Richard Hays’s method and failure of method in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels

echoes-gospelsI was just having a read through of Chris Keith’s comments on Richard Hays’s methodology in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (Baylor UP, 2016). Please have a read, as he makes some good points. Yet I’ve got a particular criticism to add, which relates to the same introductory section.

Hays’ methodology for the detection of allusion either flirts with the idea that interpreters must have spiritual discernment to fully understand allusions to the Old Testament, or maybe simply embraces such a view. It’s not hard to catch the echoes of this underlying confessional assumption. So he speaks of having “ears to hear”, or having a “conversion” of the imagination, requiring “faith”, approaching the text with “humility”, and contrasts the right way of reading “echoes” with the bogeyman of secular, “modern historical criticism”. So it is difficult not to reach the conclusion that the style of reading that Hays promotes – of reading the Old Testament via the Christocentric assumptions of the New, and in a dialectical fashion – necessarily involves confessional assumptions. In particular, he assumes that the one with “ears to hear” has some ability (‘spiritual’) in addition to intellectual abilities.

But Hays might have explained his method without this level of religious obfuscation. The dynamics of rereading older texts through a new lens is hardly new to modern scholarship. Classical scholarship has managed, quite well and extensively, to analyse allusion and mimicry of texts and their precursors, without suggesting that later readers possessed spiritual abilities. The Classicist Joseph Pucci, for example, employs the concept of the “full-knowing reader” to explain how a reader can “recognize and make coherent what is formerly hidden” due to her “unique competencies” (Full-Knowing Reader, pp. xi, xv). By  full-knowing reader, Pucci means one who possesses sufficient insider knowledge to recognize the marker of an external source text, so as to enable her to consider some of the interrelations between the texts, and thereby contemplate how they affect the meaning of either the alluding or evoked texts. So Pucci manages to explain, clearly  and analytically, much the same concept as does Hays, but without dipping into obscurantist language to do so.

I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be an admission of the subjectivity of allusion and other intertextual uses of the Old Testament. I think, rather, as does Pucci,  that subjectivity is inevitable for allusion, echo, etc. As I wrote in an article in Biblical Interpretation (“Drawing Our Fish in the Sand“), “once a reader is directed to a consideration of a biblical allusion, there is no obvious procedure for ending or even limiting the imaginative interaction of
texts which allusion inaugurates.” Allusion and echo are impossible to pin down; these intertextual phenomena can generate a wide number of possible meanings, depending on the scope, content, and emphases of each subject’s textual encyclopedia.

I agree with Hays that the echoes of Old Testament scripture in the Gospels are complex, multivalent, and differ between different readers. But all of this can be, as it has been in other disciplines in relation to other texts, analysed in strictly analytical terms. And if the aim is to better understand the Gospels, it should be here, too. To the extent Hays falls back on the obscurantism of the concept of “spiritual discernment”, or the false humility of being recipient of a form of access to the text which is limited to the elect, it should be viewed as a failure of method and analysis.

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3 thoughts on “Richard Hays’s method and failure of method in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels

  1. No. I have studied Biblical Literature. I am not a post-modernist; but, I do not believe that you should read back into it anything from the so-called New Testament. That is Monday-morning quarter-backing. I am an historian. Christianity, in my opinion, it is not a real daughter religion of Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism is the Daughter religion. There are so many misunderstandings, probably because it was written so many years following the supposed founding events, that it is much more difficult to accept their over-all great mythic story.

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