Sunday, October 25, 2009

help with my hermeneutic

I've started reading Barry C. Joslin's book, Hebrews, Christ, and the Law: The Theology of the Mosaic Law in Hebrews 7:1–10:18 (Paternoster Biblical Monographs; Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2008). I have to admit that I'm struggling with this one, in part because of the frequent use of passive verbs and awkward circumlocutions in order to avoid the first-person. But once I got past the first chapter (or rather, once the first chapter was gotten past by the present reader and reviewer), I've started to enjoy this book a bit more.

Even so, as I read Joslin's book I've noticed a number of phrases that make me scratch my head, and I would like to avail myself of your assistance, if you're able to make sense of these passages. I'll only provide two, but these are representative of Joslin's writing style:

[W]hen taken as a whole, what the writer of Hebrews envisions for the law in the [New Covenant] is its transformation. It is now viewed through the lens of Christ, and as such there is transformation that involves fulfillment and internalization. There are continuous and discontinuous aspects of the law, and this continuity and discontinuity turns on the hinge of Christ. (2)

This quote comes from the first chapter and as such introduces Joslin's thesis. I'm not convinced that the sentences I've quoted actually say anything. How is the law transformed? What does "viewed through the lens of Christ" mean vis-à-vis the law? In what sense is the law "fulfilled" and "internalized," and why are these things "transformation"? But since there remains the entire rest of the book, I'm willing to put these questions on hold. I can't figure out, however, how the subject of Joslin's last phrase ("this continuity and discontinuity") performs the action of the verb ("turns"), and how the door metaphor ("on the hinge of Christ") explains either the verb or the relationship of the double subject. Any help?

On a different note, Joslin provides a lengthy survey of Jews' view of the law/Law/Torah in the Second Temple period; such a survey is no easy task. Toward the beginning of his discussion of 2 Maccabees (34–37), Joslin writes,

After giving them the law Jeremiah is said to exhort his readers "not to let the νόμος depart from their hearts" in 2:3. What seems to be clear is that the specific referent for νόμος is the written commandment of the law of Moses. (34)

Again, I'm thirty-some pages into a lengthy monograph (330+ pages), so a lot of Joslin's argument is still to come. But already Joslin has mentioned a half-dozen times or so that he sees νόμος [nomos; "law"] and διαθήκη [diathēkē; "covenant"] as related terms but absolutely rejects that they are [near?] synonyms. So his comment on 2 Macc 2.3—that "the specific referent for νόμος is the written commandment of the law of Moses"—strikes me as a bit self-serving. Why is Jeremiah's exhortation limited to the written text he gives to the departing deportees? Or, at least, why does this limitation "seem to be clear"? The same text "seems clear" to me to refer to the written text as a cultural/material artifact that metonymically referenced any number of things simultaneously: the written text, the specific commandments inscribed therein, the covenant mediated via those commandments and communicated in that text, the interpretive traditions mediating the text's meaning and significance (and so the proper means of observation), the appropriate stance vis-à-vis the gentiles among whom the exiles would live, etc.

Given the important role this point will play in Joslin's argument, I'm baffled that he seems content to assert this interpretation without any argumentation whatsoever. With a flick of the wrist and a "seems to be clear," the point is made. Or perhaps, once again, my hermeneutic is failing me. Any suggestions?


Don said...

As a scholar, your lot is to wade through much scholarly work. You seem surprised at what you perceive to be this author's self-serving writing. Surely you have discovered by now that the foundation of personality and self-image for many, many scholars is... well, hubris. So many have little or nothing to say and a great need to say it (not the least need of which is to gain tenure), and are whistling in the dark, trying to convince themselves—and others of their ilk—they have meaning and purpose, and something new to say.

Wade through this tome, as you must; but always keep before you the words of Shakespeare: "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Glean what gems you may, discard the dross, and never forget that your purpose is to know Christ and bring others to know Him.

Rafael said...

I hate to admit it, Don, but I think you've come pretty near the nail's head. If publishers only published books that were worth publishing—that needed to be published—our bookshelves would be awfully bare. The drive for tenure turns a lot of trees to pulp.

Of course, my book is one of those books that needed to be published. Trees are honored to sacrifice themselves to have my words inscribed upon their processed carcasses. Aren't they?

Don said...

Of course they are, my friend... Of course they are!

Don said...

Oh, and only $88.20 on Amazon pre-order! (Do you get any courtesy copies to share with poor old peasant priests?)

Rafael said...

Give me a break, Don! What are you complaining about?! You get free shipping!


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