- Scripture Re-envisioned: Christophanic Exegesis and the Making of a Christian Bible by Bogdan Gabriel Bucur
Scripture Re-envisioned: Christophanic Exegesis and the Making of a Christian Bible
The Bible in Ancient Christianity 13
Leiden: Brill, 2019
Pp. xiv + 332. $179.00.
In this indispensable addition to the growing field of patristic exegesis, Bogdan Bucur argues that contemporary terminology for early Christian interpretation fails to account for a dominant and widespread approach to the handling of theophanic narratives in the Old Testament that has profound ramifications for our understanding of patristic use of Scripture. Scripture Re-envisioned: Christophanic Exegesis and the Making of a Christian Bible traces the reception history of Old Testament theophanies, showing how the earliest Christians provided a literal christological interpretation of theophanies; that is to say, they read these theophanic narratives as appearances of the Logos-to-be-incarnate. Bucur shows that such interpretation did not result from contrived exegetical fancy footwork; rather, this interpretation flowed necessarily from the theological presupposition [End Page 337] that Israel’s kyrios was the “Lord Jesus,” and Bucur traces this “YHWH Chris-tology” within the New Testament writings themselves.
Bucur considers the reception history of eight OT theophanies: the theophany at Mamre (Gen 18); the burning bush theophany (Exod 3); the Tabor theophany considered in light of the Sinai theophany (Matt 17 and Exod 33); the call to “worship at his footstool” as an injunction to venerate the cross (Ps 98/99.5 and Ps 131/132.7); the prophetic vision of Isaiah (Isa 6); the vision of Habakkuk interpreted in light of the throne-theophanies of Isaiah and Ezekiel (Hab 3.2 LXX); Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man and the Ancient of Days (Dan 7); and lastly, the theophany of the three young men in the fiery furnace (Dan 3). Bucur illustrates how early Christians read these various narratives predominantly as manifestations of the Logos-to-be-incarnate. Representative in this respect is Irenaeus’s straightforward identification of ὁ ὤν (Exod 3.14; cf. Rev 1.8) in the burning bush theophany with “the Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (Irenaeus, Haer. 3.6.2). Bucur demonstrates the ubiquity of this “YHWH Christology” not only within exegetical commentaries but also, indeed more importantly, within liturgy, hymnography, and iconography.
These literal christological interpretations of theophanies gradually gave way to symbolic Trinitarian interpretations. Augustine’s interpretation of the burning bush narrative, for example, identifies the theophanic appearances not with Christ, but with a created manifestation (i.e., an angel) that signifies the Trinity. Despite this “trinitarian turn,” however, the literal christological interpretation continued unabated in hymnography and iconography. Bucur sharply distinguishes between these two interpretations: while the earlier patristic tradition read these divine encounters as truly “epiphanic,” the later tradition read them as merely “symbolic”—an “exegetical and theological convention” (65, 190, 207, 259, 266). Bucur argues that current scholarship conflates the two exegetical approaches, as many scholars label exegesis that identifies Christ within OT narratives as “typological” or “allegorical.” These exegetical labels—as well as contemporary favorites such as “figural” and “figurative” or “ikonic mimēsis” and “symbolic mimēsis”—fail to capture the epiphanic character of this significant strand of exegesis. The earliest Christians understood Christ as present within the Old Testament, not simply as signified prophetically (typologically or allegorically), but as encountered historically.
The opening and concluding chapters of Scripture Re-envisioned helpfully structure the overall argument. The prolegomenon of the first chapter comes full circle in the constructive proposal of the concluding chapter. The opening chapter considers the encounter on the Emmaus road (Luke 24) as a prolegomenon to the interpretive approach that is discussed in subsequent chapters. Bucur first establishes the Emmaus encounter as a theophany: he traces verbal and conceptual links between Luke 24 and various other biblical theophanies. He then argues that this particular theophany offers “a forceful articulation of the principle of a distinctly Christian entry into the Scriptures, and of the proper medium and method of Christological exegesis” (9). This medium and method is a ritual-liturgical and transformational context. The breaking of the bread and subsequent recognition of the resurrected and glorified Christ...