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Childs, Introduction to the Old Testamentet – 8

Chapter 16 – The Latter Prophets[1]

In the beginning of the fourth part of the introduction Childs summarizes the traditional interpretation and the historical critical approach to the Latter Prophets. He concludes, especially regarding the critical approaches, that not much interest has been directed toward the final form of the prophetic books. However, recently a new interest in the canonical shape of the prophetic books has appeared.

Childs makes the following observations regarding the particular ordering of the books in the Latter Prophets in the present Hebrew canon: 1) It is often presupposed that the canonization of the latter prophets are secondary to the former prophets, but it has to be established that the historical factors at work in the collecting and ordering of the prophetic books remain very obscure. One is dependent upon what can be drawn from internal evidence of growth; 2) The order of the Latter Prophets varies considerably within Jewish lists, and the Greek and Latin orders vary extensively from the Hebrew. The only major implications is that the Hebrew canon assigned an important role to its tripartite division which set it apart from the Greek, and that the order of books within the Latter Prophets has no great canonical significance (in contrast to the Pentateuch); 3) The effect of the canonical process is found in the shaping of the individual prophetic books, and the production of a prophetic collection as a unified block over against the Torah.

[1]. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 306-10.


Som ett exempel på punkt 3 (”The effect of the canonical process is found in the shaping of the individual prophetic books”) kommer jag i mitt nästa inlägg i serien om Childs Introduction och hans metod ”A Canonical Approach” summera hans syn på Jesaja som en kanonisk bok i Gamla testamentet. Eftersom Jes 65-66 är huvudtexten för mitt eget forskningsprojekt som doktorand vid Åbo Akademi, är det intressant för mig att studera hur Childs tillämpar sin metod på Jesajas bok.

Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament – 7

Chapter 11 – The Former Prophets

The second division in the Hebrew Bible, “The Prophets”, is at least as early as the Hellenistic period. The terminology that further divided the Prophets into “former” (historical: Jos, Judg, Sam, Kings) and “later” (Prophetic: Isa, Jer, Eze, Twelve) first emerged in the Middle Ages.[1] Modern historical criticism has rejected this traditional division as “artificial”.

Instead two major critical theories tries to explain the composition of the historical books: 1) The documentary – sources similar to those found in the Pentateuch continue through at least part of the historical books (e.g. Hexateuch); 2) Fragment hypothesis – envisions an independent historical work including book of Deuteronomy and the four historian, edited during the exilic period by a Deuteronomistic historian (e.g. Tetrateuch). Major critics have pointed out difficulties in both two theories, and that an effect of these theories has been the speculative nature of the exegesis on the historical books. The analysis based on either one of the theories has been of a hypothetical character. Therefore Childs calls for reexamination of the canonical shape of the Former Prophets.[2]

The first problem regarding the canonical shape of the Former Prophets two folded: the close connection with the Pentateuch and at the same time the distinct separation from it. Joshuas canonical shape explains both these elements: discontinuity (sharply separated from the Pentateuch, the written form of the law) and continuity (dependence on the “Book of the Law”, and introducing the Former Prophets). The second problem is the relationship to the other historical books. Noth’s theory of a Dtr. historical work is the base for a solution: the Former Prophets are arranged in a literary pattern of prophecy and fulfillment: the books offer a theological interpretation of Israel’s history in the light of the working out of the Book of the Law.

However, there are no evidences in the present canonical form that the material was transformed to make only one major “Deuteronomic point”. Rather, the material is diverse and independent, and the earlier stages of development is not flatten or seriously altered. The reason for this could be that the material already exerted such an “official” force that the Dtr. editor was unable or unwilling to attempt a change. Thus the shaping of the Former Prophets reflects a long process within the community of Israel.[3]

According to Childs, the theological and hermeneutical implications of the Former Prophets are: 1. The object of the four historical books in the division of the Prophets is not to record history per se, but to bear testimony to the working out of the prophetic word in the life of the nation (indication of this is: a. incorporation of historical material within the books of the prophets; b. A similar theological purpose of both sets of writings in the division of the Prophets, thus the historical books has canonically a particular theological function); 2. Striking features are the nature of the material is highly selective and the manner in which the history was presented; 3. Modern critical scholarship disagrees on the overall purpose of the Deuteronomic shaping of the Former Prophets.

In Childs opinion both divine judgement and forgivness are built into Deuteronomy (to offer the nation under judgement the promise of forgivness). The purpose of the book is then to function as scripture for the new generation of Israel who are instructed from the past for the sake of the future (see Deut. 29:29).[4]

[1] However, Childs points out that the two references in Zechariah to the “former prophets” (1:4; 7:7) “offer a certain biblical warrant for the later terminology” (Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 230).
[2] Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 230–32.
[3] Ibid., 232–36.
[4] Ibid., 236–38.

Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament – 6

Chapter 5 – Introduction to the Pentateuch

Childs begins his introduction to the Pentateuch with the history of the modern critical study of the Pentateuch, with the motivation that such history is indispensable for methodology and crucial for evaluating the continuing debate. He goes through the literary critical method, the form-critical method, archaeological method and finish with a postscript to the history of pentateuchal criticism. In tracing the history Childs observes that in the early part of the 20th century the opposition to biblical criticism from the established church and synagogue was almost universal, but by the middle of the century biblical criticism had been widely accepted, with opposition only from conservative groups in the periphery. Childs presents several reflections on this change of opinion, but concludes that the rise and fall of the Biblical Theology movement of the 50s and 60s has again raised the question whether the church’s relation to biblical criticism is settled, and whether “the reigning scholarly consensus” has only covered over many basic theological problems.[1]

The critical debate concerning the scope of the literary unit of Pentateuch is a continuum, whether the term Hexateuch (Gen-Jos) should replace that of Pentateuch (Wellhausen, Kuenen, Smend, Eissfeldt, von Rad), or if Deuteronomy should be separated from the first four books, forming a Tetrateuch (Noth). There is also a minority of scholars (Höscher, Schulte, Freedman) who have tried to expand the unity to include the historical books. Finally an increasing number of scholars (Fohrer, Rendtorff) favor a return to the terminology of a Pentateuch. In the debate of source criticism uncertainty regarding the criteria for determining literary strands is growing. The uncertainty becomes clear when individual sources of the Pentateuch (the Yahvist, the Elohist, and the Priestly) are discussed. Childs conclusion is that scholars have not reach an agreement regarding the classical source division, and efforts should instead be invested in establishing “a fresh consensus around a new proposal.” The last topic Childs mentions concerning the present state of the critical debate is form criticism and traditio-criticism, whose present debate (1979) regarding the Pentateuch is characterized by the dissolution of the older consensus and a search for new questions and answers (e.g. Alt, von Rad, Noth, Bright, Cross).[2]

The canonical approach to the study of the Pentateuch is described by Childs as a post-critical alternative.[3] Childs does not deny that historical critical method is useable at times, but maintains that to study the history of Hebrew literature is a different undertaking then studying the Pentateuch as canonical scriptures. The first issue that Childs establishes regarding the Pentateuch as canon is clear editorial evidence for a five divisions in the Pentateuchal material. He also sees a close inner relationship of the three middle books (Ex-Num). Regarding Genesis, the book was conceived by the final redactor as the introduction to the story of Israel, beginning with Exodus. The role of Deuteronomy is difficult to determined, but the final editor of the Pentateuch seems to have understood its role as a commentary to the preceding law. Childs’ conclusion is that Pentateuch is a purposeful whole, that established Israel’s understanding of its faith as Torah. These first five books constituted the grounds of Israel’s life under God and how the Mosaic tradition should be understood. Childs adds to this that also the promises of the land are forming the different parts of the Pentateuch into one continuous story. In sum, Childs says, “a theological force which reflects a knowledge of the whole Pentateuch has given it a final order.”[4]

Critical scholarship is virtually unanimous in denying the Mosaic authorship while conservative scholarship defends it. Childs argues however that the question of authorship has not been correctly formulated by either side because the issue has been treated apart from its canonical function. In the Pentateuch Moses’ writing activity is closely tied to the receiving the divine law of Sinai, and throughout the rest of the Old Testament the identification of the divine law with Moses’ writing is continued. There is no clear reference in the Old Testament which connects Genesis to Moses, but in Jewish tradition he became the author when the unity of the entire Pentateuch was assumed. Old Testament canon clearly assigns an important role to Moses, but still much material in the canonical Pentateuch is later than the age of Moses. The Old Testament does not explain this directly, but for Childs it seems clear that the authorship of Moses functioned from a very early period as a norm by which to test the tradition’s authority. Childs says: “The claim of Mosaic authorship therefore functioned theologically within the community to establish the continuity of the faith of successive generations with that which had once been delivered to Moses at Sinai.”[5]

[1] Childs., 112–19.
[2] Ibid., 119–27.
[3] The canonical approach as a post-critical alternative seeks to do two things: 1) To take seriously both the successes and failures in the history of scholarship, and 2) to mount a case for a very different approach to the study of the Pentateuch.
[4] Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 127–32.

[5] Ibid., 132–35.

Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament – 5

Chapter 4: Text and Cano

In chapter four Childs deals with “Text and Canon”. He does so by discussing: 1) The nature of the problem, 2) History of the discipline, 3) The goals of Old Testament textual criticism, 4) Canon och text, 5) Goal and method of a canonical approach to text criticism, 6) Masoretic text and canonical text, 7) The pre-stabilization period in Old testament textual history, 8) The text-critical task. Childs purpose with this chapter is to discuss the problem of text criticism in relation to canon. The discipline of Old Testament criticism raises a whole list of issues in relation to the canonical approach, e.g.: What are the similarities and differences between the literary and textual development of a canonical writing? What are the goals of textual criticism? Is it possible to speak of a canonical Old Testament text in the light of the multiplicity of textual traditions? Why should the Christian church be committed in any way to the authority of the Masoretic text?

Childs reviews the history of modern Old Testament text criticism up to the publication of his Introduktion in 1979. Studies of textual problems extend far back into the ancient period, and include the rabbis and Masoretes, the church fathers and various interpretations in various translations. But these early activity with the text were of different sort and concern than the modern discipline of text criticism. Different textual traditions co-exist and the debate regarding the history of the Old Testament text is ongoing, but Childs points out that in some major areas a consensus have emerged. About the authoritative role of the masoretic text (MT) he says: 1) Behind the apparently monolithic structure of the MT lay a long history of textual development in which the state of the text was in great fluidity; 2) The authoritative role of the proto-Masoretic tradition derived from a variety of historical factors many of which remain unknown; 3) Long after the process of stabilization had begun, a considerable amount of textual fluidity continued to be tolerated within Jewish communities.[1]

What then is the goal of Old Testament textual criticism? Childs explains that this question illustrates the problematic dimension of modern Old Testament text criticism: “The basic issue at stake is a methodological one. On what level is the Old Testament text to be reconstructed? The following approaches answers the question in different ways: 1) The traditional goal (Klein, Bentzen, Harrison): Textual criticism is the discipline that tries to recover the original copy (autograph) of a piece of literature by comparing its available copies, all of which contains mistakes; 2) The comparative philological method (Driver, Winton Thomas, Dahood): The original text is generally assumed to be the goal, but the method only attempts to reconstruct the most likely original text as intended by its author; 3) Reconstruction of the earliest forms of the text which can be determined by critical analysis of existing textual evidence (Barthélemy, Thompson, Sanders); 4) The method that trusts the Masoretic tradition of the Hebrew text from the tenth century AD.[2]

The history of the Old Testament Canon and the text-critical enterprise are according to Childs closely related. He means that a concern for the text emerged first when the formation of the literature reached a final stage of development within the canonical process. The main process of canonization preceded, but still the two processes overlapped (e.g. Qumran, LXX). This relationship has important exegetical implications. Childs admits that to establish a critical text before one begins the task of interpretation has some pragmatic advantages, but points out that such a exegetical method reverses the historical sequence in the canonical formation of the literature. Instead the literary development shaped the major lines of interpretation which textual development sought to preserve. Thus, there is a danger of misunderstanding when one attempts to establish a text without first understanding its canonical function as a whole. Many decisions in the textual development reflect a type of midrashic exegetical activity within the Bible itself.[3]

The goal of a canonical approach to text criticism is the recovery and understanding of the canonical text. The concern is to describe the literature in relationship to the historic Jewish community, and the goal is not the reconstruction of the most original literary form of the book and textual tradition. Childs proposes that the MT is the vehicle both for recovering and for understanding the canonical text of the Old Testament. He justifies this position in the following way: 1) The Hebrew text was clearly a derivative of a fixed canon. Moreover, it was only the Hebrew text that was stabilized; 2) The masoretic community has continued through history as the living vehicle of the whole canon of Hebrew scripture, and various other Jewish communities began to establish their identity on the basis of the Masoretic text; 3) Only the historic Jewish community whose authoritative text was the Masoretic was the tradent of the oral tradition of the vocalization of the Hebrew Bible; 4) From the Jewish perspective the Greek Bible never had an independent integrity which could contest the Hebrew. The Greek was continually brought into conformity with the Hebrew and never the reverse; 5) The early Christian community of the New Testament never developed a doctrine of scripture apart from the Jewish. The church’s use of the Greek and Latin translations of the Old Testament was valid in its historical context, but theologically provides no grounds for calling into question the ultimate authority of the Hebrew text for church and synagogue.[4]

The canonical text is that Hebrew text of the Jewish community which had become stable in the first century AD. This means there was a pre-stabilization period (a wider toleration of different text type) and a post-stabilization period (only minor variations of the one official text). Childs emphasizes here that the MT is not identical with the canonical text, but is only a vehicle for its recovery. There is no extant canonical text and the canonical text of first-century Judaism is now contained within a post-canonical tradition. Since the first century changes has occurred and a distinction between the MT and the canonical text is therefore necessary. To illustrate this Childs mentions that there is not just one MT, but a variety of different Hebrew texts within the Masoretic tradition. There is also a diversity regarding vocalization and accentuation of the MT. The task then is to text critically recover the stabilized canonical text of the first century through the vehicle of the Masoretic traditions. Childs means that this task of recovering a text close to the 1st century MT is attainable with the support by proto-Masoretic texts from Qumran.[5]

To achive the goal of text criticism according to the canonical model one must study two things: the text before its canonical stabilization and the historical dimension of its development. Childs points out that it is of “crucial importance to recognize” the difference between the pre- and poststabilization phases of the text. During the poststabilzation period the differences in the text tradition are minor, while the pre-stabilization period is characterized by the multiplicity of textual traditions. Because of this complexity of diversity and cause it can be misleading to talk about an original text. The selection of MT in the 1st century as the dominant tradition was the culmination of a long recensional history and the grounds for the selection appear to involve the use of texts in religious groups for liturgical and didactic purposes. Childs concludes that MT did not necessarily get its status for being the best or most original Hebrew text, but the choice was “determined often by broad sociological factors and internal religious conflicts, and not by scholarly textual judgments”.[6]

The attempt by text critic to recover the earliest and best text (Urtext), confronts the problem how to determine the superiority of a text. The historical criterion is often, the best text is the earliest and closest to the original. But Childs means that this assumption fails to take seriously the peculiar features of the canonical biblical literature. The textual history shares in the canonical process, which means that the canonical approach does not attempt to establish a “better” text than the MT, but remains with the canonical text. The approach is however “vitally interested” in all the evidence from the pre-stabilization period, with the aim to understand the canonical text better (e.g. intentional changes). Also, an important part of canonical text criticism is to evaluate the effect of the Hebrew text on its reader within the context of the biblical tradition. Childs argues that the methods of Old Testament text crticism fail in many respects to understand the nature of Hebrew scripture. But he also says that they can serve important roles within the canonical approach, if correctly applied. The methodological issue regarding text and canon is hermeneutical and of great importance for determined how to go by the entire exegetical task.[7]

[1] Childs, 89–92.
[2] Ibid., 92–94.
[3] Ibid., 94–96.
Ibid., 96–99.
Ibid., 100–01.
Ibid., 101–03.
Ibid., 103–06.

Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament – 4

Chapter 3: Canon and Criticism

In the third chapter Childs discusses “Canon and Criticism” under six subheadings: 1) Exegesis in a Canonical Context, 2) The Canonical Approach Contrasted with Others, 3) The Final Form of the Text and its Prehistory, 4) The Canonical Process and the Shaping of Scripture, 5) Scripture and Tradition, 6) Canon and Interpretation. The purpose of the chapter is to describe an approach that will attempt to overcome the methodological problems regarding the canon described by Childs in chapter 2. To fulfill this purpose Childs will “relate the canonical form of the Old Testament to the complex history of the literature’s formation.” Childs criticizes the historical critical method in the way it is dealing with the canonical literature of the Old Testament, but emphasizes also that the canonical approach it not a non-historical reading of the Bible. He says: “The whole point of emphasizing the canon is to stress the historical nature of the biblical witness.” [1]

When doing exegesis in a canonical context it is essential to maintain a theological relationship between the people of the Old Covenant and of the New – Childs means that the common canon of the Hebrew Scriptures is the basis for serious relationship. However in the third chapter Childs limits himself to the Hebrew Scriptures, and comes back to the broader issue of exegesis in the final chapter of the book. After having set these parameters, Childs explains that the major task of a canonical analysis of the Hebrew Bible is a descriptive one that focuses its attention on the final form of the text itself. Canonical analysis treats the biblical literature in its own integrity and studies the features of these texts (as records of God’s revelation to his people along with Israel’s response) in relation to their theological and religious usage within the historical community of ancient Israel. The canonical method is thus not an attempt to apply exterior dogmatic categories on the biblical text, but to work within the interpretative structure which the biblical text has received from those who formed and used it as sacred scripture.[2]

The crucial methodological issues concerning the canonical approach are outlined by contrasting it with other critical methods. Childs explains that the canonical study shares with several other literary critical methods the concern to do justice to the integrity of the text itself, but differs by interpreting the biblical text in relation to a community of faith and practice: “The canonical approach is concerned to understand the nature of the theological shape of the text rather than to recover an original literary or aesthetic unity.” The canonical method differs also sharply from the “kerygmatic exegesis”[3] in the sense that a theological point must not be related to an original intention in a reconstructed historical context, but rather to its function in the final form of the biblical text. The canonical study is also different from the traditio-critical approach in the way it evaluates the history of the text’s formation. Canonical study assumes the normative status of the final form of the text, while the traditio-historical criticism tries to recover the historical growth of the text. Childs feels that contrasting approaches are missing the mark and do not fully understand the canonical proposal.[4]

The canonical approach insists upon the final form of the Scripture, which reflects a history of encounter between God and Israel. The final form of the text alone bears witness to the full history of revelation. The witness of the experience with God lies not in the recovery of the historical process. It is only in the final form of the biblical text that the full effect of this revelatory history can be perceived. However, early stages in the development of the biblical text are important, thus to take the canon seriously also means to take the stages of formation seriously. The early stages aid in understanding of the interpreted text, and do not function independently of it. But Childs means that it is still the final form of the text that hermeneutically establishes the peculiar profile of a passage, and any method (e.g. Heilsgeschichte, the historical critical method or philosophical hermeneutics) which seeks to shift the canonical ordering must be resisted.[5]

The Hebrew canon was formed during a long period (beginning in the pre-exilic period) of time as an integral part of the literary process. Basic to this canonical process is that those responsible (editors [Hezekiah’s court], religious groups [Deuteronomic party of Jerusalem], political parties) for the editing of the text did their best to obscure their own identity. The consequence is that the actual process, and the original sociological and historical differences within the nation of Israel, was lost. Thus Israel emerged as a religious community with its identity in the sacred Scripture. One motivation behind the canonical process is that tradition from the past was transmitted in such a way that it would be authoritative and accessible to all future generations of Israel (Deut. 31:9ff.; Ex. 12:14, 26ff). This transmission was not merely a passive channeling of material from one generation to another, but reflects an active hermeneutic that shaped both the oral and written traditions, so that the tradition would not be fixed it in the past, but religiously accessible to future generations. Thus, Childs points out that because the historical critical method has disregarded the canonical shaping, it has found itself unable to bridge the gap between the past and the present. When “decanonizing” the biblical text the interpreter has difficulty applying it to the modern religious context.[6]

Childs explains that one of the most difficult problems of the canonical approach “involves understanding the relationship between the divine initiative in creating Israel’s Scripture and the human response in receiving and transmitting the authoritative Word.” If the active human participation is a necessary feature for correctly understand the text, what then is the relationship between the divine and human of the Bible, between scripture and tradition? Childs concludes, after having briefly reviewed the long and heated controversy (Roman Catholic vs. Protestants) within Christian theology, that “the canonical method is not tied to one narrowly conceived dogmatic stance respecting the problem of scripture and tradition. The approach seeks to work descriptively within a broad theological framework and is open to a variety of different theological formulations.” However, Childs explains that the canonical method runs counter to two theological positions: 1) the position that stresses the divine initiative and rules out the human response to the divine word as theologically significant, and 2) the position that understands the formation of the Bible as purely human (e.g. Israel’s search for self-identity).[7]

The approach that Childs have undertaken has been described as “canonical criticism”. Childs himself is not satisfied with this term, because that turns the canonical approach into another historical critical technique. Rather, Childs wants to establish a stance from which the Bible can be read as sacred scripture. Negatively this means a relativization of the historical critical method, and positively it challenges the interpreter to look at the biblical text in its received form and to discern its function for an community of faith. The canonical shaping draws the boundaries within which the exegetical task is to be carried out. The effect is two fold: 1) The canonical method sets limits on the exegetical task by taking seriously the traditional parameters; 2) The method liberates from the stifling effect of academic scholasticism. In sum, Childs says, “the canon establishes a platform from which exegesis is launched rather than a barrier by which creative activity is restrained.”[8]

[1] Ibid., 71.
[2] Ibid., 72–74.
[3] This method attempted to discover the central intention of a writer, usually by means of a formulae or themes, which intention was then linked to a reconstruction of a historical situation which allegedly evoked that given response.
[4] Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 74–75.
[5] Ibid., 75–77.
[6] Ibid., 77–79.
[7] Ibid., 80–82
[8] Ibid., 82–83.

Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament – 3

Chapter 2: The Problem of the Canon

In the second chapter Childs deals with “The Problem of the Canon” from seven perspectives: 1) Terminology; 2) The Traditional View of the Canon and its Demise; 3) The Nineteenth-century Historical Consensus and its Erosion; 4) The Search for a New Consensus; 5) A New Attempt at Understanding Canon; 6) The Relation between the Literary and Canonical Histories; 7) A Sketch of the Development of the Hebrew Canon.

Childs begins this chapter with the question: “What is meant by ‘the canon’? However, the real problem with defining this term is not settled by philological evidence. History of interpretation shows how different the concepts of canon have been over the centuries and Childs states that the reason for the present confusion over the problem of the canon is because of the failure to reach an agreement regarding the terminology.[1]

Old Testament itself does not directly explain when and how the history of canonization took place. Still various Jewish traditions developed during the Hellenistic period that was accepted by both Jews and Christians until seventeenth century. Elias Levita developed the theory that it was men of the Great Synagogue under Ezra who established the canon of the Hebrew Bible and divided it into three parts. This theory was accepted by Jews and Christians until the end of nineteenth century. The traditional viewpoints varied but they had in common an underlying assumption of an unbroken continuity between writing and collection authoritative scriptures until the last book was written and the canon was closed. This traditional understanding of the canon eventfully collapsed because of attacks from critical research, which questioned the accuracy of the traditional concept of the canon’s history.[2]

This new critical theories of the canon from a strictly historical perspective (Eichhorn, Corrodi, de Wette, and others) failed however to achieve wide consensus, because of the disagreement over the history of the literature. But the growing dominance of Wellhausen’s reconstruction of Israel’s history and literature developed a new consensus regarding the history of the canon. Therefore the classic literary critical construction of the formation of the canon continued, with some modification, to be represented in Introductions (Pfeiffer, Bentzen, and Eissfeldt).[3]

This nineteenth-century classic reconstruction of the history of the canon has however according to Childs in turn seriously eroded in several ways: 1) Most of the historical points upon which the theory was built on seem no longer able to bear the weight placed upon them; 2) The assumption that the Masoretic division of a tripartite canon was the original order reflecting three historical stages, and that the Septuagint’s order was a later adjustment, has been questioned; 3) The recovery of a sense of oral tradition which criticized the literary critical school for identifying the age of the material within a book with its literary fixation.[4]

Because of this erosion in the classic critical reconstruction new attempts was made in an effort to form a new synthesis. The characteristics of these efforts are sketched out by Childs by referring to five scholars who represents five views of the development of the Old Testament Canon. They are G. Hölscher, David Noel Freedman, Z. Leiman, M. G. Kline and A. Sanders. Childs summarizes his analysis of these efforts by explaining that the task of assessing the role of the canon in understanding the Old Testament has proven to be an enormously difficult problem. Its terminology, history, and function remain highly controversial. Childs thus concludes that up to the point of the publishing of his own Introduction “no fully satisfactory new interpretation has been able to achieve a consensus”.[5]

Childs feels it is now time to formulate a new definition of the term canon. He begins with the criteria of such a definition: 1) It has to do justice to all the dimensions of the issue and be consistent in application; 2) It has to contain both a historical and theological dimension of process and reflection; 3) It has to avoid a too sharp separation between the authority of writing and its canonization. Thus, according to Childs, the term canon has both a historical and theological dimension, which involved a series of decisions that shaped the books. It involved a “profoundly hermeneutical activity” that was built into the structure of the canonical text. This activity consisted of Israel’s response too and understanding of divine scripture. The heart of this process is the transmission and ordering of “the authoritative tradition in a form which was compatible to function as scripture for a generation which had not participated in the original events of revelation.”[6]

To further understand the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures one has to study its history of literary development, which shares in general many features with Near Eastern literature. In this discussion Childs is critical too how different scholars have tried to identify the literary and canonical histories. He means that these two historical processes are not to be identified, but they belong together. What follows are Childs’ general observations regarding the relationship: 1) The development of Hebrew literature involved a much broader history than the history of the canon’s development; 2) There were periods in the history of Israel in which the canonical history was largely subsumed under the history of the literature’s development; 3) Because of the lack of historical evidence, it is extremely difficult to determine the motivations involved in the canonical process. Childs conclusion concerning the relationship is: “Caution must be exercised not to hypothesize the history of the literature’s growth in such a way as to eliminate a priori the religious dimensions associated with the function of the canon.[7]

Childs says that Deut. 31:24ff records an early stage in the growth of the canon of the Law. This “Deuteronomic description” has a close relationship with earlier tradition. Concerning the canonical history of the Prophets, scholarly opinions differ because of insufficient evidence. Childs criticizes different positions regarding the canon of the Prophets, and points to different signs of canonical development from both the pre- and post-exilic period. Also, according to Childs, there are signs of mutual influence between the Law and the Prophets, which shows that the canonical process of these two sections was not isolated from each other. The evidence regarding the Writings is sparse and contested. But Childs means that in spite of lack of evidence for dating and closing the third section, the stabilization of the Hebrew text by the end of the first century AD point to a rather closed Hebrew canon by the beginning of the Christian era. Finally, the canonization process involved a selection of a limited number of books from a much larger group of literature. The motivation behind this narrowing process is much debated, but Childs does not attribute this process to an anti-Christian move.[8]

Childs concludes so far that 1) there was a genuine historical development involved in the formation of the canon, and 2) the available historical evidence allows for only a bare skeleton of this development. The implications drawn from this is that “the history of the canonical process does not seem to be an avenue through which one can greatly illuminate the present canonical text.” Childs thus wonders if there is any way out of this deadlock.[9]

[1] Ibid., 49–51.
[2] Ibid., 51
[3] Ibid., 52.
[4] Ibid., 52
[5] Ibid., 54–57.
Ibid., 57–60.
[7] Ibid., 60–62.
[8] I
bid., 62–67.
Ibid., 67–68.

Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament – 2

Chapter 1: The Discipline of Old Testament Introduction

Childs presents the “The Discipline of Old Testament Introduction” in chapter 1 by discussing this topic under the following subheadings: 1. The History of the Discipline, 2. A Critique of the Historical Critical Introduction and 3. Old Testament Introduction and the Canon. The review of “The History of the Discipline” is brief. Childs gives two reasons for this: 1. The history has already been frequently reviewed in various Introductions, monographs and encyclopaedia articles; 2. The major critical issue is how to interpret this history.

Childs emphasizes that “the real point of controversy is how one evaluates this history” [of Old testament Introduction]: a journey from ignorance and error to an era of freedom measured only by critical thinking, or a growth in unbelief where the truth of the Bible was sacrificed on the altar of human wisdom and pride. Childs means that both evaluations have missed the mark. On the one hand it is impossible to deny the enormous gains that have been achieved in the critical study of the Old Testament. On the other hand Childs questions seriously “the form of the critical Introduction as an adequate approach to the literature it seeks to illuminate.” There are several reasons for this critique: 1) A great gap between the critically reconstructed literature and the actual canonical text has emerged; 2) the critical Introduction usually fails to understand the special dimensions of Israel’s religious literature by disregarding the function of canonical literature; 3) The usual historical critical Introduction has failed to relate the nature of the literature correctly to the community which treasure it as Scripture. This suggests that the issue is the problem of the canon – “how one understands the nature of the Old testament in relation to its authority for the community of faith and practice which shaped and preserved it.”[1]

To find support for his argument, Childs refers to the history of the discipline from the perspective of the canon. When the early Christian church inherited the Jewish scriptures it was assumed that these writings functioned authoritatively. The question was not if Jewish scriptures were still canonical, but if the Scriptures supported the claims of Jesus Christ. Soon the first major challenge to the continuity of scripture and Church came (Marcion) and the response to this attack (Irenaeus, Tertullian, and later Augustine) points out several strengths to the Christian understanding of canon: 1) It allowed the church to receive these writings as a divine word; 2) Thus, an inclusive principle was followed which allowed the full diversity of the biblical writings to be maintained; 3) A dynamic relationship, testified to in the church’s liturgy, was established between scripture, its author (God), and its addressee (the church). But there were also weaknesses in the early church’s understanding of canon: 1) The early church was not able to hear the Old Testament on its own terms, but increasingly the canonical text was subjected to the dominance of ecclesiastical tradition (that New testament had superseded the Old); 2) The religious and political development of the previous three centuries had effected a bitter alienation between the synagogue and the church and had struck at the heart of a canonical understanding of the scripture which related the sacred writings of the Jews to a living community of faith.[2]

Childs explains that a breakdown of Old Testament as canon continued during the medieval period and the impact of the Renaissance and Reformation on the concept of canon was profound and far-reaching. During the sixteenth century the problem of the authority of the biblical canon became a topic of polemics that threatened to separate Bible from church, which led in the direction of setting up a “canon within the canon”. The unity of the canon in the exegesis was threatened. The rise of the historical critical school in the post-Reformation period then witnessed the collapse of the traditional concept of canon (see Cappellus, Semler, Simon). By the nineteenth century the traditional form of the Old Testament discipline had been radically reshaped by the newer methodology (e.g. text criticism).[3]

Childs concludes that the effect of this development was that those scholars who pursued historical criticism of the Old Testament no longer found a significant place for the canon. And those scholars who retained a concept of the canon were unable to find a significant role for historical criticism. This polarity lies at the centre of the problem of the discipline of Old Testament Introduction. Childs continues by saying that the crucial task is to rethink the problem of Introduction in such a way as to overcome this tension between the canon and criticism.[4]

[1] Ibid., 39–41.
[2] Ibid., 41–43.
[3] Ibid., 43–45.
[4] Ibid., 45.

Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament – 1

I mina doktorandstudier vid Åbo Akademi ingår en rad läskurser, som jag genomför med att skriva kritiska bokreferat på litteratur jag måste läsa. Jag har nu bestämt mig för att här på min blogg presentera dessa bokreferat, som är på engelska då jag skriver på detta språk i mitt doktorandarbete. Varför gör jag detta? Svaret är enkelt, för att sprida kunskap.

Jag startar ut med ett bokreferat på Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. Jag kommer enbart att presentera de fyra första kapitlen plus en egen kommentar i slutet (sex inlägg inklusive detta), då hela boken är 688 sidor lång. Dessa kapitel är dock viktiga då Childs där presenterar och förklarar sin canonical approach. Observera, Childs åsikter och syn på Gamla testamentet är naturligtvis nödvändigtvis inte mina egna.


Biographical information:

Childs, Brevard S. Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979.

Presentation of the author
Brevard S. Childs is Sterling Professor of Divinity and Fellow of Davenport College, The Divinity School, Yale University. He has authored well known works such as The Book of Exodus (1974), Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (1985), Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments(1992) and Isaiah (2001).

Presentation of the book
The background to the book Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture is described by Childs as a process, where he began to realize that there was a need for a new foundation for the biblical discipline. Something was wrong with the whole concept of the study of the Bible. He explains that “the relation between the historical critical study of the Bible and its theological use as religious literature within a community of faith and practice needs to be completely rethought”.
[1] Thus, a different model is presented in this introduction that “seeks to describe the form and function of the Hebrew Bible in its role as sacred scripture for Israel.[2]

Childs argues that biblical literature has not been fully understood because its role as religious literature has not been correctly analysed. Therefore his approach seeks to describe the canonical literature of the Hebrew Bible, where the “canonical” is the context from which the literature is being understood – to hear the biblical text in that context (the collection and transmission) as scripture. Childs wants to establish a proper context from which to read the biblical literature.

Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture is divided into six parts. The first part contains four chapters that introduces and explains Childs’ model that seeks to describes the Hebrew Bible as Israel’s Holy Scripture. The first chapter describes the “The Discipline of Old Testament Introduction” and the next three chapters discusses different aspects of the biblical canon and its relationship to biblical criticism and the text itself. In part 2 to 5 Childs applies theologically and hermeneutically his model on each book of the Old Testament. He follows the Hebrew canon: The Pentateuch (part 2), The Former Prophets (part 3), The Latter Prophets (part 4) and the Writings (part 5). Each chapter in these parts has, with some exceptions, the following structure: 1. Historical Critical Problems, 2. The Canonical Shape of [biblical book], 3. Theological and Hermeneutical Implications. Finally in part 6 Childs concludes this massive work of 688 pages (including index of authors) with the theme “The Hebrew Scripture and the Christian Bible”.

The first impression of the book is that its content is very clear and logically structured, which makes it fairly easy for the reader to follow Child’s general idea. All the chapters in the book begins with an extensive bibliography (chap. 1-4, 44) plus a list of commentaries (chap. 5-43) up to 1979 when the book was published.

[1] Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979), 15.
[2] Ibid., 16.