Review of THE WORD LEAPS THE GAP (FS for Richard Hays)

I have tried to commit to reading the entire 664 pages of the Festschrift for Richard Hays entitled The Word Leaps the Gap (Eerdmans, 2008; eds. J.R. Wagner, C.K. Rowe and A.K. Grieb).  Truth be told, I just can’t get through it.  The volume boasts a whopping 32 chapters and world-reknowned contributors such as N.T. Wright, Jimmy Dunn, Beverly Gaventa, Markus Bockmuehl, Joel Marcus, Luke T. Johnson, and many more.  There are certainly attractive features here that make any NT researcher drool.  But, the drawback is information overload.  Clearly the title of the volume aims at Hays’ ongoing interest in literary criticism (esp. intertextuality) and hermenuetics (and ethics?).  But, in terms of scope in this volume, the sky appears to be the limit.  Only a handful of essays seem like a reflection on and expansion of Hays’ actual work or specific interests.  Therefore, I will focus (briefly) on some of the essays that are very close to Hays’ life projects.

I have posted before on Hauerwas’ self-reflective essay ‘Why “The Way the Words Run” Matters: Reflections on Becoming a “Major Biblical Scholar”‘ (ch 1).  This is a helpful discussion because it demontrates how the diving walls between theologians and biblical scholars are coming down, but also reveals how the two groups are still having trouble dialoguing.  I was not convinced by Hauerwas’ personal defense and repudiation of the historical-critical method, but it is equally interesting how Hays is set up as a traditionalist when he now is accused by Biblical scholars of denying a one-meaning-for-every-text-as-determined-by-the-original-author approach (which is no secret in Hays’ work).

Joel Green’s ‘”In Our Own Language”: Pentecost, Babel, and the Shaping of Christian Community in Acts 2:1-13′ is also a highly profitable piece, though Hays has not really done much on Acts.  But, in terms of intertextuality and biblical theology, Green makes some compelling arguments for how Pentecost does point to a certain kind of unity among humanity, but not in the way that scholars and preachers have assumed (vis-a-vis the so-called ‘reversal’ of the confusion of language as Babel).  This is, in some ways, a politically-driven essays (which seems to poke against imperialistic attitudes of homogenozing and totalizing rule).  Both N.T. Wright and Hays, I think, would find such an approach profitable.  I think that, though this was a captivating essay, reading counter-imperialism into the New Testament can be overdone.

I have also blogged about E.P. Sanders’ ‘Did Paul’s Theology Develop’ essay which also flows into Hays’ work on Paul’s theology.  Many scholar-friends of mine have commented that we have not seen a substantial work from Sanders in a while.  This, I think, will mollify some who have been longing for more.  Sanders explains that development in theology does not mean that Paul had to be ‘wrong’ earlier in life and found his way to a more correct theology.  Sanders thinks that it works more like maturity, where views were refined and honed, rather than ‘fixed’.  Also, he points out how unusual it would be for such an early ‘ad-hoc’ sort of theologian (who was first and foremost an apostle) to have worked out some sort of ‘systematic’ theology.  Sanders claims that Paul may be coherent without being systematic.  And coherence is very worthwhile.  I am sad that some of my seminary profs made me think Sanders is some kind of liberal heretic.  I have enjoyed much of what I have read (in my phd seminar and in doctoral research) on Paul.

James Dunn did not shy away from raising a subject that he and Hays have gone ’round and ’round on – pistis Christou.  This latest contribution by Dunn, ‘EK PISTEOS: A Key to the Meaning of PISTIS CHRISTOU’, is a small, but strong piece of evidence for the object reading.  Essentially, Dunn argues that, given the pattern of how Paul tends to use pistis (as in ek pisteos), it is hard to see how one is expected to switch to another meaning for pistis christou.  I don’t think it has to be that easy (as Dunn makes it seem), but Dunn has a reasonable point.  I think that Hays’ subject reading is highly attractive, but more for its theology than for how the text (grammatically/syntactically/in the history of interpretation) compels the reader to see this meaning.  So far, I think Francis Watson has been the one to convince me of the objective reading (see his updated Paul, Jews, and Gentiles, Eerdmans, 2007).

Markus Bockmuehl’s ‘The Conversion of Desire in St. Paul’s Hermeneutics’ also interacts quite directly with Hays work – building on (and challenging) Hays’ own common formulation ‘conversion of imagination’.  Bockmuehl likes where is going with this phrase, the shaping of social reality and identity through the Word, but finds the focus on ‘imagination’ a bit anachronistic.  Instead, Bockmuehl considers, just briefly, the more common interest (at least lexically) that Paul has in desire – something much discussed by ancient philosophers (whereas ‘imagination’ was not spoken of in the positive way).  There is much to ponder here, though thematically I think Hays’ formulation is better.

Honorable mention should go to the essays by

Doug Campbell – picking up an ‘echo’ in Romans and exploring it.

Beverly Gaventa – looking at the Scriptural catena in Romans 3.10-18; her essay marks such eloquent prose.

John Barclay – on grace, and the manna background of 2 Cor 8.1-15.  Hays interest in community is picked up by Barclay.

N.T. Wright – on faith as a virtue.

In final analysis, this was a fun book to read, but overall it was too broad in terms of the topics covered.  If they limited themselves to intertextuality, ethics, and ‘theological intepretation’, it may have reined in the discussion more (or perhaps still too broad).  I don’t see this every becoming a ‘must-read’ kind of book, but few Festschriften are.  However, the ones for Fee (on Romans), Dunn (on the Holy Spirit), and for Larry Hurtado/Alan Segal (on christology and monotheism + a little more) are all excellent cutting edge discussions of their specific areas.  This is especially helpful when a number of essays are methodologically driven (such as the FS for Hurtado) or on subjects rarely discussed in detail (such as many essays in Dunn’s FS).  I am happy to own Hays’ FS, but largely because I admire Richard Hays as a biblical scholar.  Indeed, I have never seen so many world-class NT scholars chomp at the bit to celebrate another scholar’s achievements and dreams.  Blessings to you, Richard, as these next years take you deep into the echoes of Scripture in the Gospels.  A second FS may still await you!

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6 thoughts on “Review of THE WORD LEAPS THE GAP (FS for Richard Hays)

  1. I thought the work by Christopher Hays was interesting, on whether and to what extent RBH’s method works in OT studies.

  2. Israel’s God and Rebecca’s children christology and community in early Judaism and Christianity : essays in honor of Larry W. Hurtado and Alan F. Segal
    by David B Capes; Larry W Hurtado; Alan F Segal;
    Publisher: Waco, Tex. : Baylor University Press, ©2007.

  3. Would Dunn’s argument with Hays on pistis Christou be void if The pistis word group was understood having a range of meaning that falls between our English “Loyalty” and “Loyal- Acknowledgement”?

  4. […] April 29, 2009 in Book Reviews: Turning Pages with an opinion I just saw over at Michael Bird’s blog that Richard B. Hay’s has a festschrift out with a veritable who’s who in intertextual studies contributing including Joel Green, Gary Anderson, John M.G. Barclay, and more. The book is called “The Word Leaps the Gap.” Here’s a list of a few brief reviews on the collection of essays: Michael Birds thoughts; and Nijay Gupta thoughts. […]

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