The history of interpretation

The idea that the Old Testament text should be read as a coherent whole is often linked with the argument that that is how it used to be read before the historical critics came along. Accordingly there has been a massive revival of interest in "pre-critical" reading of the Old Testament, in rabbinic, patristic, and Reformation writers. Childs himself gave considerable impetus to this movement by writing a long commentary on Exodus in which he presented not merely a critical reading dealing with the traditional concerns of source, form, and redaction critics, but also much information about interpretations in traditional Judaism and Christianity - with excerpts from the rabbis, the Fathers, and the Reformers.

It so happens that an interest in the history of the reception of texts is a growing concern in the wider literary world. People nowadays write about how Shakespeare (for example) was read, and how his plays were performed, in the seventeenth, eighteenth, or nineteenth centuries. Childs's theological program thus chimes in with leading secular movements of literary criticism. By no means all those interested in the text's reception are "canonical critics"; some are themselves "secular" students of the Bible as literature, who simply find the effects the text has had on generations of readers more interesting and important than the quest for its supposed "original" meaning. But there is no doubt that the theological and literary concerns complement each other well in the present climate of thought. An important influence on the more secular interest in reception history has been the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer. His idea that one never approaches a text "cold" but always with a "pre-understanding" was influential in earlier times on such biblical scholars as von Rad. The history of interpretation is a rapidly burgeoning area of study in Old Testament scholarship.

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