Sunday, February 20, 2005

Holding v. Hays-1

J. P. Holding has responded to my recent comments. Except where otherwise stated, his replies will be in quotation marks.

"He [Hays] as much as admits his inability to deal with the case holistically as he too deigns to deal with only what he calls "major arguments." This is a grave mistake, as with White."

I, of course, admit no such thing. It is no more of a "grave mistake" for me to be selective in what I choose to comment on with respect to Holding than it is a grave mistake for him to be selective in what he comments on with respect to his book reviews. I'm simply exercising rational discrimination, which I happen to regard as an intellectual virtue. And I'll exercise the same rational discrimination in this reply.

"It didn't take long for the ostrich to find a level patch of sand and stick his head in."

Notice the gratuitous invective.

"Of course there is the mere waving-off of high and low context -- there is no "even if" about this; it is a recognized, endorsed concept noted by social science and anthropological scholars, supported by the consensus -- but more than that, there is the pompously arrogant designation of what I offer as not being "exegesis" simply because it appeals to an external."

i) I'm waiting to see Holding cite one sociorhetorical scholar who interprets Rom 9 in Aristotelian categories.

ii) As to the "pompously arrogant" designation (note the gratuitous invective), Holding did not "simply appeal to an external."

Neither White nor I would deny the potential legitimacy of background material. But to begin with, not all "externals" are relevant to the text. The Religionsgeschichte Schule (e.g., Bultmann; Bousset) was very fond of appealing to "externals" to "exegete" the text of Scripture.

In addition, Holding did a lot more than merely appeal to a high/low context. Remember his exact words: "we would not expect it to be found within Romans 9 or any explanation offered by Paul -- because such an 'explanation expectation' would be the product of a Western low-context mind rather than a Hebrew high-context one, like Paul's."

i) Holding has drawn an antithetical distinction between a "Hebrew high-context mind" like Paul's and a "Western low-context mind," then uses the Western context to exegete Rom 9. So he employs an interpretive grid which, by his own definition, cuts against the grain of the text. He is invoking a distinction in opposition to Pauline thought, and then imposing that on the text. In the nature of the case, this would directly subvert original intent. No, this is not exegesis. This is classic Scripture-twisting.

ii) I'd add that even if, for the same of argument, we were to redirect the Pauline argument through Aristotelian channels, that would only replace one form of determinism with another inasmuch as primary causality is efficacious as well, which is why Aquinas was just as predestinarian as Augustine.

"But that he [Hays] admits that the point is nevertheless overall correct speaks for itself."

Once again I did nothing of the kind. I said that Wilson was guilty of exaggeration, and I offered a counterexample to show that it all depends on the target audience.

"That's very nice, but if anything, this only tends to support my point. 'Disorderly and circuitous' is precisely how a Greek mind would see expressions of block logic. Mental horsepower isn't germane to the particular of expression I cited, so it ends up that Hays only ends up proving my point with his displaced quotation."

The precise point of contrast was between Aristotelian and Talmudic modes of argument ("how he evaluated the Greek mind, as exemplified by Aristotle, vis-a-vis the Talmudic mind").

Greek philosophy had other forms of argumentation, such as the diatribe, favored by the Stoic school (cf. Fitzmyer on Romans, p91--whom Holding references without--evidently--having actually read), which you find reproduced in Paul as well as Rabbinical debate. If you harness up the raw horsepower of the Jewish mind to that technique, as occurs in Romans, you generate a lot of logical argumentation.

"Hays apparently has exegeted some new definition of 'apologetic' with which the rest of us are unfamiliar. There is nothing of such an apologetic anywhere in these chapters -- nothing like a kalam cosmological or a moral argument in sight. At most there is a polemic against ineffectual false gods, but this is not at all the same thing as an argument for God's existence. Hays offers thus yet another misplaced retort."

I don't know who the "us" has reference to, unless Holding is in the habit of talking to himself. As to novel exegesis, if Holding were to crack open the covers of a standard commentary from time to time, he might not be so easily knocked off his pins. This is how Brevard Childs has outlined apologetic strategy in Isaiah:

"The unit [41:1-7] opens with Yahweh summoning the nations to appear in court for a trial. The claims of the foreign gods will be tested according to legal rules…[21-29] The force of the argument in both parts of the trial appears to be that the claim to true divinity rests on the ability not only to control the course of future events, but also to have predicted the events before they occurred. Consequently, the ability to match the prediction with its fulfillment can then be tested rationally in the trial," Isaiah (Westminster John Knox Press 2001), 317,321.

Since Dr. Childs is a highly "credentialed" scholar, I trust that Holding will pay proper homage to his social betters in this matter.

"There's nothing like a non-specific non-answer composed of a reference and nothing else. I will not endorse Hays' laziness by looking up what he should have provided in the first place -- actual data. If this is how Calvinist response is done, little wonder pomposity is a primary weapon of their apologists."

i) Let's clarify the burden of proof here. Holding was the one who initiated an attack on Calvinism. The onus is therefore on him to acquaint himself with the supporting arguments for Calvinism in order to render an informed judgment on the system under review.

ii) If it is lazy for me to refer the reader to a classic exegetical defense of predestination, then it is just as lazy for Holding to refer the reader to his sociorhetorical critics.

"This is a remarkably idiotic comment, since psychology is what produced the texts to begin with."

i) Notice the gratuitous invective.

ii) Notice, also, the patent equivocation here. To say that psychology is prior to text is not to say that "block logic" is prior to the text. Holding is smuggling his conclusion into the premise.

"The point here is resemblance of a particular method of Hegel to a particular method of the wisdom genre."

Instead of trafficking in these fact-free abstractions, why doesn't Holding reproduce a few representative pages of Hegel's Logik or Phanomenologie des Geistes alongside a few representative pages of Job, perhaps in parallel columns, and let the reader judge for himself the validity Mr. Holding's exercise in comparative philosophical method. Or, better yet, surely he could point us to some sociorhetorical study which does the same.

"Another non-point. At most it would only suggest that we could find Western parallels to the Eastern practice, without disproving my point."

Western parallels to Eastern practice? Does this mean that Holding would now apply to himself the line about how " it didn't take long for the ostrich to find a level patch of sand and stick his head in. Of course there is the mere waving-off of high and low context."

Holding had been staking his case on the contrast between a Western low-context mind and a Hebrew high-context mind. Now, however, he's "waving off" that disjunction in favor of cross-cultural parallels.

"More than that, the most critical point is missed: Do these Western dialogues take the tack of 'work it out yourselves' or do they give the answer in a can, with the dialogue as merely a vehicle for the 'crash test dummy' to act as a talking head to which the genius responds with the answers -- or to actually give answers?"

This assumes that Solomon and the author of Job were rough-drafting their way to an answer. But such finished literary products as Ecclesiastes and the Book of Job bespeak a thorough mastery of form and content from start to finish.

"This is just more pious Calvinist blatherskeit [sic]; more 'give glory to God, you heathen' pulpit-pouding [sic]. We are told that we'd better find it 'flawlessly logical,' by gum, or the flames of hell await you!"

Compare this unresponsive reaction--one can hardly call it a reply--to what I actually said: "There is nothing paradoxical about the hardening of Pharaoh. The Bible cues the reader with a couple of programmatic statements (Exod 4:21-22; 7:2-3), the function of which is to supply a hermeneutical framework for what follows in the subsequent narrative. The text is flawlessly logical."

i) What I did was to take a specific claim of Holding's, and rebut it by pointing the reader to the promise/fulfillment pattern of Exodus. If anyone is "pounding the pulpit here, it is Holding, with his verbal bluff and bluster.

ii) However, just to prove to Holding how accommodating and agreeable a Calvinist can be, I'm more than happy to stipulate to his claim that Calvinism has a monopoly on logic.

"Once again Hays arbitrarily selects the word 'antimony' from out of its place and applies it where he pleases, in order to manufacture a problem. But no, as even he admits, there is a polarity: Love and hate, Jacob and Esau. In other words, block logic."

I do, indeed, admit that there's a polarity here. It is not, however, a literary or psychological polarity. Rather, it is based on the "fact" of divine election and reprobation. Malachi attributes this to God. So, if it's "block-logic," it's divine block-logic. It's divine psychology.

Or will Holding dismiss this ascription as a literary fiction? Will he do an end-run around the Bible by opposing a low-context mind-set to a high-context mindset, and relativize away the claim of Scripture by the intrusion of an alien outlook?

"Why? Would it be a threat to Hays if it were? Whether it ought to be 'normative' for Christians is up to each person; but if it was normative for the writers of the inspired text, then it had darned well better become part of our interpretative grid, otherwise we will be disrespecting the text and making it a ventriloquist dummy for our own ideas and preferences. What does Hays hope to accomplish with this silly implied threat, which amounts to gross ethnocentrism?"

Once again, Holding resorts to a childish game of verbal bluffery: "I dare you--I double-dare you!"

I had not issued a threat to anyone. But as long as Holding chooses to recast the issue in these terms, I'm happy to call his bluff. Whether Scripture is normative may well be up to each "person," but it is hardly up to each "Christian." If you do not venerate the normative force of Scripture, then you are not a Christian. It's a simple as that. And Scripture will prove to be just as normative for unbelievers as well--just not this side of the grave.

Holding has resorted to this flailing hyperbole as a way of defanging the charge by co-opting it. I had never leveled such a charge. But let no one be misled by this rhetorical gimmick.

When Holding sets up an antithesis between Hebrew thought and Western thought, and when he substitutes Western thought for Hebrew thought, canceling out original intent in a zero-sum game, then he is, indeed, turning the inspired text into a "ventriloquist dummy" to voice his own ideas and preferences.

If this is not what he means, I would advise Mr. Holding to drop the attitude, drop the invective, and clarify his meaning.

"No more idiotic statement could be made."

What statement could I have made to justify such a sweeping condemnation? Must have been pretty outlandish, right? This is why Mr. Holding is responding to. I had said that "the Bible-believing Christian is honor-bound by the logic of Scripture."

But by Mr. Holding's lights, to say that a Christian is honor-bound by the logic of Scripture is an idiotic statement; indeed, no more idiotic statement could be made. I leave it to the reader to judge if this is the view of Scripture we should expect from a Christian apologist.

Holding goes on to say that "Hays exemplifies the sort of person who decontextualizes the text under the thin veneer of pompous piety. One may as well speak of Scripture as 'language-bound' to Hebrew and Greek."

i) Actually, the quickest way to decontextualize a text of Scripture is to set up an antithesis between the mentality of the Biblical writer and the mentality of a modern reader, like Holding does, then substitute your "Western low-context" mindset for the "Hebrew high-context" mindset of the original author.

ii) As to whether the analogy between Scripture as logic-bound and language-bound, there are both analogies and disanalogies, although neither is supportive of Holding's high-handed dismissal.

Language is the medium. And at that level, it is also the vehicle of logic. Now, once you arrive at the meaning, by exegeting original intent, you can translate the propositions into other tongues. And those propositions are normative for believers. That acknowledgement is one of the things that makes a believer a believer. Holding hides behind his customary fog-machine of invective ("the thin veneer of pompous piety"), but an essential element of genuine piety is submission to the authority of Scripture as the word of God.

Next, I had said: "Let us remember that Rabbinical Judaism codifies the Pharisaic school of thought. It is therefore rife with synergism and merit-mongering. Yes, I know, Sanders would demure, but I've addressed the new perspective in my essay on 'Reinventing Paul.'"

To which Holding replied:

"We have already addressed this sort of bigoted ethnocentrism above with White. Apparently Calvin didn't find that 'synergism and merit-mongering' too disturbing; nor do scholars of today."

i) For Holding to say that Calvin didn't find synergism or merit-mongering too disturbing evinces a total ignorance of what the conflict with Rome was all about. And it certainly disqualifies him from offering a halfway accurate critique of Calvinism.

ii) As to "bigotry," when Holding has no argument, he resorts to abuse. I would not deny, however, that there is evidence of bigotry and ethnocentrism in some modern-day scholarship. It is true that Sanders and his epigones have tried to upwardly revise our estimate of Pharisaic theology. Sanders is of the opinion that the Protestant Reformers caricatured the Pharisees. But his historical and theological revisionism is more radical than that. Sanders is also of the opinion that Paul himself caricatured the Pharisees. And surely nothing is more bigoted or ethnocentric that the spectacle of a late 20C gentile Englishman who fancies himself to have a firmer grasp of 1C Pharisaic theology than a 1C Pharisee like Paul who studied under the greatest rabbi of the age (Gamaliel). And I, simple-minded Christian, take my stand with the NT view of Pharisaic theology.

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