Interview with Wisdom Lit Scholar James Crenshaw

I am delighted to share this interview with another of my former teachers, this time Jim Crenshaw, who recently retired from Duke University.  Dr. Crenshaw is one of the foremost authorities on the wisdom literature.  It is my hope that you will find this interview as illuminating and thought-provoking as I have found it.

(see HERE for my  other interviews with Walter Brueggemann, Richard Hays, and Nancy deClaisse-Walford)

Thank you, Dr. Crenshaw, for agreeing to take part in this interview!  By way of introduction, could you tell us a little about yourself and your educational background?

Born to B.D. and Bessie Aiken Crenshaw on December 19, ’34; reared in upstate South Carolina with an evangelical background, soon discarded for skepticism involving all things religious while clinging to a profound gratitude for life. Married to Juanita Rhodes in June of ’56; blessed with two sons, James Timothy and David Lee, born 1-15-’60 and 9-11-’64, and five grandchildren: Elizabeth & Emily, Connor, Clare, and Carolyn. Hobbies: gardening, fishing, and watching Duke basketball. Education: B.A. in “56 from Furman University with a major in English and minors in Political Science and Sociology; B.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in January of ’60; Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in ’64, with a summer as a Fellow at the Hebrew Union College Biblical and Archaeological School in Jerusalem in ’63. Further study at Columbia University in the summer of ’67. Sabbaticals at Heidelberg (’72-’73), Oxford (’78-’79), and Cambridge (’84-’85). Phi Beta Kappa. Major Fellowships: Society of Religion in Higher Education, Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Humanities, Pew Evangelical Scholarships, The Association for Theological Schools, and The American Academy of Learned Societies.  Honorary Degree from Furman University in ’93; University Wide Distinguished Professorship, Duke University, ’93-present, McCarthy Visiting Professor at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome, 2007-2008. Teaching Positions: Atlantic Christian College (’64-’65), Mercer University (’65-Dec. ’69); Vanderbilt University (January’70-’87), Duke University (’87-December, 2008). Former editor of the Society of Biblical Literature’s Monograph Series and current editor of Personalities of the Old Testament for the University of South Carolina Press.

What led you to biblical studies, the Hebrew Bible more specifically?

My fascination with the bible began at a very early age. After a year long contest of Bible Sword Drill at a Baptist Church, I was awarded the grand prize of a leather bound Scofield Reference Bible! Greek in college and a young New Testament teacher in seminary, Henry Turlington, convinced me that research into the bible was my future. Graduate study at Vanderbilt was eye-opening; my mentors in Bible were Leander Keck, whose Teaching Assistant I was, Kendrick Grobel, J. Philip Hyatt, Walter Harrelson, and Lou H. Silberman. A minor in Theology was guided by Langdon Gilkey and Gordon Kaufman. I actually took more course work in New Testament and taught it, along with Old Testament, for six years. The literary beauty of the Old Testament and its ancient Near Eastern context tipped the scales for me.

You recently retired from Duke.  Congratulations!  How are you finding retirement?

I wear retirement like a favorite jacket, if retirement aptly describes my present situation. I continue to do research and to write, having completed the translation of the book of Job for Our Common English Bible, forthcoming by Abingdon, a commentary on the book of Job for Smyth and Helwys, a book of poetry, Dust and Ashes (Cascade Books), and several articles. Still, I spend a lot of time attending to my flowers, vegetable garden, and walking with Nita on a Greenway near our house. Above all, I get to see our sons, their wives, and our grandchildren regularly.

You have written extensively on the Wisdom Literature.  What biblical book from the wisdom literature do you find the most interesting or enjoy working on the most, and why?

The books of Job and Ecclesiastes are my favorites, Job for its exquisite, though obscure poetic images and Qoheleth for its honesty. Both of these books raise questions that lie at the heart of modern religious inquiry: Assuming the existence of God, as their authors most certainly did, what is the character of this Being? Will anyone serve God for nothing? How should one respond to innocent suffering? Does life have any ultimate meaning? Given the sentence of death imposed on us all, how should each moment be lived? While others may stress the divine source of scripture, the questions pursued by Job and Qoheleth expose its human side. Because I believe the bible is the product of intellectual inquiry into life’s deepest mysteries, I want to understand what people long ago believed about these unknowns. Clarity in this regard may throw some light on our own situation today.

What questions or issues do you think need to be explored in future scholarship on the Wisdom Literature?

I think the generative influence of societal conflicts is the most promising area of investigation today. In short, how did sages respond to controversial issues of their day that evoked many different views. The development of personified wisdom is the most obvious place to begin this investigation, but other promising topics are the finality of death and the other-worldly struggle between order and chaos. Answers to these questions are far from transparent.

What, if you had to choose, has been your favorite book you have written, and why?

Defending God: Biblical Responses to the Problem of Evil has given me most satisfaction, largely because it is the culmination of a lifetime of research. In my view, the questions  raised in this book are those facing modern believers just as they vexed the ancients. Far too many modern scholars refuse to ask such troubling questions, especially those reflecting negatively on the god of the bible. For interaction with a text, my commentaries on Joel and Ecclesiastes have given me much satisfaction. Education in Ancient Israel and Old Testament Wisdom have helped fill a void in modern research. That, too, is gratifying.

Your introductory volume on the Psalms, published in 2001, brought about a sort of implied paradigm shift in Psalms study because you chose to organize and discuss the Psalms according to collections rather than the traditional literary form.  What was the rationale behind that, and what is your assessment of current Psalms scholarship both in general and in light of your book?

For me, the focus on genre in Psalms has yielded rich dividends, but I think its usefulness has diminished. We need to try other ways of studying the book. After all, the arrangements into five books, and even some smaller compositions, was the earliest way of approaching the psalms. I believe the intuitive insight of ancient readers has utility today. As for contemporary research, I think too much attention is paid to labels like wisdom, to forcing structural design on texts that defy “Procrustean beds”, and to locating ritual explanations for certain psalms. The key questions ought to be: Why were such agonizing laments used as prayer, why did someone feel the necessity to interject confessions of confidence into these cries for help, and does this intervention suggest that honesty in petition was not welcome in certain circles?

What one scholar has most influenced your thought, and how?

I cannot single out just one scholar who has influenced my thought. Perhaps Gerhard von Rad deserves that honor, but James Barr is a close second. The sheer beauty of von Rad’s prose, not matched, however in Weisheit in Israel, and his evangelical piety are rounded out by Barr’s (Humean) secularism and philological emphasis. Both scholars contributed much to the way I interpret ancient texts. A distant third influence is Johannes Pedersen, whose socio0logical/psychological approach to ancient Israel has not been sufficiently appreciated among recent scholars. Perhaps I should also mention Lou H. Silberman, who first introduced me to the rich area of Judaica.

In addition to Wisdom Literature and the Psalms, much of your career has been devoted to the issue of theodicy or the portrayal of God in the Hebrew Bible.  Your A Whirlpool of Torment: Israelite Traditions of God as an Oppressive Presence (Fortress, 1984) and Defending God (Oxford, 2005) especially come to mind. Those these are quite different books.  How, as you look back, would you describe the character of God in the Hebrew Bible?

The character of God in the Hebrew Bible has long troubled me, and I have struggled mightily to mitigate its negative impact on contemporary believers. There are too many disturbing features of the divine persona, as highlighted in Jack Miles’ God: A Biography. From my first book, Prophetic Conflict, to my recent book of poetry, Dust and Ashes, I have refused to accept the biblical depiction of deity as a helpful paradigm. In the end, I have been forced to view scripture as a literary construct of those who created god in their own image. It is becoming increasingly clear that the character of deity in the bible–the mandate for genocide, violence, wrath, sacrifice, patriarchy, slavery, boasting, and so forth–has left a legacy of hatred that the world can no longer bear. As I try to justify my worship by highlighting other features of scripture, it requires an enormous leap of faith. Still, I am not willing to forsake my Judeo-Christian heritage. The myth of divine pathos, while intellectually troubling, is at the same time emotionally compelling.

What are some of the best places in your view to study Hebrew Bible/Old Testament today, and why?

I hesitate to answer this question, for the response depends on what one intends to concentrate on during graduate study. I have always tried to match a student with the strengths of a given program, whether theological, linguistic, literary, philological, archaeological, interdisciplinary, or whatever. Students looking for excellent mentors need not worry. They will be well served at a number of institutions.

What other projects can we expect to be forthcoming from you, who is publishing them, and when should they be available?

Besides the commentary on the book of Job, now complete, you can look for a monograph on Qoheleth entitled The Ironic Wink, which will appear in my series on Personalities of the Old Testament. Other volumes in this series are in the works (Steussy on Samuel, Koosed on Ruth, Balentine on Job, and Fried on Ezra). Beyond that, I am under contract to write a volume on Twentieth Century Interpretation of Wisdom literature for Brill. And more? Mi yodea”? Art is long, but time is fleeting!

Thank you, Dr. Crenshaw!

My Interview w/ Richard B. Hays of Duke University

I am pleased to post up my interview with Dr. Richard Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament at Duke University’s Divinity School.  Some of you may be aware that Dr. Hays is a former teacher of mine during my master’s work at Duke; I was glad also to run in to him briefly at this past year’s SBL.  Despite my area of specialization being Hebrew Bible, I am and remain especially grateful to Dr. Hays for exposing me to the importance of seeing the Old Testament in the New, as well as helping Paul become a bit less(though not entirely!!) opaque!

Dr. Hays was kind enough to devote a great deal of time, energy, and thought to this interview.  It is my hope that you will read it as I did, with joy and interest, and emerge from it with a great deal of insight and knowledge.

Thank you, Dr. Hays, for agreeing to take part in this interview.  Can you start off by telling us a little about yourself and your educational and career history?

Sure.  I grew up in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where I attended Casady School, an excellent private school where I had the great benefit of studying Latin and German with very fine teachers.  I then went to Yale where as an undergraduate I majored in English literature.  In those days the Yale English department was still significantly shaped by “the New Criticism,” an approach to interpretation that emphasized close reading of primary texts as self-contained aesthetic objects and placed relatively little weight on historical and contextual influences on literature.  (This was during the late 1960s, well before Yale became a bastion of deconstructionism and critical theory.)  I had the privilege of sitting in classes taught by scholars such as Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, Alvin Kernan, and Bart Giamatti (who later became president of Yale and then Commissioner of Baseball!).  I also took a class on Romantic Poetry with a young professor named Harold Bloom—a class that, I must confess, I found thoroughly bewildering at the time.  

But probably the most important influence on me during my undergraduate years was William Sloane Coffin, the Yale chaplain, who was an ardent and eloquent advocate for civil rights and an equally eloquent critic of the Vietnam war.  Coffin’s witness brought me from a position of youthful skepticism back into the church and gave me a vision for the gospel as a liberating, life-transforming message.  In retrospect, I would say that Bill Coffin was theologically too much of a Niebuhrian for my (present) tastes, but he was really a splendid and powerful preacher, and he commanded the attention of Yale undergraduates then in a way that is difficult to conceive in our present cultural setting.

At that point, I had no ambition of a continuing academic career, but I did experience a sense of call to ministry.  After graduation from Yale in 1970 I went to the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, reasoning that I should go back to my native Southwest and serve in the Methodist Church, the church of my upbringing.  But, having been shaped by my undergraduate years in the tumultuous years of the late Sixties, I found seminary tame and confining and dropped out after one year.  My wife Judy and I (married right out of college) decided to move back to New England, and I took a job teaching high school English in Longmeadow, Massachusetts.  During those years we formed a small Christian intentional community called The Ark, which morphed into a booming house church.  And the church in time formed itself into a community called Metanoia Fellowship, which sought to practice radical disciplines of prayer, sharing possessions, and living together in light of the New Testament vision of discipleship.  Important influences during this period for me were Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Life Together, The Cost of Discipleship) and John Howard Yoder (The Politics of Jesus).  During these years, I started commuting to Yale Divinity School to continue work on my M.Div.  And there I was bitten by the bug (or the call) to pursue serious academic study of theology. 

The greatest intellectual influences on me during those YDS years (1974-77) were Hans Frei and George Lindbeck.  These were of course precisely the years that Frei was publishing The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative and The Identity of Jesus Christ.  Lindbeck had not yet sprung to “postliberal” fame (The Nature of Doctrine was still some years in the future), but his course on Reformation Confessions had a powerful impact on me, as did David Kelsey’s course on Christian Doctrine.  However, despite the fact that my most compelling courses were taught by theologians, in deciding to go on to doctoral work I gravitated to New Testament studies—no doubt drawn by my English major’s love for close reading of texts, along with a certain puzzled dissatisfaction about the then-dominant approaches to NT interpretation.

I ended up deciding to attend Emory University for the Ph.D., drawn there particularly by Leander Keck, who was widely acknowledged to be one of the more theologically attuned NT scholars in the country, and whose book A Future for the Historical Jesus had seemed to me wise and compelling.  So Judy and I packed up once again, by now with two kids, and moved to Atlanta.  At Emory, I also appreciated William Beardslee’s work on literary criticism of the NT.  Just as I was finishing my coursework, Lee Keck left Emory to become the Dean of Yale Divinity School.  So Will Beardslee ended up directing my dissertation, which was also significantly influenced by ongoing vigorous argumentation with Hendrikus Boers, the other senior member of  the NT faculty.  Emory provided a context where I was able to pursue my own particular mix of literary and theological interests.  I also did a minor concentration in Christian political ethics; my reading in this area planted seeds that later blossomed in my work on NT ethics. 

After graduation from Emory, I was very fortunate to be hired as an assistant professor back at Yale.  (This account is getting too long, so I’ll try to be briefer.)  My years of teaching at Yale Divinity School (1981-91) were wonderfully stimulating and formative.  I had the benefit there of superb students and a lively, diverse community.  These were the halcyon years of “the Yale School” of theology.  In addition to the faculty members I’ve already mentioned, Brevard Childs, with his emphasis on the canon, was a major force, and I also benefitted from sitting in on Wayne Meeks’s NT graduate seminar from time to time.  I loved the classroom teaching from the beginning, and the wider intellectual community of the university provided the context for the development of the ideas and interests that eventually led me to the writing of Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul.  Anyone who has read that book will realize how significant the work of John Hollander (of the Yale English department) was for my thinking. 

After the publication of Echoes I was granted tenure at Yale.  But not long after that, Duke came recruiting and offered me an attractive situation—particularly in terms of supervising doctoral students and shaping a doctoral program hospitable to theological interpretation of Scripture.  (The Yale program, under the leadership of the senior NT scholars Meeks and Abraham Malherbe was very strong on Graeco-Roman context of the NT, but not so well-suited to my interests in “the OT in the New” and theological interpretation.)  So in 1991, we moved again to Duke, where I have happily spent the last 18 years. 

Probably the Duke part of the pilgrimage is better known to your readers.  Stanley Hauerwas has been a good friend and conversation partner.  Moody Smith, the senior NT scholar in the Divinity School when I arrived, has been a good and supportive colleague; I have now inherited his chair.  Ed Sanders, the senior NT colleague in the Religion Department, also contributed to the formation of a program with high standards and appropriately strong orientation towards the Jewish context of the NT, an orientation now reinforced by my colleague Joel Marcus.  Of course, at Duke, I’m back in a Wesleyan/Methodist environment, one that has a deep respect for the classical Christian confessional tradition and for the ecclesial setting of theological studies.  All of this has provided a very supportive context for my work.  And I’ve been blessed here with many outstanding doctoral students.

I’ve emphasized my own professional trajectory of education and employment.  But to tell the full story, I would also have to write at length about the importance of the SBL, the SNTS—with its European contacts and friendships—and my ongoing friendship over the last 25 years with Tom Wright.  I would also have to talk about the research groups at the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton that generated the two books The Art of Reading Scripture and Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage.  But you asked me to tell you “a little,” and I’ve already done much more than that!

You have written prolifically on Paul, including your seminal dissertation The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11.  What first drew your attention to Paul, and how do you see your work on Paul fitting in to the larger context of Pauline scholarship?

 My fascination with Paul took shape during my years in the doctoral program at Emory, as a result of seminars with Lee Keck and Hendrikus Boers.  I was taking those courses in the immediate wake of the publication of Ed Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism and J. Christiaan Beker’s Paul the Apostle.  These works were raising in different ways questions about Paul’s “pattern of religion” and about the problem of “contingency and coherence” in Paul’s thought.  It seemed to me that the way most Pauline scholars approached these issues was driven too much by the quest for an ideationally/systematically formulated “center” of Paul’s thought, with too little attention to the narrative underpinnings of Paul’s teaching.  So I began to mull over the ways in which Paul’s letters might be understood to contain allusive references to an underlying story.  At the same time, in the seminar with Keck, I wrote a paper on Romans 3, which later became my first published article, a piece in JBL called “Psalm 143 and the Logic of Romans 3.”  The germinal insight of the essay was that Ps 143:2, which Paul loosely cites in Rom 3:20, contains in its wider context references to the righteousness of God that help to elucidate the logic of Paul’s argument in Rom 3:21-26.  You can see how this led on to further developments as I followed this thread. 

How does my work fit into the larger context of  Pauline scholarship?  I’ve certainly been significantly influenced by Stendahl, Sanders, and by the scholars rather imprecisely lumped together as advocates of “the New Perspective,” particularly Jimmy Dunn and Tom Wright.  But for various reasons, I’ve not been strongly identified as a “New Perspective” theorist, despite the ways in which my readings have challenged traditional “Lutheran” interpretations and emphasized Paul’s Jewishness.  I’m not quite sure why this is so.  I think perhaps it’s because my emphases on narrative and intertextuality, and on canonical interpretation, have put me into different conversations.  I should also certainly mention J. Louis Martyn as another important influence; certainly he has taught me to be much more attentive to the apocalyptic dimensions of Paul’s gospel—while at the same time I have placed much more weight than he does on the continuity of Paul’s message with Israel’s scriptural and prophetic traditions.  So I guess I don’t fit cleanly into any of the usual boxes.  “The Conversion of the Imagination,” (the title essay of my 2005 collection of pieces on Paul) demonstrates the way in which I’ve tried to bring apocalyptic and intertextual/canonical approaches together.  

 A question submitted by one of my readers: Richard Burridge in his Imitating Jesus criticizes your Moral Vision of the NT for a “too easy dismissal of love as a key element for NT ethics” (p359). How would you respond to Burridge specifically, and what role do you see “love” having in NT ethics?

Richard, like some other readers, has not quite grasped my point about “love.”  I was not saying that love is unimportant, or that I’m somehow opposed to it!  I was saying that “love” cannot function as a focal image or common denominator to bring the diverse NT witnesses into a relation of unity.  There are two reasons for this: (1) several of the major NT writings have very little to say about love (Mark, Acts, Hebrews, Revelation); (2) “love” by itself is a concept, not an image; it must be given narrative specification by the story of the cross.  (That is why I propose the cross as one of three focal images for NT ethics, along with community and new creation.)  Otherwise, “love” cannot be distinguished from whatever the Beatles vaguely meant when they sang, “All you need is love.”  [I hasten to add that I am a great Beatles fan and was delighted to receive as a Christmas present the new remastered complete anthology of their recordings.]    It seems to me that Richard Burridge’s book exemplifies precisely the problem I am worried about, because for him “love” turns out to be equivalent to the uncritical inclusion of everyone.  (I am of course painting with a broad brush.)  My fuller comments on his book are forthcoming soon in a review essay that will appear in the Scottish Journal of Theology. 

Love is of course of central importance in several NT writings, especially the Pauline Letters, the Gospel of John, and 1 John.   I certainly believe that Christians are called to love because God first loved us in Jesus Christ.  And this calling has enormous significance for NT ethics.  But if we are looking for a synthetic image that can account for how the diverse NT writings hang together, love won’t do the job.  Another way of putting the point is that Burridge conflates the synthetic task of NT ethics with the hermeneutical task, with the result that “love” becomes a trump card that overrides the prophetic and critical witness of NT texts less congenial to Burridge’s (generally laudable) concerns. 

Much of your work has focused upon the use of the Old Testament in the New.  Why do you think this is an important aspect of NT studies?  What remains to be done in your view in this area?  What questions or issues remain unexplored or have not been answered satisfactorily?

 It’s an important issue because nearly all of the NT writers are pervasively engaged with the reception and reinterpretation of Israel’s Scripture!  You can’t understand what these authors were talking about if you don’t understand that they lived and moved in the symbolic world of the texts that Christians later  came to call the OT.  I’m working on a book on the ways that the Evangelists read the OT (see question #10 below).  I am constantly amazed by all the interconnections that emerge when we read the NT texts with an eye to their scriptural antecedents and allusions.  So I’m not sure I know what needs to be done next.  Every time I teach a graduate seminar on this topic, my students come up with fresh insights that are very exciting.  It’s important to emphasize that I’m not simply talking about questions of sources and influences.  If there is a major unfinished agenda, it has to do with thinking more deeply about the semantic effects of a canonical intertextuality in which the OT is re-read in light of the New and vice-versa to produce fresh and unexpected configurations of meaning.  (See the theoretical essays on this topic in Reading the Bible Intertextually, co-edited by Stefan Alkier, Leroy Huizenga, and me [Baylor University Press, 2009].)  This also involves studying more deeply the way in which Christian tradition, especially early patristic interpreters, understood these intertextual relations.  My own training as a NT scholar was impoverished by a lack of emphasis on patristic readings, and I’m now constantly involved in educating myself about these matters. 

Another question submitted by one of my readers: What do you think the future of intertextuality looks like research-wise?  And furtherfore, do you think intertextuality is best used as an analytic tool along with others (e.g., imperial-critical, postcolonial, etc.) in an eclectic hermeneutical methodology, or is it best executed in its own right?

 One of the problems with biblical scholarship is that the guild becomes preoccupied with methodology, at the expense of actual sensitive reading of texts.  I’m not particularly interested in “intertextuality” as such.  Rather, I’m interested in reading the biblical texts as carefully and deeply as I can.  Because all texts are imbedded in history and culture, attention to intertextuality is an inescapable aspect of exegesis of any text.  (For example, you can’t read many of Barack Obama’s speeches well if you don’t read them against the backdrop of Martin Luther King, Jr.)   So, yes, attention to intertextuality operates in a complex field of interpretative practices alongside other “methods.”  But sometimes I think we hamstring ourselves by talking about these methods as discrete things.  For example, what is “imperial-critical” methodology?  It simply means asking questions about the consequences of reading NT documents in the historical context of the Roman Empire.  Stefan Alkier’s work on intertextuality very helpfully borrows categories from Umberto Eco to talk about the “encyclopedia of production” and the “encyclopedia of reception” of a work.  That is simply to talk about the frame of cultural knowledge in which a work was produced by its author and perceived by its readers, both originally and subsequently.  When you put the question that way, “intertextuality” is nothing different from what NT critics have always sought to do—except that the concept of “encyclopedia of reception” broadens the field of concern beyond original authorial intention to embrace the diverse Wirkungsgeschichte of the texts.  Again, I recommend that readers interested in these questions consult the essays in Reading the Bible Intertextually.

What are some of the best places in your view to study the New Testament today?

 First of all, the NT is best studied in a community of prayer, worship, and service, where it is taken not merely as a museum piece but as a living word that calls us to account. 

But I assume the question intends to ask about specific university programs.  Of course, the answer to this question depends on the student’s particular interests and the questions he or she wants to explore.  For example, if you want to study the NT in relation to ancient rhetorical theory and practice, you couldn’t do better than to go to the University of Chicago to work with Margaret Mitchell. 

But if you mean to ask which NT doctoral programs most closely correspond to my own particular set of passions and curiosities, I would immediately name three top programs in the U.S. and one in the U.K.  First, of course, is Duke.  We have an interesting and diverse group of NT scholars here: Joel Marcus, Douglas Campbell, Kavin Rowe, Susan Eastman, and Mark Goodacre, along with wonderful supportive colleagues in cognate fields of Old Testament, theology, and ethics.   But I would also mention Emory University and Princeton Theological Seminary as programs that encourage and support theological approaches to the study of the NT.  These three programs often compete for the same top applicants.  In the U.K., the University of Durham has become the most interesting NT program, with John Barclay and Francis Watson as the leading figures, and with Bishop Wright popping in from time to time.   Finally, without intending unseemly flattery to the interviewer’s institution, I should mention that Baylor is an up-and-coming program where I have happily sent several students in recent years.  The recent addition of Bruce Longenecker there strengthens an already good program.

I know this is a huge question, but can you say a few words about the pistis Christou debate and your view?

 It is indeed a huge question.  The syntactical arguments are inconclusive, and therefore the question has to be resolved in terms of a wider construal of the shape and logic of Paul’s thought.  I believe that the narrative structure of Paul’s christology (see my essay “The Story of God’s Son” in Seeking the Identity of Jesus) and the participatory logic of his soteriology strongly favor the Christological (subjective genitive) interpretation.  But that can never be proven so conclusively as to convince everyone.  In the second edition of The Faith of Jesus Christ (Eerdmans, 2002), I wrote a lengthy new introduction reflecting on the issues, and I don’t have anything either to recant or to add to what I wrote there.

What do you see as the most important issues in NT that merit or will see greater emphasis and study going forward?

Hard to say.  As Yogi Berra observed, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”  At the time I finished my undergraduate work 40 years ago, no one could possibly have predicted what issues would be hotly debated by NT scholars in 2010.  Somewhere today there is a handful of budding NT scholars who will have fresh insights, raise new questions, and move the discipline in unforeseeable directions.  This is partly because of the unquenchable human thirst for novelty.  But it’s also partly because of the unpredictable work of the Spirit of God in the church and in history. 

Still, having issued those disclaimers, I’ll point to a few issues that are obviously on the agenda in the short-term future.  (a) As noted above, the study of patristic interpretation of Scripture is a huge growing edge for the field, and this is only one aspect of a growing sympathetic appreciation of the history of interpretation as hermeneutical aid rather than hindrance.  (b) Many questions about the significance of the Roman imperial context for the early Christian communities remain unresolved.  In my judgment, the most insightful contribution to this debate is the recent book of my colleague Kavin Rowe, World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age (Oxford University Press, 2009).  (c) I suppose it goes without saying that we must continue to sort out more clearly the historical problems of how Christianity and Judaism developed alongside one another and interacted in the first centuries C. E.  Here Daniel Boyarin’s provocative work deserves a careful hearing and evaluation in our field.  

What one scholar has most influenced your thought, and how?

Oh, dear, how can I pick just one?  See my lengthy answer to question #1 above.  I suppose if I were forced to choose just one, I’d be tempted to say Karl Barth, whose remarkable recasting of Christian theology stands behind many of the other thinkers who have influenced me.  Honorable mention goes to T. S. Eliot—not as scholar and critic, but as poet.

I know you are working on a ‘companion’ volume to your Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul dealing with echoes in the Gospels.  Can you say a bit about that project, who is publishing it, and when it is set to be available?  What other projects can we expect to be forthcoming from you?

Yes, that’s right.  I haven’t committed it to a publisher, but I’m deep into the manuscript.  If all goes well, I’ll finish it during 2010, and hope to see it in print by the end of 2011.  (But I’ve been saying for some time “I hope to finish it next year….”  I am, alas, a very slow writer.)  Broadly, the project will seek to argue that the more we attend to the OT echoes and allusions in the Gospels, the more clearly we are led to recognize what Richard Bauckham has called “a christology of  divine identity” in these narratives.  The Gospel stories link Jesus with actions and attributes that the OT ascribes exclusively to Israel’s God.  For a preview, see my essay “Can the Gospels Teach Us to Read the Old Testament?” in Pro Ecclesia 11 (2002): 402-18.  Beyond finishing that book, I haven’t tried to plan too far into the future.  Each day has trouble enough of its own. 

Many thanks, Dr. Hays, for a delightful, thorough, and stimulating interview!

Big Announcement: Interview with Richard Hays (forthcoming)

Friends,

I am pleased to announce that one of my former teachers at Duke, Richard Hays–one of the most well-respected NT scholars of the present day–has agreed to do an interview with me.  I am thankful to Dr. Hays for his willingness to do such an interview; I know he is quite well-respected by many bloggers.

If there is a particular question you would like me to ask him, do post it here in the comments section.  I can’t guarantee your question will be asked, but I am curious as to what others may be thinking and may draw from this pool if there are some goodies. 

Look for this interview in the coming weeks!

[N.B. – I will be emailing the questions off to Dr. Hays on Friday, October 23 . . . so that is your deadline for submitting questions you want me to consider].

Richard Hays

Richard Hays and I

My Interview with Psalms Scholar Nancy deClaisse-Walford

(See HERE for my previous interview with Dr. Walter Brueggemann).

I am pleased to share this interview I conducted with Dr. Nancy deClaisse-Walford, professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages at McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University.  It is truly a thoughtful, insightful, and spunky read!  I hope you will enjoy reading it, and please do leave comments; I have provided Dr. deClaisse-Walford with the link.  Perhaps she will weigh-in.  Happy reading!

Nancy Cropped PhotoThank you, Dr. deClaisse-Walford, for agreeing to take part in this interview!  To begin, could you tell us a little about yourself and your educational background?

Where to begin?  I am a product of the social climate of the 60s and 70s.  My high school guidance teacher (in Southern California in 1971!!!) told the whole class that the reason a girl went to college was to get her MRS degree.  So that is where I began and where I begin. 

I have always loved history and always knew that I wanted to be a teacher.  And so I went to California State University at Northridge, California, and earned a degree in ancient history.  I have also always loved the church and thought that it might be possible that I could teach about the history of the biblical text.  Thus, when I graduated from college, I decided to pursue further studies in biblical history. 

 While I did not see a future for myself in theological education, I knew that I would need to have command of an ancient language in order to be accepted for Master’s Degree study in biblical or ancient history at a state institution.  So in the Fall of 1979, I enrolled in Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, in a twelve-credit-hour intensive course in Biblical Hebrew. 

A few weeks into the course, I discovered that I had found a real passion.  Hebrew was fun; it was invigorating; it gave me a whole new perspective on the biblical text.  I was hooked.  Further conversations with my counselor at Fuller revealed that I could pursue a degree in Semitic Languages and Literature at the school.  And thus I embarked on a phenomenal journey.  I studied Advanced Hebrew Grammar, Ugaritic, Akkadian, Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic, and Northwest Semitic Dialects, and graduated in 1985 with an award for being the outstanding Old Testament student for that year. 

I spent the following year at the University of California of Los Angeles in its Near Eastern Languages and Literature Department, honing my skills in Hebrew and Akkadian.  And then I married and took a four-year hiatus from studies that included living in England for three years and having our two children.

In 1990, my husband and I moved to Dallas, Texas, and I began the search for a PhD program that would prepare me for the vocation to which I had felt called many years before.  I traveled to Waco, Texas, and met with Bill Bellinger and Bill Pitts at Baylor University and knew immediately that they were folk with whom I could work and thrive.  I began studies in Old Testament under the direction of Bill Bellinger in the Fall of 1990 and graduated in December of 1995.

Three months before graduation, I was offered a job at Mercer University in Atlanta, Georgia, to help “dream” the new Baptist seminary that was being formed there under the leadership of Alan Culpepper.  I accepted the position and have been at Mercer (now the McAfee School of Theology) for the past fourteen years.  And what a journey it has been!

As a fellow Baylor graduate, can you reflect a bit on your time there?  How do you see Baylor as having contributed to your success as a scholar?

I grew up in Indiana, Arizona, and Southern California and experienced a variety of church environments.  I was born and baptized into the Evangelical and Reform Church (now part of the United Churches of Christ).  When I was six years old, my parents moved to Arizona, and we attended, and I was confirmed in, the Presbyterian Church.  In my early teens, we moved to Southern California, where my best friend attended a Southern Baptist church.  I began attending church with her, and thus was introduced to Southern Baptist life. 

While I was in High School, the church we all attended went through a split and a number of us began attending the American Baptist church in town.  I was baptized into and joined the American Baptist church and remained in that tradition for some fifteen years, until my husband and I moved to Waco.

After my experience with the Southern Baptist church in California, I was extremely cautious during my interview with Baylor University.  My memory of the Southern Baptists was all “hell-fire and brimstone.”  To my delight, I found that was not the case with all Southern Baptists and found my theological experience at Baylor to be both challenging and nurturing. 

Academically, I had much to catch up on.  First, my seminary degree was in Semitic Languages, not Bible.  So while I had taken basic Bible courses, almost all of my elective hours were dedicated to language study.  In the course of my language studies, I developed a real interest in how being able to read, contemplate on, and manipulate the written word impacted the development of human thought.

Second, I had taken a four-year break from academic work.  Much changed in biblical studies in the late eighties.  Scholarship moved quite dramatically during that time from “historical”  approaches to the text to “literary” approaches, most with which I was only vaguely familiar.  My first course at Baylor was Bill Bellinger’s “The Old Testament as Literature.”  And not long after I took Mikeal Parson’s “The New Testament as Literature.”  From those courses, I learned that the biblical text was the product of much reading, contemplation on, and manipulation of the written text. 

As I listened to lectures, dialogued in class, and conversed with professors and colleagues, I determined that my niche in biblical studies would be in canonical criticism–that is, a study of the shape of the text.  I read extensively the works of Brevard Childs and James Sanders, and found myself firmly in alliance with the views of Sanders, who maintains that the final shape of the text IS what we must deal with, but we must know the historical backgrounds of the communities of faith that shaped the text into its final form.

The next step in the process of “shaping” my academic career came with deciding which portion of the biblical text on which to concentrate my energies.  The logical choice?  Bill Bellinger had invested his academic career in the book of Psalms; he knew the current scholarship; he knew the questions that were being asked; he would be very interested in what I was doing.  And so the canonical shaping of the book of Psalms became my area of interest. 

The Baylor Religion faculty is very involved in the academy, and I was encouraged early on to submit papers to the regional SBL/AAR meeting (SWCSB) and to the national SBL meeting.  I began reading papers in 1993 and before I graduated from Baylor in 1995, had delivered three papers at the regional meeting, three papers at the national meeting, and had one journal article published.    

What led you to biblical studies, the Hebrew Bible more specifically?

Most of the answer to this question can be found in my response to question #1.  What more can I add?

My love for history, which began at an early age, spilled over into my love for the history of the Old Testament when I was in high school and college.  What led me to Old Testament studies, specifically?  I took Western Civilization in college (as most of us did), and the stories of the ancient Near East and the archaeological finds absolutely fascinated me.  When I was a junior in college I tood a course titled “Jews in the Ancient World,” and I really think that was when I knew that I wanted to study the backgrounds of our ancestors in the faith.

As I said in Question #1, in the mid-1970s, women didn’t really consider careers in theological education, so I decided I would like to teach ancient/biblical history in a college or university setting.  That all changed when I went to Fuller to take Biblical Hebrew–other women WERE pursuing degrees that would lead them to teaching positions in theological education.  And the rest is, as they say, history.

Your dissertation, Reading from the Beginning: The Shaping of the Hebrew Psalter, has been published by Mercer University Press (1997).  In it you pursue and expand upon Gerald Wilson’s hypothesis regarding intentional shaping in the Psalter by looking at the opening psalm of each book.  Now, over ten years removed from its initial publication, how do you see it as having contributed to study on the Book of Psalms?  And how do you understand/where would you situate your volume in the overall history of Psalms scholarship?

For so many, many years, the study of the Psalter was driven by Hermann Gunkel’s form-critical approach and Sigmund Mowinckel’s cult-functional approach.  Wilson’s work represented a major departure from such studies, and when I arrived at Baylor in 1990, Wilson’s work was new and cutting edge.  He had explored the tip of the iceberg; much was left to be done. 

Wilson examined in depth the “seams” of the books of the Psalter, with particular attention to the closing psalm of each of its five books.  I built off of his work, choosing to examine the opening psalm(s) of each book.  My hope was to complement Wilson’s work and to offer some additional insights into the community of faith that shaped the book into its final form.

I like to think that I was successful in that undertaking.  And I hope that my work subsequent to my dissertation, published in 1997 by Mercer University Press, had contributed substantially to the ongoing dialogue about the shape and shaping of the Psalter.

Psalm scholarship has followed the trend of Old Testament scholarship in general.  Questions of shape and shaping have, very often, given over to questions of rhetoric, poetic style, and theology (see the recent topics for the Book of Psalms section of the SBL annual meeting). 

Interestingly, though, was my experience in presenting a paper at the Book of Psalms session at the SBL annual meeting in 2006.  The theme of the session was “The Rhetoric of the Psalter.”  I chose to examine the rhetoric of Psalm 44, and, as I prepared the paper, I discovered that the concept of “rhetoric” was intimately tied to the concept of “canonical shaping.”  Both were attempts to persuade an audience to adopt a particular viewpoint.  Thus, I said:

As a canonical critic, I have spent my career looking, for the most part, at the big picture—the shaping of a book of the Bible to convince a postexilic Israelite   people that they could survive as a separate and identifiable entity in a world in which they were simply one of many vassal nations. A shaping of words to convince . Have I perhaps been delving into Rhetorical Criticism without really realizing it?  Is canonical criticism a “cousin” of rhetorical criticism?

I would like to suggest that the broader definition of “canonical criticism” will continue to inform the study of the book of Psalms (and the whole of biblical text) for years to come.  We might be permitted to say that every word, every verse, and every story has been crafted to persuade an audience that their God, Yahweh, is the only sovereign god.

You have also written a brief introductory volume, Introduction to the Psalms: A Song from Ancient Israel (Chalice, 2004) where you argue the final form of the Psalter (indeed, the entire Hebrew Bible) is a “constituative document of [Israelite] identity” that traces the rise and fall of the Davidic dynasty.  How do you respond to critics who have noted the presence of psalms attributed to David still in the latter part of the Psalter, especially Pss 146-150, as a challenge to your claim that Books IV and V evidence a return to an earlier time in ancient Israel’s history when YHWH alone was king?

Book Four contains only two psalms of David, Psalms 101 and 103. Compared to the volume of David psalms in Books One and Two, Books Three and Four reflect a great absence of David.  David DOES make a dramatic reappearance in Book Five, though. 

Book Four introduces the idea of Yahweh, not a human being, as king over Israel.  Psalm 90, the first psalm in Book Four, is, according to its superscription, A Psalm of Moses the Man of God.  It is the only such superscription in the Psalter, and it reminds the reader/hearer of a time in the life of ancient Israel before the monarchy, the time of the escape from Egypt and the wilderness wandering.  There, the Israelites had to rely solely on God for their sustenance and protection.  No human was king over them.  In the middle of Book Four are six enthronement psalms (Pss 93, 95-99), psalms that celebrate God’s rule over the earth. 

In Book Five of the Psalter, David is once again a major figure.  The Book is largely a collection of psalms used in various cultic celebrations in the life of Israel.  David’s voice dominates and invites readers/hearers to join in the celebration.  The words of the final psalm before the closing doxological psalms of the Psalter are placed on the lips of David.  There, he leads the people in a heartfelt recitation, celebrating God as king over Israel and over all creation.  The message seems clear.  If David, the great king of Israel who can be king no longer, can celebrate God as king, then all Israel can and must join him in the celebration.

The voice of David returns in Book Five of the Psalter to rally the faithful around the concept of God as king–not a king of the davidic line, but God as king.  Psalm 145 is powerful.  It appears in the Jewish Prayer Book more than any of the other psalms in the Psalter.  And the Babylonian Talmud Berakot 4b states that Psalm 145 is to be recited three times a day, just as the shema, and everyone who does so “may be sure that he is a child of the world to come.” 

What impact has the late Gerald Wilson had on your work?  What contribution(s) do you see him as having made to Psalms scholarship?

Oh, stories to tell.  In my early days at Baylor, I was in absolute awe of Gerald Wilson.  Here was a person who had stepped out, suggested a new approach to the text of Psalms, and he was a graduate of Yale who had studied under none other than Robert L. Wilson.  He was a presence at every national meeting of the SBL Book of Psalms section that I attended. 

One thing that you must know about me is that I am a very competitive person.  So, after a few years of making my own presentations at the national meetings, I vividly remember looking him in the face and saying, “One day, ‘they’ will be quoting me instead of you.”

Gerald’s untimely and tragic death in 2005 was a wake-up call for me as I pursued my own agenda in academia.  We are all human; we each make our contributions; and we cannot tell when our time is over. I dedicated my Society of Biblical Literature presidential address at the Southeast Conference for the Study of Religion to the memory of Gerald Wilson.  

Holistic/metanarrative readings of the Hebrew Psalter are still relatively new and ‘cutting-edge.’  Where do you think we have yet to go in Psalms study?  What areas warrant further investigation, and which questions need to be asked?

I think we have spent a great deal of time on the meta-narrative reading of the Psalter.  I still wonder if we have “gotten it right.”  Much of my career success hinges on that!  I think we still have much ground to cover on the question of the “theology” of the Psalter–i.e., last years SBL Book of Psalms section on that topic.

But I am increasingly intrigued by the more micro-narrative readings of the Psalter.  I am having fun examining the connectedness between groups of psalms.  My specific interest at the moment is on Book Five.  I maintain that it is a rich resource for us in the quest for understanding the deep-rooted message of the book.  Recall Thomas Mann’s statement in The Book of the Torah:  the Narrative Integrity of the Pentateuch:  “You can tell much about a story by the way it ends.”

What are some of your academic interests outside the Book of Psalms?

My other passion outside the book of Psalms is biblical Hebrew (and koine Greek).  I am especially interested in how to present the language to and inculcate a love of it in seminary students.   Many seminaries no longer require students to study biblical Hebrew and koine Greek.  My lament–how can one be a student of a literature without being to examine it in its original language?  No one could receive a degree in French literature if they could not read and understand French, so why should the study of biblical literature be any different. 

The problem, however, lies in how theological faculty approach the study of Hebrew and Greek.  In days past, students were required to complete a number of courses in each language.  In our modern seminary environment, if students are required to take any Hebrew or Greek at all, it is usually for only one semester or, at best, one year.  And yet, the pedigogical model has not altered.  Students are still required to “stand up and recite” and memorize endless paradigms and vocabulary lists.

My desire is to provide for the students a system of learning how to use “tools” for language translation and analysis.  I ask myself, “When a student arrives in a church setting and wants to REALLY KNOW what Gen 2:7 says, how will that student approach the text?”  English Bible, Hebrew Bible, perhaps an Interlinear, Lexicon, Charts to figure out verbal tenses, and then Commentaries.  Thus, why not train students in seminary to use the tools that they will need for preparing sermons, Bible studies, and lectures? 

The Hebrew language program at McAfee reflects just such a philosophy–a tools-based approach to biblical Hebrew.  

What one scholar has most influenced your thought, and how?

 James Sanders — see #2

 Gerald Wilson — see #4 and 6

What are some of the best places in your view to study Hebrew Bible/Old Testament today, and why?

Tough question.  Lots of good places, depending on one’s area of interest. 

I am in Atlanta, and Emory has top-notch Hebrew Bible scholars–Newsom, Petersen, and Strawn.  

I think Baylor has built a pretty impressive department of Hebrew Bible.  I recommend it to many of my students. 

I do think we are going through another one of those transition stages–a number of celebrated figures in OT have retired or are considering retiring.

I know you are currently writing the NICOT commentary on the Psalms with Rolf Jacobsen and Beth LaNeel Tanner.  Can you tell us a little bit about that project?  Is there an overall trajectory or approach the volume is taking?  How has the work been divided?  And any ideas yet on when it will be available?

A rather touchy question to answer.  I finished my portion of the commentary eighteen months ago.  Now waiting for all others to complete.  The joys of joint projects.

The division of the work?  Rolf is writing the introduction to the voume, except for the part on the canonical shaping, which I contributed; he is also writing the commentary on Book One; I wrote the commentary on the first part of Book Two, Psalms 42-51; Beth is writing the commentary for the remainder of Book Two, Psalm 52-71; and for Books Three and Four, Psalms 73-106; and I wrote the commentary for Book Five, Psalms 107-150.

The three of us met a number of times to talk about the translation process and came to agreement on a number of items, such as:  we will leave hesed untranslated; and the word yara’ usually translated as “fear” will be translated as “reverence.”

The challenge?  Not so much for me as for Eerdmans.  Beth, Rolf, and I each approach the biblical text from different standpoints.  I realize that here I am stereotyping, but I am a canonical, historical critic; Beth is very theological; and Rolf is very literary and poetical (apologizes to Beth and Rolf if I have misrepresented you!!).    So my concern is how this volume/volumes will look as a finished whole.

What other projects can we expect to be forthcoming from you?

Two projects I am working on:

First, how to craft the presentation of biblical Hebrew and koine Greek for the current seminary audience.  I have published a Hebrew textbook (Chalice Press), but I continue to refine and hone the method to make the languages relevant and palatable–and doable!!!

Second, I have been working for a number of years on the concept of “The Wisdom Shaping of Book Five of the Psalter.”  I maintain that wisdom influences contributed greatly to the final shape of the book of Psalms and that our best option for reading the book is through  a wisdom lens.

Thank you, Dr. deClaisse-Walford!  I very much appreciate your time and energies, I look forward to your forthcoming projects, and to getting together at SBL! 

IVP Academic Interviews John Goldingay about His Three Volume OT Theology

(I have reproduced the following from the current IVP Academic newsletter.  Also, I will be reviewing all three volumes of Goldingay’s OT theology here in the coming months!).

Reid: Well, as you note in your preface, you’ve been saved from the embarrassment of not completing the third volume of your Old testament Theology!  For our readers who are not so familiar with your project, would you explain briefly how this third volume relates to the previous two?

Goldingay: I think we shoudl explain what I thought might embarrass me–I was aware of the warning in James about announcing what you plan to do today and tomorrow when you don’t know what tomorrow will bring!  The subtitle of the third volume is Israel’s Life. So it’s about the life God invited and challenged Israel to live.  The difference from the other volumes is that it focuses more on us, on our response to God.  In light of what God did for us (volume one) and who God is (volume two), it concerns itself with Francis Schaeffer’s question, “How should we then live?”

Reid: Some readers will want to know how you went about your writing of these three volumes.  With a detailed map of where you were headed?  With an array of books spread out around you?  With a goal of so many pages per day?

Goldingay: I originally imagined I would write the kind of theology that has a chapter on God and a chapter on Israel and a chapter on humanity and so on, but I realized that this wouldn’t take seriously the way the Old Testament itself does theology; the New Testament is the same in this respect.  It works by telling Israel’s story.  Indeed, telling Israel’s story is where it starts.  So I decided that the first volume needed to be on the theological implications of that story.  Then there could be a volume on theological topics in that more general sense, and then a third volume on life with God.  So I had no detailed maps, and no array of books really, because I wanted to let the Old Testament itself set the agenda.  So I started reading it!  And set myself to writing seven hundred words a day.  Then when I had done my own reading and thinking and writing, I went to the books.  That’s the way I tell students to write their papers, too.

Reid: What are some notable discoveries you made in the course of writing these volumes?

Goldingay: Last night in class we were looking at the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, and it reminded me fo the way the Old TEstament uses narrative to discuss tricky theological issues such as the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.  We get in a mess when we try to “resolve” that kind of question in conceptual terms, but narrative makes it possible to walk around the question and look at it from various angles without pretending to “solve” it.  That’s in volume one.  In connection with volume two, I kept reflecting on the fact that the Old Testament’s default way of speaking about forgiveness is as God “carrying” our sin. That’s really profound, and it helps us see how God was relating to Israel through the Old Testament story and into the New Testament story, to see what God was doing on the cross, and to see how God keeps relating to us.  In volume three, when I began I was aware of the way our categories such as ethics and worship aren’t biblical ones, and I was pleased with the idea of thinking in terms of life with God, life with one another and life as selves.

Reid: You say, “The Torah . . . . is a vision rather than a law code or even a program for reform.”  In effect, our focus should not be on how Torah’s laws were implemented in Israel but on the “understanding of God, the world, the social order and morality” they embody.  Could you talk a bit about that?

Goldingay: I guess a major thing here is that I got quite angry at the way we assume in our culture–our Christian culture–that we have a proper understanding of marriage, family, work, worship, local community, nation and so on, and that these pre-Christian Israelites were so primitive in their understanding, whereas actually we are in a mess in all these areas and the Old Testament has so much to teach us.

Reid: You draw a striking contrast between the inwardness of Western spirituality and our sense of the self, and the “sense of outwardness, external expression, noise and activity” that characterizes spiritual life in the Old Testament.  Do we need a change of course under the tuteledge of the Old Testament?

Goldingay: I don’t see much basis or support for our “inward” approach in the Old Testament or the New Testament. But both Testaments also indicate that God puts up with us living in a way that reflects our needs, and with us relating to God in the way we need to because of what we are.  But once again, the Scriptures offer us whole new mind-expanding, life-expanding possibilities.

Reid: David Plotz summed up his reading of the Old Testament in Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible. A recent reviewer likened the book “to watching a frat boy try to make spaghetti for the first time without a recipe.” I think many Christians today would resonate with some of Plotz’s unmediated experience.  What kind of recipe does your Old Testament Theology offer these frat boys?

Goldingay: One thing that comes home to me more and more is that we think the Bible’s story is about us.  Actually it’s about God.  Thus when people in the Bible do gross things, remember that this is showing us how God perseveres with us anyway, not offering us examples to avoid–still less examples to follow!  Related to this is the fact I have hinted at, that Christians are inclined to think that we have things basically right and therefore that the Bible is to be expected to confirm what we think, whereas actually, when the Bible says something very different from what we think, that is when life starts getting interesting.

Reid: Some evangelicals have recently been having heated discussions about the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament’s use of the Old Testament.  In that context, do you think a Matthew or Paul knew what you know–or think you know–about the Old Testament’s theology? And does it matter?

Goldingay: I wonder if there are two issues here–one about theology, one about interpretation. Spurgeon said the Bible is like a lion.  So Matthew and Paul are looking at the lion from different angles, and so am I.  We will all describe the lion in different ways.  O course the church has decided that their ways were among the right ones, with Mark, Luke, and so on.  Mine might be different from theirs, as theirs are different from each other’s, though I might still be offering a true angle on the lion.  The interpretation issue is that Matthew and Paul aren’t trying to do exegesis of the Old Testament.  They aren’t trying to understand it in its own right.  They are trying to see what insight it offers on Jesus, on the church and so on.  There is nothing wrong with that.  I am trying to do something different.  I am trying to get at its own agenda so as to let it rework ours.  There is a related issue raised by current discussion of “theological interpretation of Scripture.” For many people this means reading the Scriptures in light of the church’s doctrinal tradition: the creeds and so on. That isn’t necessarily in itself wrong, but it has proved really dangerous because it means subordinating the Scriptures to the church and not taking any notice of the Scriptures’ own agenda.

Reid: Have there been any responses to your first two volumes, that have surprised, challenged, gratified, or even amused you?

Goldingay: I loved Stephen Lennox’s comment that “reading John Goldingay on the Old Testament is like listening to a lover talk about his beloved.” I couldn’t ask for a more wonderful observation.

Reid: But he also says, “Goldingay has precious little good to say about the church.  By my reckoning, most of his comments about it in the second volume are negative.” He thinks this is “understandable, but it is not defensible” (Books & Culture, July/August 2009). How do you respond?

Goldingay: Well, he goes on to explain that the reason it is not defensible is that it doesn’t fit with what the New Testament says about the church theologically.  I of course accept what the New Testament says about the church theologically.  I am reflecting the fact that we as the church don’t live up to what the New Testament says about us.

Reid: You are quoted as being “fanatically and fervently enthusiastic about every aspect of studying the Old Testament and its significance for the church today.” Why do you think so many preachers don’t seem to share that enthusiasm?

Goldingay: It is the effect of biblical criticism and of dispensationalism.

Reid: Well, that’s an equitable distribution of blame! Are you relieved to be done with this project?  Will you miss it?

Goldingay: No.  I don’t think I think in either of those terms.

My Interview with Dr. Walter Brueggemann

This is my first interview in what I hope will be an official (yet sporadic) series of scholarly interviews.  Dr. Brueggemann was kind enough to devote some of his time and answer some questions.  I hope you will find it to be an enlightening and engaging discussion.  Here we go . . . .

First off, thank you Dr. Brueggemann for agreeing to take part in this interview!  Many of my readers will know how appreciative I am of your work.  What led you to biblical studies, the Hebrew Bible in particular, as your chosen vocation?

“I had two most remarkable Old Testament teachers in seminary, neither of whom published much at all.  Allen Wehrli taught me about imagination in interpretation, and introduced me to the form critical work of Herman Gunkel.  Lionel Whiston introduced me to the work of Gerhard von Rad, work that was only beginning to be translated into English.  I concluded that Old Testament study was where the action is.  That was confirmed for me by my graduate teacher, James Muilenburg.  I still think so.”

You have written prolifically on the Psalms, Jeremiah, Old Testament theology, among countless other topics.  What, if you had to choose, has been your favorite book you have written, and why?

“I fall back al the time on Prophetic Imagination because it provides the basic narrative for all of my interpretive work.  I most enjoyed, with due anguish, Finally Comes the Poet, because it made connections for me with the artistic dimensions of interpretation that are so crucial for faith and life.”

Bridging the gap between the Old Testament and the Church is a vital aspect of your scholarship.  How do you suggest the OT/HB is best employed in Christian worship?  What does it contribute that is missing in many contemporary Christian communities of faith?

“The Old Testament invites the church to a narrative reality that is open, pluralistic, and beyond all codifications.  The God to whom it witnesses continues to break open our best ideologies.  In worship the church needs to hear and think through much, much more text, especially the parts we find implausible and unacceptable.  But that depends upon interpretation that takes seriously the complex refusal of the text to be ‘explained.'”

You have a very particular, though ‘paradoxical’ understanding of God in the Hebrew Bible.  In an interview I once heard you call the God of the OT a “recovering agent of violence.”  And anyone who has read your massive tome, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy will be well aware of your take on the Bible’s conception of God.  Of what contemporary relevance or import is such a ‘problematic’ image?

“This ‘problematic’ presentation of God testifies against all of our ‘cozy’ notions of faith, liturgy, piety, doctrine, and morality.  The Old Testament and its God is to be received only in dispute and contestation.  It constitutes a wake-up call against complacency, easy conclusions, and dumbing down in faith.”

Your Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy is perhaps the first truly postmodern OT theology.  Now over ten years removed from its initial publication, how do you see the field of OT theology as having progressed, both in relationship to your volume and in rleationship to our postmodern context?

“Old Testament theology has become much more pluralistic and diverse.  I believe my book is important in breaking away from the old models of concept and abstract ideas  and themes.  My accent has been on the passionate dynamic of the text itself, and refusal to arrive at abstract closure.  I believe this has been important in opening the way for many ‘postmodern’ efforts that refuse the old synthesis.”

What are some of the best places, in your estimation, to study the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament today?  Why?

“Everyone has about the same list: alongside Baylor that list likely includes Yale, Harvard, Princeton Seminary, Emory, Duke, Vanderbilt, Chicago, Claremont, and Union NY.  These programs have a long tradition of research and offer leading, generative scholars as teachers.”

What one scholar has most influenced your thought, and how?

“Von Rad comes first for me.  But I mention Norman Gottwald who gave shape and authorization to my own impulse to connect the text to social reality.  I have learned so much from Gottwald that I keep reprocessing.  He taught us that the text, like our own interpretations, is embedded in a social system that is laden with ideological freight.”

I know you are currently writing (or have finished writing your part) of the NCBC on the Psalms with my teacher, Bill Bellinger.  What other projects can we expect to be forthcoming from you?

“I have in prospect a collection of sermons and a collection of lectures and essays.  I am working on a manuscript on the prophets and one on the metaphor of “Babylon.”  I do not know if I will finish those, but those are likely the last longer manuscripts I will attempt.”

Thank you, Dr. Brueggemann!