Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday Review: David Capes' "YHWH Texts..."

This morning I read through David Capes' "YHWH Texts and Monotheism in Paul's Christology," which is in Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism, edited by Loren Stuckenbruck and Wendy North.

By the way, Stuckenbruck is a genius among geniuses and one of the best doctoral advisors you could ever wish for. He's tireless, has an exhaustive knowledge of second temple Judaism, and is one of the most personable scholars I know. At Durham, he is like an unofficial advisor to everyone, even those like me who weren't actually his advisees. He's quick to write a reference--I attribute my Fulbright in large part to his reference. Many a scholar is better known because they can write in a more popular style, but few a scholar can come close to this man's intellect or mentoring ability.

If you're looking for a place to do a PhD in New Testament or Second Temple Judaism, you can't go wrong with Stuckenbruck at Durham. But back to Capes...

Capes' first section surveys how the divine name, YHWH, was written in manuscripts at the time of Paul. What he finds is a variety of practices. Sometimes it was written as any other word. But he agrees that there was an archaizing tendency at the time as well, where some were making it distinct by writing it in an archaic Hebrew script. He does not see this as the older practice but as a new trend.

Similarly, Greek manuscripts seem to have had some variety as well. Sometimes it was simply translated with the Greek kyrios for Lord. But at other times other ways of writing it appeared too. His conclusion is that Paul would have been aware of the divine name standing behind the kyrios of various Old Testament texts.

Capes then launches into the thirteen texts where Paul quotes OT YHWH texts (by the way, did you see that the Roman Catholic Church will no longer vocalize Yahweh in worship. The Christian Reformed Church has similarly stopped singing Jehovah in "Guide me, O Thou Great Redeemer"). He engages with the prior work of Lucian Cerfaux, which he then critiques. In general, "Unless otherwise specified, kyrios in Paul's quotations refers to Christ" (126). The rest of the paper examines Paul's use of two important YHWH texts he uses of Christ: Joel 2:32 and Isaiah 45:23.

1. Romans 10:13
As Capes looks at the use of Joel 2:32 in Paul, he notes the cultic context of "calling on the name of the Lord," as well as other uses. This seems potentially very significant to me. Capes believes that "The application of Joel 2:32 to Christ with its attendant cultic associations appears to imply the worship of Jesus by Paul and his churches" (128).

2. Romans 14:11 and Philippians 2:10-11
Now you see some of the reason I'm reading this paper this morning. We're almost to the Philippian "hymn" in my Prison Epistles class.

Capes' first suggestion for how Isaiah 45:23 is clever, but uncertain. He suggests that Paul takes the first half of the quote in relation to Jesus and the second half in relation to God: "the text should be understood as follows: 'As I live (again by the resurrection), says the Lord (Jesus), every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will confess to God (at the judgment seat)'" (129).

I don't think I will end up going with Capes here. The most likely reading of the text is "all will stand before the judgment seat of God," and from this point Paul launches into the quote of Isaiah. Yes, this reading thus contrasts with comments by Paul elsewhere about the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10) and his use of this verse in relation to Christ (Phil. 2:10-11). So sue him. If your interpretive scheme does not allow Paul this room to wind through interpretations of Scripture, you are bound to skew Paul.

I agree, however, with this comment Capes quotes from L. J. Kreitzer: "It is difficult to imagine any first-century Jew or Christian even remotely familiar with Isa. 45 hearing this final stanza of Phil. 2.9-11 without recognizing that words of theistic import have now been applied to Christ." Thus, Capes concludes, "the universal worship of Jesus as Lord by creatures inhabiting the heavenly, earthly, and subterranean realms" (131).

So Capes begins his conclusion. He sees the understanding that Jesus bears the Name of God explains many aspects of early Christian faith and practice, not least the application of theos to Jesus. At the same time, Paul never confuses Jesus with God or rejects monotheism.

In this final section, he discusses the positions of Larry Hurtado, Crispin Fletcher-Louis, and James Dunn on the worship of Jesus. Hurtado sees precedents in Jewish ideas of divine agency but sees a distinct mutation in the cultic worship of Jesus. Fletcher-Louis finds distinctiveness in the worship of a specific person rather than an office, but sees precedents in the earlier worship of individuals who are in one way or another the image of God. Dunn largely agrees that the worship of Jesus became distinctive but only after a long process, that Jesus was not yet worshiped in this way at the time of Paul.

Of these, Capes sides more with Hurtado than with Fletcher-Louis or Dunn. He disagrees with Dunn on the timing. He disagrees with Fletcher-Louis on the question of precedent. So he raises what is a crucial question: what exactly "should be regarded as 'cultic' worship that contravenes the uniqueness of God" (134). Unfortunately, he never answers the question.

The remainder of the paper disappoints in that Capes simply presents and endorses Richard Bauckham's sense of divine identity as the right path toward proper understanding of the worship of Jesus. He affirms Bauckham's idea that "the catalyst for this innovation [the worship of Jesus within monotheistic faith] emerges in scriptural exegesis" (136).

So the paper starts out strong, but fades into Hurtado and Bauckham at the point where we expect the real contribution. No offense.


Bob MacDonald said...

Nice article, Ken - sometimes I am not surprised when we fade away from the real questions! Some things are beyond explanation. The idea that cultic worship [of x] might contravene the uniqueness of God would only be a problem if God is not in x in a preventative (prevenient!) way. Hebrews provides that link - there I will meet with you... i.e. at the mercy seat. (I think we may have met briefly at Hebrews 2006 - I have only been reading your posts for a few weeks.)

James F. McGrath said...

Hi Ken! I just thought I'd let you know that The Only True God is available for pre-order. It will still be a while until it is actually in print. But you may want to go ahead and ask your library to get it.

Will you be at SBL? We should grab a coffee and talk about monotheism at some point. Funny how two professors in Indiana have to meet in Boston...

Ken Schenck said...

Hi Bob--good to hear from you! Any rumblings of the next St. Andrews conference?

James, I plan on getting your book when it comes out. Definitely hope to see you at SBL... for coffee if not for the Dunn night out...

Congrats on the book!

Bob MacDonald said...

No rumblings from St Andrews - that conference was a delight. I am still pursuing the meaning of the psalms as understood by the writer of the letter to the Hebrews - the question will occupy me for many years. I began by bootstrapping my learning of Hebrew by translating the psalter with an emphasis on micro structures and am now reviewing the translations to see if I can begin to see how they might have been 'read' in the ancient periods. And I am looking for macro structures. One day I hope to write a book on 'the story in the psalter'. On my blog is a record of the process. All of it was my response to the conference - it is not a bad impact for one conference.

Anonymous said...

As a former student of Loren's, I am in total agreement about everything you say about him.

I won't gush too much because I told him about this page. . .

Ken Schenck said...