[K:JNWTS 27/3 (2012): 59-62]

Book Review

R. N. Soulen and R. K. Soulen, Handbook of Biblical Criticism. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011. Paper. 258pp. ISBN: 978-0-664-23534-5. $30.00.

A decade ago, the third edition of this handbook was released by our publisher and received a brief review by this author in the May 2002 issue of Kerux http://www.kerux.com/documents/keruxv17n1r3.htm. This current “fourth edition” adds twenty-two entries (by my count), while removing eight of the previous ones. Among the additions are summaries of: African American Biblical Interpretation, Asian American Biblical Interpretation, Mikhail Baktuin, Biblia Hebraica, B. S. Childs, Contextual Biblical Interpretation, Hans Gadamer, Gospel of Judas, (Eastern) Orthodox Biblical Interpretation, Landscape Criticism, Rhetorical Periods, Paul Ricoeur, Yehud/Yehudite. The reader will note that some of the critical fads are represented in the above list as are the names of figures who have dominated Biblical hermeneutics into our century. Names which appeared in the third edition, but which have now disappeared include: Albrecht Alt, Richard Reizenstein, Roland de Vaux and Bernhard Weiss. Most of the remaining entries are largely unchanged with bibliographies being updated on occasion.

While Alt is omitted, the entry for “Apodictic Law” (13) has his name in all-caps, indicating an article by him elsewhere in the volume. Alas, the reader searches in vain! The same is the case with the entry on “Casuistic Law” (34). Hence, the reader, directed by the cross reference to Alt, will roll his/her eyes. In addition, the article on apodictic law has no cross reference to the entry for casuistic law. More of this sloppy editing appears in the entry A minore ad majus (7) which contains the Hebrew equivalent phrase, Qal wahomer. However, there is no entry under “Qal wahomer” in this volume. The uninitiated reader must find “Kal wahomer” (105) or “Kol va-homer” (108) by accident, for the entry at A minore ad majus contains no cross reference to either of the other three options noted above. We note also the misalignment of the entry “Commentary” (40) which is out of alphabetical order and should precede “Common English Bible”. “Deep Structure” is unnecessarily duplicated on page 52 (second time, out of order to boot).

These careless slips should have been remedied in the editorial process (even targeted by the authorial compilers in the galley-edit phase) and sadly mar what remains an otherwise useful volume in this on-going series. Particularly helpful are the crisp definitions of technical literary terms, i.e., colon, inclusio, morpheme, onomatopoeia, protasis, synecdoche, vorlage and many more. These entries are a model of precision and education (though we note the omission of Lamentations from “Acrostic”[1]). As a ready reference tool close at hand (as it is in my study), the book remains useful for pastor and student alike.

Several of the entries show the dated premises of earlier editions of this work. Much fresh scholarly study has altered the presuppositions and conclusions of a number of these articles. We provide an illustrative sample by way of “Alexandria, School of” (4). The entry perpetuates the misleading and passé polarization between allegorical (allegedly Alexandrian) and literal (allegedly Antiochan) schools of Biblical interpretation. The most important reflections on this matter come from the pen of John David Dawson, Christian Figural Reading and the Fashioning of Identity (2002).[2] Dawson has noted that ‘allegory’ is more properly labeled “figural” or typological interpretation. And both Alexandria and Antioch regard the typological sense of the OT to be essential to a Christian hermeneutic (the NT fulfills and completes the types of the OT as Christ Jesus himself fulfills and completes the history of redemption). Allegory (a la Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress or Spenser’s Faerie Queene) has nothing whatsoever to do with the meaning of the OT, either for Alexandria or Antioch. On-going exploration of the primary documents of the scions of these schools (Origen of Alexandria, Diodiorus of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrrus) is providing a more accurate picture of the hermeneutical principles of both scholae. “Observe Origen at work” (Henri de Lubac), may be urged with regard to each member above, as well as the schools as a whole. Old unsubstantiated canards about literal versus spiritual exegesis in Antioch versus Alexandria are rapidly fading as scholars pour over the texts of the fathers.

Using Theodoret of Cyrrus as an example of the Antiochan School (based on the review by Jean-Noel Guinot in P. M. Blowers, ed., The Bible in Greek Antiquity [1977] 163-93), we note that he distinguished three levels of interpretation: literal sense, figurative meaning, typological aspect. The literal sense (προχειρος) or sensus literalis is the “plain sense” of the text. The figurative meaning (προπικως or πνευματικως, from Paul’s contrast in 2 Cor. 3:6), he also labels εκ μεταφορας (“metaphorical”). This is the richer meaning (NB: not allegorical) which is contained in the text alongside the “plain sense”. Together, the literal and figurative sense cohere (ακολευθια) in a unity of meaning mutually reflective of one another. For Theodoret, the typological sense of the OT text is the specifically Messianic or Christological meaning. He explains it in a τελος-τυπος reciprocity. Тελος (“end”/“goal”) is the antitype of τμπος (“type”). The reciprocity is not only joined historically, it is enriched by the organic connection: the lesser (partial and imperfect OT type) enriched (fully and completely) by the Christological and NT antitype.

The hermeneutic of the Alexandrian School is generally summarized by its leading exegete, Origen. This prolific author (only 16 of his reputed 291 volumes of commentary on Scripture survive) examines the inspired text in the literal and the spiritual/figural sense. We may label this historia (literal sense) and theoria (figural sense). That is, Origen is conscious of a higher meaning (or deeper sense) of the OT text. This richer aspect is usually the Christ-centered element in the text; hence, Origen routinely Christologizes the OT as a typological projection of the Lord Jesus. This Christian reading of the OT necessitates no allegorization, since theoria is a figural (not allegorical) reading of historia. NB: history is essential to the hermeneutic of both schools, whereas allegory requires no history (only imaginative abstraction).

It would appear from a careful reading of primary documents that any antithesis between Alexandria and Antioch is manufactured by old stereotypes and misconceptions. Both schools agree on an ordinary or plain reading of the text of the Word of God (historical, literal); and both schools agree on a deeper or richer aspect of the text (figural, typological, spiritual). The tensions between the two are related more to the nature of the union of the two natures in Christ, not to the hermeneutical task per se.

The Handbook’s entry on “Biblical theology” (26-28) is not about the organic unfolding of the history of redemption. Rather it is a dreary repetition of neo-orthodox higher critical reductionism in application (or coercion) of the Biblical text to prevailing philosophical fads (existentialism re neo-orthodoxy; German idealism re classic liberalism; Enlightenment rationalism re Gabler; Deism re the skeptic and anti-supernatural precursors of the 17th century). The result of all this is chaos (as some have noted—tohu wabohu) and no consensus about Biblical theology at all. There is no surprise here since for critical ‘Biblical theology’, the Bible is not revelation at all. No (divine) revelation, no (divine) matter. It’s all anthropocentric and relative to the prevailing cultural mood (be it 17th century or 21st century or any weltanschauung in between).

We note the glaring omission of Hans Josef-Klauck and Edwin Yamauchi from the bibliography on “Gnosticism” (77)—both of whom have challenged the unsubstantiated assumption of pre-Christian Gnosticism.[3] Like the whimsy-contrived ghost of Q (169-172), the theory of pre-Christian gnosis is substantiated by no primary document(s).[4]

Finally, we note the flimsy (and increasingly abandoned) rib theory (184-85) which maintains the existence of a so-called “covenant lawsuit” in the prophetic canon. Even in an example listed by the Handbook (Jer. 2:4-13), there is no mention of one essential element of the fourfold rib paradigm (cited in the entry itself), i.e., the “earth” is not called to witness by Jeremiah. So egregious is the attempt to force this text into the paradigm that Delbert Hillers (eager promoter of the rib pattern) emended the text of Jeremiah 2 to INSERT “dry land” so the paradigm would work.[5] And this is scholarship???? As Jack Lundbom observes: “Jeremiah 2 is therefore not a ‘covenant lawsuit,’ either in full or in part”.[6] He agrees with others who suggest “that we abandon the terms ‘prophetic lawsuit’ and ‘covenant lawsuit’ altogether” (ibid).

With these caveats, the Handbook remains useful even to alert us to the need to constantly review and update information based on primary sources. Otherwise our so-called scholarship is in danger of becoming agenda, propaganda and outright falsehood.

—James T. Dennison, Jr.       

[1] Cf. the present author’s article http://www.kerux.com/documents/keruxv12n3a2.asp and review http://www.kerux.com/documents/keruxv11n2a4.asp.

[2] Dawson’s name does appear in bibliography for the entry “Allegory” (6).

[3] Cf. the review of Klauck’s The Religious Context of Early Christianity (2003) http://www.kerux.com/documents/keruxv11n2a4.asp.

[4] Cf. the review of Questioning Q: A Multidimensianal Critique (2004) http://www.kerux.com/documents/KeruxV20N2R4.htm.

[5] Delbert Hillers, Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea (1969) 127, where he flagrantly admits that he is “simply guessing”.

[6] Lundbom, Jeremiah 1-20 (Anchor Bible Commentary, 1999) 258.