William Yarchin, History of Biblical Interpretation: A Reader. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004. 444 pp. Cloth. ISBN: 1-56563-720-8. $34.95.
Bill Yarchin is Chairman of the Department of Religion and Philosophy, Haggard School of Theology, Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, California. He holds the Ph.D. in Old Testament from Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California. His dissertation was entitled: "The Warrior and the Shepherd: A Composition Analysis of 2 Samuel 21-24" (1993). After serving as Director of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center in Claremont (where he had access to the Dead Sea Scrolls), he took a chair up the road in 1993. Yarchin is a skilled Hebraist as his translations of Qumran (pp. 15-17) and Rabbinic material (pp. 135-52) attests. His sojourn in Israel (Hebrew University, 1980-81) was not wasted. All of which is to note, the man has the credentials for the task.
Perhaps even more brilliant is the conception of this handbookto provide the reader with primary documents from the Jewish and Christian traditions so as to reflect the principles of Biblical interpretation from the 2nd century B.C. to the postmodern era. There is nothing like this; it is a one-of-a-kind volume; and it provides firsthand material for ruminating on the history of exegesis. It should be noted that there are translations of materials here never before available in English.
We learn about Pesher and Midrash; Tannaim and Haggadah; Halakic and Talmudic; Patristic and Medieval; Allegorical and Anagogical; Deistic and Idealistic; Grammatical-historical and Historical-grammatical. All the big names are here: Philo, Origen, Augustine, Rashi, Aquinas, Calvin, Strauss, Bultmann, Childs, Trible. Several no names (i.e., names known only to specialists) are here: Sa'adia, Lyranus, Vatable, Amama, Hartlich. Introductions and notes to each section are brief, to the point and helpful. The volume is an ideal mountain top overview of the history of interpretation ab fontibus.
If we quibble about the assignment of Origen to allegorism (for example), we join those Origenistic contrarians (Mark Edwards, Karen Torjesen, Robert Wilken and our own discussion of the great Alexandrian elsewhere in these pages) who defend him against the 'bum rap'. Origen is not a third century John Bunyan, nor are his Biblical commentaries patristic versions of Pilgrim's Progress. Yarchin's selection and comments are consonant with the 'mainline' view of Origen. But the 'mainline' has been skewed by its own colored glasses beforeand it will be until Jesus returns.
In the meantime, Yarchin's reader helps us bend our minds and hearts to the divinely inspired Hebrew and Greek text. In doing so, we find ourselves rubbing shoulders with a great assembly of witnesses.
James T. Dennison, Jr.