Tag Archives: Old Testament

The Philosophy of the Hebrew Bible

I no longer find myself sitting in the bright, sunny, and (awfully) hot Mediterranean climate of Pasadena, rather I find myself sitting in the bright, sunny, and (awfully) hot Mediterranean climate of Jerusalem. So why am I here? To engage with a similar sort of project that the AT project is engaged with at Fuller Seminary; I am here to think through the relationship between Scripture, analytic philosophy, and the life of faith.

Jerusalem

On June 12th-23rd a group of Christian and Jewish scholars whose expertise range from biblical studies, to political philosophy, to analytic theology gathered to discuss Yoram Hazony’s book, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture.

In this book Hazony contends that western culture has made a major mistake in not seeing the Hebrew Bible as a significant philosophical work. Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and Plotinus’s Enneads are all part of the Western philosophical cannon, but why isn’t the Hebrew bible? Hazony argues the reason this is so is because the Hebrew Bible has been deemed a “work of revelation” as opposed to a “work of reason.”

 

YSSAccording to Hazony the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures are “in fact closer to being works of reason than anything else.” (Hazony, 3) He laments the fact that Western culture, due to Christian influence, has read the reason-revelation-dichotomy into the Hebrew scriptures. This dichotomy, in turn, has affected the standing of Hebrew Scriptures within public spheres. By turning back to conceiving the Hebrew Scriptures as a work of reason, Hazony hopes to restore its standing in public dialogue. Not only does Hazony argue that the Hebrew Scriptures are works of reason, rather he argues that “Hebrew Scriptures can (and should) be read as works of philosophy, with an aim to discovering what they have to say to the broader discourse concerning the nature of the world and the just life for man.” (4)

Hazony’s attempt at constructing a philosophy of Hebrew Scriptures has two major parts, which respectively, make up the structure of his work as an introduction to the philosophy of Hebrew Scripture. First, Hazony provides a methodological framework by which we can begin to read the Hebrew Scriptures as works of philosophy. He then proceeds to provide some examples of how the authors of scripture were engaging philosophical discourse. This latter part addresses topics like metaphysics, epistemology, and political philosophy. In addressing such topics, he provides plenty of fodder for further reflection by philosophers and analytic theologians.

Dome of the Rock

Over the next few days I hope to write a bit more about the sort of project Hazony is engaged in, so you can expect a few blogs either on the ideas in the book, or ideas that have come out of this workshop and the conference following the workshop.

Logos Free Book of the Month – OT Commentaries

Every month Logos Bible Software offers a free book and an additional book for just 99 cents. This month’s pair is an awesome pair of OT commentaries – one on Isaiah and the other on Jeremiah – written by excellent OT scholars.

The Old Testament Library Series: Isaiah by Brevard S. Childs (Price: Free!)

In this important addition to the Old Testament Library, renowned scholar Brevard S. Childs writes on the Old Testament’s most important theological book. He furnishes a fresh translation from the Hebrew and discusses questions of text, philology, historical background, and literary architecture, and then proceeds with a critically informed, theological interpretation of the text.

The Old Testament Library Series: Jeremiah by Leslie C. Allen (Price: $0.99)

This book of Jeremiah offers a remarkable range of literature, including prose, poetry, homilies, oracles, and proverbs. This commentary understands the book as a work of religious literature, to be examined in its final form, yet with careful attention to the historical contexts of writing and development through which the text took shape. Jeremiah proclaimed a message of coming judgment, because of the people’s unfaithful worship, and yet also emphasized the call to know Yahweh and to live as God’s faithful people. Through it all, Leslie C. Allen identifies a trajectory of grace, in which the proclamations of doom can be understood within the context of promises for a renewed future.

You can find both books here.

Jonah & The Vine

I have spent the last few weeks studying the book of Jonah for our series at Soma, Chasing Rebels…

Chasing_Rebels_FB

The first week we kicked things off with the notion that God pursues rebels like you and me. Today I want to jump forward to the end of the book – after Jonah has complained about God’s compassion and mercy towards the Ninevites God gives him an object lesson. Basically God causes a vine to supernaturally sprout up and give Jonah shade, the next day God causes a worm to eat up the vine and a hot eastern wind to scorch it. And boy is Jonah pissed! His anger burns and he exclaims that he is angry enough to die because of this vine (its sort of an expletive in Hebrew). The lesson worked – it got the reaction from Jonah that God wanted all along. Here is how commentator Leslie Allen paraphrases that conversation in NICOT. (God is the one talking here:)

Let us analyze this anger of yours – it represents your concern over your beloved vine… but what did it really mean to you? Your attachment could not be very deep, for it was here one day and gone the next. Your concern was dictated by self interest, not by genuine love. You never had for it the devotion of a gardener. If you feel as badly as you do, what would you expect a gardener to feel like, who tended the plant and watched it grow only to see it wither and die, poor thing? And this is how I feel about Nineveh, only much more so. All those people, those animals, I made the, I have cherished them all these years. Nineveh has cost me no end of effort. They mean the world to mean. Your pain is nothing to mine when in contemplate their destruction.

God’s compassion extends to rebels like the Ninevites and surely it extends to us. Its our responsibility to extend it to others who don’t know God.

Book Review – A Commentary on Exodus by Duane Garrett

I have worked my way through several of the Kregel Exegetical Library Commentaries in the past few months – this time I turn my attention to Duane Garrett’s commentary on Exodus. Garrett is a pretty well known scholar who teaches at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He specializes in OT interpretation and has written quite a bit on Hebrew grammar and historical background.

This commentary is aimed at pastors, though its not without its benefits for those who have a scholarly bent. He provides a verse by verse exegetical and theological study of this immensely significant book. As it is well known, Exodus serves as a major foundation for Old Testament (and New Testament) theology, perhaps it even serves a more significant role than even the call of Abraham or any other event in Genesis!

There are already several good commentaries on Exodus, so what makes this commentary stick out? First off, he spends a lot of time (though he calls it a short amount of time) giving the reader an introduction of Egyptian history, culture, language, and geography. Second he focuses on the state of scholarly arguments regarding historical questions. For instance, the dating of exodus, the genealogy of Moses, the location of the Red Sea, and the Location of Sinai. Third, he pays extra attention to the poetry found in Exodus. Fourth, he writes in such a way as to make this commentary useful for pastors and Bible teachers. This is especially evident in how he breaks up the commentary (Translation, Structure, Commentary, Theological Summary of Key Points). Finally, he writes this commentary from the position that Exodus is Christian literature. This might be controversial in some circles, but its part of our Christian canon, so it’s appropriate to read it that way.

I really appreciated the structure of the commentary section. The highlight for me was the Theological Summary of Key Points. As someone who preaches, I naturally gravitated towards these sections.

However this commentary is not without its drawbacks. He spends nearly 130 pages on historical background. Garrett concedes that most critical scholars tend to dismiss such historical issues as meaningless for the interpretation of Exodus. Now I don’t want to go that far, however I am a firm believer in the belief that our commentary should try to stick to the canonical form of the text and not get bogged down on issues behind the text. We should focus in on what God is saying through the words he has revealed to us, and not hang on the shifting sands of historical scholarship.

Despite, what I believe is an undue emphasis on behind the text issues, as opposed to textual issues, I found this commentary to be useful in helping me understand this significant biblical book. This book just confirmed for me that the Kregel Exegetical Library is a commentary set that is really worth collecting.

(Note: I received this commentary from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.)

Mystery & Atonement

The concept of “mystery” plays an important role in T.F. Torrance’s atonement theology. In chapter one of Atonement he outlines his approach to the doctrine of atonement. He begins by describing the liturgy of the day of atonement in the Old Testament. As he describes what happens, he says that the most important part of the deed of atonement is done within the veil, beyond human sight.[1] He says that “The inner mystery God ordained to be completely veiled from human eyes.”[2] This is important because it leads Torrance to believe that “the innermost mystery of atonement and intercession remains mystery: it cannot be spelled out, and it cannot be spied out.” The mystery of the act of atonement leads TorrTF Torranceance to believe that we cannot have “any mere theory of the atonement.”[3] He explains that there is no logical relation between the death of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. For him one cannot reason, a priori, to the fact of atonement in the death of Christ. One can merely “follow Christ, and think only a posteriori,” understanding that the atoning deed on the cross is a mystery.

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[1] Thomas F. Torrance, Atonement: the Person and Work of Christ, ed. Robert T. Walker (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2009), 2.

[2] Torrance, Atonement: the Person and Work of Christ, 2.

[3] Torrance, Atonement: the Person and Work of Christ, 4.

Snodgrass on Reading Backwards

In light of Richard Hays fantastic new book, Reading Backwards, I’m sticking to the this weeks’s theme of “The NT use of the OT.” Here is what Klyne Snodgrass (Prof. at North Park) has to say about

Understanding the Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament.
[Here is]  A concluding list of suggestions for understanding the use of the OT follows: (1) Identify if possible which OT text is being employed. (2) Compare the wording of the NT and the OT passages. If there are significant differences, assistance may be required from scholarly studies before drawing conclusions. (3) Determine the original intention of the OT text in its context. (4) Determine how the NT uses the OT text. Identify both the method by which the OT text is appropriated and the purpose for which it is employed. (5) Identify the teaching of both OT and NT texts for Christian understanding.
While the use of the OT in the NT is complex, no subject is more important or rewarding for a faith that speaks of itself and its founder as the fulfillment and climax of God’s Word in the OT.

Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1813). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

No subject is more important than the NT use of the OT… Bold words.

On Figural Interpretation

This week, I’m focusing a bit on the New Testament use of the Old Testament. I’ve been sort of inspired by Richard Hays fantastic new book, Reading Backwards.  In it he argues that we need to learn to recover a figural reading of the Old Testament, specifically we need to learn to do this with the gospels. He ways that “all four of them [Mathew, Mark, Luke, John], in interestingly distinct ways, embody and enact the sort of figural Christological reading that Luther recommends.”

But what does Hays mean by “figural reading?” He uses Erich Auerbach’s classic definition to explain his point:

Figural interpretation establishes a connection between two events or persons in such a way that the first signifies not only itself but also the second, while the second involves or fulfills the first. The two poles of a figure are separated in time, but both, being real events or persons, are within temporality. They are both contained int the flowing stream which is historical life, and only the comprehension, the intellectus spiritualis, of their interdependence is a spiritual act.

In other words, figural reading, means that we move beyond merely saying that the Old Testament predicts stuff in the New Testament, we say that the stuff in the Old Testament prefigures or foreshadows stuff in the New Testament. All of this happens within history, thereby ensuring that the things in the past retain their value and significance as historical events, all the while maintaining that they contain a second level of significance, namely the meaning given to those events by latter occurring events.

To put it quite simply:

The Old Testament, read in light of the New Testament, contains types/figures of Christ and of the gospel.