Thursday, March 22, 2007

Noth on Pentateuchal Traditions

Noth does not focus on source criticism per se, because he sees much of the important history of a text as having taken place before any of it was written down (1). He looks back to Hermann Gunkel and Hugo Gressmann as example of traditio-historical critics, but he sees their work as limited by their focus on individual units (3).

Much of the tradition behind the Pentateuch, Noth argues, was not assembled from individual pieces by its compilers, but rather was already formed into broader narratives during the preliterary (i.e., oral) phase of its development (2). Noth wants to consider how these pieces developed into units during the preliterary stage. He writes,
The chief task…is to ascertain the basic themes from which the totality of the transmitted Pentateuch developed, to uncover their roots, to investigate how they were replenished with individual materials, to pursue their connections with each other, and to assess their significance.
But before he can take on the preliterary task, Noth acknowledges he must answer literary questions (which he has done in previous study) (5).

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gerhard von Rad on Genesis

The variety of material in the Hexateuch serves as proof for Rad that sources were used, and therefore need to be understood (14).

He begins with periodic “confessings” of Israel’s history (e.g., Deut 6:20-24; 26:5-9; Josh 24:2-13; Ex 15; Ps 78; 105; 135; 136), which he suggests as early traditions which took on a kind canonical function for Israel as their story. This story, which Rad refers to as a “credo of sacred history,” served as a backbone for the literary work that was assembled (14f).

The Yahwist, in Rad’s estimation, “gave to the entire Hexateuch its form and compass” (16f), which is to say that J assembled the story line to which E, D, and P were fitted by later redactors. He did this by gathering and shaping oral traditions which performed various functions but were necessarily linked originally to cultic contexts (17). After the stories were combined, changing political conditions removed them from their cultic settings (where they often served aetiological purposes) and eventually spiritualized them, as in Deut 8:3 (18f). So old stories, whose old meanings faded with the societies that told them, took new meanings in the scheme of the larger story the Yahwist constructed.

Rad highlights three parts of the Hexateuch that were included even though they are conspicuously absent from (at least the earliest of) the various forms of the credo:
  • Rad feels the Yahwist was the first to combine primeval history with sacred history. Primeval history, he argues, showed how God responded to sin with grace––until Babel, a dead end; then, Rad says, the Yahwist brings in sacred history to answer the hanging question of how God relates to all peoples. This is “the aetiology of all aetiologies in the Old Testament,” meaning it’s the story that explains the goal of the rest of Scripture: God’s fulfillment of the third promise to Abraham.
  • Next, the Yahwist arranged the Abraham stories around the idea of the delayed promise. Rad takes the promise of the land to be ancient and unrelated to exodus traditions, such that the original traditions of the promise had no notion of leaving the land and having to re-conquer it (21). This moves the Patriarchs to a separate time, having a relationship with God that is broken and must be reestablished at Sinai (22).
  • the giving of the law on Sinai (20). So, for Rad, the Yahwist was the first one to bring together the Sinai tradition with the conquest tradition, such that “the two basic elements of all Biblical proclamation are outlined: law and gospel” (20).
Rad gives his evaluation of the three narrative sources used in the composition of Genesis:
  • Rad considers the Yahwist the creative genius of the group

Monday, March 12, 2007

Outline for Matthew Paper

A few motifs may help us structure Matthew’s understanding of time periods, whether or not he has a notion of salvation history as Luke is often said to have.

1. Content concerning after Mt 28:20 but before the escahton
My purpose is not to explain Matthew's eschatology or the events leading directly up to it (e.g., 24:36-44), but rather the time in between, following the end of Matthew's story. These passages point to the time in between: the founding of the church (16:18-19), the disciples telling people about the transfiguration (17:9), church discipline, including binding and loosing (18:15ff), gathering in Jesus' name (18:20)

2. The Coming of the Kingdom
It is clear that Jesus’ ministry is related to the coming of the kingdom of God, which is present yet also future. It seems to be related (by, e.g., the agricultural parables of ch. 13) to the preaching of the word. How does Matthew understand the kingdom in light of Jesus’ presence (and is John part of the kingdom, 11:11-12?), and how does this change with the crucifixion, with the resurrection, and with the end of Matthew’s narrative?

3. Bridegroom, Wineskins and Presence
Will the disiples only forego fasting during Jesus’ ministry? Isn’t he still present with them after the narrative as well? Yes, when they gather in his name (18:20). But what about the parables of a master leaving his servants to wait for his return (esp. ch. 25)? And why does Jesus say, “you will not always have me“ (26:11)? Surely that doesn't only mean for the 3 days in the grave. (But then, why the immediate reference to burial?) When Jesus wonders how much longer he has to tolerate the generation (17:17), is that just rhetorical? And what is the new patch or new wine –– those metaphors suggest a permanent shift from something old to something new, an idea that matches Jesus’ teachings about fulfilling the law but seems to contradict his bridegroom metaphor.

4. Authority given to men: Binding and loosing?
Exactly what kind of authority do the disciples have, and does it extend beyond the Twelve? Are they free to make decisions (e.g., by the guidance of the Spirit), or are the constrained by the teachings of Jesus and interpretations of the law according to the principles Jesus gave them? Or are they only free to grant forgiveness?

5. Gift of the Spirit
John announces that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit, and at the end of the Gospel Jesus appears to authorize the disciples to do just that.

Problem passages in Saldarini’s Matthew’s Christian-Jewish Community

8:11-12: “I say to you that many from east and west will come and sit to dine with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens, by the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness.”
Saldarini’s claim (42) is that, because the very title ”sons of the kingdom” presumes Israel’s privileged relationship to God, that the passage can’t mean Israel is being rejected as a whole. Saldarini notes that the Patriarchs will be at the banquet, and that “no explicit or implicit claim is made that Israel is excluded,” but rather that it is meant only to explain why some Jews have rejected Jesus and some gentiles have “joined Israel in the kingdom.”

I probably just don’t know the literature well enough yet, but I don’t quite see what viewpoint Saldarini opposes with this part of the discussion. Obviously not all of Israel is excluded, as Jesus’ disciples are all Jews. Doesn’t this passage still imply that most of Israel will be cast out and that many gentiles will replace them? And doesn’t that mean that people are no longer a part of the kingdom simply by virtue of being Jews? If faith in Jesus is the criteria for membership to the kingdom, then what difference does it make if you’re still Jewish?

I guess at stake for Saldarini is whether it’s the true Israel or a new Israel that inherits the kingdom. Some commentators would presumably take 8:11-12 as suggesting that “the Jews” are being replaced by “the Christians” as the people of God, whereas Saldarini wants to argue that believers remain Jews, and that gentiles may become Jews, but that this true Israel, living according to the teachings of its Messiah, lives in greater continuity than discontinuity with the Jews who came before.