More Subtle Allusion

Charles Halton wrote, a while ago, that allusions to tradition in the ancient Near East were rarely made of direct quotation (Edit: Richard Hays calls this metalepsis when the New Testament alludes to the Old Testament without quoting everything that applies). For my own writing, I think this should help me think of new ways (new to me, at least) to connect my texts to others. Sophistication’s good to know how to handle, even if I’m being pretentious by talking about it.

This reminds me: what’s the point of literary subtlety if the Bible’s supposed to have just one layer of meaning, a layer which is clear and obvious to all who ‘have the Spirit’? Of course the old four-meaning method (literal, allegorical, moral, anagogical) is much maligned, justifiably so if anyone starts making outlandish anagogical readings of Levitical laws. Nevertheless, the texts as inspired by God for one time but also for all times have greater significance than a one-dimensional reading.

As far as authorial intent’s concerned, even John Mark Reynolds says that we cannot conclude Dumbledore’s gay if nothing in J. K. Rowling’s text implies it. The text is the text, and because the author changes (that is, he isn’t the same person six months after publication as he was at the time of his writing), he cannot give completely authoritative interpretations without simply writing more to expand the corpus, having reimagined the development of the text.

Of course the text of Jonah means that he was called by God, ran away, was brought back, went to Nineveh, preached destruction, saw repentance and got mad at God. For this to be significant to us now, however, only a fool would reject a moral development of the themes, and only one who rejected Christ would reject a typological reading of redemptive history. An exemplaristic moral development is often assumed to be the best, or even only, way to apply Old Testament texts to Church life today, and then typology is assumed to be the same as the assertion of allegory. Rubbish.

Even Jesus the Christ – or especially the Son of God, the Word of God, the very embodiment of the eternal God – must be expected not to bullshit his exegetical claims. When he makes weird allusions or unexpected readings of Old Testament passages, we need to deal with it without implying that, but for his status as God, he’s giving illegitimate readings. Even if we call him the author of all Scripture (which we can indeed). Jesus is a smart, attentive and responsible reader in the Gospels.

And if the concern is time and time alone – that is, people’s modern patience (or lack thereof) for the kind of typological reflection articulated in the New Testament – I say our priorities are wrong. It’s no excuse. If this is the modern way, I protest the modern method. Back to the sources, people: back to God’s holy word. Be confident because YHWH is with you, but be careful because it’s his book, not yours.


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