Saturday, July 21, 2007


Chapter 5 of Frymer-Kensky is on Scripture. Again three essays: Michael A. Signer, Searching the Scriptures: Jesus, Christians, and the Book; Hindy Najman, The Writings and Reception of Philo of Alexandria; and George Lindbeck, Postmodern Hermeneutics and Jewish-Christian Dialogue: A Case Study.

Again the middle essay is not addressed in the response. Philo as proto-Christian and rediscovered Jew is the thesis. She describes Philo as inaugurating a weaving of the universality of the Greek philosophers and the particularity of the choice of Israel. One quotation:

[in] Stromateis, Clement cited Philo's allegorical interpretation of Abraham's relationship with his wife's Egyptian maid as proof that Scripture supported his idea: lady wisdom (Sarah) permitted faith (Abraham) to have a fruitful encounter with secular philosophy (Hagar), because such an encounter was preparation for a productive relationship with wisdom herself.

If you can sort out the pronouns here, the idea does open an allegorical interpretation that rivals Galatians and even supports it.

In the first and last essays, four modes of interpretation are noted: the literal, the moral, the allegorical, and the mystical. Signer says that the first two can be shared by Christian and Jew, but the second two cannot. Lindbeck summarizes his position as follows:

Signer's account of the two traditions is as acceptable to Christians as I assume it is to Jews...[snip] First, in reference to the letter of the text, Jews and Christians can agree on "the historical meaning of the biblical passage in its biblical context." Second, in regard to the spirit of the text, their accord can extend to "the moral [or tropological] sense that presents models of ethical behavior." Regarding the two other spiritual senses however - the allegorical (now more often called the typological) and the mystical (cf. devotional) - Signer concludes the Jews and Christians will not arrive at agreement; indeed in the case of the mystical (or devotional) sense in particular, the "intimate symbolism of each tradition excludes the possibility of the other ... and thus precludes agreement."

Whew! There is mouthful of possiblities here: two opinions, 4 hermeneutics - including heavy duty synonyms like tropological, typological, and devotional. Let's take these 7 divisions and ask a question about each to each tradition. You could I am sure come up with more questions also. I doubt that I agree with many Christians on all of these areas of interpretation.


literal - can we read literally? The last two hundred years has shown serious problems with determining what is meant by a plain or literal sense.

moral: are all commandments equal?

(tropological) See here for a definition given as relating to the soul: what is this thingy called soul? I almost never translate nephesh as soul but as my life. And yes - those moral problems are life related - but are they absolutes known in advance as if we could know them without God?

allegorical: are some things, all things allegorical (analogical, metaphorical)?

(typological): are we in Egypt, in the desert, or in the promised land?

mystical: when does the mystical meet the real?

(devotional): could we not agree that worship is the only reality?


literal: why do those who call themselves Christian immediately think they have a monopoly on literal interpretation?

moral: why do those who know law and grace explicitly insist on other people keeping their favorite bits of the law?

(tropological): how indeed will the Christian, babe in the woods, find more than sap to feed on?

allegorical: when will Christian come to appreciate the grand metaphor of the Pilgrim's Progress?

(typological): when will Christian allow that not all types are equal or appropriate?

mystical: when does the real meet the mystical?

(devotional): could we not agree that we should follow the invitation of the Father who seeks us to worship in Spirit and in Truth?

I think you can see that I disagree with this division into 4 over what we could agree and disagree on. In particular, we must and we do agree on many aspects of worship.

There is even in depth agreement on Blood [Hoffman, Covenant of Blood, Leviticus 16], on Torah [Sermon on the Mount, Deuteronomy 6], on Danger [Acts 15, Psalm 135], and on Love [Summary of the Law]. I am just pulling these hats from this rabbit. More anon...

1 comment:

Beyond Words said...

You said, "In particular, we must and we do agree on many aspects of worship."


I was moved after reading Iyov's post yesterday about so many faith groups praying in unison. Surely our prayers and worship are not in vain if we happen to seek him amiss--those who seek will find him, won't they?

Lord, hear our prayers! Lord, have mercy and hear our prayers!