moreover, require careful reading. Lerner’s book will particularly appeal to those readers who are interested in classic texts and will certainly help these readers become better readers of all human communication, including the bible.

Ralph Lerner. Naïve Readings: Reveilles Political and Philosophic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. 240 pp. Hb. $45.

Review of Basics of Classical Syriac

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syriacSteven C. Hallam. Basics of Classical Syriac: Complete Grammar, Workbook, and Lexicon. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016. Pb. 318 pp. US $49.99.

The fact of the matter is that there is a noticeable lack of choice when it comes to Syriac grammars. For most, the immediate choice is Coakley’s Robinson’s Paradigms and Exercises (6th ed. Oxford: Oxford, 2013). However, since Robinson’s first edition appeared in 1915, much has changed in our understanding of language acquisition and instruction. For this simple reason, a new option for Syriac instructors is welcome news.

Like Zondervan’s other Basics of grammars, Hallam adopts an integrated approach that seeks to get students reading the text as soon as possible. Hallam also assumes that his readers will be primarily interested reading the biblical text, so all of the exercises come from the Syriac Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Moreover, it is important to note that Hallam is clear that the grammar “is intended to be a friendly and accessible generalization of the language” (p. 10). As such, this is not intended to be a reference grammar. Moreover, the lexicon is sufficient only for the exercises within the grammar itself. In the end, one should not presume that this grammar is “complete” (as the subtitle states) in the sense that it is a full and complete grammar or a full and complete lexicon. Instead, this text is complete in the sense that it contains a grammar, exercises, and a limited lexicon.

The content itself is divided into two parts with a year-long course in mind. Part one consists of nouns and verbs, while part two covers derivative stems and weak verbs. The content is as follows:

 

Part I

  1. Alphabet
  2. Vowels
  3. Nouns and Adjectives
  4. Nominal Prefixes
  5. Pronouns
  6. Pronominal Suffixes

 

  1. Introduction to Syriac Verbs
  2. Peal (G) Perfect and ܗܘܳܐ (hwā)
  3. Peal Participle
  4. Peal Imperfect
  5. Peal Imperative and Infinitive

 

Part II

  1. Ethpeel (Gp)
  2. Pael (D)
  3. Ethpaal (Dp)
  4. Aphel (A)
  5. Ettaphal (Ap)

 

  1. I-ālep
  2. III-Weak
  3. I-yūd
  4. I-nūn
  5. Germinate
  6. Hollow
  7. II-ālep


 Immediately there are aspects of this grammar that excite me. First, even though it is the same over-sized dimensions as Zondervan’s other grammars, it works in the case of this grammar, because it is also a workbook. There is room for marginal notes as well as for the students’ translations in the exercise portions of the book.

Secondly, I am encouraged by the portion sizes for each chapter. Hallam covers the nominal system in six chapters rather than the four chapters in Coakley. Likewise, Hallam includes a nine-page introduction to the verb system, followed by four sequential chapters on the Peal stem. This structure will allow several weeks of fruitful interaction with the verbal system before other stems are introduced. This structure builds on the successes of other Zondervan grammars, which cover nouns before introducing verbs. Additionally, the pace of study will ensure that students are digesting small doses and growing in their comprehension at a manageable rate.

Thirdly, I appreciate the fact that Hallam has chosen to use the Estrangela script. Due to its prominence in biblical studies, it is important for students to be introduced to this script right away. Although this script is not initially as easy to read as the Serta script, it is the script of Brill’s critical Peshitta and most of the other resources with which the students will use.

Finally, Hallam has several very useful appendices including one on numbers and dates; several charts of verbs with pronominal suffixes; a short lexicon; and, very helpfully, a list of similar Syriac and Hebrew roots. The latter will be a great help the vocabulary acquisition for students who already know biblical Hebrew.

The appropriate audience is for anyone at the undergraduate or graduate level who is interested in Syriac. With some guidance, this text may even suit certain PhD students embarking on self-taught Syriac studies.

By way of a final assessment, there is much to praise about this grammar. The quantity of material in each chapter seems entirely fitting, it progresses at an appropriate rate, and it is complete enough to lead students to a point of reading and interpreting the biblical text efficiently. In short, it accomplishes what it sets out to do, namely introduce the reader to Syriac grammar and get the student reading the text. Being in want for options, Syriac teachers can rejoice at the opportunity to choose from a growing selection of grammars.

A REVIEW OF AS IRON SHARPENS IRON

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as-ironFor as long as I can remember, I have attended a church that believed in the importance of discipleship. I have often been a part of a discipleship group or a mentoring relationship, but I have seldom been a mentor for someone. It is in this area that I learned the most from As Iron Sharpens Iron: Building Character In a Mentoring Relationship. Howard and William Hendricks did a great job of encouraging me to get involved in a young man’s life as well as finding a mentor in my new community. I was challenged to find a Timothy and a Paul here in Laramie, I was interested by the power of prayer when looking for a mentor or protégé, and I was happy to see the practical tips offered by the authors.

I have lived most of my life with various Paul’s and Barnabas’s, but I have only had a few Timothy’s. This book challenged me to seek out a young man to mentor, or at least be willing to meet with if God leads us together. While reading the book, I spent a lot of time thinking about mentors that I have had and how much they have blessed me, and I realized that I was being selfish if I failed to bless a younger man in the same way. I was challenged when Hendricks ask the reader to consider what was preventing him from entering into a mentoring relationship. I could think of no good reason why I was not actively pursuing a protégé.

At this point in the mentoring cycle, Hendricks urges men to pray. Prayer does a lot for the mentor as well as the protégé. It is through prayer that both men will be prepared to enter into the mentoring relationship, and it is through prayer and patience that the Lord will lead a young man into an older man’s influence. These points were very convicting to me, because I had only gotten to a point of desiring a protégé; I had not made the effort to pray for one. Hendricks was very encouraging in this. He uses examples from his own life as well as from other sources to describe what it is like when two people meet for the first time and begin a mentoring relationship. It was a beautiful thing to see the way the younger man looked up to the older man, the way that I have always looked up to my mentors. I have certainly had mentors that I have not connected with, but I have had mentors that have worked out very well. The difference between the two types of mentors has seemed to be a matter of God’s involvement in placing us together. This is why I have started to understand the importance of prayer in beginning a mentoring relationship. It is God who will bring us together, and it is God who will grow the relationship.

On a practical note, I really appreciated the advice that Hendricks offers. He spends much time offering tips to mentors and to young men looking for mentors. Two tips struck me in particular. The first was for young men to not use the term mentor until the older man uses it. This seemed very odd to me at first, but in Part II I began to understand that most men are very fearful about being a mentor. I can be very straightforward in regard to my hopes, desires, or expectations, so this was a great piece of advice for me. And secondly, I appreciated Hendricks’ tips on parting ways. Prior to this book, I believed that mentoring relationships are supposed to last forever, but that was a huge fallacy; when they are goal oriented in the way that mentoring relationships should be, relationships have a beginning and an end. This is healthy, but they must end well. I appreciated this part of the chapter, because I was introduced to a healthy understanding of what a mentoring relationship is as well as how they should end. I have had many mentoring relationships, and about half of them ended poorly. This was due to my misunderstanding that it would never end, as well as the mentor’s failure to say goodbye in a healthy manner.

I appreciated this book tremendously. I began to understand that God has a desire for us all to be mentors, and that I am able to have a positive impact on someone. Since I’ve been hurt in the past, I benefited from learning what a healthy mentoring relationship should be like.

Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks, As Iron Sharpens Iron: Building Character in a Mentoring Relationship (Chicago: Moody, 1997).

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resizeimagehandlerBenyamim Tsedaka and Sharon Sullivan, eds. The Israelite Samaritan Versions of the Torah: First English Translation Compared with the Masoretic Version. Trans. by Benyamim Tsedaka. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013. xxxvi + 558 pp. Hb. $100.

Very little is known about the history and nature of the Samaritan version of the Pentateuch (SP). However, what is increasingly becoming clear is the importance of this textual tradition to the study and textual criticism of the Pentateuch. Previously, there has been much speculation about the value of the SP, however, this former assumption is slowly giving way in biblical studies. Indeed, this review, despite coming nearly four years after the publication of Tsedaka’s volume, is intentionally timed in conjunction with the greatly needed and much anticipated inaugural volume (Leviticus) of the critical edition of the SP, which is to be published by DeGruyter in August 2017. The more this textual tradition is studied, the more it is being valued. The need for further study is all too evident.

Interestingly, not until 2013 was an English translation available for a wide audience to enjoy and appreciate the importance of this text. But thanks to the pioneering work of Benyamim Tsedaka scholars in various fields and interested individuals around the globe can both study and enjoy the SP.

However, this volume is important for more than the translation alone, for it contains a forward by Emanuel Tov, a short essay by James Charlesworth, and an additional introductory essay by Tsedaka. Tov discusses the nature of the SP generally by comparing it to the Masoretic Text, with which the SP often disagrees, and with the LXX and Qumran texts, with which the SP often agrees. Tov concludes that the SP is indeed valuable as it generally witnesses to a very ancient text tradition. Charlesworth, in his brief essay, address the basic question, What is the Samaritan Pentateuch. He contrasts older and more recent scholarly attitudes surrounding the SP.

In his own introduction, Tsedaka first offers an introductory overview of previous scholarship on the SP. To readers who are new to the SP this survey will prove invaluable. Students and scholars will find the footnotes in this introduction to be a great resource as well. Tsedaka next surveys scholarship on the Samaritan people with an eye for how this informs our understanding of this text they produced. Third, Tsedaka catalogues previous editions of the SP. Finally, he orients the reader to the many features of the present volume. These features, the reader should understand, add a great deal to this volume and make this much more than a simple translation of the SP.

One of the many features of this text that makes this text such a valuable resource is that is it appears in two columns per page. One column contains Tsedaka’s English translation of the SP while the other contains the JPS (1917) English translation of the Masoretic Text (MT). Tsedaka’s translation is based on the following four manuscripts: two from Mount Gerizim Synagogue (copied in 1199 and 1210 C.E.), the third from the National Library, Jerusalem (copied in 1215 C.E.), and the fourth, no. 751, at the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (copied in 1225 C.E.).

Helpfully, the editors have incorporated verse and chapter numbers (according to the JPS version) to aid comparison between the versions. Another helpful feature is the inclusion of the MT and SP’s section titles (MT Parashah; SP Aalaak). The interesting aspect of this feature is that these sections are often quite different from each other. The inclusion of these section titles, therefore, allows readers to observe how the scribes if the different traditions understood the boundaries of various passages.

The text also features marginal notations from the Samaritan sages. These notes contain comments on the main beliefs of the Samaritans as well as observations of differences between the SP and MT. This, of course is an immensely helpful feature as it gives English readers an insight into the sages understanding of their text’s differences with another tradition. Additionally, within the body of text itself, the editors provide imminently helpful notation of where the two texts diverge. Bold font is used to highlight where word choice differs and ellipses are used to signify where one text has fewer words than the other. In all there are over 6,000 variants. And although most of these are inconsequential, only the briefest of perusals will identify interesting, and often significant variant readings.

Additionally, Tsedaka includes two highly important appendices. In the first, he catalogues six pages of instances where the SP agrees with the Septuagint (LXX) against the MT. In the second appendix he catalogues seven pages of instances where the SP agrees with the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), and through the use of bold font where these two disagree with the MT; he also notes where the LXX agrees with both the DSS and SP. These two appendices are a treasure for modern readers, because it collects in one place all of the most significant and interesting variants in one place.

In the final assessment, this text is invaluable. Indeed, any Old Testament library is incomplete without it. This is true, not only because the SP is appearing more and more in recent scholarship, but because of the value of this text in its own right. It deserves to be read, and it deserves to be incorporated into serious study of the Pentateuch.

Brevard Childs on Canon: Canon and Witness

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Another of the central tenets of Childs’ work is that the bible is a witness. Not only this, but, as developed above, the Old Testament is also Israel’s witness; the canonical process attests to this fact. For Childs, “The goal of a new approach is to seek to do justice to the theological integrity of Israel’s witness while at the same time freely acknowledging the complexities of all human knowledge and the serious challenge of modernity to any claims of divine revelation.”[1] But Childs never rejected efforts to read the biblical text diachronically as many of his opponents argued. He always believed that, “the crucial distinction between reading the text as witness rather than just as source does not call into question the important diachronic dimension of Israel’s history with God.”[2] Childs’ canonical approach, then, aims to maintain scholarly rigor — which includes study of the text’s ostensive reference — as well as respect the biblical canon, reading it from within the believing community.

Additionally, Childs is explicit that the canon is also a witness to Jesus Christ. This commitment is rooted in the early church’s insistence on adopting and using the Jewish Scriptures as their own. The first generations of Christians had only these writings and were convinced that they bore witness to Christ. Childs writes,

“In a similar manner, I would argue that the Old Testament functions within Christian scripture as a witness to Jesus Christ precisely in its pre-Christian form. The task of Old Testament theology is, therefore, not to Christianize the Old Testament by identifying it with the New Testament witness, but to hear its own theological testimony to the God of Israel whom the church confesses also to worship. Although Christians confess that God who revealed himself to Israel is the God and Father of Jesus Christ, it is still necessary to hear Israel’s witness in order to understand who the Father of Jesus Christ is. The coming of Jesus does not remove the function of the divine disclosure in the old covenant.”[3]

It is important to note here that Childs is careful not to flatten the Old Testament witness. He is keenly aware of the possibility of ignoring the distinctive witness of the Old Testament by Christianizing it and re-framing Israel’s witness contained therein. Instead, Childs is deeply concerned to get to the subject matter (res) of the text, which is Jesus Christ.[4] Not only does the New Testament bear witness to Christ, but the early church adopted the Old Testament as Scripture because of their conviction that the res of these texts was Christ as well. Thus, the Old and New Testaments’ distinct witnesses are not identical, but not, therefore, mutually exclusive. Both testaments’ witnesses must be heard individually and collectively.

Conclusion

Of course, as soon as canon is construed in these terms, the attitude one adopts when approaching the text will be affected. This effect which canon has on the reader is what Childs calls the theological extension. He writes,

I also included in the term ‘canonical’ an important addition component which was a theological extension of its primary meaning. The canonical form of this literature also affects how the modem reader understands the biblical material, especially to the extent in which he or she identifies religiously with the faith community of the original tradents. The modern theological function of canon lies in its affirmation that the authoritative norm lies in the literature itself as it has been treasured, transmitted and transformed — of course in constant relation to its object to which it bears witness — and not in ‘objectively’ reconstructed stages of the process. The term canon points to the received, collected, and interpreted material of the church and thus establishes the theological context in which the tradition continues to function authoritatively for today.[5]

Simply put, “The theological enterprise involves a construal by the modern interpreter, whose stance to the text affects its meaning.”[6] The result of coming to terms with the Bible as canon, then, is that the Bible becomes more than a witness to the history of Israel and Israel’s religion. Far from this, when the Bible is read according to Childs’ understanding of canon, the Bible — both Old and New Testaments — bears witness to the one God who is God of both Israel and the Church; the Bible bears witness under these terms to the one God who is the father of Jesus, the lord of the Church.

 [1] Idem, Biblical Theology, 99.

 [2] Ibid., 105.

[3] Idem, Old Testament Theology, 9.

 [4] This, of course, does not do full justice to Child’s complex formulation of the dialectic relationship between the testaments.

 [5] Idem, Biblical Theology, 71.

[6] Idem, Old Testament Theology, 12.

Ryrie’s Bibles and Manuscripts Auctioned off

Fascinating Read

Daniel B. Wallace

On 5 December 2016, Sotheby’s had an auction of one of the world’s largest private collections of Bibles and manuscripts. The collection was Charles Ryrie’s, former professor of Systematic Theology at Dallas Seminary. For many years I would take my students to visit his home and see the treasures in his collection. Every year he would bring out new marvels that astonished me. I never saw the whole collection, but he was always generous in bringing out scores of volumes.

Ryrie died earlier this year. He was just a month shy of his 92nd birthday. I had been keeping a close eye on his collection and had discussed it with him many times over the years. Among other things, he owned three Greek New Testament manuscripts, one of only eleven vellum Luther Bibles in the world, and the finest copy of the 1611 King James Bible anywhere. He also owned…

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Something to Think about 11

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thinker“[T]heology is faced with the general expectation that it exercises its office (let’s see how it will come to terms with this!) and gives an answer to that which remains a question in the minds of others who would like to keep it under wraps in the background, if they can. It is expected to represent as a possibility that which the others only know as an impossibility, as a limit concept. Theology is surrounded by the expectation that it not only whisper and rumor about God, but that it speak of him, that it not only refer to God but witness to God by being grounded in him, not leaving God somewhere in the background but disregarding methodological and scientific presuppositions and placing God in the foreground.”

-Karl Barth in his speech “The Word of God as the Task of Theology,” given in Elgersburg on October 3, 1922.

English text can be found in Karl Barth, The Word of God and Theology (trans. by Amy Marga; London: T&T Clark, 2011): 171-198.

Brevard Childs on Canon: Canon and the Legacy of Faith

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As hinted at in an earlier post, another central concern of Childs is to read the Bible with the understanding that it is the result of intentional hermeneutical, moral, and theological decisions were made on the part of the tradents who were receiving the texts in their shaping of the canon. The basis of this claim, which he developed in his two introductions, is Childs’ belief that the biblical text itself bears witness to these decisions.[1] Childs argued that the “motivations behind the canonical process were diverse and seldom discussed in the biblical text itself. However, the one concern which is expressly mentioned is that a tradition from the past be transmitted in such a way that its authoritative claims be laid upon all successive generations of Israel.”[2] Simply put, for Childs, “Scripture serves as a continuing medium through which the saving events of Israel’s history are appropriated by each new generation of faith.”[3]

For Childs, then, because the canon bears traces of this hermeneutical activity, it is necessary to incorporate the canonization process into his conception of canon.

At this point, it behooves us to recognize the continuity and discontinuity between Childs and Assmann. Assmann is an historian interested in the historical factors that led to the canonization of the Old Testament. For him, the canon is nothing more than the final form of the Old Testament. The continuity is sharpest where they both agree that the tradents made theological decisions in the formation of the canon. The discontinuity, however, exists where Childs asserts that the concept of canon includes the process that lead up to the final form of the text. However, this formulation of canon displays close affinities to Assmann’s cultural memory, but with the difference of theological rather that anthropological concerns. And although Assmann’s concerns are valid and illuminating, it would be improper to forget that,

“The material was transmitted through its various oral, literary, and redactional stages by many different groups toward a theological end. Because the traditions were received as religiously authoritative, they were transmitted in such a way as to maintain a normative function for subsequent generations of believers within a community of faith. This process of rendering the material theologically involved countless different compositional techniques by means of which the tradition was actualized.”[4]

And,

“The heart of the canonical process lay [sic] in transmitting and ordering the authoritative tradition in a form which was compatible to function as scripture for a generation which had not participated in the original events of revelation. The ordering of the tradition for this new function involved a profoundly hermeneutical activity, the effects of which are now built into the structure of the canonical text.”[5]

For Childs, then, because the canon bears traces of this hermeneutical activity, it is necessary to incorporate the canonization process into his conception of canon.

[1] Ibid., 71, where Childs writes, “One of the main endeavours of my two Introductions was to describe the manner by which the hemeneutical concerns of the tradents left their mark on the literature. The material was shaped in order to provide means or its continuing appropriation by its subsequent hearers. Guidelines were given which rendered the material compatible with its future actualization.”

[2] Ibid., 78. At this point Childs references Exod 12:14, 26ff and Deut 31:9ff.

[3] Idem, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), 15.

[4] Ibid., 70. See Idem, New Testament, 22, where Childs makes similar claims regarding the New Testament. He writes, “Central to the canonical process was the concern to render the occasional form into which the gospel was first received into a medium which allowed it faithfully and truthfully to render its witness for successive generations of believers who had not directly experienced Christ’s incarnation and resurrection.”

[5] Idem, Old Testament, 60.

Brevard Childs on Canon: What is canon?

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When reading Childs, one of the key issues is what he means by canon. Failure carefully to read Childs has, unfortunately, led to widespread misrepresentation of his views.[1] One of the chief purveyors of misinterpretations of Childs has been James Barr. As Childs notes in a review of James Barr’s Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism, wherein Barr misrepresents Childs severely,

“It is obvious that James Barr and this reviewer differ widely on many essential points. However, what is far more disturbing is what appears to be the level of misunderstanding. I come away from reading Barr’s book with the impression that the major concerns of my Introduction have been badly misinterpreted and that much of the attack has missed the mark.”[2]

Unfortunately, however, such misreadings have been rather widespread and have pointed to a misunderstanding of Childs’s scholarly aims and, even more basically, his key formulations. Indeed, Driver has shown that Childs’ reception has differed greatly in German scholarship and in English scholarship.[3] This is due to the strong German influence exerted on Childs during his PhD work at Basel, which has resulted in a misunderstanding on the part of his English readership even of what Childs means by biblical theology. For this reason, understanding Childs’ formulation of canon is essential.

As hinted at above, Childs’ conception of canon is a broad conception that encompasses a great deal more than the final form of the text, a list of approved books, or even an authoritative text. Indeed, Driver notes that this constituted one of Barr’s worse misreadings of Childs; he seems to believe that Childs’ conception of canon consisted entirely of these three elements, and entirely misses in Childs’ argument that the canonization process is central to his concerns.[4] Childs himself recognizes that this formulation is broad when he writes,

“As I have already suggested, the process of the formation of authoritative religious writings long preceded the particular designation of the collection as canon in the fourth century. For this reason I am using the term canon in a broader sense than is traditionally the practice in order to encompass the entire process by which the formation of the church’s sacred writings took place.”[5]

Childs understands canon in this broader sense because he believes that the biblical text evidences a canon consciousness on the part of the tradents of the faith. Not only were they receiving texts as Scripture, but they were also shaping and reworking them with an eye toward future generations. For Childs,

“the concept of canon was not late, ecclesiastical ordering which was basically foreign to the material itself, but that canon-consciousness lay deep within the formation of the literature. The term also serves to focus attention on the theological forces at work in its composition rather than seeking the process largely controlled by general laws of folklore, by socio-political factors, or by scribal conventions.”[6]

To study the Bible as canon, then, is not a purely literary or structural approach to the Bible. Rather, to read the Bible as a canon of Scripture that reflects the hermeneutical and theological concerns of the tradents is to study the Bible both as an historically situated text as Scripture of a faith community.

[1] For a fuller account of the misreadings of Childs see, Daniel R. Driver, Brevard Childs, Biblical Theologian: For the Church’s One Bible (FAT II: 46; ed. by Bernd Janowski, Mark S. Smith, and Hermann Spieckermann. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010), esp., 41–58.

[2] Brevard Childs, Review of James Barr Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism, Int 38/1 (1984), 67.

 [3] Driver, Brevard Childs, 35–79.

 [4] Ibid., 229–230.

 [5] Idem, New Testament, 25.

[6] Idem, Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (London: SCM, 1992), 70–71.

 

Brevard Childs on Canon

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There is perhaps no biblical scholar in recent years that has done more with the concept of canon and influenced generations of scholarship than Brevard Springs Childs. His primary contribution, as it relates to this study, is his approach to biblical interpretation known as Canonical Interpretation. By “approach,” it is meant that Childs is not concerned with overturning the world of critical biblical scholarship, but instead is concerned with the way believing communities come to the Bible to read it as canon. The question of the hypothetical synoptic source Q provides a particularly sharp example of Childs’ concerns. He writes,

“It is erroneous to infer that the canonical approach which is being outlined is opposed to historical criticism in principle. The issue at stake turns on how it is used. Recovery of the pre-history of a composition, such as Q, can be useful in measuring both the continuity and discontinuity with the present canonical function. However, to insist on finding the key to the final form of the text in this early stage of development can easily become a hindrance in discovering it canonical role.”[1]

In other words, according to Childs not only should reading the Bible as canon influence the way one approaches the bible, but also the way one reads the bible; what questions the reader asks of the text and the answers that one expects from the text are closely related to the way one approaches the bible.

Thus, for Childs, unlike Jan Assmann, canon involves much more than the history of development. Instead of finding significance in the historical process of the canon, Childs believed that the “witness of the Old Testament lies in the historical shape that the Jews gave their Scriptures.”[2] In other words, according to Childs not only should reading the Bible as canon influence the way one approaches the bible, but also the way one reads the bible; what questions the reader asks of the text and the answers that one expects from the text are closely related to the way one approaches the bible. In this regard, Childs was highly critical of the historical approach to the writing of Old Testament introductions that he believed misread the text by misunderstanding the Old Testament’s place in the community of faith. For Childs, the shape and role of the canon were inexorably tied to the community from which it emerged. He his own Introduction to the Old Testament, he wrote,

“[T]he usual historical critical Introduction has failed to relate the nature of the literature correctly to the community which treasured it as scripture. It is constitutive of Israel’s history that the literature formed the identity of the religious community which in turn shaped the literature. This fundamental dialectic which lies at the heart of the canonical process is lost when the critical Introduction assumes that a historically referential reading of the Old Testament is the key to its interpretation. It assumes the determining force on every biblical text to be political, social, or economic factors which it seeks to establish in disregard of the religious dynamic of the canon.”[3]

Crucial for Childs, is the conviction that to read the Bible as anything other than an inscripturated canon of a believing community that seeks to pass their faith on to successive generations is to flatten the text and misrepresent it.

In this series of posts, Childs’ view of canon will be addressed, with special attention given to the way that his formulation of canon might profitably interact with Jan Assmann. These areas of interaction are Childs’ particular formulation of canon, his understanding of the relationship between canon and successive generations of tradents, and his understanding of the biblical canon as a witness.

[1] Brevard S. Childs, New Testament as Canon: An Introduction (London: SCM, 1984), 50.

 [2] Idem, Review of James Sanders Torah and Canon, Int 37/1 (1973), 90.

[3] Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (London: SCM, 1979), 41.