We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Select Bible Use this Lookup to open a specific Bible and passage. Start here to select a Bible.
Make selected Bible the default for Lookup tool.
Book: Ch.V. Select book from A-Z list, enter chapter and verse number, and click "Go."
:
OR
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result

The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

A Fresh Beginning beyond Historicism

As Karl Barth opened the way for the normative study of ‘faith claims’ in the Bible, the period around the Second World War witnessed important new initiatives in Old Testament theology. Two studies are especially prominent in shaping the ensuing discussion. In the 1930s, Walther Eichrodt, a Calvinist scholar at the University of Basel (also Barth's university), published a two-volume work on Old Testament theology organized around the single dominant theme of ‘covenant’ (Eichrodt 1961, 1967). In his reading, Eichrodt made covenant—a long-standing Calvinist theme—the ‘constant’ of Old Testament theology, an affirmation that the God of ancient Israel is characteristically in relationship, and practices that relationship with Israel and with the world in freedom and in fidelity. Other scholars followed Eichrodt in articulating Old Testament theology around a single motif or claim.

The second and more influential study was the two-volume work of Gerhard von Rad, a Lutheran scholar eventually situated at the University of Heidelberg (von Rad 1962, 1965). While von Rad published his work in the 1950s, its roots are clearly in the 1930s, when Eichrodt published his work and when Barth's influence had become immense in the European church. In understanding von Rad's work, it is important to note that in 1934, the ‘Confessing Church’ in Germany took a dramatic stand against Hitler and National Socialism by publishing the Barmen Declaration, a manifesto largely authored by Karl Barth. At that time Gerhard von Rad was a young Lutheran pastor. In 1936, only two years after the Barmen Declaration, von Rad published an early article declaring that ‘in genuine Yahwistic belief the doctrine of creation never attained to the stature of a relevant, independent doctrine’ (von Rad 1966: 142). Thus von Rad insisted that the Old Testament was preoccupied with YHWH's ‘acts in history’. In retrospect, it is clear that von Rad's thesis was aimed against the ‘fertility religion’ (= creation theology?) of National Socialism. Von Rad's proposal became a thesis that was to dominate Old Testament study for more than a generation. The focus of von Rad's study concerned historical actions that were confessed to be acts of YHWH.

In 1938, again two years later, von Rad published his extended essay, ‘The Form-Critical Problem of the Hexateuch’, in which he laid out the argument that was to become the plot for his later publication of Old Testament Theology, volume i (von Rad 1966a). In that article von Rad argued that Israel's earliest statement of faith was a ‘credo’ that recited and responded to God's decisive saving deeds in the history of Israel. The examples to which von Rad characteristically appealed were found in Deut. 6: 20–4, 26: 5–9, and Josh. 24: 2–13. Von Rad regarded these three recital passages as quite early, and at the beginning of Israel's theological trajectory. It is clear that von Rad formulated his argument in the environment of the German church's struggle over the Barmen Declaration; his formulation of a ‘credo’ stands close to the ‘credal’ confession of Barmen, so that Israel's confession against ‘Canaanite fertility religion’ is to be seen in close proximity to the German church's struggle against National Socialism. This is an unmistakable example of the way in which social circumstance informs scholarly articulation. Von Rad's ‘Theology of Recital’ came to regard God's saving deeds as normative for Israel's faith, a confessed truth upon which the community of faith could take its stand and risk its life. Von Rad soon published a second volume of Old Testament Theology, in which he showed how the later prophetic traditions reused the normative historical memory in later historical-theological crises. Thus von Rad, like Eichrodt, is, in the manner of Barth, completely committed to the normative character of the historical recital of Israel's faith. (The same arguments were made in the USA at the same time by G. Ernest Wright, no doubt the most important theological interpreter of the Old Testament in that country during this period (Wright 1944, 1950).)

Von Rad definitively enacted in Old Testament study the kind of normative claim that Barth had initiated in dogmatic study. At the same time, however, it is also clear that von Rad continued to be committed to ‘history’ as the dominant category of Old Testament interpretation, an assumption that he shared with the older ‘liberal’ scholarship that was dominant in the German universities. At mid-century, then, Old Testament theology in general, and von Rad in particular, held together the long-established historical-critical assumptions that remained unquestioned in the field and the normative theological claims for the text that were his real interest. These matters were held in some tension, even though it was a tension seldom recognized and for a long time not critiqued, because the terms of the conversation were kept imprecise. The middle years of the century featured an emerging study of Israel's normative faith that did not trouble to break with historical liberalism. At the same time, it is clear that von Rad himself knew with some uneasiness about keeping these matters together, a combination to some extent achieved by a rhetorical sleight of hand:

Thus there is a clear tension between the account actually given in the narrative and the intention of the narrator, whose aim was, with the help of this material, to describe the conquest of the land by all Israel, and who, in so doing, asked too much of it. In the end this conception was most succinctly given in the narrator's words that under Joshua Israel took possession of the whole land ‘at one time’ (Hebrew Josh. x.42). This was the rounding off of the construction of that magnificent picture made by later Israel of Jahweh's final saving act. Beyond it no further unification was really any longer possible. But our final comment on it should not be that it is obviously an ‘unhistorical’ picture, because what is in question here is a picture fashioned throughout by faith. Unlike any ordinary historical document, it does not have its center in itself; it is intended to tell the beholder about Jahweh, that is, how Jahweh led his people and got himself glory. In Jahweh's eyes Israel is always a unity: his control of history was no improvisation made up of disconnected events: in the saving history he always deals with all Israel. This picture makes a formidable claim, and actually in the subsequent period it proved to have incalculable power to stamp affairs. How this came about is quite interesting. Israel made a picture of Jahweh's control of history on his people's behalf whose magnificence far surpasses anything that older and more realistic accounts offered. Faith had so mastered the material that the history could be seen from within, from the angle of faith. What supports and shapes this late picture of Israel's taking possession of the land is a mighty zeal for and glorification of the acts of Jahweh. (von Rad 1962: 302)

In any case, the enterprise of von Rad, after his work was translated into English in the 1960s, along with the work of Wright, had an immense impact upon the interpretive scene in the USA. It funded new programmes of education in US churches and, breaking with older formulations of Old Testament faith, it gave lay people access to scripture study. An important by-product was the recruitment of a generation of younger scholars into Old Testament study, which gave fresh energy and impetus to Old Testament theology in the United States.

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2020. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice