Another set of quotes from my PhD research. Last week I looked at Paul’s gospel, this week I’m going a different direction by looking at different views of the past.
Time is one of the key concepts in my thesis. In studying time, I have found just about every concept is debated so for the fun of it here is a sampling of different views of the past.*
Heidegger – the deep unity of time as future, past, and present…the backward move toward the past is retrieved in the anticipation of a present, therefore, in a being’s move toward death retrospection is reconnected to anticipation and anticipation is rooted in retrospection. (Ricoeur speaks of this view of Heidegger as he explains the becoming of being as the extension of life both backward and forward)
Richard Lehan – “…you cannot buy back the past, cannot realize ideals located in the past. The past is not a stable, solid block of meaning to which one can return at will. Present reality transforms the past. Because the past is constantly emptied of meaning – ‘you cannot go home again’…To seek meaning in the past is to seek it in a realm that will never be the same again.”
Aneesha Dharwadker – “The past dictates what we know, the very core of our existence…Menard defines history not as delving into reality but as the very fount of reality…The past changes the present as much as the present changes the past.”
Northrop Frye – “In our ordinary sense of time we have to grapple with 3 dimensions, all of the unreal: a past that is no longer, a future that is not yet, and a present that is never quite…but the centre of all time is ‘now.'”
Udo Schnelle – The past is available to us exclusively through present interpretations. In other words, history is not simply reconstructed but necessarily constructed as interpretation invents the past as we now see it by giving it a structure it did not previously have. Thus, the past exists only when it is brought into meaningful relationship with the present.
Augustine – “No time is wholly present…All past time is driven backwards by the future, all future time is the consequent of the past, and all past and future are created and set on their course by that which is always present.”
“As a faithful child of the Enlightenment, I must admit that just the thought of adopting a theological hermeneutic makes me nervous. However, perhaps it is time for me (and ultimately us – the Church) to embrace our rightful identities as children of promise. Children who once again let the word be near us, in our mouths, and in our hearts.”
I wrote these sentences as the conclusion to one of my first graduate school papers – a review of Richard Hays’ The Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. Little did I know that these words would be a strangely prophetic description of the theological formation that I would receive during my graduate education. I walked with a M.A. in Theological Studies from Houston Baptist University on May 19, 2014 and I could not be more thankful for my time there. I was blessed financially with various grants and with the Sharon E. Saunders Endowed Graduate Scholarship, I was fortunate to study under an amazing group of professors (such as Dr. Ben Blackwell and Dr. Randy Hatchett, picture above) that stretched, loved, challenged, and encouraged me, and I now recognize that I am a more faithful Christian thinker because of my studies.
As I reflect on the many ways in which my thinking has been transformed over the past few years, I continually return to the image of “rebellion.” That is to say, my graduate studies taught me to rebel against the Enlightenment and its strangle-hold over much of Christian thinking. The Enlightenment taught me to read Scripture scientifically, skeptically, surgically, and objectively. It also groomed me to reject tradition, look arrogantly at the past, and stand alone as an individual. Now, however, I find myself leaving my graduate studies as a “child of promise” – committed to reading theologically, embracing & exploring the heritage of the church, and living and learning as a distinctively Christian person.
A few of the lessons I learned:
 The Importance of the Church: The House that God Built
I once accepted the Enlightenment’s assumption that exegesis and theology could be (and sometimes were best) done outside of the church. I now accept the limitations of the pursuit of pure objectivity and even believe, like the Fathers, that only as a Spirit-filled Christian can I do proper and faithful exegetical and theological work. Before my graduate studies, I hoped to work in the academic world far away from the messiness of the church. Now, I’m enslaved to the conviction that Christian academics must be immersed in and useful to the local church. I entered my graduate studies knowing little about church history and caring even less. Who cared about how Origen translated a certain passage when I’ve got the best Hebrew & Greek tools in history available to me and am free of his cultural limitations? However, I now know how important church history is and indeed have found myself with a deep love for the study of patristics. In fact, I wrote my master’s thesis on Cyril of Alexandria’s Interpretation of Romans 5:12-21 and his use of the Adam-Christ Typology. If you told me that would be my topic as an exegetically-focused undergrad, I would have called you crazy. Now, I can’t imagine anything more worthwhile than studying all the depths, contours, and messiness of the Church Fathers’ lives and works.
 The Beautiful Necessity of Theology: Working with Spirit-Filled Words
My undergrad major was in Biblical Languages – Hebrew and Greek. This meant that I largely focused on and valued biblical studies. Actually, I often thought theological studies were pointless – why make these big conclusions when there are so many debatable issues surrounding the exegetical decisions on which they rest? I thought that systematic theologies were good for nothing except misinterpreting biblical passages. I was focused on the trees (exegesis), finding so much ambiguity/excitement there that I couldn’t understand the need or ability to debate or expound upon theological ideas (the forest) which were often foreign to the biblical text. Now, I am immersed in theology. I think theologically, I pray theologically, and I even read the Bible theologically. (Go figure!) I think terms like “the hypostatic union” and “perichoresis” are hugely important to grasping the depth of the beauty of God and his work in Christ. Once again, the Spirit-given words of the Church have opened my eyes up to a bigger and better faith, as well as a better means of reading the Scripture.
 An Invitation to the Vocation of Scholarship: The Mind As A Means To Worship
My graduate studies continued to instill in me a lesson which began during my undergraduate work: the truth that loving God with all of your mind is an extremely important call to an incredibly difficult task. Too many in the Evangelical church (and even in seminaries) treat the pursuit of academic excellence with shallowness and immaturity. HBU does a fine job of exemplifying a commitment to Christian excellenc (see their 10 Pillars Vision). Not only was I deeply challenged to engage with the best thinkers of history and of our day, I was also encouraged to put my voice alongside them. Thus, through the help of professor Ben Blackwell, I submitted and presented my first paper at an SBL/AAR conference. This, and other opportunities like it, were only possible because of the standard of excellence required and the personal mentorship provided to ensure that I could meet it.
I’ll end this post by saying thanks and offering some encouragement.
First: Thank you, Houston Baptist University. Thank you, as well, Dr. Ben Blackwell, Dr. Randy Hatchett, Dr. David Capes, Dr. Peter Davids, Dr. Joseph Blair, Dr. Felisi Sorgwe, Dr. Jamie Johns, and all of the many others who shared their passion and knowledge of the Scriptures and theology.
Second: No matter who you are, no matter how old you are, no matter how much time you have, & no matter how “smart” you think you are – avail yourself of the many resources all around you so that you might further learn how to think and live faithfully. Who knows, we might run into each other one day on the other side of the Enlightenment. 🙂
I have written several times on my own views of eschatological visions (or apocalyptic books). And in reading through M.M. Bakhtin’s ‘Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel‘ I found his view of eschatology interesting. I do not agree with him that eschatology should work this way, but I do think he captures a common (and in Western Christianity perhaps the predominant) way eschatology is misunderstood.
Another form that exhibits a like relationship to the future is eschatology. Here the future is emptied out in another way. The future is perceived as the end of everything that exists, as the end of all being (in its past and present forms). In this respect it makes no difference at all whether the end is perceived as catastrophe and destruction pure and simple, as a new chaos, as a Twilight of the Gods, as the advent of God’s Kingdom – it matters only that the end effect everything that exists, and that this end be, moreover, relatively close at hand. Eschatology always sees the segment of a future separating the present from the end as lacking value; this separating segment of time loses it significance and interest, it is merely an unnecessary continuation of an indefinitely prolonged present. (148)
After a short hiatus I am very excited to dive back into the world of blogging and especially excited to pick up our Frauen Friday series! If you are new to the blog, Frauen Friday was started with the hopes of providing more exposure to the amazing female scholars, authors, academics, pastors, laypersons, and so on. Thus far I have featured Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Beverly Gaventa, and Elsa Tamez. I am hoping to pick up the pace a bit and have a Frauen Friday post every Friday this summer–I’ll try my best to do so!
Today’s Frauen Friday feature is biblical scholar Adele Berlin. If you are a student of Biblical Hebrew you are likely familiar with some of her work. Here is an abridged bio from her faculty page at University of Maryland:
“Adele Berlin, now professor emerita, was the Robert H. Smith Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Maryland. She taught at Maryland since 1979 in the Jewish Studies Program, the Hebrew Program, and the English Department. Her main interests are biblical narrative and poetry, and the interpretation of the Bible. While at Maryland, Professor Berlin served as Director of the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies (1988-91), held the position of Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs (1994-97), and was Chair of the University Senate for the 2005-2006 academic year.
Professor Berlin has received numerous awards and honors. She is a Fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research. In 2000 she served as President of the Society of Biblical Literature. She has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Institute of Advanced Studies of the Hebrew University (Jerusalem).” (For the full bio go here)
I was first introduced to Berlin’s work during my undergraduate studies in Hebrew when we got to reading poetry. In The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism, Berlin seeks to “provide a linguistic framework for the study of parallelism,” (xvii). The majority of the book focuses on a number of different linguistic categories (the grammatical aspect, the lexical and semantic aspects, and so on) and concludes with a look at parallelism within the biblical texts. This book is incredibly helpful and if you are a reader of Biblical Hebrew you should definitely own this book.
I later picked up a copy of Berlin’s Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative when I began studying participant reference in Susanna. In the preface Berlin writes,
“It is ironic that, although telling is so important in the biblical tradition, there is no word for story. There are words for songs and oracles, hymns and parables… other than a term like תולדות (‘genealogy, history’) applied to a few narrative sections, there is nothing to designate narrative per se. Yet the Bible abounds with narrative–vibrant and vivid narrative that has an ongoing power to affect those who hear or read it. Its power comes not only from the authority of scripture, but from the inner dynamics of the stories themselves. This book will explore some of those inner dynamics, some of the inner workings of biblical narrative,” (11).
I found chapter two, “Character and Characterization,” particularly interesting and extremely helpful. In it she suggests classifying character types in the biblical narratives into three main categories: the full-fledged character or round character; the type or flat character; and the agent or functionary character (23). Berlin does note that these are not clear cut categories but rather points along a spectrum within which a character might fall and to varying degrees throughout the narrative (32). To demonstrate how these categories work, Berlin looks at the stories about David and the women in his life, namely, Michal, Bathsheba, Abishag, and Abigail. From her analysis Berlin concludes that
“the result in all of these cases is an indirect presentation of David, in which various aspects of his character emerge naturally, outside of the glare of direct scrutiny. These episodes are then combined, in the mind of the reader, with the episodes in which David is the main character,” (33).
Further along, Berlin delves into the importance of description in characterization. For instance, she notes that the Bible does not often provide physical descriptions of its characters. When a biblical author does intentionally include a physical descriptor (e.g., that Esau was hairy) the reader is alerted to important information for the narrative’s plot (34). Additionally, Berling argues,
“the purpose of character description in the BIble is not to enable to the reader to visualize the character, but to enable him to situate the character in terms of his place in society, his own particular situation, and his outstanding traits–in other words, to tell what kind of a person he is,” (36).
Descriptive terms help the reader see a character the way the author intends him or her to be seen and understood. The book also covers other topics such as point of view as well as how poetic interpretation relates to historical-critical methods of interpretation. Again, I highly recommend this book as I have found it very helpful in my own reading of scripture.
YHWH saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And YHWH was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth,
and it grieved him to his heart. So YHWH said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the sight of YHWH.
“The repentance which is here ascribed to God does not properly belong to him, but has reference to our understanding of him. For since we cannot comprehend him as he is, it is necessary that, for our sake, he should, in a certain sense, transform himself. That repentance cannot take place in God, easily appears from this single consideration, that nothing happens which is by him unexpected or unforeseen. The same reasoning, and remark, applies to what follows, that God was affected with grief. Certainly God is not sorrowful or sad; but remains for ever like himself in his celestial and happy repose: yet, because it could not otherwise be known how great is God’s hatred and detestation of sin, therefore the Spirit accommodates to our capacity…. This figure, which represents God as transferring to himself what is peculiar to human nature, is called anthropomorphism.”
“We are confronted in this text not with a flood, but with a heavy, painful crisis in the dealings of God with creation. It is popularly thought that the crisis of the flood is to place the world in jeopardy. But a close reading indicates that it is the heart and person of God which are placed in crisis. The crisis is not the much water, which now has only become a dramatic setting. Rather, the crisis becomes of the resistant character of the world which evokes hurt and grief in the heart of God. The narrative is centered in the grief of God, whose heart knows about our hearts. This daring assertion about God is problematic in every static theology which wants God always acting the same and predictably. But the text affirms that God is decisively impacted by the suffering, hurt, and circumstance of his creation. The flood has effected not change in humankind. But it has affected an irreversible change in God, who now will approach his creation with an unlimited patience and forbearance. To be sure, God has been committed to his creation from the beginning. But this narrative traces a new decision on the part of God, clear that such a commitment is intensified. For the first time, it is marked by grief, the hurt of betrayal. It is now clear that such a commitment on God’s part is costly. The God-world relation is not simply that of a strong God and needy world. Now it is a tortured relation between a grieved God and a resistant world. And of the two, the real changes are in God.”