Richard B. Hays, the recently retired George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity school, is well known for his important contributions to New Testament studies. Among those contributions is his now classic treatment of intertextuality in the Pauline literature, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993)—one of the primary works through which a generation of students was introduced to the subject. Three decades later, Hays has provided a new generation of students with a similarly titled volume aimed at examining intertextuality in the canonical gospels. In the process of completing this book, Hays experienced serious medical issues that both delayed the volume and raised questions about whether it would even be completed. Against the backdrop of those medical concerns and in light of his previous work on intertextuality, it is important to note that Hays has generated a focused book that, while less methodologically robust than his Pauline volume, is every bit as substantive and careful in its investigation of scriptural interpretation and hermeneutics in the gospels. Whether one might choose to take issue with various methodological moves or interpretive decisions—and our respondents do—it is difficult to deny the value of this volume as a historical, literary, and theological investigation of the four evangelists and their use of Israel’s scripture to set forth their distinctive visions of Jesus.
Hays begins by making three important points about the aims of the book. First, this is not a book about the historical Jesus, nor does it represent an attempt to reconstruct how Jesus thought about the Hebrew Bible and its interpretation. Instead this work is more intensely focused on the authorial voices of each evangelist within the narrative and theological projects in which they engaged. In this way, the book is first and foremost a historically and theologically-informed literary analysis of each autonomous gospel text. In that light, a question to frame the book’s interrelated foci might be, “How did the evangelists think about the Hebrew Bible and its interpretation and how did they apply that thinking to their portraits of Jesus?”
Second, Hays is not interested in discussing or advocating for any proposal related to the social context of the communities associated with the canonical gospels. He does not spend time rehearsing theories related to gospel communities or those who might deny such communities existed, nor does he enter into debates about the geography or social location of the evangelists. Again, the majority of the book is a literary critical investigation and much of the critical discussion relating to the preliminary investigation of the world behind the text is simply left out.
Third, the book is not concerned with how early Christian communities arrived at Christological views that saw Jesus as the human incarnation of Israel’s God. While he locates himself in the camp of those who embrace a high early Christology, this book is not an attempt to trace that development.
On the heels of these three points, Hays describes his approach as follows:
[T]his is a book that offers an account of the narrative representation of Israel, Jesus, and the church in the canonical Gospels, with particular attention to the ways in which the four Evangelists reread Israel’s Scripture—as well as the ways in which Israel’s Scripture prefigures and illuminates the central character in the Gospel stories (7).
Following the book’s introduction, there are four major sections under the heading “The Evangelists as Readers of Israel’s Scripture.” Hays tackles major themes in Mark (sections 1-5), Matthew (sections 6-10), Luke (sections 11-15), and John (sections 16-20), respectively. As ever, Hays’ ability to generate a close reading that simultaneously instructs and provokes thought is on display throughout. The book closes with a flourish in which Hays sums up the value of figuration for appreciating the achievement of the four gospels and their presentations of Jesus.
All four respondents, Rafael Rodríguez (Johnson University), Eric Barreto (Princeton Theological Seminary), Jonathan Bernier (Lonergan Research Institute at Regis College), and Rebekah Eklund (Loyola University Maryland), are New Testament specialists who write with appreciation for Hays’ erudition and sophistication, while offering astute critiques of the volume. These critiques, along with Hays’ grateful though critical responses, contribute to a lively, interesting, and thought-provoking symposium.
Reading Like Guests in Someone Else’s Story
When we read the New Testament, Richard Hays suggests, we are not just reading a singular text, one layer of meaning-making. Instead, we are reading a reader reading texts and interpreting them anew. That is, the significance of the New Testament is not to be found on a single literary or historical layer; instead, the Gospels and Paul alike are palimpsests of interpretive activity. Therefore, interpreters of the New Testament cannot be satisfied with mere exegesis of the texts we are reading; instead, scholarship must account for how these texts are themselves sites of complex interpretive activity. These ancient authors were not, of course, crafting texts in cultural vacuums. Instead, they were participants in and creators of cultural and theological worlds reflecting, interacting, and reshaping the literary and theological inheritances they had received. That is, the New Testament is not just the end result of various strands of theological story-telling; these texts are creative sites of meaning, retrospectively reading received texts while also projecting theological projects with which we today now interact.
The kind of cultural organization and rearrangement Hays is most concerned with is the literary echo. That is, like the New Testament texts themselves, citation and allusion are not singular either; they do not point us back to a particular word or phrase. Instead, when Paul and the Gospels alike point to a particular text, they are drawing attention to the wider literary universe of which that text is a part. The allusion or citation has an echo; Paul and the Gospel are not drawing our attention to words and verses they cite so much as they point to the wider literary context of their allusions. That is, a short quotation brings with it in its wake the wider context to which it points. In this way, from his agenda-setting Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul to the publication of the equally important Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, Hays has introduced us to a much richer understanding of how the appeal to and reconfiguration of Israel’s Scriptures in the New Testament was a theological force, even more than an interpretive technique. That is, Hays’s centering of the reading and rereading and reconfiguration of texts from the Hebrew Scriptures in the New Testament is not just an analysis of literary method but a detailing of certain theological commitments the writers of the New Testament share. Specifically, Hays suggests, the Gospel writers and Paul alike believed that the meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures was not exhausted by the authors’ original intent or vision; an overflow of meaning becomes evident when these texts are read retrospectively through the lens of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The power of such agenda-setting work is that it does not foreclose interpretive, methodological, and theological questions. Instead, such work brings to light more sharply the questions biblical scholarship continues to pursue. Thus, I propose threes areas for further wondering below. Then, I conclude with a brief examination of the implications of Hays’s theses around the New Testament’s appeal to and reconfiguration of Israel’s Scriptures. I want to conclude where Hays concludes by initiating a “conversation” about “the integrity and future of Christian biblical interpretation” (348–49). In short, I want scholars of the New Testament to wonder together about what it means to be guests in someone else’s story. But first, a few areas of query.
Cultural, Exegetical, and Theological Scripts
Cultures are networks of meaning making, webs of signifying. In those networks and webs, cultures organize and play with notions of time, place, identity. It matters very much in a culture that we know the script, so to speak. Alas, these scripts aren’t exactly sold at a local bookstore. They are written on the fly by each of us as we participate in a culture and pick up the cues. For those of us who are bi-cultural folk, these cultural scripts can be both enlightening and complicated. Complicated because gaps in our cultural knowledge are incredibly hard to fill without having been nurtured from early on in a particular cultural space. Enlightening because the liminal spaces between cultures also run through them. That is, the seeming integrity of a cultural encyclopedia is belied by a bicultural optic. The bicultural person can see the cultural seams those steeped in a particular culture cannot. Before us, therefore, is a complex set of questions around the making and reading of cultural scripts, a conversation that leads us to wonder about hybridity and intersecting identities.
Hays’s analysis leads us to continue exploring the meaning-making endemic in the texts of the New Testament. In particular, I am struck by the continued need to examine the ways in which diverse cultural settings were productive sites for theological reflection in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Experiences of exile, migration, and the forging of identity under imperial power course through these texts, and the questions and answers these various texts posit are as diverse as the cultural moments and scripts that fed the imagination of the Bible’s writers, redactors, and interpreters alike. The diversity of cultural scripts at play in the Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament lead me to a theological question. What kind of texts are these?
That is, what kind of texts engage these profoundly human and theological questions with so much diversity? What kind of Scripture plays with language and allusion and echo in such diverse and various ways? Perhaps, initially, it is vital for us to notice that this may not be all that extraordinary. Any culture is suffused with playful echo, educated allusion, significant parallels that illuminate both sides of the comparison. That is, it is not all that strange that the Gospel writers would interpret the Hebrew Scriptures this way. The Gospel writers are neither unique nor innovative in this kind of cultural and theological work.
What may be actually surprising is that so many Christian readers of the New Testament do not assume they will find such “echoes” in the Scripture. Too many Christians approach Scripture as a context-less, universal word of God applicable to all times and places precisely because it is universal, generic, free of particularity. Hays helps us remember that the Gospel writers leaned into a cultural encyclopedia we would do well to read anew. Moreover, we might approach the texts of the NT in ways that evoke the exegetical and interpretive exploration the Gospel writers engaged. Such interpretations took many and various forms. Such interpretations do not necessarily cohere; the method of the Gospel writers is not identical and their particularities are rich resources for our theological reflection.
I was particularly interested in Hays’s treatment of the Gospel of Luke at least partly because Luke’s narrative evokes the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures in more subtle ways than, say, Matthew’s formula quotations. Why does Luke evoke the stories of the Hebrew Scriptures rather than cite them? Why narrate Mary by paralleling her with Hannah? Why does Luke’s Jesus follow the narrative paths Elijah and Elisha walked? Here, I think the theological purpose of the echoes matters most. The primary purpose is perhaps not to convince the reader of Luke’s careful composition or even just to delight the reader wise enough to notice the literary play at work but to make a claim about the faithfulness of Israel’s God. Luke is not narrating a new story but an old one. Luke is not narrating a detour in God’s plans but their fulfillment. Luke is not flipping the script as much as he is following it. One question for us is how our contemporary scripts run aground upon the scripts that formed the Gospel writers.
For instance, we might look at Hays’s analysis of the haunting story of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16:19–31. I should clarify that this story is haunting to those who more easily identity with the unnamed wealthy man rather than the named and more precisely characterized Lazarus. Hays begins by noting that the story has troubled interpreters, for it does not provide a rationale for the afterlife destinies of the story’s protagonists. Moreover, “Lazarus is not described as particularly virtuous, nor is there any indication that the rich man’s wealth was ill-gotten” (205). Thus, Hays concludes, the rich man must have been punished, not so much because he is wealthy but because he has misused his financial privilege.
In our reading of this text, are we perhaps too willing to liberate those of us living under the purported privileges of Western opulence? Might not Luke imagine that the rich man’s wealth and his ignoring of the needs of Lazarus are bound together? After all, Mary sings that God “sent the rich away empty” (Luke 2:53) without any caveats about the character of these rich folk. It is the rich who are sent away empty, not just the rich who do not aid the poor. The contrast Mary draws is much sharper than Hays’s reading and that much more challenging for those of us living in comfort today. Moreover, the rich man in this story is but a trope, a flat character who lacks an interior life in the story. The story does not give us a glimpse into “his own selfish choices” (207) as much as it highlights Lazarus’s many injuries on one side of death and his deliverance on the other.
Around the same passage, I note a tension in Hays’s argument, a tension I’ve struggled with too, for I think it is a particularly Lukan paradox. First, Hays notes that Luke’s call to share possessions “should not be perceived as a novelty in Israel; it is profoundly consistent with the commandments of Deuteronomy” (205, italics added). Just a few lines later, Hays writes, “Yet it is clear that Jesus calling his Pharisaic host to a fuller and more radical vision of Israel’s identity as a liberated people, living in realization of the Deuteronomic vision” (205, italics added). Here, I have to wonder what makes Luke’s Jesus’s teaching “fuller,” “more radical.” By what criteria would we judge his teaching so, especially if Jesus’s teachings are “profoundly consistent” with the theological and social imaginary Deuteronomy forwards? This, in my mind, is a tension toward which Luke leads us. In his use of the Hebrew Scriptures to provide the grammar and shape of his own storytelling, Luke is walking a fine theological line. On the one hand, Jesus’s life and teaching are not aberrations in Israel’s story but entirely consistent with it. Mary is not the first woman to sing about God’s deliverance of Israel, to praise a God who will upturn the world. Zechariah and Elizabeth echo old stories of infertility and pregnancy loss. Jesus himself points back to Elijah and Elisha in Luke 4 as models for his ministry. For Luke, Jesus is not a detour from the stories Israel has told; this is not a new story whatsoever. And, yet, on the other hand, there is something new in this story, something and someone transformative. In the tension of new and old, promises made and yearnings we still have, Luke sees the stories of Israel’s Scriptures lived out.
Diversity and Coherence
Hays concludes with a number of insights he discerns after the painstaking and careful exegetical work of this book and indeed an impressive career of study, teaching, and writing. One of the conclusions reads, “In short, figural interpretation discerns a divinely crafted pattern of coherence within the events and characters of the biblical narrative” (359). As a Christian reader of Scripture myself, I first wonder when exactly God created this pattern? As Isaiah spoke? As the Evangelists read and reread? As communities of faith today read and reread these ancient and living texts in their own diverse contexts?
The bigger question for me, however, drives us toward the term “coherence.” Might the diversity of the fourfold Gospel point to something other than coherence as the ideal narration and imagination of the gospel. What if the picture the Gospel writers draw for us instead is a diverse community of readers? And if something like coherence is present in these communities of readers and believers it’s found more in the relentless belief that God has drawn this diverse community and its diverse stories together.
After all, what exactly is the epistemological and theological value of coherence? Yes, it may bring some clarity but at what cost? Hays seems to suggest that the drawing together of these four distinct voices helps us lean into a singular story. But what if we join Chimamanda Adichie and wonder about the danger of a single story?1
Elsewhere, Hays writes, “One function of the church’s canon, a diverse collection of writings, is to model a repertoire of faithful ways to receive and proclaim God’s word” (356). Might we add that the diversity in voice and perspective of the canon points to the irreducibility of the gospel? That is, the diversity of the canon provides us not just various options and possibilities but vibrant reminders that the stories of the faith cannot, ought not be harmonized? That is, the fourfold Gospel shapes not so much a coherent story or theology as much as a particular kind of community of readers.
Reading Communities, Communities Reading
The implications of Hays’s arguments certainly shape how we understand what kind of texts make up the New Testament. In addition, in what ways do these insights into the composition of the Gospels shape those of us who read these texts? Here, I mean not just the individual reader of these texts but the communities who together turn to these texts for inspiration.
Hays writes, “The effect of this accumulation of scripture imagery is to encourage the formation of a certain kind of reading community. Luke is creating readers, seeking to foster the intertextual competence necessary to appreciate the nuances of the sort of narrative he is spinning” (276). To me, the formation of a particular kind of community is certainly a Lukan aim and one that ought to matter a great deal to readers today in ecclesial contexts. Luke forms more than informs, delights more than teaches, models more than shows, sparks imagination more than provide sure knowledge. That is, the kind of reading Luke’s Gospel inculcates is relational and communal. It’s interdependent and thus leans into different cultural encyclopedias and even different angles of visions on these encyclopedias in order to allow meaning to flourish. The readers Luke creates are communal and interdependent for the layers of meaning possible in the world the text projects are not available to any one of us. We need one another in the kind of reading activity, for the limitations of my experience and thus my access to a cultural encyclopedia is both rich and constricted. In short, if echoes are present in these texts, then we need neighbors standing in different places to hear the full resonance of those echoes, we need fellow readers whose ears are attuned differently than ours, we need kin whose access to a cultural encyclopedia shaped by suffering and oppression and hoping against hope enlightens and explodes prevailing narratives of privilege.
Hays further suggests, “The Gospel writers are trying to teach us to become more interesting people—by teaching us to be more interesting readers” (360). This is certainly true; the bulk of Hays’s arguments in this direction are entirely convincing. The Gospels demand of its readers to be engaged, thoughtful, imaginative. I would add to Hays’s suggestion that the way to become more interesting readers is to surround ourselves with more interesting readers too. And, here, the criteria for what counts as “interesting” needs to spread beyond those of us who carry academic credentials or those called by communities to preach the Gospel as ordained clergy or those who wield various forms of power and social capital. Perhaps the most interesting readers the church needs are found in Solentiname,2 in Ferguson,3 in those places we think are “nowhere” but God has called “home.”
The New Testament, it seems, cannot be read once; it demands rereading, for the density of allusion and echo cannot be captured the first or even second time through. Like Cleopas and his companion (see p. 223), we find that our greatest hopes were met but in a way we would not have expected but should have because it was promised in the Scriptures. How could they, we have missed it? How can we miss it again and again?
Jesus, in short, requires (re)interpretation, (re)interpretation which participates in and contributes to a diverse tapestry of meaning-making. The implications for theologians, preachers, and the faithful alike are manifold. Following Jesus is an act of interpretation not simple assent. If Jesus required interpretation and creative rereadings of the Scriptures among his earliest followers, how much more do we need such imaginative interpretation and reimagination today? That is, what if we imagined the faithful reading of Scripture less as a mining of texts for the significance lying therein? Instead, what if we imagined the faithful reading of Scripture as a communal and creative encounter with these ancient texts, texts whose meaning is profoundly shaped and reshaped by those whose lives intersect with their storytelling? It matters not just what we read but who reads these texts too. It also matters very much with whom we read these texts, meaning that the racial, ethnic, social, and class homogeneity of many Christian churches in this country is more than a lamentable sign of division. It may be a spiritual limit to our opportunity to hear the Gospels afresh in all their radical demands upon us.
In the end, the main question may not be whether the echoes Hays describes exist. They do. They proliferate in the New Testament. Hays has been most helpful in making clearer the presence, tenor, and shape of these echoes in ways that are not so mechanistic as we may have once assumed. The echoes are there. The question still before us, I think, is why and to what end these echoes resonate. And while we can pursue these questions as historical enquiry (that is, we can wonder why and to what end Luke read the Scriptures as he did, why and to what end he deftly rewrote the story of Israel in his telling of the life of Jesus), the theological concern is not just fascinating but pressing.
In other words, the question Hays places before us is, What does it mean to be a Christian reader of Scripture? This is a pressing, complex question because of the very real damage Christians have done in the reading of these texts, especially in the regular, almost quotidian ways Christian proclamation too often leans on or plants itself in supersessionism. In short, we have to wonder, as Willie Jennings has prompted me to do, how are we loving guests in someone else’s story?4 If we are curious guests in Israel’s story, what does a reading of these texts that is faithful to God’s promises to Israel look like? At the very least, it may mean that we acknowledge that the fullness of revelation cannot be found without careful, loving, curious reading of and appreciation for Israel’s Scriptures and the people whom God has called.
See Ernesto Cardenal, The Gospel in Solentiname, revised, one-volume ed. (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2010).↩
See Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).↩
Jonathan Bernier on Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels
Thus commands Fredric Jameson at the beginning of his justly classic (if unjustly neglected by the majority of biblical scholars) work of Freudo-Marxist literary scholarship, The Political Unconscious.
Freudo-Marxist scholarship might seem an odd place to start when engaging with Hays’s Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, and indeed the burden of this essay is to persuade the reader that a starting place in fact best facilitates reflection upon the most urgent theological issues raised by this monograph. These issues ultimately turn upon the matter of history—what history is, much more so than the frequent disciplinary obsession with asking how to do history—and are made urgent by Hays’s claim that his project in Echoes is “still very much a historical task” (6, emphasis original). Yet, when one reads his own synopsis of the project, one wonders whether this is in fact the case, for the study follows a recurring heuristic pattern that addresses five issues, all of which strike this reader as properly literary and in little meaningful sense historical: the Evangelists as interpreters of Israel’s scripture; the Evangelists’ invocation and evocation of scripture to re-narrate Israel’s story; the Evangelists’ invocation and evocation of scripture to narrate Jesus’ identity; the Evangelists’ invocation and evocation of scripture to narrate the church’s role in relation to the world; the distinctive scriptural hermeneutics of each of Evangelist (cf. 8–9). These are all quite legitimate questions, but one wonders where is history to be found in these questions?
In thinking about that question, I return to Jameson, and reading him alongside Hays I note that both authors take as their starting place traditional Christian reading strategies: Hays employs the strategy of figural reading, wherein Old Testament imagery is retrospectively seen to prefigure New Testament imagery, while Jameson begins with the fourfold sense of scripture elaborated by medieval theology. Here however we note a crucial difference, and it has precisely to do with the matter of history. For Hays, his use of this Christian reading strategy never significantly transcends the levels of textual relations and hermeneutical strategies, whereas for Jameson it is precisely the diversity of senses that allows him to elaborate a theory of three interpretative horizons: the text proper, the roughly synchronic class struggles from which it emerges, and the more fully diachronic mode of production from which those class struggles emerge in turns. It is the movement through these three successive horizons that allows Jameson to speak of a historicizing impulse in his work, and it is precisely the absence of comparable movement (whether grounded in Marxist theory or otherwise) that vitiates—probably fatally—Hays’s claim to be producing a thoroughly historical work.
This absence becomes perhaps most evident when we see Hays employ the term intertextuality—a term coined initially by the psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva in order to mediate between de Saussure’s semiotics and Bakhtin’s dialogism—to describe how he envisions the relationships between texts. Kristeva’s psychoanalytic training and practice demands that robust usage of intertextuality situate itself in relation to the Freudian tradition, and the ongoing questions of Bakhtin’s relationship to Marxism demands that such robust usage equally situate itself in relation to the Marxist tradition; yet, strangely, neither Kristeva nor Freud nor Marx make an appearance in Echoes of Scriptures in the Gospels. As such, “intertextuality” has been doubly de-historicized: it is emptied of its own history, and simultaneously reduced from a robust engagement with various regions of the human sciences to little more than a synonym for “allusion.” In this double de-historicizing of intertextuality, we can see Hays’s work revealed less as historical and more as a flight from history.
Returning to Jameson, his conception of history is not without difficulties, and in fact requires certain urgent corrections. Consideration of these will however furnish us with space to consider the contribution that Echoes can make to the work of history and beyond that to theology. Jameson moves too quickly past what the Annales tradition has described as the courte durée or histoire événementielle to what the same tradition has described as the longue durée. In Jameson’s relentless drive to rightly understand the epochal shifts occurring at the level of modes of production, he tends to underestimate if not deny the empirical necessity of understanding those events that occur at the level of named individuals. Simultaneously, Jameson’s argument that the political horizon is the ultimate horizon of all interpretation risks cutting off the very methodological and theoretical inquiries necessary to establish that this is in fact the case. If Hays is guilty of treating an excessively narrow understanding of textual investigation illicitly as history, Jameson risks much the same with an enlarged but still vitiated understanding.
This is where theology can offer a solution. By asking about the concrete material and metaphysical situations in which human persons and communities exist and have their being, theology can see more clearly the appropriate place for classically historical questions operating at the level of named individuals as well as provide warrant for both Hays’s intertextuality and Jameson’s more expansive but still limited political horizon. I would argue that the single best rubric for coordinating such questions remains that elaborated in Bernard Lonergan’s 1972 monograph, Method in Theology (N.B.: the preferred text of Method is now the critical edition released in 2017). Building upon the basic insight underlying the medieval understanding of the senses of scripture—namely that our singular reality can be investigated through a succession of related yet distinct and autonomous operations—Lonergan identified within the work of theology eight functional specialties: research, interpretation, history, dialectic, foundations, doctrines, systematics, and communications. Through research, one assembles the texts produced by earlier acts of communications; through interpretation, one identifies the acts of communications that gave rise to those texts; through history, one identifies the events that gave rise to those communications; through dialectic, one identifies the structural conflicts that gave rise to those events; through foundations, one takes a position on the matters raised by those conflicts; through doctrines, one expresses those positions formally; through systematics, one coordinates those formal expressions as an integral whole; through communications, one communicates that integral whole; and the texts produced by such acts of communication can now be assembled in the work of research. The distinction between history from related but non-identical and properly autonomous fields of inquiry constitutes thus not a semantic quibble, but rather represents the fruits of a heuristic process which first differentiates between phenomena and then synthesizes that which was differentiated into an integral whole, all with the aim of more precisely defining the reality in which both we and our ancient antecedents live and have lived.
A Jesuit father and Aquinas scholar by primary vocation, Lonergan worked his notion of functional specialization out with specific reference to the Catholic theological tradition. Nonetheless, as he himself recognized, there is no reason that his work cannot in principle be translated into the ambit of other traditions. These need not be limited to Christian traditions, or even religious ones. For instance, systematics seeks to coordinate the individual teachings arrived at through the work of doctrines into an integral understanding of reality; these teachings can be as much those of the party as those of the church, or simply of one’s own thinking. In this way, the notion of functional specialization allows us to integrate the various efforts not just of theologians but of the human sciences more broadly, and further facilitates conversations between persons operating within very different intellectual traditions. As such, we can now properly identify Hays as operating at the level of interpretation, and someone like Jameson at the level of dialectic. Hays provides the necessary preconditions for historical inquiries, while historical inquiries in turn provide the necessary preconditions for dialectical ones. History then presents not as that task in which Hays is engaged, but rather that task that builds upon the sort of work that we see in Echoes. This passage from interpretation to history in turn permits passage to the sort of work that is the bread and butter of scholars who are concerned with dialectically recurrent dynamics such as class, gender, ethnicity, and the like. Only then can we begin to meaningfully talk about intertextuality, using such talk to connect Hays’s insights to the concrete and recurring concerns of a humanity that ideally struggles to overcome its own chronic limitations.
The Story of Jesus and the End of Reading
Richard Hays has given us a gift in his new treasure of intertextual analysis. By way of paltry offering in return, I muse here on three themes: authorial intention and meaning, history and theology, and the ideal reader.
1. Authorial Intention and Meaning
In relation to authorial intention, Hays explicitly sides with Hans-Georg Gadamer et al.: “The meaning of a text cannot be strictly delimited by the original intentions of the author” (136). He uses as an illustration the crowd’s damning words before Pilate in Matt 27:25 (“His blood be on us . . .”), noting that the author himself may have been unaware of the potential, salvific double meaning that other interpreters have noticed there.
At the same time, Hays demonstrates a commitment to determining the original intention of the author where possible, and sometimes appears reluctant to move too far beyond a meaning unavailable to the original audience. For example, Hays identifies the possible theological overtones of two OT texts subtly embedded in John 7:24, and wonders if those particular overtones may have been intended by the original author (298).
A bit earlier, Hays links two texts through the motif of blind eyes being opened to a glorious divine presence not normally available to human senses: the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:32) and the chariots of fire around Elisha (2 Kgs 6:17). Hays confesses that this “hypothetical faint echo goes far beyond anything that can be ascribed with any degree of confidence to Luke’s authorial intention” and he goes on to describe it as a possible instance of what Stefan Alkier calls “experimental intertextuality.” On the same page he describes the link as “a poetic thought experiment” and finally as a “perhaps fanciful intertextual reading” (242).
I wonder if Hays has done himself and his exegetical skills a disservice here. The link may be a poetic one, but it is hardly fanciful, especially if one is committed to the notion that the meaning of a text may exceed both the author’s original intention and the meaning available to a hypothetical original audience. Of course, as is often noted in relation to multiplicity of meaning, the text cannot mean anything we like. In the past, Hays has used the concept of an “authentic analogy . . . between what the text meant and what it means” to create a hedge against arbitrary meaning.1 He writes, “Claims about intertextual meaning effects are strongest where it can credibly be demonstrated that they occur within the literary structure of the text and that they can plausibly be ascribed to the intention of the author and the competence of the original readers.”2
But he also goes on to note exceptions to this rule. “Despite all the careful hedges that we plant around texts, meaning has a way of leaping over, like sparks.” That is to say, “texts can generate readings that transcend . . . the conscious intention of the author.”3 Elsewhere, Hays alludes to the role of the Spirit in exegesis and asserts that God works through the scriptural text to reshape us.4
Hays makes a similar claim at the very end of his book, providing the “hermeneutical sensibility” necessary to step more fully away from authorial intention as an arbiter of textual meaning. The links between Israel’s Scripture and the gospels lie not, he claims, “in human intentionality but in the mysterious providence of God, who is ultimately the author of the correspondences woven into these texts and events” (359). When read backwards into the book, this insight illuminates several previous claims where such a commitment is not stated as explicitly.
For example, when Hays first claims that the meaning of a text can move beyond authorial intention, he goes on to give the reason he thinks so: “Precisely because the text participates in an intertextual field and activates different encyclopedias of reception in different reading communities, there is always the possibility of a fresh reading that discloses layers of significance of which the author was unaware” (136). This is surely true of any number of texts, both sacred and secular. And yet, it is a curious description of a church as a reading community, as if the text were the primary agent. If the text (the word) is living and active, it is so because a living God animates it—because the word is the Word (Heb 4:12), and speaks, “time and again, to new people in new situations . . . in new ways in their lives.”5
To illustrate, here is one example that Hays cites and that I spent a couple years pondering while I wrote a dissertation on lament: in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, Jesus quotes verse 1 of Psalm 22 (LXX 21) from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Do the evangelists intend this one line to point toward the rest of the psalm, including the victorious ending? Would the original audience have heard it as an evocation of the entire psalm?
It is difficult, if not impossible, to make a conclusive judgment about whether the evangelists intended their readers to hear the conclusion to Psalm 22 when Jesus quotes verse 1. One can make firmer but still tentative claims about what an original audience may have heard; given some evidence that first-century Christians learned and regularly recited the Psalter in worship, one can make the case that they likely would have heard hints of the whole psalm in Jesus’ cry (just try hearing the line “The Lord is my shepherd” and not thinking about Psalm 23).
Over time, however, I began to wonder if these were the most relevant questions. Alongside questions about original context, perhaps we also ought to be asking what we do hear today, rather than what we are meant to hear, and how our own knowledge (or lack of knowledge) of Psalm 22 shapes our interpretation of Jesus’ cry of “desolation.” (This raises the interesting and crucial question of what kinds of readers Scripture wants or requires us to be, which is the third and final part of this small essay.) I, for one, can no longer hear verse 1 without thinking of verse 31, because I have read and reread the psalm so many times that it is in my bones and I couldn’t get it out if I tried. This inevitably shapes how I understand Jesus’ cry of genuine abandonment in relation to the faithfulness of God, and to the joy of the resurrection to come. Having Psalm 22:31 in my mind meant that another cry from the cross, John 19:30, vibrated like a resonant chord when I read it: the declaration “it is finished” circled around to “he has done it” and made a surprising harmonic connection.
There are many ways to judge whether a new reading (such as the one I just named) is faithful to the text in spite of its newness—the regula fidei, its coherence within the wider canon, whether it promotes greater love of God and neighbor (so Augustine), etc. One potential criterion is the fruitfulness of the interpretation, which maps onto what Hays calls “satisfaction” in his first Echoes book.6 Sandra Schneiders, for example, writes, “An interpretation, even if new or startling, that ‘makes the text speak,’ that, for example, exploits the potentiality of the text to illuminate the faith of the community without violating the canons of good exegetical and critical method, should be taken seriously.”7 Centuries ago, Thomas Aquinas made a similar point about multiple possible interpretations of the same text, writing that one should not “constrict the meaning of a text of Scripture in such a way as to preclude other truthful meanings that can, without destroying the context, be fitted to Scripture.”8 For Thomas, as for Hays, this is true because the Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of Scripture (De Potentia 4.1.8).
By this measurement, quite apart from authorial intention or original audience, Hays’s link between Luke 24:32 and 2 Kings 6:17 is a fruitful one. It breaks no historical-critical rules, linking the two through similar themes and language; it does not destroy the context of the text; and it illuminates the Lukan text in a way that (at least for this reader) not only makes the text speak, but makes it sing.
2. History and Theology
Hays’s assertion that God is the ultimate author of the intertextual correspondences also helps to clarify the relationship between history and theology in the book. As Hays states, Echoes is “not a book about ‘the historical Jesus’” (6). It nonetheless seeks to be a book about the real Jesus (to borrow a phrase from Luke Timothy Johnson). Hays insists that the evangelists’ intertextual and figural readings are “not an exercise in literary fantasy” (364). I sympathize with a desire not to go down the rabbit hole of historical Jesus research, but I worry that the book sometimes treats the text as a self-enclosed world, such that one could forgive an unsuspecting reader for walking away with the impression that Jesus is a purely literary creation of the evangelists.
This is important because the evangelists sometimes appear to create or freely alter certain details in their texts in order to illustrate their theological convictions about Jesus—and does it matter if they do? For example, to return once more to Jesus’ last words from the cross, Hays notes that Luke has chosen to “substitute” Psalm 30:6 LXX for Mark’s Psalm 22:1 (235). This at least implies that the actual Jesus did not say “Into your hands I commit my spirit,” but that Luke has created this detail for theological purposes. I recall the plaintive question of a parishioner after preaching what I thought was a pretty insightful sermon on the relationship between the lament psalms and Christ’s last words from the cross: “But did Jesus actually say all of those words while he was on the cross, or not?” The answer mattered deeply to her—and so it matters to us, too—“us” being those scholars who, like Richard, seek to do their scholarship in service of the church, ad majorem Dei gloriam.
Resources invoked toward the very end of Hays’s book allow us to retain a closer connection between the historical (the Word became flesh) and the theological or literary—namely, Hays’s nod to the divine authorship of Scripture and his model of “reading backwards” (359). A useful framework to pair with Hays might be Mark Goodacre’s category of “history Scripturalized,” a model in which memory, tradition, and history intertwine in the gospel narratives (see also Hays 311).9 If God is indeed the author of the correspondences, and the disciples’ memories play a role in the gospels as they retrospectively consider Scripture in light of the resurrection, then the divide between history and theology becomes less sharp.
3. The Ideal Reader
Finally, perhaps the most persistent theme throughout Echoes is that of the reader who is capable of hearing the echoes in the text (e.g., 103, 106, 186, 187, 198, 276, 231, 251, 252, 317, 322, 327), mainly through their deep knowledge of Israel’s Scriptures, which constitute the necessary “encyclopedia of reception” (e.g., 195–96, 229, 289, 293, 357).
There are two issues at stake here: (a) Is the reader without ears to hear missing only a deeper or intensified meaning, or are they missing something essential? (b) If the latter, how might we correct this problem? How might we become those with ears to hear?
Ears to Hear
In many cases, having ears to hear appears beneficial for unearthing deeper meaning but not essential for understanding. The knowledgeable reader sometimes catches a joke another reader might miss (238). More than once Hays claims that hearing a particular echo is not necessary to follow the story or understand the narrative, but that readers who hear the echoes will appreciate an irony, reflect more deeply, or hear the story with added significance (241, 276, 291).
On the other hand, one of the primary claims of the book—and what it demonstrates over and over again—is that readers without ears to hear are floating on top of a vast ocean with limited ability to dive into the depths. Even worse, it implies that those readers who lack an acquaintance with Israel’s Scriptures are destined fundamentally to misunderstand the four gospels, especially in relation to the gospels’ claims about the identity of Jesus and the relationship between the church and Israel. At the least, these readers appear far more prone to the dangers of supersessionism.
Such readers also seem more likely to miss the subtlety of Mark’s claims about the mysterious identification of Jesus as the God of Israel. One does not need the Old Testament to grasp that John thinks Jesus is divine. But it is much more difficult to perceive this in Mark without hearing the intertextual echoes. To be sure, even readers with a thorough knowledge of Israel’s Scriptures will disagree with Hays’s exploration of Jesus’ identity in Mark—but it is also apparent that Hays’s claim about Mark’s relatively but surprisingly high Christology is almost entirely dependent on the ability to discern the intertextual echoes of the Old Testament in Mark’s Gospel. What, then, to do?
Becoming Better Hearers in Community
Hays acknowledges and laments that many Christian communities do not have a deep knowledge of the Old Testament. He suggests liturgy and memorization as antidotes (357–58). I am not opposed to these strategies. I will suggest three others. The first two are interrelated: the need for some to be set aside as experts, and the need to read in community. Finally, I suggest that orienting around the ultimate end or telos of reading Scripture is equally essential.
At one point, Hays admits that many of Matthew’s techniques “would surely require the reader-competence of a ‘scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt 13:52)” (187). Indeed: and not everyone has the time, desire, or ability to acquire such competence. This is one of the paradoxes of Scripture that has long haunted the church, especially in Protestant formulations of the perspicuity of Scripture. Dale Allison, for example, affirms the belief that the Spirit is capable of speaking “without the mediation of scholars”; yet he also writes that the Bible’s vast difference from us in time and place means that “we really do require some experts.”10 While this observation is more about the Bible’s cultural and historical distance from us, and less about the Old Testament per se, his point is apt.
In that sense, we can be whole-heartedly grateful for experts like Richard Hays, who has brought for us out of the Scriptures treasures both new and old. His most finely tuned ears have heard music most of us are not capable of discerning, and I trust that he is just the kind of expert reader that the gospels—and we—most need. For the second element that makes Richard the kind of expert so sorely needed by the church is precisely that he is a scholar for the church.
Not everyone can become such an expertly trained reader, and not everyone needs to, as 1 Corinthians 12 implies. “The competent reader of the classical or normative texts of any community is not first and foremost the individual community member but the community itself.”11 Hays even suggests that “the effect of [the] accumulation of scriptural imagery [in Luke] is to encourage the formation of a certain kind of reading community” (276). And Hays concludes that this certain kind of reading community reads not merely for greater knowledge but in order to be shaped for witness and mission.
In the introduction to his book, Hays focuses on having our imaginations transformed so that we may “learn to read Scripture rightly” (4). But Hays obviously does not believe that learning to read Scripture rightly is an end in itself. Rather, it is a means toward a greater end—lives lived faithfully before God, in service to the gospel, for God’s glory and neighbor’s good. He ends the book by claiming, “The imperative of accepting a commission is inescapable for the assenting reader of all four Gospels” (366). The ultimate end, then, of learning to read rightly is to read in service of that commission. I will let Hays have the last word on this score: “If we are able to follow the Evangelists’ guidance on how to read, we will gain crucial resources for renarrating the story of Jesus in an age when once again we must articulate the gospel in a fragmented world urgently seeking coherence and signs of hope” (366).
Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 27.↩
Richard B. Hays, “Reading the Bible with Eyes of Faith,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 1.1 (2007) 15.↩
Ulrich Luz, “Reflections on the Appropriate Interpretation of New Testament Texts,” in Studies in Matthew, trans. Rosemary Selle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 276.↩
Hays, Echoes in Paul, 31.↩
Sandra Schneiders, The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1999), 165.↩
Thomas Aquinas, Scriptum Super Sententiis 188.8.131.52, trans. Mark F. Johnson in “Another Look at the Plurality of the Literal Sense,” Medieval Philosophy and Theology 2 (1992) 127.↩
Mark Goodacre, “Scripturalization in Mark’s Crucifixion Narrative,” in The Trial and Death of Jesus: Essays on the Passion Narrative in Mark, ed. Geert van Oyen and Tom Shepherd (Leuven: Peeters, 2006), 33–47.↩
Dale C. Allison Jr., The Luminous Dusk: Finding God in the Deep, Still Places (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 102.↩
Sandra M. Schneiders, Beyond Patching: Faith and Feminism in the Catholic Church (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1991, 2004), 63.↩
Reading the Gospels, Hearing the Scriptures
Language is echoic. Every utterance reverberates other utterances, which reverberate other utterances, and (as they say) it’s turtles all the way down. The metaphor breaks down, of course. Echoes really only ever reproduce and fade; language, however, is much more elastic, adaptive, creative. But let’s not let problems at the margins obscure the strength of the core. Language echoes language. As John Miles Foley notes at the very beginning of The Singer of Tales in Performance, “Words are always situated; they cannot naturally occur but in context.” The point is axiomatic. What comes next, however, is less so: “[Words] cannot recur without reference to prior occurrences and prior contexts.”1 This is the heart of Julia Kristeva’s concept of “intertextuality,” though that term has come to mean something else entirely in biblical scholarship. The paradigm-altering insight—hear Kuhn’s echo—at the heart of Foley’s work is that the word we use for those “prior occurrences and prior contexts” is tradition. More on this in a minute.
Richard Hays’s two-volume Echoes of Scripture, both the original volume on Paul and the current volume on the gospels, prods New Testament scholars to recover the extent to which and the ways in which our texts reverberate with the texts of the Hebrew Bible (Hays prefers and uses the term “Old Testament”).2 The two volumes are not a coherent whole nor even a coherent project. Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul offers topical discussions on aspects of Pauline hermeneutics, while Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels offers a more schematic discussion of each of the four canonical gospels that seeks to be more comprehensive.3 Both, however, pursue the question of how language in a later text functions in relation to other, earlier texts, especially texts Protestant traditions reckon canonical. For Hays, the key that unlocks this function is “figural interpretation,” a phenomenon of reception (rather than of production) in which readers “grasp . . . the pattern of correspondence” between an earlier text and a later event.4 Reading figurally transforms both the earlier text and the later event as the two are brought into proximity: “the semantic force of the figure flows both ways, as the second event receives deeper significance from the first.”5
After a brief introduction to figural interpretation of Israel’s scripture, Hays traces the echoes of scripture in the gospels in four chapters, one each for Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. Each chapter comprises five sections: (i) the relevant evangelist as interpreter of scripture, (ii) Israel’s story in a particular gospel, (iii) scripture and the identity of Jesus, (iv) scripture and the church, and (v) the evangelist’s scriptural hermeneutics. The book ends with a relatively brief conclusion (“Did Not Our Hearts Burn within Us?”; 347–66), seventy-five pages of end notes, and two indices (Scripture and Ancient Sources; Names). In the space that remains, we can hardly even summarize (let alone engage or critique) a book of over five hundred pages. For our purposes, then, we will confine ourselves to Hays’s work on the Gospel of Mark.6
Before we get to that, however, I want to register my overall appreciation for Hays’s discussion of the gospels. Too often, scholarship gets hung up on the (admittedly central) question of an author’s intended meaning and neglects the also-important question of how a text might have been read and received. As an art form, writing obviously requires an element of creativity. Reading, however, also requires an artistic competence and creative instinct. Indeed, the gospels explicitly call their readers to creative reception in asides such as, “Let those who have ears hear,” and “Let the reader understand.” We ought to expect that, in the main, authors deploy signals in ways that guide reception of their texts and, at the same time, readers decode those signals in ways that follow the authors’ cues. But sometimes, of course, readers miss an author’s cue, and sometimes readers connect dots in ways authors did not expect. These are not always misreadings; they are simply readings.
In this vein, Hays does not concern himself with whether the evangelists misread Israel’s scriptures; neither does he concern himself with whether a reader who detects an echo of or allusion to Israel’s scriptures is misreading the later text. Hays is sometimes critiqued for this element of his argument, especially for its alleged subjectivity or unfalsifiability.7 The point is well-taken; we will need to be careful to avoid simply multiplying echoes and allusions simply because we can. At the same time, however, Hays encourages us—rightly, in my view—to eschew the cold, clinical objectivity that distorts human behavior and communication along the lines of the physicist’s laws of motion or the chemist’s laws of chemical reaction. Human beings do not follow rigid patterns of cause and effect, and interpreting their literary remains requires a responsible, discursive subjectivity that respects this irrigidity. Hays’s work demonstrates just such a responsible, discursive subjectivity. The critiques that follow should not obscure my general approbation for Hays’s work.
The epigram and first sentence of Hays’s discussion of Mark signal the general theme of his assessment. First, the epigram: “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables.” This is a variant citation the NRSV’s translation of Mark 4:11, preferring the word “mystery” in the NRSV’s footnote over the word “secret” that appears in the main text. Now, the first sentence: “The Gospel of Mark tells a mysterious story enveloped in apocalyptic urgency, a story that focuses relentlessly on the cross and ends on a note of hushed, enigmatic hope.”8 The unveiling of Mark’s mystery depends upon a prior familiarity with the imagery of Israel’s scriptures; “indeed, a reader who fails to discern the significance of these images can hardly grasp Mark’s message.”9 Hays repeatedly returns to these ideas; he gives his summary of “Mark’s scriptural hermeneutics” the subtitle “Hidden in Order to Be Revealed.”10 Perhaps the most conspicuous aspect, for Hays, of Mark’s scriptural hermeneutics is his “indirect and allusive . . . way of drawing upon Scripture,” which Hays explicitly contrasts with Matthew’s and Luke’s more overt references to scripture.11 Jesus’ identity and God’s redemption of Israel are not the only things hidden in Mark; Mark’s scriptural substructure is itself submerged under (Hays says “woven seamlessly into”)12 the text of the gospel.
Hays identifies “four narrative strands” in Mark’s gospel for which Mark’s use of scripture provides the key to understanding Mark’s narrative. The first three strands pertain to “Israel’s story”: the inbreaking judgment of God, the eschatological restoration of Israel, and the strange continuing resistance of Israel (to the gospel?).13 The fourth strand, the shocking death of God’s son, is introduced as part of Israel’s story but is more appropriately taken up in the section on “the identity of Jesus.”14 This discussion of Israel’s story is, understandably, driven from Hays’s Christian perspective, though Hays might object that the Christian perspective comes from Mark itself. On the one hand, Hays helpfully surveys the themes of judgment and restoration in Mark, rightly eschewing (for example) the notion that John the Baptist expected God’s fiery judgment, but Jesus announced God’s merciful forgiveness of sin. “The threat of judgment and destruction can never be sounded apart from the more fundamental promise of God’s ultimate design to bring about Israel’s deliverance and restoration.”15 Indeed.
On the other hand, Hays’s discussion of the restoration of Israel comes across as anemic not because he downplays restoration but rather because he is insufficiently focused on Israel. To be sure, Hays mentions Israel in his discussion of restoration; for example, “the apocalyptic vision of Mark 13 is one not of cosmic annihilation but rather of the restoration of Israel.”16 The substance of his discussion of restoration, however, has a thinly veiled universal referent that focuses not on Israel in particular but on humanity in general. As a result, the primary problem arising from the Gospel of Mark pertaining to restoration is the simultaneous arrival of the kingdom of God and yet its incomplete realization.17 The relationship, however, between the kingdom of God to which Mark refers and the ethnic, geopolitical people of Israel/Judea is left undiscussed. Nowhere, for example, do we find any treatment of election, the notion that Israel is God’s chosen people, and that somehow this peculiar and specific group has anything to do with the God whose kingdom Jesus announces.18 This is an unfortunate oversight precisely because Mark demonstrates at least an implicit interest in the gospel’s movement beyond Israel’s/Judea’s ethnic and political boundaries.19 Mark nowhere abandons traditional notions of election, notions which are robust in Israel’s scriptural traditions and were taken up in Second Temple texts (including NT texts),20 just as he also nowhere abandons the notion that Israel’s God is creator of the entire cosmos. Hays’s discussion, however, insufficiently accounts for the former, and as a result it distorts the latter. Hays does not inquire how Jesus, as Israel’s messiah, should come to have any significance for the nations beyond Israel. Instead, he jumps straight to Jesus’ significance for “the church,”21 and as a result he misses an opportunity to shed light on Mark’s understanding of Jesus’ followers as a community comprising both Jews and Gentiles.
As a result, the fourth section, which focuses on scripture and the church and is entitled “Watchful Endurance: The Church’s Suffering in Mark’s Narrative,” is unfocused and less helpful than it might have been.22 Part of the problem must surely stem from Mark’s relative lack of reflection on the communal life of Jesus’ followers.23 Whereas Matthew has the “Community Discourse” (Matthew 18) and Luke has an entire volume focused on the community of Jesus’ followers (the Acts of the Apostles), Mark has only snippets here and there that take up (or can be construed as taking up) the subject of “the church.” Here, then, we see that Hays’s structural decisions (viz., the five-section structure he applies to all four canonical gospels) have an unfortunate consequence for his analysis. Without those decisions, nothing about Mark’s gospel itself—or at least, very little—would have motivated us to address “echoes of scripture” in Mark’s discussion of the church.
And yet Mark certainly does say quite a bit about the men and women (and children) who follow Jesus, appeal to Jesus, are called by Jesus, and/or provide a positive contrast to the disciples’ inadequate understanding of or response to Jesus.24 Some of the more interesting observations regarding these people have to do with their social status (e.g., children; see Mark 9:33–37; 10:13–16), their gender (Mark 5:21–43; 7:24–30; 15:40–41), and/or their ethnic identity (Mark 5:1–20; 7:31–37). As we have seen, however, the theological categories that structure Hays’s discussion make these observations invisible. This is especially surprising given Israel’s scriptural traditions’ emphasis on caring for the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner. The reader begins to regret that such an opportunity was missed by Hays’s keen ear for scriptural echoes.
Which brings us back to where we started and to my most thoroughgoing critique of Hays’s approach to echoes of scripture in the gospels, as well as to my defense of his reader-oriented approach to identifying potential echoes and allusions even apart from explicit references or citation formulas. Here I return to the preface to Foley’s Singer of Tales in Performance:
Foley’s claim is more strongly put than I think necessary, but the overall point is important: The question that more helpfully opens up the gospels so that we might have ears to hear the language of scripture echoing through them is centered on tradition more than on texts. Perhaps we can illustrate the difference with respect to a specific moment in Hays’s discussion.
In his discussion of Jesus’ walking on the water in Mark 6:45–52, Hays rejects the idea that Mark is alluding to an “exodus typology” such as we see in passages like Isa 43:16; 51:9–10; and Ps 77:19 because these refer to crossing on dry ground. He does, however, find a more appropriate textual echo in Job’s description of God: “who alone stretched out heaven and walks upon the sea as upon dry ground” (Job 9:8; LXX: ὁ τανύσας τὸν οὐρανὸν μόνος καὶ περιπατῶν ὡς ἐπʼ ἐδάφους ἐπὶ θαλάσσης).26 Hays finds confirmation for this judgment in the appearance of παρελθεῖν in Job 9:11, and he interprets both texts (Job 9 and Mark 6) in terms of “God’s mysterious transcendence of human comprehension: God’s ‘passing by’ is a metaphor for our inability to grasp his power.”27
I would push back on both points. First, the exodus typology is hardly excluded simply because the exodus sea-crossing happens on dry ground and Jesus’ sea-crossing happens atop the waves. Hays’s own methodology emphasizes the role of the reader in making connections between scriptural tradition and the current narrative. The Moses tradition echoes deafeningly throughout Mark 6, from Jesus’ observation of the people being like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34) to his ordering of the people into groups (6:39–40) to, of course, the miraculous provision of bread in the wilderness (6:41–44). In the midst of all these reverberations, would Hays really chastise a reader—in antiquity or today—who connected these particular dots with Jesus’ walking on the water? “No, no. Moses and the Israelites crossed on dry ground!” Such a response would ring hollow. The Israelite’s fear on the edge of the Red Sea and Moses’s encouragement to trust God (see Exod 14:10–14) provides a resonant field within which the disciples’ fear and Jesus’ encouragement to take heart (Mark 6:49–50) becomes especially meaningful.
Second, while the text of Job may have more verbal links with the story of Jesus’ amble on the lake,28 the tradition of Job hardly resonates at all with the Markan story. We can offer three brief supporting observations. First, nothing in Mark 6 has signaled to the reader that Job, alongside or rather than Moses, provides the field within which they should perceive Jesus. Second, while the disciples’ failures (plural) to understand Jesus may provide an analog to Bildad’s failure to accurately perceive either God or Job’s plight (see Job 8), there are no parallels between Jesus’ response to the disciples and Job’s response to Bildad. Third and finally, Job acknowledges his failure to understand or even to perceive the movement of God “upon the sea,” whereas the disciples are terrified precisely because they espy Jesus trying to pass by unnoticed.
The point here, however, is more than just that Hays has identified the wrong (or perhaps simply the less resonant) intertext. The point is that Hays has focused too narrowly on textual dynamics, though his agenda would have been better served with a broader focus on traditional dynamics. No one—not even Hays, if I understand him rightly—suggests we should imagine Mark writing or his readers reading the story of Jesus walking on water with Job 9 open before him (or them). Mark’s words don’t invoke the text of Job 9 or Exodus 14. Instead, those words invoke the tradition of God’s deliverance of his people, whether from their enemies or from the punishment for their own unfaithfulness. This tradition appears in other texts, including Exodus 14, Psalm 77, and Isaiah, but it also transcends those texts, so that differences between specific expressions of that tradition (say, the dry ground in Exodus 14 and the walking on water in Mark 6) do not mute the texts’ ability to resonate with larger traditional realities.
Hays’s ear for the echoes of scripture in the gospels is admirably sensitive and opens up the early Christian texts for us to see—if I may mix my metaphors—the interpretive work of their authors, both with respect to Jesus whom they are depicting and to Israel’s venerable scriptural tradition. There is still work to do, especially in terms of integrating Foley’s seminal insights on tradition into our study of the gospels.29 This is less a criticism of Hays than it is a call for others to extend Hays’s research in a particular direction. Moreover, I would be interested in overlaying Martin Jaffee’s concept of text-interpretive tradition, by which he means “a body of interpretive understandings that arise from multiple performances of a text,” onto Hays’s interpretations of scriptural echoes in the gospels.30 It seems to me that Hays is, in essence, positioning the gospels as the set of interpretive understandings of Israel’s scriptural traditions that constrains and enables the earliest Christians’ hermeneutical activities. Or, to invoke Foley one last time, Israel’s scriptural traditions provide the “enabling referent” to which the stories of Jesus point and within which they resonate most meaningfully.31
John Miles Foley, The Singer of Tales in Performance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), xi; my emphasis.↩
See Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989); Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016).↩
“This book seeks to shed light on the whole range of scriptural interpretation and hermeneutics in each of the four Gospels” (Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, xvi; my emphasis).↩
Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 3.↩
Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 3.↩
Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 15–103.↩
See, for example, the careful and cautious observation by my co-blogger, Chris Keith, in “Richard Hays on the Gospel of Mark and the Method of His Argument,” The Jesus Blog, August 15, 2016, http://historicaljesusresearch.blogspot.com/2016/08/richard-hays-on-gospel-of-mark-and.html, and the extension of this observation in the comments.↩
Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 15.↩
Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 15.↩
See Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 97–103.↩
Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 98; Hays began his discussion of Mark by contrasting him with Matthew (see p. 15).↩
Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 99.↩
Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 20–44.↩
Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 44–87, esp. 78–86; see also 20.↩
Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 29.↩
Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 35; italics in the original. Hays approvingly cites N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God 2 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 339–68, 513–19; R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 497–501.↩
Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, esp. 31–33.↩
As a counterexample, see Paula Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagans’ Apostle (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017), especially her discussion of “Israel and the Nations” (18–31).↩
So rightly, Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 94–97.↩
This is perhaps the place to note that the gospels do not simply echo Israel’s scriptural texts; they also form a part of those texts’ reception history, alongside other Second Temple texts. The difference between, say, Deuteronomy and the reception of Deuteronomy in the Second Temple era is significant for discerning echoes of scripture in the gospels, though Hays does not address how scriptural texts were read and reread by Jews in the Second Temple period.↩
Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 96–97.↩
Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 87–97.↩
Mark never uses the word ἐκκλησία. While this hardly precludes discussing the community of Jesus’ followers in the Gospel of Mark, it is suggestive in this case of the comparative lack of sustained focus on the church in the earliest gospel.↩
For an accessible and insightful discussion, see Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, In the Company of Jesus: Characters in Mark’s Gospel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000).↩
Foley, Singer, xi.↩
Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 71–72.↩
Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 72. On the next page he concludes: “By refusing to trumpet the secret of Jesus’ identity, instead signifying it through mysterious symbol-laden narrative, Mark is teaching his readers to question, and to listen more deeply, before they start talking about things too wonderful for their understanding” (73).↩
Both texts refer to περιπατῶν ἐπὶ [τῆς] θαλάσσης, and both use a form of παρελθεῖν.↩
Hays cites Foley once; see Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 370n21.↩
Martin S. Jaffee, Torah in the Mouth: Writing and Oral Tradition in Palestinian Judaism 200 BCE–400 CE (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 8. Jaffee’s further comments are instructive: a text-interpretive tradition “come[s] to be so closely associated with public renderings of a text as to constitute its self-evident meaning. As a tradition, the text-interpretive material exists in the memories of both the textual performers and their auditors. The public readers deploy the text selectively in light of their judgment of their audiences’ capacities, while audiences supply it in their reception of the reading.”↩
See Foley’s discussion of the axiom, “Performance is the enabling event, tradition is the context for that event”; How to Read an Oral Poem (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 130–33. I unpack and explain Foley’s work on tradition in Rafael Rodríguez, Oral Tradition and the New Testament: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T. & T. Clark, 2014).↩
2.11.19 | Richard Hays
Response to Rafael Rodriguez
I am honored by the invitation from the editors of Syndicate to participate in a forum on my book Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. I would like to offer a word of gratitude to the respondents who have contributed well-crafted essays in response to my work. These four writers have engaged different aspects of the book and offered critical reflections from four different angles. Rafael Rodriguez interrogates the relation between texts and traditions in the composition of the Gospels. Eric Barreto focuses on the significance of the Gospels as sites of intersecting identities, cultural transformation, and the formation of diverse reading communities. Jonathan Bernier, the most critical of the four, seeks to situate Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels on a broad map of scholarly activities and productions. And Rebekah Eklund engages major theological issues concerning the role of the Spirit in interpretation, divine identity Christology, and the proper telos of reading Scripture.
These four varied responses illuminate different facets of my work, and they have encouraged me to think freshly about the matters they propose for consideration. In the replies that follow, I will attempt to engage each of them in a way that takes their concerns seriously and carries forward the conversation.
I turn first to the response offered by Rafael Rodriguez: “Reading the Gospels, Hearing the Scriptures.” Rodriguez has accurately understood and characterized my book Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. Noting that “language is echoic,” he emphasizes, rightly, that my attention to figural interpretation is a matter of studying the phenomenon of reception of Israel’s Scriptures in the canonical Gospels. I particularly appreciate Rodriguez’s recognition that my interpretative work avoids the illusory attempt to achieve a precise methodology that would produce “clinical objectivity” about the identification and meaning of intertextual links in literary texts. Instead, Rodriguez judges that the book demonstrates “a responsible, discursive subjectivity.” I am happy to claim that description as an account of my working method.
I pause to quibble only over Rodriguez’s description of my recent book as part of a “two-volume Echoes of Scripture”—the first volume being my much earlier book Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul.1 That book, an early dip into the churning waters of intertextuality, was written more than a quarter century ago. I never thought of my more recent book as a second volume of a single coherent work; it is something more like a sequel. (Full disclosure: during the years that I was working on the later book, I did sometimes jokingly refer to it as “Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels.” But the adoption of that as the actual title came at the behest of the publisher, who found my own proposed title, The Four Evangelists as Readers of Israel’s Scripture, unwieldy and less sexy.) In any case, Rodriguez rightly describes the differences between the two books, as well as their obvious family resemblance.
Rodriguez focuses his attention on my chapter on the Gospel of Mark. This is an understandable reviewing strategy, because the Mark chapter, coming first in the sequence of exposition, introduces and displays the book’s working method, while at the same time it exemplifies more starkly than the chapters on the other Gospels the problem that Rodriguez highlights: the problem of the relationship between text and tradition. Matthew and Luke are almost certainly literary compositions that draw upon written sources (see, for example, Luke 1:1–4), whereas Mark has long been thought to lie closer to early Christian oral traditions; it is putatively a good example of what John Miles Foley calls an “oral-derived text.” (The fourth-century Christian writer Eusebius famously recorded the tradition that Mark had written down the content of the Apostle Peter’s preaching and made a syntaxis of this oral material.)
Rodriguez’s central critique of my treatment of Mark lies just here. He writes, “Hays has focused too narrowly on textual dynamics, though his agenda would have been better served with a broader focus on traditional dynamics.” His example of the clustering of Moses traditions in Mark 6 merits careful consideration. Rodriguez’s point could be further reinforced by arguing that the Fourth Evangelist knew Mark’s Gospel and elaborated Mark’s hints in order to make the connection to Moses more explicit in his own retelling of the events of the miraculous feeding and Jesus’ walking on water (John 6:1–34). This would suggest that John, as a later reader of Mark, recognized Mark’s implicit allusions to Exodus tradition—though John focuses on the provision of “bread from heaven,” not on the sea-crossing.
But I am a little puzzled about how Rodriguez sees the exodus sea-crossing typology actually functioning in Mark’s account of Jesus’ walking on the water. He suggests that the connection may lie in Jesus’ encouragement to the disciples to take heart and be unafraid (Mark 6:50), which Rodriguez hears as resonating with Moses’ exhortation to the Israelites not to fear the Egyptian army (Exod 14:10–14). Upon closer inspection, however, we see that the disciples in the boat are not afraid of some threatening enemy force but rather of the mysterious figure of Jesus himself, whom they take to be a ghost (Mark 6:49–50). Further, in contrast to the Exodus sea-crossing, Jesus’ water-walking is not in any way a liberating event for his followers; it appears in Mark simply as an epiphany of Jesus’ own power. The relation of Mark’s story to the traditional Exodus narrative remains at best oblique.2
On a larger methodological level, we must reckon also with the fact that we encounter both the Exodus story and Mark’s Gospel as written texts; we have no actual access to the forms of oral tradition that hypothetically lie behind each of them. In light of this fact, it seems to me that Rodriguez’s real point is that the study of the NT’s reception of Israel’s Scripture should focus less on echoes of specific words and more on larger patterns of narrative correspondence. Studying the latter can indeed be fruitful. I would note, however, that even though Mark offers fewer explicit quotations of scriptural texts than, e.g., Matthew, he is nonetheless thoroughly aware of Israel’s traditions in the form of written texts. He refers to the testimony of graphē (“scripture”; 12:10; 12:24; 14:49) and uses the form gegraptai (“it is written”) both to introduce explicit quotations (1:2; 7:6; 11:17; 14:27) and to summarize the written content of particular scriptures (9:12–13; 14:21; cf. 10:4–5; 12:19). Thus, I would argue that Mark may well have had specific verbal correspondences in mind as he composed his narrative.
Nonetheless, I second Rodriguez’s reminder of the importance of Foley’s work. Particularly significant is Foley’s emphasis on the metonymic function of “traditional referentiality.” Foley writes: “Traditional referentiality . . . entails the invoking of a context that is enormously larger or more echoic than the text or work itself, that brings the lifeblood of generations of poems and performances to the individual performance or text.”3 This description of “the invoking of context” is closely related to the literary device that John Hollander has described as metalepsis, the poetic device of echoing a few words that invite the reader to recover the larger context of an earlier text or texts.4
Given world enough and time, I might have written a lengthier methodological introduction to Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, in which I would have engaged not only Foley but other important studies of intertextuality, typology, figuration, and the like. Readers of the book’s preface, however, will know that my time to work on the project was foreshortened by my unexpected diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. (See Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, xiii–xvi). In order to finish the book, I decided to offer my readings of the primary Gospel texts with minimal methodological apology. In some ways, it may have turned out to be a better book without a lot of cumbersome preliminary explanation. The composer Leonard Bernstein is reputed to have said that in order to achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time. Whether my book has achieved “great things” is not for me to decide, but it is certain that I didn’t have quite enough time. Therefore, I am indebted to Rodriguez for continuing the conversation and inviting readers to think further about “Israel’s scriptural traditions as the ‘enabling referent’ to which the stories of Jesus point and within which they resonate most meaningfully.”
Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989).↩
For my discussion of the Moses/Exodus imagery in Mark 6, see Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 49–50.↩
John Miles Foley, Immanent Art: From Structure to Meaning in Traditional Oral Epic (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 7.↩
John Hollander, The Figure of Echo: A Mode of Allusion in Milton and After (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).↩