Tag Archives: bible

Walter Brueggemann (more Kugel and Criticism)

Walter Brueggemann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia
He has devoted his life to a passionate exploration of Old Testament theology, with an emphasis on the relation between the Old Testament and the Christian canonical works, and the dynamics of Jewish-Christian interactions. He has published more than 59 books.

Brueggermann criticizes Brevards Childs as being too Christian and not pluralistic enough (Jon Levenson in turn uses the same arguments on Brueggermann). Walter Brueggemann is the standard mainline Protestant approach. He is the Reverend Lovejoy not the Ned Flanders. He is the standard approach now in seminaries that locating meaning in Documentary History is so 19th century skepticism and positivism, on the other hand he rejects fundamentalism or apologetics as anti-intellectual and repressive. Does he have anything to teach about moving beyond the false dichotomy?
He thinks history removes the theological sense of the text. We lose God and Sinai with criticism. We also cannot create an ethical approach with historical criticism. He is also willing to question parts of historical criticism. But on the other hand, he questions the fundamentalist approach as more concerned with external dogma and affirming an external event rather than accepting the revelation of the text.

Passages from: Brueggemann, Walter. Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 1997. (pp.726-29) Old Testament Theology in Relation to Historical Criticism

No doubt Brevard Childs is correct in his contention that the relationship between Old Testament theology and historical criticism is of crucial importance to any advance in Old Testament theology. Thus I take it as a truism that Old Testament theological interpretation must be seriously engaged with criticism, and any serious student of Old Testament theology cannot retreat into a “safe” fideism because he or she fears the results of critical inquiry.

The conclusion to which I am drawn is that the enormous apparatus of high historical criticism that reached its zenith in the nineteenth century and continued its dominance well into the twentieth century is not, in the first instant, of primary relevance to theological exposition at the end of the twentieth century. By such a conclusion, I do not intend any appeal to an anti-intellectual fideism; I appeal rather to criticism that is congruent in the two ways suggested. In drawing this conclusion, I only reflect what in practice has turned out to be the case for a great number of responsible scholars at the present moment, namely, that scholars have moved well beyond the critical categories that have come to represent historical criticism.

In my judgment, historical criticism (by which I shall refer to the entire Enlightenment enterprise that came to be associated with Julius Wellhausen and that now seems to reappear as neo-Wellhausianism) was committed to a Cartesian program that was hostile (in effect if not in intention) to the main theological claims of the text.

Thus what is required in a new, antipositivistic intellectual climate is a criticism that is not thinly positivistic, but that is open to the density of social and rhetorical processes that generate social reality beyond our “realism.”
I suggest that in a new settlement still to be worked out between criticism and interpretation

Serious energy needs to be given to discern what of the older historical criticism is to be retained and how it is to be used. There is much in the history of the literature and perhaps in the history of religion that still needs to be valued, even though almost every old “consensus” opinion is now under heavy assault. The challenge in retaining learning from the older historical criticism is to do so without a hidden commitment to the theological skepticism that seemed endlessly to accompany that criticism, but was not a necessary part of a critical perspective. There may be a place for skepticism, but it should be explicit along with its grounds, and not surreptitiously taken along with critical judgment.

The real issue in the relationship between interpretation and criticism is to be aware that fideism and skepticism are twin temptations, and that criticism is an effort to be thoughtful in a way that does not permit fideism and that does not require skepticism. In much “scientific” study of the Old Testament, it is generally assumed that skepticism is much more intellectually respectable than is fideism. With the demise of positivism, that unstated but widespread assumption might well be reconsidered. Skepticism, often voiced as hostility to theological claim, is in fact not a given element in responsible intellectual inquiry. What passes for uncommitted objectivity in Old Testament study, moreover, is often a thinly veiled personal hostility to religious authority, which is displaced on the interpretive task as though such hostility is an intellectual virtue. No doubt an oppressive fideism and a hostile skepticism endlessly evoke and feed each other. We may now be at a moment when totalizing fideism is exposed as inadequate and when skeptical positivism is seen to be equally inadequate, when a genuinely thoughtful criticism can engage the density and depth of the text, which is available neither to fideism nor to skepticism.

Or a more technical plea to look at the text and not behind the text. The social world of a text does not explain the meaning of a text. For example, the social world of the Talmud does not explain the logic and meaning of the Gemara.

A mere excavating of the social world behind the text, as if the text, itself, did not enter into the social construction of reality and provide an alternative “social” world of negotiation and definition, is a species of positivist reductionism. As Clifford Geertz once argued, this short-circuits the autonomous process of symbolic formulation. Geertz claims that such symbolic reductionism usually stems from theories whose “psychology is too anemic and whose sociology is too muscular” (Geertz 1973: 202). How what is said is crucial to what is said.

The Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, has recently eloquently argued that rhetorical criticism is an indispensable complement in biblical studies to sociological analysis. Echoing Geertz’s strictures, he deplores forms of historical criticism (of which the sociology of the Bible is a sub-set) which explain away literary cunning such that “what is interesting and dense in the text has been often forfeited” (Brueggeman 1997: 103). As he puts it, historical criticism “runs the risk that the methods and assumptions to which it is committed may miss the primary intentionality of the text” (Brueggemann 1997: 104).

Brueggermann reviewed James Kugel’s 2003 The God of Old: Inside the Lost World of the Bible and thought that Kugel agreed with his seeking theological meaning as more important than history. But Kugel’s recent book sings a different song.

On the other hand, Kugel refers to “The Project” by which he seems to mean a theological investigation into the “realness of things” that lies deep beneath the appearances that are so taken for granted among us: “They [the texts] can indeed come back to life, and their world, their way of seeing, can let us in to take the measure of things that are strange” (p. 3). At the end, Kugel concludes: “It is important to glimpse how things once were otherwise; certainly we then may better understand where the present came from. And perhaps also for another reason, somewhat more sublime: to remember that that ‘otherwise’ is, for all that has intervened, not unrelated to what exists in the fullest reality of today” (p. 199).
Thus in the most restrained and almost whimsical way, Kugel’s ultimate concern is not historical but contemporary.

So what can be used from Brueggermann for an Orthodox approach? What cannot be used?
(Since my proportion of hits to the blog compared to click to links is so small, less than 1/100, I left the links out).

Brevard Childs

Apropos to the Kugel discussion- Here are some quotes from Brevard Childs who was at Yale from the 1960’s until the 1990’s. Childs treats the Bible as a Christian work through the eyes of the Church even as he uses Biblical criticism. His approach is called “canonical criticism” is “an examination of the final form of the text as a totality, as well as the process leading to it.” “Whereas previous criticism asked questions about the origins, structure and history of the text, canonical criticism addresses questions of meaning, both for the community (and communities – subsequent communities are regarded as being as important as the original community for which it was produced) which used it, and in the context of the wider canon of which it forms a part.”
Childs was criticized on both sides – by Biblical scholars who wanted the text to remain in its bronze age meaning or documentary meaning and by fundamentalists who rejected any criticism. I am not advocating Childs’ approach, I repeat I am not advocating Childs’ theories. I am posting this as a sense of what most non-Jewish Bible professors that I know had to read in graduate school and it served as a basis for any further thinking they did on the topic. It also serves as a basis for many of the readings in an undergraduate Bible course. Many introductory courses try to show continuity with the tradition.

Childs’ approach influenced Levenson, Fishbane, and other Jewish scholars who read the Bible with the Second temple and Rabbinic commentary, who look for intertextuality within the Bible itself, and treat the Bible as a Jewish work. The Jewish authors developed their own approaches but Childs is one of the many building blocks. Maybe I might post on some of the other building blocks. And as Benjamin Sommers pointed out – for many people Kugel’s book The Bible As It Was – his book on Midrash was taken as an extension of Brevard Childs.

Brevard S. Childs is author of Biblical Theology in Crisis, and The Book of Exodus and Isaiah
CHILDS: I have always objected to the term “canon(ical) criticism” as a suitable description of my approach. I do not envision my approach as involving a new critical methodology analogous to literary, form, or redactional criticism. Rather, the crucial issue turns on one’s initial evaluation of the nature of the biblical text being studied. By defining one’s task as an understanding of the Bible as the sacred Scriptures of the church, one establishes from the outset the context and point-of-standing of the reader within the received tradition of a community of faith and practice. Likewise, Scripture is also confessed to be the vehicle of God’s self-disclosure which continues to confront the church and the world in a living fashion. In sum, its content is not merely a literary deposit moored in the past, but a living and active text addressing each new generation of believer, both Jew and Christian.

Childs accepts a unified approach without separate documents and looks for intertextuality. He sees the text as having a revelatory message from God. Notice his description of the human and divine elements and his definition of revelation. Later parts of the Bible were already hearing fresh insights into God’s prior words. It is quite Christian but it was still influential on Jews. Notice the subtlety of his view of revelation. On needs to hear a powerful theological message from the Bible.

Of course, the Bible is also a human work written as a testimony to God’s coercion of a historical people, and extended and developed through generations of Israel’s wrestling with its God. The goals of interpretation can be defined in countless different ways, but for those confessing its role as sacred Scripture the goal is to penetrate deeply into its content, to be illuminated theologically by its Word, and to be shaped and transformed by its gracious disclosure which witness is continually made alive by its divine communicator.
The divine and human dimensions of Scripture can never be separated as if there were a kernel and a husk, but the heart of the Bible lies in the mystery of how a fully time-conditioned writing, written by fragile human authors, can continually become the means of hearing the very Word of God, fresh and powerful, to recipients open to faithful response.
First, I remain deeply concerned with the unity of the book which, I agree, cannot be formulated in terms of a single authorship.
Secondly, one of the most important recent insights has been the recognition of the role of intertextuality. The growth of the larger composition has often been shaped by the use of a conscious resonance with a previous core of oral and written texts. The great theological significance is that intertextuality reveals how the editors conceived of their task as forming a chorus of different voices and fresh interpretations, but all addressing in different ways, and in different ages a part of the selfsame, truthful witness to God’s salvific purpose for his people.

Taken from Brevard Childs’ Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context.

If one asks what was God’s purpose, that is, his motivation in revealing himself, the Old Testament is silent. However, if one asks what was God’s purpose, that is, his goal toward which his self-disclosure pointed, then the Old Testament is eloquent in its response. God revealed himself that all may see and know who God is:

Any thoughts? What would you take from this? Why?