woensdag 6 februari 2013

Review of: David E. Aune, Revelation. 3 vols. (WBC52A, B & C), Word, 1997-1998; in: Interpretation

David E. Aune, Revelation. 3 vols. (WBC52A, B & C), Word, 1997-1998.

Review in: Interpretation 2000 54: 312
Review door: M. Eugene Boring
Gevonden op: http://int.sagepub.com/content/54/3/312.full.pdf+html

by David E. Aune
Word Biblical Commentary, volumes 52A, B, and C. Word, Dallas, 1997-1998.
1354 pp. $32.99 (each, cloth). ISBN 0-8499-0251-7; 0-8499-0786-1; 0-8499-1545-7.

IN THE INCREASINGLY POPULOUS and complex world of biblical commentaries, just what a particular commentary is to do cannot be assumed in advance. The Word Biblical Commentary addresses this problem by establishing a layout followed by all the volumes in the series. For each section of biblical text there is a Bibliography and the author's own Translation, followed by a section of Notes detailing the text-critical and translation issues involved and supporting the author's decisions. Then comes a section on Form/Structure/Setting, followed by detailed Comment and a concluding Explanation, The latter two sections are to offer "a clear exposition of the passage's meaning and its relevance to the ongoing biblical revelation." This format "has been consciously devised to assist readers at different levels," so that "there is something for everyone" (p. x). This format sets forth a judicious set of goals and provides a grid by which individual volumes of the series can be appropriately measured.

The bibliographies of Aune's three volumes are a gold mine. Better: they are a treasure already extracted from the mountain of possibly relevant literature on each topic and text related to interpreting Revelation. The numerous excursuses provide extensive (but sifted) bibliographies not only for anticipated topics such as "The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor" (pp. 775-79) but for tangential but important topics such as "Eating Food Sacrificed to Idols" (pp. 191-94), lists not merely compiled from other works on Revelation.

The excursuses provide the student a key hermeneutical resource. Aune has the talent and industry necessary to survey a complex set of issues, and to provide a helpful analytical summary of the history of the problem and the present state of the question, treating fairly perspectives that differ from his own. A good example is the excursus on "The Angels' of the Seven Churches" (pp. 108-12). The 221-page Introduction—itself a substantial monograph—is an additional work of supererogation with excursus-like sections on topics such as "Genre" (pp. lxx-xc) that will constitute the point of departure for future work.

The Translation and Notes are extremely helpful. The Introduction has extensive sections on text criticism as well as the distinctive syntax and vocabulary of Revelation, all providing comprehensive surveys of the issues involved and how they have been treated in the history of interpretation. These provide the foundation for the meticulous discussion of the translation of every word, phrase, clause, and sentence of the document. Aune knows the manuscript tradition well and has made his own text-critical decisions (though he differs from the "standard" text of Nestle 27 only forty times in a document of 11,105 words). None of his variations is dramatic. The student who has studied Greek for two semesters and who wants to know what is involved in actual translation could do no better than to work through these sections, looking over the shoulder of a master craftsman. Even though Aune is sometimes inclined to be too mechanical in his application of grammatical "rules," for example, in his understanding of the significance of the presence or absence of the article, it is indeed revelatory for the exegete to follow the discussion of one who has looked carefully at every "and" and "the" in the text of Revelation from the perspective of both text criticism and translation. Students can learn to ask reflexively "what kind of genitive is this?" by observing Aune's own practice. The difficult issues of "Semitisms" in Revelation and whether the author "thought in Hebrew but wrote in Greek" are handled without sweeping generalizations as Aune navigates the reader through the ocean of data. Beginner and expert alike will become better exegetes and translators—not only of Revelation—by attending to these sections.

In each section on Form/ Structure/Setting, Aune provides the reader with his Outline of the section, a Literary Analysis discussing rhetorical and compositional issues, a subsection on Source Criticism, and a discussion of Central Interpretative Issues. It is in the latter two categories that Aune's distinctive contribution to the discussion is most visible. On the basis of his discussion of sources in the Introduction, he provides his own source analysis of each section. The commentary is throughout somewhat reminiscent of R. H. Charles's ICC volume (T&T Clark, 1920). Aune is quite confident of his ability to identify John's sources, and projects two "editions" of John's own composition—a "first edition" ca. 70 CE and a "second edition" near the end of the century. He thus looks for three layers in every section: the original source used by John and two layers of "interpolations" by John himself. The language of "interpolation," in which the source is "primary" and John's own contribution "secondary," suggests that Aune is often more interested in the sources behind Revelation than in the final form of the text.

Likewise, in this section Aune incorporates his vast knowledge of the Hellenistic world and its literature. I found this to be the commentary's most helpful contribution. Time after time, Aune shows that what has been traditionally thought to be uniquely or distinctively biblical or Jewish in fact has parallels in the world of Hellenistic thought. Most interpreters of Revelation come to its text too directly from their own reading of the Old Testament; Aune provides a wider horizon, again not just by making general statements, but by providing an enormous amount of information. Some of these sections are very illuminating; others seem to be mainly a collection of data, "commentary" in the worst sense of the word, a listing of trees without much sense of forest. Nonetheless, the student who works through these sections will gain a new set of eyes not only for Revelation, but for the New Testament as a whole.

The sections on Comment and Explanation are supposed to provide "the exposition of the passage's meaning and its relevance" (p. x). On the first page, Aune aligns himself with those historical-critical scholars who "bracket theology" (p. xlviii). This statement is made in the context of introductory issues. Well and good; issues such as authorship, sources, date, and original text are to be settled on the basis of evidence rather than dogma. The perspective carries over into the exegesis as well, however, in which the significance of "bracketing" theology is not so clear. Even if one attempts to eschew making theological judgments for one's own time, the fundamental issue here is whether one can adequately discuss the meaning of a historical text that has a theological content apart from dealing with the theological issues involved. This question confronts the reader on every page of Aune's commentary. Typical is a discussion (p. 146), in which the reader learns much about the percentage of sentences in Revelation that begin with kai but nothing about what it means today (or even what it meant for John) for a church to have "lost your first love." I do not intend such critique to minimize the importance of the detailed linguistic analysis Aune provides. Such analysis is not an alternative to exposition of the meaning of a text, but only one of its foundation stones.

The problem concerns not only details, but major themes of Revelation. One example of several: Aune consistently argues that the pairing of God-language and christological terminology is to be explained as the author's Christianizing of a source. The phrase "and the Lamb," for example, is purportedly added to texts which "originally" referred only to "God" (e.g., 21:22). Aune is certainly right that Revelation makes use of older traditions and sources. He may well be right in regarding this phrase as a Christian or Johannine addition. Even so, that only poses the problem of meaning rather than "explaining" it: what does it mean that a Jewish-Christian author who is an avowed monotheist nevertheless combines christological language with God-language? So also, in discussing the phenomenon that John can use a pronoun that could refer "either" to God "or" to Christ (on 22:4, p. 1181), Aune only notes the grammatical ambiguity, not the meaning of the phenomenon. Christians who struggle with the issue of language for God and Christ in contemporary theology—it is not clear whether or not Aune numbers himself among this group—must do so on the basis of the ways in which this issue is dealt with in the New Testament, and have a right to expect help from New Testament scholars on such issues. One looks in vain in this massive commentary for direct help on such hermeneutical problems. The student interested in theological meaning (not only in the contemporary normative sense but in the ancient descriptive sense as well) will have to look elsewhere. Even so, such students should not do so unequipped with the linguistic and historical data provided by Aune's commentary.

M. Eugene Boring

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