Brevard Childs

Apropos to the Kugel discussion- Here are some quotes from Brevard Childs who was at Yale from the 1960’s until the 1990’s. Childs treats the Bible as a Christian work through the eyes of the Church even as he uses Biblical criticism. His approach is called “canonical criticism” is “an examination of the final form of the text as a totality, as well as the process leading to it.” “Whereas previous criticism asked questions about the origins, structure and history of the text, canonical criticism addresses questions of meaning, both for the community (and communities – subsequent communities are regarded as being as important as the original community for which it was produced) which used it, and in the context of the wider canon of which it forms a part.”
Childs was criticized on both sides – by Biblical scholars who wanted the text to remain in its bronze age meaning or documentary meaning and by fundamentalists who rejected any criticism. I am not advocating Childs’ approach, I repeat I am not advocating Childs’ theories. I am posting this as a sense of what most non-Jewish Bible professors that I know had to read in graduate school and it served as a basis for any further thinking they did on the topic. It also serves as a basis for many of the readings in an undergraduate Bible course. Many introductory courses try to show continuity with the tradition.

Childs’ approach influenced Levenson, Fishbane, and other Jewish scholars who read the Bible with the Second temple and Rabbinic commentary, who look for intertextuality within the Bible itself, and treat the Bible as a Jewish work. The Jewish authors developed their own approaches but Childs is one of the many building blocks. Maybe I might post on some of the other building blocks. And as Benjamin Sommers pointed out – for many people Kugel’s book The Bible As It Was – his book on Midrash was taken as an extension of Brevard Childs.

Brevard S. Childs is author of Biblical Theology in Crisis, and The Book of Exodus and Isaiah
CHILDS: I have always objected to the term “canon(ical) criticism” as a suitable description of my approach. I do not envision my approach as involving a new critical methodology analogous to literary, form, or redactional criticism. Rather, the crucial issue turns on one’s initial evaluation of the nature of the biblical text being studied. By defining one’s task as an understanding of the Bible as the sacred Scriptures of the church, one establishes from the outset the context and point-of-standing of the reader within the received tradition of a community of faith and practice. Likewise, Scripture is also confessed to be the vehicle of God’s self-disclosure which continues to confront the church and the world in a living fashion. In sum, its content is not merely a literary deposit moored in the past, but a living and active text addressing each new generation of believer, both Jew and Christian.

Childs accepts a unified approach without separate documents and looks for intertextuality. He sees the text as having a revelatory message from God. Notice his description of the human and divine elements and his definition of revelation. Later parts of the Bible were already hearing fresh insights into God’s prior words. It is quite Christian but it was still influential on Jews. Notice the subtlety of his view of revelation. On needs to hear a powerful theological message from the Bible.

Of course, the Bible is also a human work written as a testimony to God’s coercion of a historical people, and extended and developed through generations of Israel’s wrestling with its God. The goals of interpretation can be defined in countless different ways, but for those confessing its role as sacred Scripture the goal is to penetrate deeply into its content, to be illuminated theologically by its Word, and to be shaped and transformed by its gracious disclosure which witness is continually made alive by its divine communicator.
The divine and human dimensions of Scripture can never be separated as if there were a kernel and a husk, but the heart of the Bible lies in the mystery of how a fully time-conditioned writing, written by fragile human authors, can continually become the means of hearing the very Word of God, fresh and powerful, to recipients open to faithful response.
First, I remain deeply concerned with the unity of the book which, I agree, cannot be formulated in terms of a single authorship.
Secondly, one of the most important recent insights has been the recognition of the role of intertextuality. The growth of the larger composition has often been shaped by the use of a conscious resonance with a previous core of oral and written texts. The great theological significance is that intertextuality reveals how the editors conceived of their task as forming a chorus of different voices and fresh interpretations, but all addressing in different ways, and in different ages a part of the selfsame, truthful witness to God’s salvific purpose for his people.

Taken from Brevard Childs’ Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context.

If one asks what was God’s purpose, that is, his motivation in revealing himself, the Old Testament is silent. However, if one asks what was God’s purpose, that is, his goal toward which his self-disclosure pointed, then the Old Testament is eloquent in its response. God revealed himself that all may see and know who God is:

Any thoughts? What would you take from this? Why?

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