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Septuagint Figura: Assessing the Contribution of Richard B. Hays

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 February 2017

Thomas J. Millay*
Affiliation:
Department of Religion, Baylor University, Waco, Texas 76798, USATom_Millay@baylor.edu

Abstract

This article offers a brief engagement with Richard B. Hays's 2014 book Reading Backwards, with occasional reference to its 2016 successor, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. Beginning with a genealogy of Hays's notion of figural exegesis, the article calls attention to the bold theological claims that cash out his understanding of figural exegesis. It then proceeds to a critical dialogue that questions Hays' identification of his understanding of figural exegesis with that of the church fathers. Irenaeus and John David Dawson are drawn upon to argue for a significant difference between ancient practice and the post-critical hermeneutics evinced throughout Reading Backwards. The two approaches are by no means as easily drawn together as Hays seems to suggest, and the difference has significant implications for understanding the role God might play in how we relate the Old Testament to the New.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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References

1 Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014)Google Scholar. Further references to this text will be included parenthetically in the body of the paper. I originally wrote this essay before the publication of the larger version of Hays’ figural project, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016)Google Scholar. My continuing use of the earlier text is justified by the fact that the longer volume is by no means a development or revision of its predecessor. Instead, as Hays insists, Reading Backwards is simply a condensation of the larger text, the smaller text being what Hays was able to polish and publish while acting as Dean of Duke Divinity School (Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, p. xv). On account of this continuity, anything said about essential matters in Reading Backwards applies equally well to Echoes of Scripture. The brevity of the earlier volume is also well-suited to concise assessment, which is my goal here. There is, however, one matter of significant addition in the Echoes volume that exceeds simply the treatment of more scriptural matters, which I address towards the end of this article.

2 Hays, Echoes of Scripture, pp. 357–8, 366.

3 The locus classicus, which Hays cites in Reading Backwards, p. 2, can be found in Auerbach, Erich, Mimesis (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), p. 73 Google Scholar. This passage from Mimesis takes up and extends the insights gained in ‘Figura’; see especially Time, History, and Literature: Selected Essays of Erich Auerbach, ed. Porter, James I., trans. Newman, Jane O. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), pp. 7883, on TertullianGoogle Scholar.

4 See Auerbach, Time, History, and Literature, p. 91.

5 Ibid., p. 79: ‘Figura is something real and historical that represents and proclaims in advance something else that is also real and historical.’

6 Frei, Hans, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p. 33 Google Scholar; cited by Hays, Reading Backwards, p. 3.

7 See the parallel of this passage in Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, p. 9.

8 Auerbach, Time, History, and Literature, p. 84.

9 Dawson, John David, Christian Figural Reading and the Fashioning of Identity (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001), passim CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 Sedulius, Eleg. 1.87; cited in Auerbach, Time, History, and Literature, p. 234. Perhaps Sedulius is a little too late to be considered an early church father, but I do not think this exquisitely rendered aphorism is in discontinuity with tendencies in earlier patristic literature. At any rate, Hays does not provide a cutoff date for whom he considers to be an early church father.

11 Dawson, Christian Figural Reading, p. 6.

12 Ibid., p. 85.

13 At least, it is nowhere present in Reading Backwards. I will turn in a moment to its strange appearance in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels.

14 See Dawson, Christian Figural Reading, p. 216.

15 I am grateful to Beverly Roberts Gaventa and Karen H. Jobes for pressing me to make this point. Furthermore, I am indebted to Beverly Gaventa's Fall 2014 New Testament Theology class and its members for extensive discussion of these issues.

16 Irenaeus, , On the Apostolic Preaching, trans. Behr, John (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1997), ch. 46, p. 70 Google Scholar. In the context of the passage as a whole, it is clear that Jesus is the Word of God, which I have indicated in brackets.

17 My thanks are due to Gregory Barnhill for the phrasing of this sentence.

18 On the assumptions of ancient interpreters, see Kugel, James L., How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now (New York: Free Press, 2007), pp. 1417 Google Scholar; on the different assumptions of modern interpreters, see pp. 24ff., 662ff. My thanks are due to Peter W. Martens for pointing me to this valuable overview.

19 Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, p. 359; for more on God-as-agent, cf. p. 364.

20 Ibid.; cf. p. 440, n.10.

21 See the discussion above.

22 Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, p. 359.

23 On time and its reshaping within the realm of figural exegesis, see the meditations of Radner, Ephraim in Time and the Word: Figural Reading of the Christian Scriptures (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2016), pp. 83110 Google Scholar.

24 That is, unless Hays holds that we as human beings are simply unable to perceive the predictive quality of events. He makes no argument to this effect, however, preferring to say that the original text cannot be predictive because its human author did not intend it to be so.

25 Especially Irenaeus, whose exegesis has its own literary sophistications, as demonstrated by Ayres, Lewis in ‘Irenaeus vs. the Valentinians: Toward a Rethinking of Patristic Exegetical Origins’, Journal of Early Christian Studies 23/2 (Summer 2015), pp. 153–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26 My thinking here has been influenced by Kierkegaard, Søren, ‘The Difference between a Genius and an Apostle’, in Without Authority, ed. and trans. Hong, Howard V. and Hong, Edna H. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 91108 Google Scholar.

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