Bunyan’s masterpiece relates the pilgrimage of Christian from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. The road between these two cities, like the road toward an OT theology, is fraught with many perils. As the critical realist OT theologian negotiates this road, she, like Christian, comes to the Hill of Redactional (editorial) Difficulty where she faces three different paths to the top: Difficulty, Danger, and Destruction. In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian ascends Difficulty and his two traveling companions, Formalist and Hypocrisy (I’ll leave it to your imagination to fill in the blanks here), take the routes Danger and Destruction never to be heard from again (Who knew OT theology was so perilous?).
So what makes the Hill of Redactional Difficulty difficult for the critical realist OT theologian or any OT theologian for that matter?
The OT text has under gone evident redaction in the course of its compositional history at the micro level (minor emendations), the book level (Kings, Chronicles, Psalms, Proverbs), and the macro level (the arrangement of the Hebrew canon or TaNaK). The difficulty comes when applying critical realism’s view (as articulated by Ben Meyer) that authorial intention is intrinsic to a text (only as far as the author was able to actually communicate his intention in the text) and critical realism’s view of the hermeneutical circle of “whole and parts” (“I understand the whole only in function of understanding the parts; I understand the parts only in function of understanding the whole.”).
Psalms will serve as a good example. The authors of individual psalms did not write, in all probability, with the understanding that their works were to be compiled and arranged at a later time and in a meaningful way (i.e. with intended meaning). The tension comes in the fact that there are multiple intentions at play in a compilation such as the Psalter. How does the redactor’s placement of a psalm affect that psalm’s original intention?
In light of this textual reality, we must speak of two intentions intrinsic in the text, namely, that of the psalmist and the psalm redactor. Both intentions have been “locked” in the text as it were. How then, are we to adjudicate between the two intentions within the hermeneutical circle of “whole and parts”? Do both intentions inform each other without distorting either one? Here is the crux of the matter and where the danger lies, at least in my thinking. Will we need to speak of two meanings, one for an individual psalm and one for the whole of the psalms?
Would the same dangers face the interpreter of the OT as a whole? We have individual works/books that were written to convey an intended message or messages, which have been compiled by a redactor into an intently meaningful arrangement in the Hebrew canon or TaNaK.
Any suggestions concerning these matters either at the book level (Psalms) or the canon level (OT/TaNaK)?
Whatever the particulars may be, one thing is for sure; the right way up the hill will be difficult. We would be wise to attend to the words of Christian:
This Hill, though high, I covet to ascend,
The difficulty will not me offend:
For I perceive the way to life lies here;
Come, pluck up, heart; lets neither faint nor fear:
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.