donderdag 21 februari 2013

Review of: Antony E Campbell, SJ, 1 Samuel (FOTL), Eerdmans, 2003; in: Interpretation

Antony E Campbell, SJ, 1 Samuel (FOTL), Eerdmans, 2003.

Review in: Interpretation 2004 58: 404
Review door: K.L. Noll
Gevonden op:

1 Samuel
by Antony E Campbell, SJ.
FOTL, 7. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2003.
350 pp. $55.00. ISBN 0-8028-6079-6.

BECAUSE A BIBLICAL TEXT IS A CULTURE-BOUND artifact from a dead world, Jewish and Christian readers seek words to explain their Word, to make the dead come to life once again. The venerable genre called "the commentary" reflects the needs of the reader, not the intention of the biblical authors. This is no surprise. The intention of a long dead author is difficult to discern in any case, and the Bible's status as sacred scripture has obliterated any hope the ancient authors might have harbored that their words will be taken at face value. It is all the Word of God now, for better and for worse.

Nowhere is the ironic artifice of the genre more visible than when the subject of a commentary is the books of Samuel. Commentators treat Samuel's god as the God, the supernatural being who, one presumes, created and sustains the universe. The fit between textual god and actual God is unnatural, for Samuel's god is fiction, a capricious story-world character, at this moment destroying a priest who dares to protect a holy object, at that moment murdering some 70,000 people to punish the sin this same god seduced his anointed king to commit. Like the book of Job, Samuel seems designed to undermine all piety, all theodicy, all doctrine. Unlike Job's reader, Samuel's reader is not forewarned that it is all a test. Thus, there is no textual guidance for parsing a literary god who is neither the reliable covenantal partner of Deuteronomy nor the majestic Holy One of Isaiah. An author of the commentary genre faces a formidable task when writing on 1 and 2 Samuel.

Antony Campbell and Tony Cartledge are two recent scholars rising to this challenge. Each has produced a serviceable commentary with flashes of brilliance. But like every commentator before them, these two scholars, in this reviewer's view, fail to tame the capricious god of Samuel.

More satisfying to this reviewer is the shorter work by Campbell, who has issued another installment in the FOTL commentary series. In the twenty-first century, the notional foundation of the FOTL series seems almost quaint, though it constituted cutting-edge research when introduced about a generation ago. The idea was to provide the pastor with a handbook outlining the fruits of historical criticism, especially hypotheses dealing with the earliest stages of the Bible's formation, the form or genre of the text, and its presumed life setting. Campbell has modified these original goals by paying greater attention to the final form of the text, and eliminating speculation about historical circumstances that honest historians must admit are beyond available evidence.

Two features of Campbell's commentary are worthy of emphasis. On the one hand, Campbell values what might be termed an ethics of reading. He does not pretend to offer the correct interpretation of 1 Samuel, but an interpretation that is both "responsible and adequate" (p. xvii, and passim). That is to say, the interpretation refuses to go beyond what the text actually says. For this reason, sermonizing is at a minimum, and the pastor who seeks material for Sunday morning will need to work a little harder than will be the case with Cartledge's commentary. A second feature in Campbell's approach is his thesis of "reported stories" (p. 30, and passim). What Campbell intends by this term is his very cogent hypothesis that 1 Samuel does not pretend to be a completed literary work. Rather, it is an assemblage of brief story summaries, complete with variant details, from which an ancient Israelite story teller was free to choose for each oral performance. With this model of an anthology in mind, Campbell's interpretation of each passage is far more open-ended than one usually encounters in the commentary genre.

Ultimately, however, Campbell, like Cartledge, is concerned about the relationship of Samuel's story-world god to the God of Jewish and Christian devotion. His approach is more subtle than Cartledge's, but no less determined to find resolution. For Campbell, the Bible is not a source of doctrine, but a "participant in dialogue" (p. 11), and as such, provides "glimpses of God" (p. 11). Those glimpses often involve ancient values that Campbell deems repugnant and he pauses to wrestle with them, sometimes successfully, other times less so. Like Cartledge's, Campbell's superb scholarship is ultimately no match for the capricious god of this ancient narrative. Samuel's politically incorrect deity refuses to be tamed.

K. L. Noll
Zie ook:
Zie ook de review op: Antony E Campbell, SJ, 2 Samuel (FOTL), Eerdmans, 2005:

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