Exegesis vs. Reading? Or, How to Dismantle an Atomistic Bomb

U2_-_How_to_Dismantle_an_Atomic_Bomb_(Album_Cover)I ran across this quote on the B-Greek discussion list today: “I define ‘exegesis’ as learning to extract meaning from a language that one does not control.” (Randall Buth)

What do you think about that quote? I find it very interesting that it’s usually only Biblical scholars who talk about ‘exegesis’ and ‘exegetical method.’ In fact, I presented a paper (at the 2011 SBL meeting) on ‘exegesis’ in the communicative Greek classroom where I remarked on this at length:

“When I discuss this [teaching Greek as a living language] with other Greek teachers, one of the most common questions that comes up is: What about exegesis? I would respond with three points:

First, the question, “what about exegesis?” often presupposes a concept of exegesis that I find less than helpful. Much of the time, what people mean when they say exegesis is an atomistic study of a very short stretch of text, usually no more than a few lines. “Exegesis” means detailed grammatical and lexical study, determining what the logical relationships between propositions is, and then, as the ‘crowning achievement,’ translating the text into English.

[Let me interject, at this point, that there is nothing in that sequence (except the translation part) that cannot be done in Greek. Is there any reason not to use the grammatical terminology the ancient Greeks themselves used? Grammar can certainly be taught in a communicative classroom. It should simply be taught in Greek. Why in the world do we think that we would need to use English metalanguage to discuss Ancient Greek?]

This is rather strange. It might be helpful to realize that people do not normally approach literature this way. I did a search on Google Books the other day for the term “exegesis.” I found that every book on the first ten pages that came up was a Biblical Studies book. Literary critics don’t really talk much about exegesis, nor do classicists, surprisingly. Why is that? Those groups talk a lot about interpretation and hermeneutics and context, but not “exegesis.”

forest-for-treesI would like to propose that much of what people mean by “exegesis” is artificial, atomistic overanalysis of little bits of texts that were originally intended to be heard as wholes, not analyzed, labelled and translated. That kind of exegesis results from an approach to texts that I like to call ‘the Bible Code mentality.’ I am afraid that our approaches to teaching Greek probably contribute significantly to that mentality.

thirdtemple-biblecodeNow, please don’t misunderstand me. I am all for engaging in thoughtful, close reading of the text. I am especially in favor of intensive study of the texts in their literary, social, and historical contexts. Indeed, I think these are much more beneficial than the microanalysis of grammar and syntax that is often taught to students.

So, I find that the question, “what about exegesis?” presupposes that to interpret a text, one must be able to label, diagram and translate it into another language. I disagree with this. When I read and discuss English literature, I do not analyze syntax or diagram sentences. I also do not label each element using linguistic metalanguage. Rather I discuss meaning, themes, characterization. I summarize. I paraphrase. I make connections with other parts of the text. I tease out logical implications. I examine elements of literary artistry. All of this can be done, indeed, is best done, in the language itself.

To summarize, when you can read a language fluently, much of what we call exegesis becomes basically unnecessary.

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Review of Matthew D. Jensen, Affirming the Resurrection of the Incarnate Christ: A Reading of 1 John

You can read a pdf of the review here: Review of Matthew D. Jensen, Affirming the Resurrection of the Incarnate Christ: A Reading of 1 John.

I was invited last year by Joel Williams, the book review editor at the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, to review a new monograph on 1 John. As you may know, Continue reading

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Vienna, Venio

vienna,_austriaThe International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature is in Vienna this year. I couldn’t pass up the chance to combine a visit to this world-class city with participation in a world-class biblical studies conference, so I’m excited to announce that I will be presenting two papers: Continue reading

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Is Every Day a Festival? (Phun with Philo)

feastIn his work on the Special Laws of the Torah (De specialibus legibus), Philo enumerates 10 festivals he finds described in the Law. The first, he says, might surprise the reader: “This festival is every day” (2.41). He goes on to explain that for the virtuous every day is, in truth, a festival. If someone were completely virtuous, her life from beginning to end would be an uninterrupted festival (2.42). How does Philo come to this conclusion? Continue reading

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Priests and Israel as Superhuman

angelIn my research on the reception of the Jewish festivals, I focus on the idea that the festivals are moments when humans can participate in the divine or heavenly life/world. A well-known example: Philo depicts the High Priest on Yom Kippur being divinized upon his entry into the Holy of Holies (Who is the Heir 84; also found in Origen and Leviticus Rabbah).

Along the same lines Continue reading

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Can You Teach Kids Ancient Greek?

I’m pleased to have another guest post from Dr. Sebastian Carnazzo (see the first here). He teaches Greek communicatively with the Academy of Classical Languages through an interactive online format. Here’s Sebastian’s report on his experience teaching 2nd graders to speak and read Ancient Greek: Continue reading

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Greek Vocabulary: Are we cooking the books?

cook-the-booksUndoubtedly the best-selling Koine Greek textbook used in seminaries and colleges throughout North America is Bill Mounce’s user-friendly grammar, Basics of Biblical Greek, which is now in its 3rd edition. Mounce requires students to cover 320 NT vocabulary words in the course of the first year (two semesters). As he describes it, once the student has learned these 320 most common words, she will know 80.25% of the words on any given page of the Greek New Testament.

I see numerous problems with this claim that I think are worth considering. Continue reading

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Video for the HBU Pauline Theology Conference

tom wrightYou might be interested in checking out the video of the two keynote addresses by N. T. Wright at the recent Pauline Theology conference hosted by Houston Baptist University:

I blogged about this conference earlier here and here. You may want to subscribe to the HBU channel, as Richard Hays will be giving the Collins Lectures there in early April, and that will likely be tubecast as well.

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HBU Paul and Judaism Conference Report

hbuI had a wonderful time last week in Houston at the Paul and Judaism Theology Conference. The conference was a two-day event hosted by Houston Baptist University. The main attractions were the keynote addresses by Tom Wright, Ross Wagner, and Beverly Gaventa. Wright, as usual, was eloquent and winsome as he summarized his take on Paul’s “reformulation” of the central beliefs of Second Temple Judaism. Wagner spoke to the controversial question of the future of ethnic Israel in Rom 9-11, while Gaventa focused in on Paul’s claim in Rom 10:4 that Christ is the τελος of the Law.

Continue reading

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Living Koine Greek in South Africa! (Guest Post)

photo_100Readers, I’m excited to present this guest post by Sebastian Carnazzo. He teaches Greek communicatively with the Academy of Classical Languages through an interactive online format. You definitely need to check out the video samples on his website (on the frontpage)–they’re great! Some feature Sebastian teaching Greek to elementary school-age kids! Continue reading

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