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Book Reviews 147 Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture, by Frances Young. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. 325 pp. $59.95. The study ofearly Christian hermeneutics has exploded in recent years, and one healthy development has been the moving of discussion beyond the ways and means whereby patristic interpreters (Origen most famously) set up multi-leveled "senses" ofscripture between "literal" and "figurative" poles. Frances Young, both in her earlier book The Art ofPerformance (1990) and in the present volume, has undertaken to identify more broadly the range of"reading strategies" and the very conditions ofreferentiality under which patristic exegesis proceeded. Young unapologetically admits her dependence on, and interest in, contemporary literary criticism, but makes a worthy case for applying current theories and insights to ancient reading processes. Her conviction, quite justified, is that patristic exegesis was not purely about extracting meaning from received scriptures but about constructing a universe of religious discourse (and a concomitant literary culture) in which Christian understanding and identity could be shaped and sustained. Such an approach profoundly revises the picture of emergent Christian exegesis. For example, second-century Christian apologists, struggling to appropriate the Hebrew scriptures in a highly charged polemical setting alongside Jews, pagans, and in-house Gnostics, were not simply mechanically applying ancient prophecies to Christ, but were setting up the parameters of a "unitive" exegesis in which the overarching hypothesis, or story-line ofscripture (= the church's Rule ofFaith), could be focused and enhanced. More than simple correspondences between "literal" prophecies and their "spiritual" fulfillment in Christ, this ultimately entailed a complex and sophisticated "intertextuality " drawing out the lines and connections between ancient events, the Christ event, and the church's contemporary experience. Later patristic exegetes embroiled in doctrinal controversies within the church likewise aspired to demonstrate how the "literal" meaning of theologically sensitive texts was not purely auto-referential but tributary to the larger goal (skopos) and "mind" (dianoia) of holy scripture. Exegesis in this mode could and did require careful analysis ofthe horizons ofreligious language in the Bible, insofar as its "sacramental" language truly opened the way to transcendent realities. Thus emerged a carefully deductive theological exegesis. Along the way, as Young shows, the Bible itselfbecame the "classic" ofChristian usage, an intertextual world all its own, the basis of a new "totalizing discourse" (borrowing from Averil Cameron's Christianity and the Rhetoric ofEmpire, 1991). As classic, the Bible engendered whole traditions of "mimetic" interpretation. Quite appropriately, Young thoroughly explodes old stereotypes ofAlexandrian "allegorism" and Antiochene "historicism" to reveal how shared patristic premises about the prophetic character and moral paideia of scripture led to different paradigms for "imitating" the Bible's own narrative of a new reality in Christ. Alexandrians like Origen fostered a"symbolic mimesis" which left behind the historical plane and treated 148 SHOFAR Spring 2000 Vol. 18, No.3 the stories and words of scripture as conveyers to a higher spiritual narrative. Antiochenes like Diodore ofTarsus ofTheodore ofMopsuestia instead championed an "iconic mimesis" which looked to guard the coherence ofbiblical narratives while also extrapolating from them models of Christian virtue and fresh spiritual insight. Young's favoritism clearly lies with the Antiochene approach, but not because it is more "historical" and thus proto-modem. Indeed, the ancients simply did not know the modem craving for a purely native historical meaning. Texts were to be read for their effect and benefit now. Rather than simply isolating literal, allegorical, and typological interpretations of scriptural texts (each ofwhich category Young analyzes in detail), Alexandrian and Antiochene exegetical schools alike thrived on the dynamic interplay between those interpretive modes. More important for Young is to identify the exegetical strategies which signal what patristic interpreters were actually doing from and with scriptural texts. She explores five exceptional ones in depth: (I) producing paraenesis, or moral instruction; (2) decoding oracles and unfolding prophecies (paralleling the pesher method of Qumran); (3) developing philological analysis ofthe biblical text for the sake of moral or doctrinal consistency; (4) demonstrating divine truth and deducing doctrine (paralleling the rabbinic middot); and (5) discovering the text's mimetic representation of reality. Young's assessment ofthe last strategy, mimetic representation, is especially rich. As she explains, "mimetic exegesis assumes...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 147-149
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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