The kind folks at Bloomsbury (the parent company of the T&T Clark imprint) have recently mentioned that a paperback release is forthcoming for my Sacred Texts and Paradigmatic Revolutions: The Hermeneutical Worlds of the Qumran Sectarian Manuscripts and the Letter to the Romans. Slated for this June, the paperback, at a $29.95 list price, will be a fiscally welcome complement to the current hardback ($120.00) and PDF ($27.99) formats. The paperback is already available for pre-order on Amazon, currently at just under the list price.
The latest Bloomsbury Highlights notes the newly available volume 16 in the T&T Clark Jewish and Christian Texts Series. The volume is a revision of my 2011 dissertation at Southeastern Seminary and primarily explores paradigmatic, or presuppositional, aspects of the hermeneutics at play in Romans and some of the Qumran sectarian texts.
In his 2006 Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, Richard Bauckham suggests:
that we need to recover the sense in which the Gospels are testimony. This does not mean that they are testimony rather than history. It means that the kind of historiography they are is testimony. An irreducible feature of testimony as a form of human utterance is that it asks to be trusted. This does not mean that it asks to be trusted uncritically, but it does mean that testimony should not be treated as credible only to the extent that it can be independently verified. There can be good reasons for trusting or distrusting a witness, but these are precisely reasons for trusting or distrusting. Trusting testimony is not an irrational act of faith that leaves critical rationality aside; it is, on the contrary, the rationally appropriate way of responding to authentic testimony. . . . It is true that a powerful trend in the modern development of critical historical philosophy and method finds trusting testimony a stumbling-block in the way of the historian’s autonomous access to truth that she or he can verify independently. But it is also a rather neglected fact that all history, like all knowledge, relies on testimony. (5; italics original)
Thus, it is perhaps not without irony that we find ourselves still under the sway of a certain kind(s) of testimony even when we seek most to avoid or to exercise our independence from testimony of some other kind(s) (cf. Gadamer, Truth and Method, 354; Lewis, “Meditation in a Toolshed,” 215).
The latest reviews from the Review of Biblical Literature include:
Jewish Scriptures and Cognate Studies
- Keith Bodner, Jeroboam’s Royal Drama, reviewed by Mark McEntire
- Erhard S. Gerstenberger, Israel in the Persian Period: The Fifth and Fourth Centuries B.C.E., reviewed by John Engle
- Edwin M. Good, Genesis 1–11: Tales of the Earliest World, reviewed by Brian D. Russell
- Michelle J. Levine, Nahmanides on Genesis: The Art of Biblical Portraiture, reviewed by George Savran
- Emily Teeter, Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt, reviewed by Michael B. Hundley
New Testament and Cognate Studies
- Gerald J. Donker, The Text of the Apostolos in Athanasius of Alexandria, reviewed by Chris De Wet
- Amy E. Richter, Enoch and the Gospel of Matthew, reviewed by Daniel M. Gurtner
- Richard Bauckham, Living with Other Creatures: Green Exegesis and Theology, reviewed by Phillip Sherman
- Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Keys to Jerusalem: Collected Essays, reviewed by Joshua Schwartz
- Gary Yamasaki, Perspective Criticism: Point of View and Evaluative Guidance in Biblical Narrative, reviewed by Robert C. Tannehill
The latest issue of the Biblical Theology Bulletin includes:
- Callia Rulmu, “Stumbling Words for a Determined Young Lady: Notes on Ruth 2:7b”
- David H. Wenkel, “When the Apostles Became Kings: Ruling and Judging the Twelve Tribes of Israel in the Book of Acts”
- Coleman A. Baker, “Social Identity Theory and Biblical Interpretation”
- Eric C. Stewart, “New Testament Space/Spatiality”
Citing Varro as “a most learned man among the [pagans], and [a man] of the weightiest authority” on paganism (Civ. 4.1 [NPNF1 2:64]), Augustine summarizes Varro’s account of the naming of Athens (Civ. 18.9 [NPNF1 2:365]):
Athens certainly derived its name from Minerva, who in Greek is called ᾽Αθηνη [Athena], and Varro points out the following reason why it was so called. When an olive-tree suddenly appeared there, and water burst forth in another place, these prodigies moved the king to send to the Delphic Apollo to inquire what they meant and what he should do. He answered that the olive signified Minerva, the water Neptune, and that the citizens had it in their power to name their city as they chose, after either of these two gods whose signs these were. On receiving this oracle, Cecrops convoked all the citizens of either sex to give their vote, for it was then the custom in those parts for the women also to take part in public deliberations. When the multitude was consulted, the men gave their votes for Neptune, the women for Minerva; and as the women had a majority of one, Minerva conquered. Then Neptune, being enraged, laid waste the lands of the Athenians, by casting up the waves of the sea; for the demons have no difficulty in scattering any waters more widely. The same authority said, that to appease his wrath the women should be visited by the Athenians with the three-fold punishment—that they should no longer have any vote; that none of their children should be named after their mothers; and that no one should call them Athenians. Thus that city, the mother and nurse of liberal doctrines, and of so many and so great philosophers, than whom Greece had nothing more famous and noble, by the mockery of demons about the strife of their gods, a male and female, and from the victory of the female one through the women, received the name of Athens; and, on being damaged by the vanquished god, was compelled to punish the very victory of the victress, fearing the waters of Neptune more than the arms of Minerva. For in the women who were thus punished, Minerva, who had conquered, was conquered too, and could not even help her voters so far that, although the right of voting was henceforth lost, and the mothers could not give their names to the children, they might at least be allowed to be called Athenians, and to merit the name of that goddess whom they had made victorious over a male god by giving her their votes.
By this point in City of God, Augustine has already contested a good deal of Varro’s account of the gods. However interesting this etiological tale might be in itself, then, Augustine simply subjoins the response, “What and how much could be said about this, if we had not to hasten to other things in our discourse, is obvious” (ibid.).
Elsewhere, Augustine devotes some fairly careful attention to Varro’s account of the gods, frequently seeking to show how absurd Varro’s account is on its own terms. Here, however, Augustine’s extremely brief formal rejoinder certainly still strikes a similarly mocking note: this particular account of Varro’s is “obvious[ly]” too absurd even to merit serious attention at this point in argument. Yet, this rejoinder itself keenly follows on Augustine’s summary of Varro, which he has carefully shaped explicitly to include or suggest at least some of what was “too obvious to occupy space” in the argument.
In the introduction to the second edition of Cornelius Van Til’s Christian Apologetics, Bill Edgar helpfully summarizes Van Til’s perspective on “brute facts”:
For Van Til . . . there could never be isolated self-evident arguments or brute facts, because everything comes in a framework. That is why he calls his approach the “indirect method.” One cannot go directly to the facts, as though they were self-evident. First, one must recognize the foundation and go on from there. . . . This is resolutely not a denial of the use of evidences. Everything proclaims God’s truth. Only there are no brute facts, or data in a vacuum. (5, 8; emphasis original)
From this perspective, Van Til comments:
It is these notions [of brute fact in metaphysics and the autonomy of the human mind in epistemology] that determine the construction that the natural man puts upon everything that is presented to him. They are the colored glasses through which he sees all the facts. . . . (193)
The method of reasoning by presupposition may be said to be direct rather than indirect. The issue between believers and non-believers in Christian theism cannot be settled by a direct appeal to “facts” or “laws” whose nature and significance is already agreed upon by both parties to [the] debate. The question is rather as to what is the final reference point required to make the “facts” and “laws” intelligible. The question s as to what the “facts” and “laws” really are. (129)
Of course, for Van Til,
There is one system of reality of which all that exists forms a part. And any individual fact of this system is what it is primarily because of its relation to this system. It is therefore a contradiction to speak in terms of presenting certain facts to men unless one presents them as parts of this system. The very factness of any individual fact of history is precisely what it is because God is what he is. It is God’s counsel that is the principle of individuation for the Christian man. God makes the facts to be what they are. (193–94)
In some ways, Van Til’s perspective much resembles Thomas Kuhn’s arguments about the natural sciences. Yet, one major difference is that, where Kuhn has ever-mutable paradigms, Van Til has, on the Christian’s side of things, a perception of ever-knowing, reality-constituting mind of God.
Presuppositions that remain unacknowledged at least to oneself can still exercise strong influence. Indeed,
[a] person who believes he is free of prejudices, relying on the objectivity of his procedures and denying that he is himself conditioned by historical circumstances, experiences the power of the prejudices that unconsciously dominate him as a vis a tergo. A person who does not admit that he is dominated by prejudices will fail to see what manifests itself by their light [because it will not be foregrounded from them] (Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2006, 354 and Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2013, 369).
We sometimes see this dynamic at work when we cannot see any other possible resolution for a given problem or interpretation for a given data set than the one that we prefer. “This must be that,” we think, for, “How could it be otherwise?” A close cousin to this kind of logic is an argument that, of the possible interpretations, only one is any good, and the other is bad. Or, only one is good, and all the others are equally or effectively just as bad as each other.
Of course, some interpretations do explain the relevant data more comprehensively and more coherently than competing interpretations, but evaluating these other interpretations, as it were, from inside the horizons from which they come is a valuable skill to cultivate. For, this skill can help minimize the tendency to adopt less coherent or comprehensive interpretations simply because of things that we do not realize that we think—and that we have not, therefore, evaluated to determine their own legitimacy. Moreover, in a rhetorical context, considering the same information from another standpoint can help refine and strengthen one’s own positions as well as suggest more effective ways of communicating these positions to others.
The later is arguably a better practice than the former:
We can set aside Schleiermacher’s ideas on subjective interpretation. When we try to understand a text, we do not try to transpose ourselves into the author’s mind [in die seelische Verfassung des Authors] but, if one wants to use this terminology, we try to transpose ourselves into the perspective within which he has formed his views [in die Perspective, unter der der andere seine Meinung gewonnen hat]. But this simply means that we try to understand how what he is saying could be right. If we want to understand, we will try to make his arguments even stronger (Gadamer, Truth and Method (2006) 292; Gadamer, Truth and Method (2013) 303; italics added; Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode 297).
Of course, in addition to its direct relevance to interpreting the New Testament, this suggestion to seek to understand “how what [another person] is saying could be right” and even to understand how these arguments could become more plausible is good advice for interpreting all kinds of human communication, perhaps especially communication from those with whom one disagrees. Specifically, such understanding helps prevent premature critiques, and it enables critiques that are made to be made much more carefully.
To interrupt this series on parables research for a short commercial, Alan Knox, an Adjunct Professor of Greek and a fellow doctoral student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has made my summary of E. D. Hirsch’s Validity in Interpretation available on his website, ̔Ελληνιστί, in HTML format.
A PDF version of this summary is also available here.
Update (19 June 2017): The above-noted link to Alan Knox’s website is currently broken. Please see the summary at the PDF link mentioned above.
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