Chrysostom "On The Obscurity Of The Old Testament"

Below is a short review I wrote up for a class presentation, which deals with Chrysostom's homilies (1 & 2) "On the Obscurity of the Old Testament". I interact here mainly with his first homily but if you want to get an idea of how he did exegesis and thought about the relationship of the New Testament to the Old, you may find some of this review helpful. Enjoy.

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If one of the overarching characteristics Diodore of Tarsus’ writings was reverence for the text (e.g. the Bible), strands of this can certainly be found in the works of his one of his students, St. John Chrysostom, whose works also advance a rigorous devotion to and a rather high view of Scripture. This is evidenced, for example, from the beginning of his “On the Obscurity of the Old Testament” by statements such as “the depths of inspired sentiments,” (8) “inspired authors” (10) and later in the same work “see how nothing is passed over by the divine Scripture,” “divine writings” (20) and “inspired composition” (27). For Chrysostom, there is no doubt that God has assumed a prominent role in the composition of the Scriptures.

Yet, Chrysostom also allows for the human element in the development of the text. Interestingly, he seems to assume that inspiration occurs as God inspires the writer, though, not necessarily listener. Thus, whereas the writer cannot falter, the hearer surely can. This is illustrated in his “On the Obscurity of the Old Testament” where he starts by exploring the Pauline statement concerning King Melchizedek: “What I have to say to you is lengthy and difficult to interpret because you are hard of hearing” (Heb. 5.11). Chrysostom stresses the latter half of the sentence maintaining that “it was not the nature of the text but the inexperience of the listeners that made difficult what was not difficult” (9).

Following this, Chrysostom spends quite a few pages sorting through various arguments pertaining to passages of Scripture—particularly in Hebrews—which, in terms of interpretation, appear problematic (later, in Homily II, he does this with a Psalm). Chrysostom, however, presses his “hard of hearing” campaign forward and applies it to the Old Testament, which he claims, “resembles riddles” contains much “difficulty” and has books that are “harder to grasp” (13). This “obscurity” or “hard of hearing” attribute, though, is much more apparent when it comes to the “Jews,” who, have remained deaf and blind to the truths that their ancestors penned in the sacred writings. To put it differently, those who wrote the Hebrew Scriptures, asserts Chrysostom, were certainly inspired by God but also did not know the full extent of the meaning(s) of that which they were writing.

Had the “bloodthirsty” interpreters of the Old Testament been aware that “the Jerusalem Temple would be razed, that the Law would come to an end, and the old dispensation changed,” (15) then they would have immediately killed the prophet who was saying such things. Not only this, argues Chrysostom, but “they would have done violence to the very books had they realized all the outcomes” (17). Chrysostom, in fact, goes to great lengths quoting a multitude of scriptural narratives to prove his point that the Jewish people are guilty of a history if irrationality and ungratefulness concerning the interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures (19). At any rate and despite his caricaturing of the Jewish people, St. John “Golden Mouth” certainly believes that the obscurity of the Old Testament was a necessity. His impetus, again, is that had to be the case in order that Jews were prevented from understanding the ramifications of the coming of Christ ahead of time (21).

This all allows Chrysostom to employ a twofold hermeneutic, that is, an approach to the text that allows for a double sense of a passage’s meaning. He even attempts to shoot down the notion that the things foretold, which were also the things obscured, did have a meaning pertinent to the time they were written but also another meaning, which was for later generations (22-4). This can be encapsulated in one of his favorite quotes: “A veil continues to lie over their (the Jews’) reading of the Old Testament” (24, 27). Chrysostom even explores the notion that obscurity was instituted at Babel, where languages were purposefully confused (35-40) and obscured.

It appears that Chrysostom, who dropped into the middle of decades of conversations and debates regarding the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, certainly provided a number of innovative thoughts and approaches to the matter. Still, his “obscurity” theory raises some questions. For example, his theory that the Jewish people were “bloodthirsty” and thus, would have killed the prophets and the texts had they known what they were really about, suggests that God had to be a trickster working behind the scenes. If this is the case, couldn’t God have just chosen to work with a different people? Or, if the people had killed the prophets and texts, would this have prevented the Christ-event from happening? If so, does this assume that the Christ-event was some sort of backup plan?

Another question worth raising may be: Why, for Chrysostom, does God inspire the writer but not necessarily the reader or hearer? At any rate, it is quite evident that Chrysostom’s chief end was to edify the souls of those listening to him, as is evidenced by his challenging paraneses at the end of his homilies. Just as well, his legacy as a challenging homiletician, theologian and exegete certainly precedes him. Indeed, he was touching on issues that would later become mainstay “hot topics” in Christendom for years to come.


On The Scholarly Map

When I first started my blog about a year and a half ago, I would occasionally Google my name or my website's name to see if it could be found. It was a great thing when, eventually, both were listed in the #1 spot. Well, yesterday, while I was doing research in Atla / Ebsco's scholarly database, I thought "what the heck" and typed in "Halcomb." To my surprise, 3 entries related to me popped up (even though my number of publications currently ranges somewhere in the double-digits). Regardless, I guess I'm on the scholarly map now (at least in another medium) which is quite cool. I imagine that in a few years I'll not be so impressed by it but yesterday, I admit, I was surprised. Click the photo to see the bibliographic information regarding the entries. If you have access to Atla / Ebsco, you can actually download one of the reviews!


Origen's Commentary on The Song of Songs (A Brief Review)

Below is a short review I wrote up for a class presentation, which deals with Origen's Commentary on The Canticles (Song of Songs). I only interact here with his interpretation of the first few verses but if you want to get an idea of how Origen did exegesis, you may find some of this review helpful. Enjoy.

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Origen, an exegete nurtured in the Alexandrian spirit of interpretation, above all else in his reading of the Song of Songs, appears to value the notion of the unity of the Scriptures. Shaped by the “Rule of Faith,” the theological banner of his socio-religious context, he strives to show how passages of the “Divine” and “Holy Scriptures” (63-64) work in unison. For Origen, this seems most explainable by reading Scripture through a sort of dualistic lens: Literal (which also encompasses “literary”) and Spiritual.

From the start, Origen makes it clear in his interpretation of the Canticles that there indeed, is a literal / literary sense to the text but that upon further reflection, there is a more spiritual or “inner” sense as well (58). After reviewing the literary aspects of the story (in a verse-by-verse fashion), he writes, “This is the content of the actual story, presented in dramatic form. But let us see if the inner meaning can be also fittingly supplied along these lines” (59). In his commentary, the foremost way in which he goes about finding this “inner meaning” is to reference other, allegedly related Scriptural texts—an approach which is quite likely to offend the sensitivities of the modern exegete!

For example, Origen suggests that 1.2, a verse which reads “For thy breasts are better than wine” should be filtered such through narratives as that of John leaning on the breasts of Jesus during supper in John’s Gospel and the separation of priestly sacrifices in Leviticus (64). Further, he goes on to make an argument whereat the breasts are types of the teachings of Christ, which make them good breasts and therefore more desirable than the shapeless breasts of the Law. This reading, asserts Origen, can find more stock in the statement by Qohelet who speaks of “looking on that which is good” (66). Origen finds no reason to stop here though. He even gets some mileage out of the stories of the boy Jesus being searched for in the Temple by His parents, the Cana Wedding scene, the Queen of Sheba, the sons of Jonadab and the parable of the treasure hidden in a field (66-70).

In making hermeneutical choices such as these, Origen seems to assume that exegetes must not only have a working knowledge of the text but also a high theology of Scripture and an orientation toward deep spiritual discernment. While these (doctrinal) dispositions may not be troubling to many interpreters, again, many modern readers are far less comfortable with Origen’s allegorizing (60-61), christianizing (59) and personalizing of these texts (59). He also has expectation that those engaging the text should soon find themselves embedded in it. This is an expectation that can be seen in his self-referential rhetoric (e.g. “Let it be [us] the Church…59).

On-the-one-hand, Origen’s methods would appear to lead readers to an ahistorical point-of-view of the biblical events. That is, one gets the impression that by allegorizing and spiritualizing things as he does, Origen ultimately overemphasizes revelation to the detriment of history (or historical happenings). Of course, such a reading might be expected when it is a reading done by those who stand in the wake of ongoing and heated debates about the distinctions between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. However, there is one sense in which Origen does root his interpretations (and applications) in real history: through eschatology.

He makes two comments early on in his commentary that allude to this: 1) “…but since the age is almost ended…” and 2) “…at His coming…” (60). Without too quickly throwing the baby out with the bathwater, readers may do well to attempt to understand the precise connections that Origen may be suggesting actually exist between these two spheres. Undoubtedly, Origen believes that his “Bridegroom” (Christ) is going to make a real return within the confines of world history but interpreters may get too hung up on his assertion that the “Bridegroom” mentioned in the drama of the Canticles is Christ, to actually notice it.


Free: 30 Very Common German Verbs Crossword Puzzle

Yesterday, I added a fun slide puzzle to the "Getting German" site that explored 20 German Subordinating Conjunctions. Today, a new puzzle has been added but this one is a fun, interactive crossword puzzle. The crossword helps you learn 30 very common German verbs. To access the puzzle, click the image below:


New Shuffle & Slide Puzzle At GettingGerman.com

I have created a fun way to learn 20 German Subordinating Conjuctions, which you can see screenshots of below. Go play it yourself and see if you can solve the puzzle and learn in the process. I completed the puzzle in 384 moves in 392 seconds. I also learned all 20 Subordinating Conjunctions. To access the shuffle / slide puzzle, click either of the images below:


Early Biblical Intepretation (A Review)

Below is the text of a brief 2 chapter review of the Kugel & Greer book titled Early Biblical Interpretation, which I wrote to present to some of my classmates. If you've had any interaction with this text and would like to share your thoughts, please do.

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Reviewed by T. Michael W. Halcomb. Early Biblical Interpretation (#3 LEC). By James L. Kugel & Rowan A. Greer, ed. Wayne A. Meeks. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster John Knox Press, 1986. 214 pp. $19.95 (paper).

The third installment in a series of books edited by Wayne Meeks, Early Biblical Interpretation is a volume that focuses on “the interpretation of Scripture as practiced in Early Judaism and Christianity” (7). The first two chapters of this work—and the central points of emphasis for this brief review—explore the common backgrounds of early & later forms of biblical exegesis. Thus, the first two chapters of the tome aim to explain what prompted “The Rise of Scripture” (13) and subsequently, “The Need for Interpretation” (27).

The idea is that Israel, people whom envisioned themselves as discourse partners with God, had within their circle of adherents, divinely attuned leaders called prophets. These individuals “sought to announce God’s judgments and desires” as well as to explain the meaning and/or significance of certain events (15). However, laying hold of God’s desires or even a “word” from God during the Diaspora, during a time period where the Temple sat in ruins, proved challenging to Israel. Eventually, the unbearable question that confronted the Israelites remained: “Where was the God of Israel now that His house had been destroyed, and what hope was there for deliverance?” (15)

As time passed and the rule and Edict of Cyrus surfaced, many of the Israelites began returning to their homelands. Soon, the desire to bring God back to the land arose and so, the Temple structure was rebuilt. Of course, it was not nearly as majestic and in fact, it was quite “damaging to the prestige of [Israel’s] Deity” (16). At this point, religious, political, economic and spiritual decay set in, with leaders abusing their restored roles. Israel began wondering if, at present, she could truly refer to herself as God’s dialogue partner? To remedy the ever-present fallout, Israel returned to her past, a past found in texts.

With the emphasis shifting from the Temple and its priests to the texts and their interpreters, Israel’s sacred writings and their commentators took on more significance than ever. Seeking out Divine approval, Israel had its exegetes scour the texts for guidelines and meaning. Yet, some passages were ambivalent and interpretations varied from one reader to the next. Soon, scriptural interpretation turned into a sort of sacred exercise or enterprise. “If these texts were to play a critical role in governing community affairs, in setting forth models of ethical behavior and educating the young, then [passages that raised questions] surely did not die in the breasts of readers and listeners; they were asked often, and in public, and they demanded unambiguous response” (34).

This “return” to the days gone by, a philosophy that drove the communities of ancient Israelites, here, began consistently using the past as a standard bearer or measuring rod for the present. The hope was that the great days of the pre-exilic monarchy would serve both as a basis and a “model for national revival and…hopes for the future” (37). If a return to the past was the desire, the fullest means of such a return was through texts. The return wasn’t merely for the sake of returning but rather, with the hopes that in diving into even the tiniest minutiae of the past, fruits would be yielded in the present.

As Kugel & Greer note, “…it was precisely the intermittent obsession with past events and the necessity of having them bear on the present that gave interpretation of all kinds its urgency” (38). Indeed, in a time when Israel felt as though the conversation between her and her dialogue partner was waning, a visit to the Temple experienced relegation to the shadows while a visit to the text or to some hermeneutical event whereat the texts were being expounded or proclaimed, came to the fore. The desire to experience a “word” from God permeated the community as people waited eagerly to see how a hint of their past might just transform their present.


New Website: Getting German

As my regular readers will have noticed, I've been doing a lot of German-oriented stuff lately. I'm doing most of this to prepare myself for my upcoming German exams in a couple of months (exams I must take for my PhD program). I find that when I spend time creating modules, I learn a lot, so, I have been making these modules available for free here at Pisteuomen. Well, now they can also be downloaded from a new website that I have developed: Gettin German. In addition to these free resources, this new site is vocab heavy and flashcard friendly. So, head on over to Getting German, download some free programs, use the flashcards and begin learning German. To go to the site, click the image below. After you've visited, feel free to pass the url on to others. Oh, and check the site frequenly as new flashcard sets will be added VERY frequently and new programs added on a regular basis. Enjoy!

Note: The site can be accessed from about a dozen links:
* www.gettinggerman.com
* gettinggerman.com
* www.gettinggerman.blogspot.com
* http://www.gettinggerman.blogspot.com
* gettinggerman.blogspot.com
* http://gettinggerman.blogspot.com
* www.theologicalgerman.blogspot.com
* http://theologicalgerman.blogspot.com
* theologicalgerman.blogspot.com
* http://theologicalgerman.info
* theologicalgerman.info
* www.theologicalgerman.info


Getting German: 100 (Very) Frequent Words Module

Here's another easy-to-use English/German module that deals with 100 "VERY" Frequent Words that are found in German texts. This module includes terms, definitions & interactivity. This is free to download and share but is Tellware, which just means that if you download it, I ask that you tell at least 3 others about it. If you have any thoughts or questions regarding the module, feel free to get in touch with me. Enjoy! Download below by clicking the image and clicking "Save":


Getting German: Prepositions Module

Here's another easy-to-use English/German module that deals with German Prepositions. This module includes terms, definitions, interactivity & audio. This is free to download and share but is Tellware, which just means that if you download it, I ask that you tell at least 3 others about it. If you have any thoughts or questions regarding the module, feel free to get in touch with me. Enjoy! Download below by clicking the image and going to the download page:


Call For Papers: "Mark's Gospel In Mediterranean Context"

Several months ago, Dr. Bill Baker, President of the Stone-Campbell Journal Conference (and Journal) asked me to create & chair a new Focus / Study Group for the annual meeting. At his bequest, I happily obliged. The name of the new study group is: "Mark's Gospel in Mediterranean Context". For the first meeting, I believe we will leave open areas of exploration so that a variety of topics / interests may be covered & pursued. Following this, we will begin zeroing in on specific subjects. So, this year, persons could examine aspects of the Mediterranean context of Mark's story such as: Kinship, Purity, Patronage, Honor/Shame, Healing, Gender Roles, etc., etc. (Some details subject to change; papers offered this year which deal with "kinship" or "purity" will most likely have greater chance for being accepted). Laypersons, Undergrad, Grad, Post-Grad & Professors alike, may apply.

This year's annual conference will take place April 9-10 (2010) at Cincinnati Christian University and will feature Dr. Scot McKnight as the lead plenary speaker. For the Mark Focus Group, up to 5 papers ranging from 15-20 minutes in length will be accepted. The call for papers is open now until the beginning of January. All you need to do at this point is to send in an abstract and the committee will review it. The committee is made up of and structured as: (Chair) Michael Halcomb - BS, MDIV, MABS, PhD candidate, (Co-Chair) Dr. Barry Blackburn - BA, ThM, MA, PhD, (Steering Committee) Drew Strait - BA, MDiv and (Steering Committee) Tim McNinch - BS.

To submit a title and abstract, email me at: michael (dot) halcomb (at) asburyseminary (dot) edu. To attain very specific details about this focus / study group, contact me at the above email address with the subject line: SCJC Mark Focus Group. To view more about this year's conference and past conferences, visit the following link: SCJC Annaul Gathering .


Getting German: Pronouns & Possessive Articles Module

Here's another easy-to-use English/German module that deals with German Pronouns & Possessive Articles. This is free to download and share but is Tellware, which just means that if you download it, you tell at least 3 others about it. If you have any thoughts or questions regarding the module, feel free to get in touch with me. Enjoy! Download below by clicking the image and going to the download page: