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Pillars in the History of Biblical Interpretation

February 17, 2017

Pillars in the History of Biblical Interpretation, a two-volume work edited by Stanley Porter & Sean Adams, is a useful multi-author resource on major figures and developments in the history of biblical studies.  The publisher’s online information here and here.

Volume 1 is devoted to key figures and developments prior to 1980.  The fourteen contributions will be especially helpful to students wishing to enter the field and needing to obtain some historical perspective on how it has developed.  But the span covered is entirely modern, beginning with figures in the 19th century, including Griesbach and Lachmann, Schleiermacher, F. C. Baur, B. F. Westcott, F.J.A. Hort, J. B. Lightfoot, Zahn, Harnack, Schlatter, Wrede, Welhausen, and on into 20th-century figures, Schweitzer, Deissmann, Dibelius, Bultmann, Streeter (and the Synoptic problem), Ramsay, Haenchen, Bornkamm (and redaction criticism), Dodd and Eichrodt.

The prevalence of German scholars seems to me to reflect the fact that German scholars of this period basically set the agenda of scholarship.  But the volume is a bit lop-sided in the few OT scholars included.  But for that matter, there are some important figures in the history of NT studies missing too, such as Bousset, Lagrange, and, indeed, a rather good host of others.  But, to avoid being churlish, better to recognize what is included than to complain about what could have been included.

Volume 2: Prevailing Methods after 1980, includes contributions on Bonhoeffer, Heidegger/Gadamer/Ricoeur, Leach and Structuralism, Hengel and “the New Tuebingen school” of Christian origins, Stuhlmacher, Edwin Judge/Wayne Meeks and Social-scientific criticism, Mary Douglas, Philip Esler, Elizabeth Schuessler Fiorenza/Phyllis Trible and feminist interpretation, H.D. Betz/Kennedy and rhetorical criticism, Nida/Louw and the linguistic emphasis, James Barr and lexicography, Patte and structural semiotics, Childs and “the canonical approach”, J. A. Sanders, Thiselton (on speech-act theory), Richard Hays (narrative approach to Paul’s letters), Loveday Alexander/David Rhoads and literary criticism of the NT, and Francis Watson & Stephen [NB:  not “Steven”] Fowl as “theological interpreters”.

Again, I confess to being a bit puzzled at some of those included and left out.  Among the latter, NT scholars such as R. E. Brown, Ed Sanders, James Dunn (and the “new perspective” on Paul), and Gerd Theissen come readily to mind, and others would follow readily, to say nothing of OT scholars as well.  And, of course, nothing on textual criticism (you’d expect me to complain about that!).

I rather suspect that these two volumes emerged from Porter assigning essay projects to his students.  This would account for the less-than-systematic coverage.  But the contributions I’ve sampled are basically informed and will be helpful as a point of entry for students.  So, again, thanks for what is given, rather than complaining over-much about what isn’t.

P.S.  For those wishing additional resources on the history of NT scholarship, William Baird’s three-volume work, A History of New Testament Research (Fortress Press) remains important, bringing the coverage up to major 20th-century figures C.H. Dodd and H. D. Betz.

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  1. Philip Mendola permalink

    Pardon me asking a question beyond the scope of this post, but you seem so well-informed on scholarship, and as an extreme amateur I find NT scholarship to be a bit of a labyrinth. I am looking for a good article or book on the use of “according to the scriptures” as it is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. That phrase seems to be doing a lot, and I’m not sure what to make of it. Thanks for any help.

  2. Interesting indeed that there is no mention of text critics (especially since Porter has recently published a tc intro)

  3. Yes, one could profitably assign as an examination question this list plus the question, “Who ought to have been on this list instead, and why?”

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