This weekend I watched Joseph: King of Dreams (Ben Affleck’s greatest role, aside from Gigli) with my girls, and we also happened to read the Joseph story in the Jesus Storybook Bible. In both of these interpretations of the Genesis 37-50 narrative, Joseph is portrayed in his youth as more than a bit prideful, even singing in the movie a song with the refrain “I am the miracle child!” When this passage is preached, taught, and commented upon, many times there is an implicit or explicit condemnation of Joseph’s arrogance, seemingly founded upon the statements in Genesis 37 that Jacob loved Joseph more than his brothers (Gen. 37:4 passim) and Joseph’s relaying of his dreams to his brothers.
It’s possible that this interpretation of Joseph’s actions in Genesis 37 is correct, but I wonder if we’re being fair to Joseph and to the author’s portrayal of him. Nowhere is Joseph portrayed as having pride in relation to his father’s love; the action is always on Jacob (“Jacob loved Joseph more”) and his brothers (“because Jacob loved Joseph more, they conspired to kill him”).
Additionally, it seems to me that having dreams and the ability to interpret them is a sign of wisdom and even authority in the Old Testament, and so I wonder if it’s fair to say Joseph is arrogant in relaying them to his brothers. The onus to seems me to be clearly on the brothers who, rather than acknowledging this wisdom and authority from God, reject it and conspire to kill their brother (now where have I heard that before…?). Of course no contemporary interpretation of this passage that I know of excuses the brothers’ actions, but they certainly are given a reason to hate Joseph based on the interpretive portrayal of him as prideful.
What do you think? Should we see Joseph as prideful in Genesis 37 or not?
Revelation can broadly be described as God’s self-disclosure to humanity. Brevard Childs states that the goal of God’s self-disclosure is so that all may see and know him. Thus, God’s revelation proceeds from his activity and to understand his actions is to know God. In the Hebrew Bible, God’s revelation comes in different variety of media: fire, thunder, a whisper, a donkey but these often are related to and initiated through his spoken word, in turn bringing upon some type of action. Two examples that I think this can be seen is through creation and covenant.
In the creation story, God’s word is portrayed as the actor. The Psalmist states that it was by God’s word that creation came forth (Psalm 33:6, 9). In God’s self-disclosure to humanity in Genesis 2:17, God commands Adam to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This command has an implicit promise that if Adam and Eve refrained from eating of the tree they would continue to live in the blessings of the garden and an explicit promise that if they did eat they would die. For Adam and Eve, because of their disobedience, God’s word of judgment becomes actualized. Their knowledge of God and his action of one who blesses and provides in the garden now include a God who judges and is more concealed outside the garden.
Another significant high point in the Hebrew Bible is the Abrahamic covenant. In Genesis 12:1-3 God establishes a relationship with Abram through the utterance of a promise—heir, land, nation, and international blessing. God commits himself to Abram and to Abram’s family. God reveals himself to be loyal and will bless his family. God’s act in revealing himself again begins by establishing a particular relationship through his word. Likewise, it seems that God’s disclosure is initiated freely by himself, but is actualised by Abram believing by faith.
It seems that from the perspective of these examples of the Hebrew Bible that God’s self disclosure has a tight relationship to the obedience and faith of his people. I think this brings an interesting perspective to Christian theology which rightly understands God’s initiative in revelation, but what role does the idea of understanding, listening, and obedience play in this self-disclosure?
 Brevard S Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989), 43-44.
 Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context, 45.
 Timothy Ward, Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2009), 21.
 Paul R House, Old Testament Theology (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 75.
Barr, James. The Concept of Biblical Theology, 468-96
Brueggemann, Walter. Theology of the Old Testament, 333-358
Balentine, S. The Hidden God
Childs, Brevard. Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context, 20-59.
Ward, Timothy. Words of Life: Scripture as Living Active Word of God.
Ward, Timothy. Word and Supplement Speech Acts, Biblical Texts, and the Sufficiency of Scripture.
I received news tonight that my article “Arbitrary Allegory, Typical Typology, or Intertextual Interpretation? Paul’s Use of the Pentateuch in Galatians 4:21-31” was accepted for publication in Biblical Theology Bulletin. It still has to go to the copy editor, and I have no clue on the timeline for publication. But, the hard part is over.
I’ve been looking for a home for this article for a year now, and its been a hard search. This is probably my favorite piece from what I’ve worked on so far (even my dissertation – but who likes their dissertation anyway?), so I’m excited that the LORD has blessed me with the opportunity to publish it.
Here’s the abstract:
“This article begins by surveying the modern history of interpretation of Gal 4:21–31, and in doing so demonstrates that virtually no commentators from the time of Calvin have concluded that Paul accurately conveys the message of the Pentateuch’s narratives to which he alludes in his “allegory.” It then provides an alternate approach to the analysis of Paul’s interpretation of the Pentateuch in this passage, relying on the hermeneutical tool of intertextuality. It demonstrates, through four sets of intertextual connections within the Pentateuch, that the Hagar and Sinai narratives are intricately related and therefore appropriately read by Paul. It concludes that, instead of viewing Paul’s interpretation in Gal 4:21–31 as arbitrary allegory, modern commentators should give Paul a bit more grace in their analysis of his hermeneutic.”
A book to keep your eye on if you are interested in theological interpretation is Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address (Eerdmans) edited by Craig G. Bartholomew and David J.H. Beldman. In the Preface Bartholomew and Beldman lament that the Old Testament is for the most part unknown by the majority Christians and that there are far too few books to assist Christians to feast upon it as Christian Scripture. Their response to the famine is this edited volume with the goal of listening for God’s address through the Old Testament:
At the heart of the hermeneutic advocated in this book is the belief that our love for the Old Testament and our desire for God will come together only when we make the goal of our interpretation to listen for God’s address. If Scripture is God’s Word, then any other goal is inadequate.
Hearing the Old Testament boasts an impressive collection of contributors beginning with Bartholomew’s opening chapter, “Listening for God’s Address: A Mere Trinitarian Hermeneutic for the Old Testament.” Part II of the volume concerns methods in interpretation and is appropriately named, “Learning to Listen.” Essays from Part III are involve listening to the different sections of the Old Testament. Part IV concludes the volume with, “Hearing and Preaching the Old Testament.”
What stands out about this volume is the careful editorial process. Contributors to Part II, “Learning to Listen” first read Bartholomew’s chapter on Hermeneutics and then were invited to interact either positively or negatively with his essay. Contributors to Part III were asked to write their chapters after reading Bartholomew’s chapter and the chapter’s on “Learning to Listen.” Part IV was then written in light of the Parts I-III. This type of editorial planning should bring a certain type of cohesion that normally lacks in an edited volume. I only hope that future volumes may follow suit.
The List of chapters and authors:
- Listening for God’s Address: A Mere Trinitarian Hermeneutic for the Old Testament by Craig G. Bartholomew
- History of Old Testament Interpretation by Al Wolters
- Philosophy and Old Testament Interpretation by Bartholomew
- Literary Approaches and Old Testament Interpretation by David J.H. Beldman
- History and Old Testament Interpretation by Tremper Longman III
- Biblical Theology and Old Testament Interpretation by Mark J. Boda
- Canon and Old Testament Interpretation by Stephen G. Dempster
- Mission and Old Testament Interpretation by Christopher J.H. Wright
- Ethics and Old Testament Interpretation by M. Daniel Carroll R.
- Hearing the Pentateuch by Gordon J. Wenham
- Hearing the Historical Books by Iain Provan
- Hearing the Psalter by J. Clinton McCann Jr.
- Hearing the Old Testament Wisdom Literature by Bartholomew
- Hearing the Major Prophets by Richard Schultz
- Hearing the Minor Prophets by Heath Thomas
- Hearing and Preaching the Old Testament by Aubrey Spears
I just got word that my paper, “Intertextuality Between 1 Chronicles 21:1-17 and Genesis 13 and the Problem of David’s Census,” has been accepted for presentation at this year’s ETS meeting. I’ll be presenting in the Textual Strategies in the Hebrew Bible section at 4:40 on Wednesday.
I’m excited but also nervous – those Hebrew Bible folks are intimidating!
…the question of what it means to read well requires more than just the deployment of exegetical methods, no matter how well attuned any such methods may be. The situation of the interpreter of the biblical text is also a key element, and this immediately raises the question of the purposes for which any reading of the Bible is carried out. In a key quotation at the beginning of his striking work “The Old Testament of the Old Testament, [Walter] Moberly suggests that ‘the crucial question, which is prior to the questions of method and sets the context for them, is that of purpose and goal. To put it simply, how we use the Bible depends on why we use the Bible. In practice, many of the disagreements about how are, in effect, disagreements about why, and failure to recognize this leads to endless confusion.’
-Richard Briggs and Joel Lohr in A Theological Introduction to the Pentateuch emphasis original.