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Biblical Theology and Sociological Interpretation

By Bernhard W. Anderson "There can be no emancipation from bondage to ideology unless there are human words which, under the inspiration of Gods spirit, have the metaphorical power to evoke an awareness of the wonder, the dread, and the grace of being in the presence of the Holy God." THE Christian church takes its stand on the conviction that the Bible is "the word of God in human words," to echo the title of a book by Jean Levie dealing with the origins of the Catholic biblical movement. 1 Of this we are made aware whenever Scripture is read in a worship service or whenever it becomes the platform for a sermon. And up to the present time, Scripture has been regarded as a primary source for theological understanding. Those who are called to serve the church as biblical scholars and teachers know too well how difficult it is to maintain and justify this conviction. Our studies usually expose the human dimension of Scripture: its culturally conditioned language and forms of expression, its social and historical setting, its rich and manifold diversity. At times the formula "Word of God in human words" seems to be just a beautiful cliche, if not a meaningless archaism. Yet we are also aware of standing in a long hermeneutical tradition, reaching back to the dawn of the Christian era, in which people have regarded Scripture in some sense as-the Word of God." At a creative moment in the ongoing discussion during the Middle Ages, an important hermeneutical principle asserted that the literal sense (that is, the historical sense) is the door through which the interpreter must enter if one is to enter the sanctuary where God becomes present through the sacrament of word. Historians tell us that

Bernhard W. Anderson is Professor of Old Testament Theology, Emeritus, Princeton Theological Seminary. He has also taught at Colgate, the University of North Carolina, and at Drew University. He is the author of the widely used textbook. Understanding the Old Testament (1957; 4th ed., 1986), and of several other volumes, such as Creation Versus Chaos (1967), The Living Word of the Bible (1979), and Out of the Depths (1984). The original occasion for this article was a lecture by Dr. Anderson at the invitation of the Catholic Biblical Association.

Jean Levie. S. J.. The Bible. Word of God in Words of Men (New York: Kennedy. 1961).

during the high Middle Ages the Victorines of Paris, particularly Hugh of St. Victor, brought the accent down on the historical sense. and even revived the practice of consulting Jewish authorities in an effort to understand passages in the Old Testament. 2 In this conclave. it may not be inappropriate for a Protestant to quote words from the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, where the importance of the literal sense is stressed: The author of holy scripture is God, in whose power it is to signify his meaning, not by words only (as man also can do) but by things themselves. So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science has the property that the things signified by the words have themselves also a signification. Therefore that first

signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it. 3 At first, perhaps, these medieval debates about the relation between the literal and the spiritual sense seem far removed from where we are living and thinking today. This is especially true in the academy when the Bible is separated from the church and is treated like any classical literature. It is striking that Aquinas, in the words just cited, uses two adjectives in describing-the first sense" of Scripture, namely "the historical or literal." Doubtless if we were to pursue the implications of this parallelism, we would sense the potential beginning of the movement known as historical criticism which effloresced in the modern period. Although historical criticism has often come under the influence of powerful philosophies (such as Hegelianism) and at times has clashed with Christian doctrine, a host of scholars within the community of faith have defended the method, believing that the literal, historical sense provides the door into the spiritual meaning of Scripture. The recovery of the Bible as Word of God does not lie beyond historical criticism but through the application of sound historical method, including various modes of inquiry such as history of the ancient Near East, literary criticism, form criticism, tradition history, and redaction criticism. Even so-called evangelicals or fundamentalists, at least in some instances, are now cautiously wading out into the stream of historical criticism, as evidenced by a recent survey of the Old Testament by scholars at Fuller Theological Seminary who provide a new version of "The Fuller Sense of Scripture."4

Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1952), chap. 3; Robert M. Grant. The Bible in the Church: A Short History of Interpretation (New York: Macmillan. 1948), chap. 9. 3 Cited by Grant, The Bible in the Church. p. 104. 4 W. S. La Sor. D. A. Hubbard, and F. W. Bush. Old Testament Survey The Message. Form, and Background of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982).

Today we find ourselves in a period of ferment in biblical studies when yet another method is being pursued-the sociological approach, which includes the allied fields of the social sciences (anthropology, sociology, economics, political science). Recently I received a slender, but important, book from Fortress Press by Robert Wilson, Professor of Old Testament at Yale Divinity School, entitled Sociological Approaches to the Old Testament. This book has sent me back to reading again about hermeneutical discussions in the Middle Ages, for at the outset the author briefly treats the hermeneutical stance of Hugh of St. Victor, who taught in a Parisian abbey in the midtwelfth century. Wilson maintains that interest in the sociological dimensions of Scripture is based on the hermeneutical decision "to ground all interpretation in a literal reading of the text," literal being defined as the historical sense. 5 It would be interesting to make an excursion into the history of the discipline of sociology, a late-comer on the academic scene. Indeed, it was less than a decade ago that sociology gained full academic recognition, for example, at Williams College. In the field of Old Testament studies, of course, sociology appeared a generation or so ago,

although only a cloud on the horizon no larger than the size of a human hand. In his book, The Old Testament in Modern Research (1956), Herbert Hahn devoted a chapter to "The Sociological Approach to the Old Testament." with special attention to the seminal work of Max Weber. Form-criticism, which was launched by Hermann Gunkel and has had a powerful influence on biblical studies during the twentieth century, provided an invitation to sociological investigation in so far as this method attempts to identify the social setting (Sitz im Leben) out of which the various genres of tradition have come and to which they are inseparably related. In recent years, the weaknesses of form criticism have become increasingly apparent: the difficulty of recovering the actual situations in the life of the social group, the tendency to emphasize the "typical" rather than the creativity of a writer, and so on. So the cry has not been "Form Criticism and Beyond, to cite the title of James Muilenburg's presidential address to the Society of Biblical Literature 6 but "beyond form criticism-the "beyond" often being purely literary exercises in rhetorical criticism, structural analysis, and narrative criticism that are relatively unconcerned about the sociological setting or historical referents of literary units. More recently, a number of Old Testament and New Testament scholars. picking up on the socio-historical dimension inherent in Gunkel's form criticism, have produced studies that seek to understand the social matrix and sociological function of biblical texts. To take a few examples, we have recently witnessed sociological approaches to

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Robert R. Wilson, Sociological Approaches to the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), p. 2. James Muilenburg,"Form Criticism and Beyond,"Journal of Biblical Literature, 88 (1969), pp. 1-18.

Israel's transition from tribal confederacy to monarchy (Mendenhall, Gottwald), to the role of prophets in Israelite society (Wilson), to the dynamic of political stability and social reform in Israel's history of traditions (Hanson), to the function of miracle stories in various social settings of the early Christian community Kee), to the social function of Pauline rhetoric among urban Christians (Meeks), to the role of women in the early Christian community (Schssler Fiorenza). Indeed, sociology has been embraced as a major dimension of so-called "canonical criticism" (Sanders). 7 Considering that there have been sociological impulses in biblical studies since the beginning of this century, one may wonder why it has taken so long for sociological method to come into its own. This may be asking for the sociology of the rise of sociology! Anyway, I put this question to my friend and former colleague, Robert Friedrichs. Professor of Sociology at Williams College, and he answered by calling attention to the weakening of the hegemony of "history" and historical method. History has played a dominant role in modern thinking, going back at least to the time of Hegel and, in the case of biblical theology, going back perhaps to the famous address of Johannes Gabler (1787) on "The Proper Distinction between Biblical Theology and Dogmatic Theology." We all know about the crisis that arose in biblical theology some years ago over "the revelation of God in history,"about the movement away from "history" to "story," and about the shaking of historical reconstructions based on biblical archaeology or the history of religions. Scholars of the younger generation have sensed the need for a new

approach to exegetical problems, one that is compatible with historical and literary approaches but that offers hope for a way out of the current impasse. So sociology has entered the field. "Historical method and sociological method," writes Norman Gottwald, "are different but compatible methods for reconstructing ancient Israelite life and thought."8 Biblical theologians, however, are concerned with the question of who sociological method relates to the theological question posed above, the

George E. Mendenhall, The Tenth Generation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1973); Norman K. Gottwald, The Tribes of Yahweh: A Sociology-of the Religion of Liberated Israel 1250-1050 B.C.E. (Maryknoll. N.Y.: Orbis, 1979); Robert R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980); Paul Hanson The Dawn of Apocalyptic:The Historical and Sociological Roots of Jewish Apocalyptic Eschatology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979); Howard C. Kee. Miracle in the Early Christian World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983): Wayne Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983): Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (New York: Crossroads, 1984); James A. Sanders, Canon and Community: A Guide to Canonical Criticism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984). see the hermeneutical "triangle," p. 77. 8 Norman K. Gottwald, "Sociological Method in the Study of Ancient Israel," Encounter with the Text: Form and History in the Hebrew Bible, ed. M. J. Buss (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, and Missoula: Scholars Press, 1979), pp. 69-81; quotation. p. 69.

Word of God in human words. In the concluding paragraph of his little book. Wilson issues a challenge to biblical theologians: Both the religion and the literature [of the Old Testament] may be divinely inspired, but that inspiration was mediated by human agents who were thoroughly integrated into their societies and who were molded by social forces. Similar social factors influence the reading and interpretation of the Old Testament in the present day.9 I would like to take up the theological challenge, and to invite scholars, especially younger scholars, to join in wrestling with the age-old issue of the Bible as "Word of God in human words" in the new situation in which we find ourselves today. II It would be well to begin by considering the limitations of any scientific method, including sociological method. Here I am not thinking only of the principles of historical method outlined by Ernst Troeltsch, pre-eminently the principle of analogy, according to which the past can be known only through analogies drawn from events, experiences, or social structures that are open to observation and investigation. Wilson has drawn our attention to the nomithetic character of sociological method, that is, the attempt to understand a social phenomenon on the basis of a generalization arising from the study of societies that are similar in social structure. This approach, of course, runs the danger of doing injustice to what is unique and particular, but when the method is used modestly and judiciously, it may have a heuristic value, especially when supplemented with other methods of historical and literary criticism.

My concern as a theologian is with the built-in limitation of any scientific study, namely, that it must methodologically bracket God and deal only with those human factors, including religion as a human system of beliefs and practices, that are open to scientific scrutiny. The attention must fasten on the human words of Scripture, words that have a grammar, that are spoken by particular people, and that are inseparable from the social matrix in which they have meaning. And yet, in the church, we affirm that the Bible, in all its humanness, is the medium through which God speaks-the God who is beyond all human words, beyond all the phenomena of the human world. It is the Word of God for which me listen, although to be sure, the God whose word is mediated through human language and human agents that belong to, and are shaped by, the social forces and factors of society. The problem, in short, is how to cope with the transcendence of God who chooses to be present, speaking not with the tongues of angels but in human language. In our generation, we have already been troubled by the inalienably human character of Scripture in various ways. There was a time, not too long ago, when people were disturbed by the fact that the language of

Wilson. Sociological Approaches to the Old Testament, p. 83.

Scripture belongs to a mythical world view, the pre-scientific "threestoried view of the universe."A whole school of interpretation arose seeking to demythologize Scripture and to translate it into existentialist categories that might appeal to modern human beings. But we learned. I believe, that myth is a form of poetry which proclaims and celebrates truth that has been lost by the modern, scientific world, and that the mythopoeic language of Scripture, which Israel received and reinterpreted, cannot be discarded. In recent years, we have become increasingly conscious of the fact that tile words of Scripture have been shaped by, and belong to, patriarchal society, and this has caused problems both for women and for men who come together to hear the reading and interpretation of Scripture in services of worship. Much more exegetical and theological work has to be done in this area, but a major gain is that we have become aware. thanks to the leadership of scholars such as Phyllis Trible, that the language of Scripture, although set within the framework of patriarchal society, often reverberates with feminine overtones for those who have ears to hear, and that the God whom we worship is beyond "the rhetoric of sexuality." 10 There are other linguistic problems. A fundamental metaphor of Scripture is that God is the Divine Warrior, and this is offensive to many people who, critical of the militarism that plagues the world, do not want to sing "Onward, Christian soldiers. marching as to war" (in the spirit of Cromwell and his forces), and who are offended by the poetic portrayal of Jesus as "the Son of God" who "goes forth to war a kingly crown to gain." III Beyond these issues, let me plunge into the linguistic problem more deeply by considering the question of the relation between religious faith and ideology-a term that

is dear to sociologists and that has wide currency today. Some years ago, Patrick D. Miller, Jr. wrote an essay in the Wright Festchrift on the subject, "Faith and Ideology in the Old Testament."11 Taking account of the impact of sociology upon the study of the Old Testament, he observed that ever since Karl Mannheim's work, Ideology and Utopia, sociologists have been concerned with the phenomenon of ideology-"the understanding that no human thought ... is immune to the ideologizing influences of its social context."12 The word ideology points to the way human beings construct a wordworld, a pattern of social symbolization, which gives meaning to and legitimates a particular political, economic, or social system.

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Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978). Patrick D. Miller Jr. "Faith and Ideology in the Old Testament," Magnalia Dei The Mighty Acts of God, ed. F.M. Cross et al. (Garden City Doubleday, 19761, pp. 464-479. 12 Quoted by Miller. p. 365. from Berger and Luckman. The Social Construction of Reality.

For some time it has been customary for Old Testament scholars to speak of "ideology"" royal ideology," "national ideology," "covenantal ideology," "Deuteronomic ideology," and so forth.13 Often the word has been used imprecisely merely to indicate a complex of ideas or a theological perspective. We have come to realize, however, that several major traditions or-to use the space term, "trajectories"-can be traced through the Old Testament and perhaps on into the New.14 There is, for instance, the conditional covenant tradition associated with Moses (Ex. 19), the royal covenant tradition based on Yahweh's everlasting covenant with David (II Sam. 7), and the Priestly tradition in which the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 17) is central. Each of these traditions constitutes a pattern of symbolization, a theological gestalt or complex, a characteristic way of thinking-in short, "a social construction of reality," to use Peter Berger's term. The trajectory of these covenantal ideologies, which interact and interlace in the history of traditions, can be traced in various major canonical works. The Priestly view governs the Pentateuch (Tetrateuch) in its final form, the Mosaic or Deuteronomic view has the ascendancy in the Deuteronomistic History, and the royal ideology dominates the Chronicler's history. Moreover, these traditions have influenced particular prophets. Hosea and Jeremiah stand firmly in the-"Ephraimitic" Mosaic tradition, Isaiah of Jerusalem belongs in the "Jerusalem" or Zion tradition, and Ezekiel is related to the priestly perspective. Now and then all three traditions co-exist and interact, as in the poems of Second Isaiah or the psalms of Israel's worship. The theological problem is that any one of these traditions may be regarded as an ideology. That is clear in the case of the royal covenant view, which was constructed to endow the Davidic monarchy with meaning. stability, and continuity. A clear witness to the ideological character of the Davidic theology is Psalm 78, which, as R.P. Carroll observes "may be regarded as the charter myth explaining how Judah was the rightful heir of the exodus movement and therefore could claim the leadership of the people of Israel."15 Similarly, Psalm 89, both in the hymnic portion and the concluding lament, is predicated on Nathan's oracle to David (II Sam. 7), which dispensed divine grace and favor to the Davidic dynasty in perpetuity. In this linguistic gestalt. the twin institutions of monarchy and temple-central in other religions of the ancient Near East but alien to Israel's earliest historical experience-constitute powerful symbols in a social word-world that invests the Davidic dynasty with meaning and legitimacy.

The ideological dimension of royal covenant theology has long been recognized. Time would fail me to tell of all those scholars who have

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Miller notes this (p. 465) and cites usages by particular Old Testament scholars. Walter Brueggemann,"Trajectories in Old Testament Literature and the Sociology of Israel," Journal of Biblical Literature, 98 (1979), pp. 161-185. 15 R. P. Carroll, "Psalm LXXVIII: Vestiges of a Tribal Polemic," Vetus Testamentum, 21 (1971, pp. 113150. quotation p. 150.

heaped criticism on royal covenant or Zion theology, most recently Robert Davidson in his refreshing and illuminating book, The Courage to Doubt (1983), where he devotes a whole chapter to the subject, "Jerusalem-Symbol or Snare?"16 Those who favor the Mosaic covenant ideology, like George Mendenhall, have regarded the royal covenant theology as a kind of historical "fall" from grace into the oppression from which the people were once liberated.17 And this is particularly true of liberation theologians, whose hermeneutic embraces not only the social shaping of Israel's thought but people's social location in the modern world. Third World Minjung (People) theology, based on the Exodus story, is the "canonical" basis for criticism of royal theology, that is, the kings story.18 The "ideological taint," however, is not limited to the royal covenant pattern of symbolization. One of the challenging aspects of the essay on faith and ideology by Miller, to which I have referred. is that he also applies-indeed, he begins by applying the critical scalpel to Israel's premonarchic traditions, and specifically to the Mosaic covenant theology. "The roots of ideology in Israelite thought," he observes, "are to be found in the earliest period, particularly in the election and covenant theology of Israel."19 Faith in Yahweh provided "the theological rationale" for overthrowing the Canaanite power-structure, for taking possession of the land, and for the federation of the tribes of Yahweh. Recent discussions on the "conquest" as a peasant revolution, initiated by George Mendenhall and carried further by Norman Gottwald, have corroborated this. 20 IV What I have said about the royal covenant theology and the Mosaic covenant theology applies to the priestly tradition, which grants meaning and legitimacy to the priestly establishment of Jerusalem, with its view of the tabernacling Presence in the midst of the worshiping community, as well as the priestly orders, rites, and sacrifices which enable the people to live in the presence of the holy God. Usually this priestly "construction of reality" is ignored or minimized, especially by Protestant interpreters. My initiation into Catholic worship some years ago, which led to a study of the rite of ordination, made me aware of the importance of this Old Testament stream of tradition.21


Robert Davidson, The Courage to Doubt: Exploring an Old Testament Theme (London: SCM 1983). See also W. Brueggemann,"Trajectories." 17 George E. Mendenhall. The Hebrew Conquest of Palestine," The Biblical Archaeologist. 25 (1962), pp. 66-87.


Minjung Theology (Singapore: CTC-CCA. 1981): Towards the Sovereignty of the People (Singapore: CTC-CCA. 1983). 19 Miller, "Faith and Ideology." p. 467. 20 See Mendenhall. "The Hebrew Conquest of Palestine," and Gottwald The Tribes of Yahweh, as well as other writings. 21 See my essay,"Ordination to the Priestly Order,". Worship 42 (1968 j. pp. 431-441.

So, what shall we say to these things? If these major theological traditions are infected with ideological interests, so much so that Scripture cannot be "de-ideologized" (to use a term that I came upon in a book review by Peter Hodgson in a recent issue of Interpretation), how, can the Bible be the medium of the Word of the God who transcends all ideologies and who cannot be domesticated in human word-worlds? Sociological method, if pursued without an awareness of its limitations, could yield the conclusion that God is only a symbol for the values and identity of the social group, perhaps on the order of Uncle Sam in the political history of the United States. This question has exploded in the recent dispute between two scholars who advocate the use of sociological method in the study of Israel's earliest society. In one of his most recent essays, George Mendenhall expresses shock at Gottwald's bold statement in The Tribes of Yahweh: "Since the primary manifestation of Yahweh is Israel itself, any misconstruction of Israel entails a misconstruction of Yahweh"22 In fairness, this extreme statement requires careful exegesis. Let us agree that the manifestation of Yahweh in history, if it is truly a historical manifestation as opposed to the apprehension of transhistorical ideals or realities, is inseparable from the historical experience of the people who know and worship Yahweh. In the terms of our discussion, the Word of God is given in human words. On the other hand, the question has to be raised as to whether this assertion, based on sociological method, pushes one to a conclusion which divests Yahweh of transcendence, except in the watered-down sense that those who are bound in covenant with Yahweh have a social solidarity and historical vocation that differentiates them from other peoples. Here we come up against the witness of Scripture, which, at all levels of tradition, affirms that Yahweh is the Holy One who is beyond all of the categories and experiences of the human world, yet at the same time the One who has entered into the limitations and relativities of human history with saving power and ethical demand. Viewed in this perspective, the cardinal sin is the worship of the Golden Calf, that is, the attempt to identify the liberating and commanding God with anything in the realm of human culture. V So we face a major theological problem. If God speaks to human beings in a meaningful way, that communication will be mediated through human words that are shaped by a social world -words that often belong to an ideology or social construction of reality. On the other hand, il it is truly God who speaks-the God who is not a figment of social imagination or a humanly contrived symbol-Gods Word will


George E. Mendenhall. "Ancient Israel's Hyphenated History," Palestine in Transition. The Convergence of Ancient Israel. ed. D. N. Freedman and D. F. Graff (Sheffield: Almond Press, 1983), pp. 91-102, esp. p. 102. where he quotes from Gottwald ,Tribes of Yahweh, p. 688.

transcend ideology, whether Mosaic, royal, preistly or any other. In what sense, then, is the Bible Word of God in human words? Karl Barth spoke of the Word of God in three senses: Jesus Christ as the Word incarnate, the Bible as the medium of Gods word, and the Word of God that touches people where they are living through preaching. Some would advocate resolving the problem that surfaces in the Old Testament by concentrating on Jesus Christ, the Word. I intend, however, to address the problem within the context of Old Testament theology, not least of all because we share Scripture with the Jewish community for whom also the Bible (our Old Testament) is the medium of God's Word. "The Bible." said Abraham Joshua Heschel, is "holiness in words," for these human words are the vehicles that God uses to establish relation with a people. "It is as if God took these Hebrew words and breathed into them of His power, and the words became a live wire charged with His spirit. To this very day they are hyphens between heaven and earth."23 Patrick Miller has made a good start by suggesting that there were dynamic forces at work in Israelite traditions that prevented faith from becoming purely ideological. Ideology was transcended when Israel's life was brought under criticism and the moral imperatives of the covenant were heard. Above all, it was the prophets whose words had a critical edge, and-as Miller observes-who could speak words of divine judgment against the national ideology because "to a large extent they stood outside the power structures." 24 But there are difficulties here. The prophets themselves stood in one or another of the ideological traditions (Isaiah, for instance, in the Zion tradition, Jeremiah in the Mosaic). This has to be recognized, I believe, although surely Walter Brueggemann is right in saying that the purpose of the preaching of Isaiah, the seminal prophet in the Isaiah tradition, was to give "a critique of ideology." 25 Moreover, not all the prophets who spoke critically had the same role in relation to the established structure of society. Robert Wilson draws it distinction between "central" and "peripheral" prophets. 26 Further, must we say that in the Old Testament the Word of God is spoken only in those situations where ideology was criticized and thought reaches beyond the confines of Israel's history into universal dimensions? We need to give theological attention to the "root experience" that lies at the creative source of Israel's traditions: the self-revelation of the holy God in a crucial event of liberation. If we may take the Song of Miriam (Ex. 15:20-21) as a theological clue, that revelatory event has


Abraham J. Heschel, God in Search of Man (1955), p. 244; see my essay, "Coexistence with God: Heschel's Exposition of Biblical Theology," Abraham Joshua Heschel: Exploring His Life and Thought, ed. John C. Merkle (New York: Macmillan, 1985). 24 Miller, "Faith and Ideology," p. 474. 25 See the illuminating essay by Walter Brueggemann, "Unity and Dynamic in the Isaiah Tradition," Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 29 (1984), p. 8. 26 Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel, chaps. 4 and 5.

two sides, the obverse and reverse of the same coin. On the one hand, the event was experienced as wonder-one could even say "miracle"-in the sense that God, who is not a

phenomenon of the human world and who is beyond all human words or categories, was experienced as being present to people in a crucial event of liberation. On the other hand, the event was expressed in poetic language that communicated its saving power and hence made the event a social experience to be shared and celebrated. These two dimensions-historical event and- word- event belong together inseparably. If indeed the holy God was present to a people "at least once" in a revelatory moment, as "saving presence" and "commanding presence," to allude to Emil Fackenheims illuminating book on God's Presence in History.27 then that presence was a word-event. The poetic language expressed, and even evoked, the wonder of the event for those who shared it and also passed on that wonder to future generations. As Martin Buber put it in his book on Moses, "the sensuous power of an event has streamed into [the historical situation] and lives on," precisely because it was given word expression. 28 Inspired poetry and, I may add, engaging story-telling-has an indispensable place in the sharing, communication, and transmission of the root experiences that have manifested the identity of God and that have given Israel its identity and vocation as a people. There can be no emancipation from bondage to ideology, it seems to me, unless there are human words which, under the inspiration of Gods spirit, have the metaphorical power to evoke an awareness of the wonder, the dread, and the grace of being in the presence of the Holy God and thus become, in Heschel's apt phrase, "hyphens between heaven and earth." That is why it is essential to realize, as have our hermeneutical ancestors, that the literal sense is not opposed to the spiritual, but is the window through which the metaphorical, figurative meaning of scripture may shine. Poets know that language does not have to be univocal; the literal may include the symbolic. Perhaps we need to become poets so that we may understand Scripture as Word of God. As Karl Rahner has reminded us, "the poetic words and the poetic ear" are the prerequisite for hearing the Word of God in the human words of the Bible.29 It is significant that much of the literature of the Old Testament is cast into poetic forms of speech, and even those parts that are in prose often are laden with poetic overtones. For centuries, and indeed through the time of the Protestant Reformation, theologians spoke of the divine synkatabasis, that is, God's act of accomodating the divine self to human capacity, so that human language, poetically inspired,


EmilI Fackenheim, Gods Presence in History, Jewish Affirmations and Philosophical Reflections (New York: Harper & Row 1970). 28Martin Buber, Moses (London: East and West Library, 1946). p. 74. See my essay. "The Song of Miriam Poetically and Theologically Considered." forthcoming in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament. 29 Karl Rahner. "Poetry and the Christian," Theological Investigations. Vol. 4: More Recent Writings, trans. Kevin Smith (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1966), p. 363.

becomes-to quote an interpreter of John Calvin-"the speech bridge between the known and the unknown, between the infinitesimal and the infinite, between the apparent and the real, between the human and the divine."30 When that bridging occurs in the human words of Scripture, God's Word is spoken to the community of faith. VI

Human words, however, are shaped by and function within a social context. So let me turn to those patterns of symbolization or covenantal traditions in which Israel bears witness to the presence of the Holy One in its midst.31 Each one of these traditions is an ideology in the sense that it arose in, was shaped by, and gave meaning to a particular social structure. The Mosaic tradition was socially meaningful and functional in the setting of the tribal confederacy, the Davidic in the social setting of the Israelite monarchy and the priestly in the context of the Jerusalem priesthood. But, the power of the symbolization of each of these covenantal ideologies was not limited to the initial social setting out of which it arose and to which it gave meaning and legitimacy. Each of these linguistic patterns became a major "trajectory" whose path can be traced into situations far removed from the original sociological setting and even persisted beyond the canonical boundaries of the Old Testament. In short, the ideological pattern proved to be not just an ideology, but a metaphorical word-world. It is not difficult to recognize this in the case of the Mosaic covenant perspective, which was kept alive in Deuteronomic circles and in some prophetic preaching through the generations until at least the time of the composition of the Deuteronomistic History in its final form during the exile. Even holy war, which belonged to the ideology of the tribal confederacy, provided imagery that was symbolically powerful long after the practice was discontinued. Let me illustrate my point by considering the most difficult pattern of symbolization, the royal covenant theology. One would think that this covenant symbolization would have been shipwrecked in the storms of 587 B.C. that brought the twin institutions of temple and monarchy to a tragic demise. Witness to the strain upon this covenantal theology is provided in Psalm 89. Apparently written during perilous days in the monarchy, when the powers of chaos in the form of historical enemies threatened the society, this psalm ends with a poignant lament by the king about whether Yahweh had forgotten the promises of grace to David. But the strange thing is that this royal covenant theology outlived the sociological setting of the monarchy. Second Isaiah boldly transferred


F. L. Battles, "God Was Accomodating Himself to Human Capacity," Interpretation, 31 (1977). pp. 1938; quotation p. 21. 31 See, for example, J. C. Rylaarsdaam, "Jewish-Christian Relationship: The Two Convenants and the Dilemmas of Christology." Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 9 (1972), pp. 249-270, for a summary of the symbolization of the Mosaic and the Royal covenant traditions. Further literature is cited by Brueggemann, "Trajectories," n. 1.

the "everlasting covenant" made with David to the people and transposed the theology of Zion into a new key. In the Book of Psalms, edited in a late period, the old royal songs and songs of Zion provided the symbolism for expressing the presence of the Holy God. The Chronicler by-passed the whole Mosaic period and began Israel's history immediately with the rise of David as king and the building of the temple. And needless to say, the royal theology, with its symbolism of the king as the Son of God and Zion as the City of God, had a powerful influence upon the early Christian community to say nothing of the post-canonical period. This imagery of the Davidic covenant still shapes our worship, our hymnody, and our theological understanding.

Not only did these covenant traditions persist beyond their original social settings-and this applies also to the Priestly perspective that dominates the Torah in its final form-but they interacted with each other in the ongoing history of traditions. We know that the Mosaic covenant tradition and the Davidic covenant tradition are interwoven in the Deuteronomistic History like contrapuntal themes in a Bach fugue. Also we know that at times it is almost impossible to separate Priestly (P) and Old Epic (J/E) traditions in the Pentateuch, and that the Priestly Torah (the Tetrateuch) and the Deuteronomistic History (Deuteronomy through II Kings) are linked inseparably, like Siamese twins. Furthermore, we are aware that in the corpus of prophetic literature these traditions interact, sometimes critically as in Jeremiahs encounter with Hananiah, sometimes in correlation as in the Deuteronornistic History, sometimes in symbiosis as in the poems of Second Isaiah. In short, it is practically impossible to locate these theological perspectives sociologically or to isolate them from one another, except for the purpose of analysis. It seems that these perspectives are needed, in all their theological diversity and polarity, for the linguistic expression of the presence of the holy God in the midst of a pilgrim people. The task of the biblical theologian is to take these diversities seriously, not to try to force all of the traditions of Israel into a rational harmony. Fackenheim, in his book on God's Presence in History observes that the fundamental "root experiences"of Israel (Exodus and Sinai), when subjected to philosophical examination, display certain "dialectical contradictions." There are essentially three unresolvable polarities: transcendence and immanence, divine sovereignty and human freedom, universalism and particularism. Add to these the problem of evil, which calls into question the relation between divine power and divine goodness, and you have the agenda for theological discussion through the ages, to say nothing of the "denominational" divisions based on one or more of these issues. The disclosure of the holy God in the human world, under the limitations of particular social constructions of reality, inevitably results in linguistic diversity, if not theological dissonance. The Mosaic covenant, for instance, stresses the contingency of human freedom and the precarious openness of the future, while the "everlasting covenant" (whether Abrahamic or Davidic) stresses the unconditional commitment of God, which assures continuity into the future despite human fallibility. The Davidic covenant, which stresses the cosmological symbolism of temple and kingship, reaches beyond the historical axis of the Mosaic covenant into the dimension of Yahwehs cosmic kingship and therefore opens the way for a theology of cosmic creation and the inclusion of all peoples in the Kingdom of God. And the Priestly perspective, in its own way, wrestles with the polarity of divine transcendence and immanence by presenting a vision of the Holy God, the Creator of heaven and earth and the sovereign of all peoples, who graciously chooses to tabernacle in the midst of a worshiping people. Each of these patterns presents a theologically indispensable witness, for it nuances the presence of the Holy God in the world differently. The interaction of these traditions with one another during the ongoing pilgrimage of the people, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and within the context of the cultus, provides that knowledge of the Holy God, who both transcends and is involved in the human world, that is the ground of salvation and obligation. Add to this the witness of Israelite wisdom, which was probably at home originally in royal covenant theology but provided a powerful ferment in all aspects of Israelite thought and worship from the first. The total result for biblical

theology is that Israelite traditions in all their diversity and even their dissonance bear witness to the God by whose word the heavens were made and whose counsel brings the nations to nought, a theme celebrated with hymnic praise in Psalm 33. VII We return to the point from which we began. The application of the methods of literary and historical criticism, and most recently sociological method, raises an inescapable theological question, especially for scholars who stand in the community of faith where the Bible is cherished and read as sacred Scripture. The conviction that the holy God speaks through the medium of human words raises theological questions of the first magnitude. Provisionally, I submit the following theses for theological reflection. First, the literal (historical) sense and the spiritual sense of scriptural language are not radically separate. The literal may include the metaphorical and the poetic, precisely because the holy God graciously accomoclates the divine self to the human world through human language that evokes wonder and expresses the divine presence. This was so at the creative sources of Israelite traditions, when the experience of the liberating and commanding presence of the holy God was formulated in word by inspired singers, storytellers, and poets. In this sense we may say that in the beginning was the word. Second, the self-revelation of the holy God, whose identity is signified by the cultic name Yahweh, is also refracted through major covenantal traditions, each of which has its own linguistic gestalt or pattern of symbolization and conceptualization. These traditions-the Mosaic, the royal, the priestly-are, in a sociological sense, ideologies which originally gave meaning and legitimacy to a particular social structure. Yet these traditions were not bound by the limitations of their sociological genesis, for their trajectory can be traced into other times and circumstances far removed from their original social setting. God may use these patterns of symbolization, as inspired prophets, poets, and teachers creatively release their metaphorical power. That is still Gods possibility today in the context of the believing and worshiping community when the Bible is truly preached and the sacraments are duly adminstered. Third, theological attention should be given to the various ways in which these covenantal traditions interact with one another in the Old Testament, and especially to the strains placed upon them because of their theological insufficiency in the face of the mounting weight of the problem of evil. Each one of these theological perspectives becomes the basis for lament, as evident in such poems as Psalms 22, 44, 89. Yet even in times when, to use the psalmists' metaphor, "the face of God is hidden," these traditions are not surrendered or superseded but serve as media for the word of God. The Old Testament provides ample evidence that the word of God is heard in the context of a community where traditions interact critically and creatively, where human words-charged with the Spirit-become hyphens connecting heaven and earth, and where through these sacred words people are brought to a new awareness of the saving and commanding presence of the Holy God before whom the whole earth should keep silent.