“Sectarian” Traditions of the Second Temple Period

In a previous post, I commented on the importance of the Old Testament pseudepigrapha for 21st century Christians and Jews. Click here to read the original post.

As I was reading through The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible of Theology, Volume I (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015), S. Dean McBride Jr. notes, during his discussion of Exodus, an important shift necessary in biblical studies:

From this new perspective [of multiple redactions of the Hebrew Bible] it has become much more difficult to make a sharp distinction between early “biblical” texts of Exodus and derivative literature such as the pseudepigraphical book of Jubilees and the Qumran Temple Scroll. The latter works, which provide precedents for the interpretative paraphrases of scripture found only a little later in the writings of Philo of Alexandria and Josephus, among others, can no longer be marginalized as merely sectarian or of peripheral significance in the development of classical Jewish though.

In other words, the breadth of Jewish literature during the Second Temple Period should be taken into consideration to properly trace the developments of biblical theology and the redactions of Hebrew Bible texts, or edits that have formed the bible people generally read in the 21st century. And, more importantly, writings should not be dismissed as insignificant due to their “sectarian” nature. No longer should Pseudepigraphal traditions be considered “sectarian”. People who value the Hebrew Bible, whether Jew or Christian, must consider this shift because it adds a new layer of depth and insight to their respective holy books. The question, though, is how this may be accomplished.

To use the basic argument of Benjamin Sommer in Revelation and Authority (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015), these layers must also be considered part of Jewish interpretation and traditions, or Christian. So rather than their dismissal, they should be embraced in order to demonstrate how different people in different times adjusted theological thrusts and goals to fit their own socio-political context. After all, the same thing is done for Bible believers in the 21st century.

But this change must first fully shift within the academic world, a shift with which I struggle. Only when the academy shifts its thinking completely will lay persons begin to see that the shift is not the demise of their Truth in the Hebrew Bible but an addition to the depth of Truth within the Hebrew Bible.

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The Essence of Exegesis: A Review and Response To Gordon Fee’s Hermeneutic

In his articles To What End Exegesis (1988) and Exegesis and Spirituality (2000), Gordon Fee explores how spirituality is an important aspect of exegesis. His article To What End Exegesis sets the framework for Exegesis and Spirituality. The 1988 article is essentially arguing for a hermeneutic that embraces the spiritual aim of Scripture, while the 2000 article explore the intermingling between spirituality and exegesis amidst the interpretative process.

In To What End Exegesis, Fee begins by pointing out that the academy psyche of a neutral approach is not viable because it is not how the texts themselves were written; thus, Scripture should be read as Spiritual from beginning to end, as that is the intention of the text . He demonstrates this through brief exegesis of Philippians 4:10-20, drawing out the importance of the doxology and response expected by the Philippians. The audience was the Church, and therefore the ones who interpret Scripture should be the Church. Published in 2000, Fee continues this exegetical tradition by examining the subject more closely: what “is the interface between exegesis and spirituality, between the historical exercise of digging out the original intent of the text and the experience of hearing the text in the present in terms of both its presupposed and intentional spirituality” (4, Exegesis and Spirituality). As in the 1988 article, spirituality is the ultimate goal of Scripture. So, he begins by reviewing the concepts from his 1988 article; however, his review is more geared towards explaining the worldview of Christianity in order to validate the interface between spirituality and exegesis. His interface takes place in that the exegetical goal is to understand the authorial intent, spirituality. Yet, as a traditional believing scholar, he holds Scripture in high regard, reflected in his statement that exegesis of Scripture is for believers and should be read as a means to spirituality. Through a brief case study, he exemplifies how Paul’s intention for the Philippians was that his spirituality would result in producing greater spirituality in Philippi. Thus, spirituality and history is one discipline that requires us to be good students of the Word and pray-ers (15, Exegesis and Spirituality).

Between the 1988 and 2000, there are 2 major developments: audience and spirituality. Both of these developments are connected because the audience changes how spirituality is represented. In To What End Exegesis, Fee does not explain the a priori of Scripture as God’s word. It is assumed. Additionally, the 1988 article is more focused on the spiritual aspects of exegesis than the interface between exegesis and spirituality, an interface which ultimately unites the two. Thus, rather than simply explaining how the aim of exegesis is spirituality, Fee more aggressively ties the two together inseparably in order to explain it to a broader audience. The development of the united spirituality and exegesis is also clear through how he even uses the term “spirituality”. In To What End Exegesis, “spirituality” is capitalized, giving it a sense of holiness. This is made clear by his statement that “Spirituality is defined altogether in terms of the Spirit of God” (80, To What End Exegesis). In Exegesis and Spirituality, Fee reviews his view of spirituality in more historical terms. That is not to say they are not theological; rather, they communicate the theological through historical scholarly language, not the theological through theological language. Through both 1988 and 2000, Fee maintains a relatively consistent view of spirituality and exegesis. However, his purpose and audience force him to adjust his language in order to present more effectively.

While it is respectable that he observes the goal of the text and the role of the Church, it is unfortunate that he does not address the issue of worldviews. From a Christian worldview, one with much diversity, his explanation is profound and effective for interpreting within the Church context. Yet, criticism from the secular world often stems from criticism of the spirituality, or hopes to understand a more universal spirituality not limited to the Church. By missing this goal of some scholars, Fee is too narrow in his hermeneutic and fails to acknowledge the vastness of worldviews from scholars and lay people. While his regard for the relationship between spirituality and exegesis is respectable, and often times agreeable, a Christian worldview should be willing and able to face the secular approach to Scripture. Christian scholars should know how to dialogue with secular scholars, meaning that they speak the language and traditions of the secular rather than the sacred. In arguing for biblical studies as a secular discipline, protestant scholar Ron Simkins notes that “faith may shape the kind of questions the scholar brings to his subject matter; it may even shape the manner in which the subject matter is treated, but it should not determine the results of the scholarship” (11, Biblical Studies as a Secular Discipline). While a completely inclusive biblical hermeneutic is out of question, the exclusive hermeneutic of Fee, which limits interpretation to the Church, creates a system in which there is no question or critique of Scripture. To begin and end with spirituality as the primary goal comes dangerously close to what Simkins opposes. “Faith that demands certain results or is expressed through inviolable propositions is both a distortion of faith and contrary to scholarship” (11, Biblical Studies as a Secular Discipline).

As a method, Fee’s approach is viable. But it is viable as one amidst a plethora of hermeneutics, which should be recognized. Biblical interpretation should critique the text, not solely seek spirituality. After all, if God’s word is truly inspired, it should stand up to secular criticism and approach. While faith demands an a priori of trust, there should be a willingness to address the faults of the text. Christian faith is not in the Bible, but God. Because Christianity is, in some sense, a human movement encompassing Christian traditions over 2000 years, that movement should not have absolute and unquestioning loyalty, as it easily pre-determines the exegetical results.

Works Cited

Simkins, Ron. “Biblical Studies as a Secular Discipline: The Role of Faith and Theology.” Journal of Religion & Society 13 (2011): pg. 1-17. Journal of Religions and Society. Creighton University, 2011. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.