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B. "Canon" and Canonical Approaches
1. Canonical Dimension and Biblical Interpretation
2. "Shape" of Biblical Books
3. Examples of a Canonical Approach
Approaches currently associated with "canonical criticism," regardless of how it is specifically defined, presuppose the triumph of historical criticism over premodern historical notions about the authorship and formation of biblical books. While many of the proposals associated with a canonical approach rejuvenate traditional questions about the nature and authority of scripture, they do so only through significant innovation and with the hope of a greater degree of historical precision than one could have expected of similar premodern treatments. In this way, biblical fundamentalists find that some subjects neglected by older historical critics are taken up once again, though expressed in the light of critical historical conclusions alien to fundamentalist views regarding the history of the Bible. Canonical criticism, regardless of the theological spectrum that may find it appealing, is a response from within a more liberal, rather than a conservative, assessment of the biblical prehistory.
Canonical approaches in general strive to articulate a perspective on the relationship between biblical studies and the study of religion and theology. In premodern Christian Studies of the Bible, both Roman Catholics and Protestants agreed that the "literal sense" of scripture provided the principal authority for Christian doctrine and that this sense, as distinguished from "spiritual senses," could be identified, at least in part, with the "author's intent." Since the 15th century, Nicholas of Lyra and many other Christian exegetes resorted to the idea of a double "literal sense," especially for the OT: one aimed at a grammatical, historical, and religious dimension common to both Jews and Christians; the other based on the role of the OT within Christian scripture as a norm of distinctly Christian doctrines. In the early modern period, biblical scholars frequently sought through a "historical" approach to secure neutral, scientific consensus regarding what a biblical text "meant" distinct from ecclesiastical or sectarian assessments of what it "means." This allegedly neutral meaning of the Bible often became identified with the traditional religious goal of describing the "literal sense" of scripture as a prior step to theological interpretation.
In the past few decades, the confidence that the literal sense of scripture can be equated with the results of historical criticism has been seriously reexamined. At the outset, biblical criticism has convincingly shown that the Bible is a multilayered, editorial composite of diverse texts and traditions. Any effort to describe the "original" historical traditions, as against the "secondary" one now preserved with them in the Bible, is highly speculative and, more significantly, must isolate older traditions away from their context within scripture. Such historical analysis leads properly to an effort to recover the "original" form and function of ancient Israelite traditions and to conjecture about the original prebiblical social settings in which they were once heard or read. If the "literal sense" is identified rigorously with the intent of the first "authors" of such traditions, then the intent will, in most instances, be prebiblical in so far as these authors rarely, if ever, "intended" to write "biblical" traditions. Many of these traditions only became identified as "biblical" at a later time and were publically established as such when they were assigned a place within a scripture by editors. Consequently, the "meaning of the biblical text" cannot be equated uncritically with the historical intent of a modern conception of  the "original" authors, without losing precisely what the traditional formulation sought to preserve.
A modern understanding of the form and function of a scripture implies a shift in the semantic import of its antecedent traditions. The canonical context of the Bible exhibits moments of both formal preservation and contextual modification, both historical retention and ahistorical, or topical, reorientation. Just as the semantic force of words is not secured solely by appeal to their etymologies but gains specific import within the context of a 'particular sentence, so the context of scripture inevitably influences how earlier traditions come to make sense as a part of scripture. This transformation in the meaning of texts and traditions occurs through a complex, sociopolitical process of literary production leading to the public recognition of both a particular religion and the canonization of its scripture. This process is historically serendipitous, but reflects in general terms a dialectical relationship between canon and community, between the formation of a scripture and the identification of the community of faith that treasures it. In sociological terms, a scripture may be considered a social contract between differing groups that assume a common purpose and status before God. While the context of a scripture establishes a restrictive framework in which religious interpretation takes place, the context itself is composed of the favored traditions of different groups, ordered in, at times, a remarkably unharmonized fashion.
In sum, the semantic function of a scripture often exceeds or contravenes the original intent of various historical authors/redactors who can be reconstructed within the prehistory of the canon. In the place of a modern reconstruction of historical authors, Jewish and Christian scripture presents key figures - Moses David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Luke, John, Paul-as "biblical" persons whose "intents" can only be found in the canonical context. The very realism of these biographical presentations, together with some degree of modern historical support for their historicity, may tempt interpreters to replace the biblical portrayal with more historically "accurate" biographies. However, such a substitution usually sacrifices the context of scripture and misses the possibility of a biblical anthropology. Only the biblical context warrants such a wedding of word and persona that presumes to render the nature of ultimate reality through the reception of scripture as a human witness to divine revelation.
B. "Canon" and Canonical
As early as the 2d century, Christians could speak of the Bible as "canonical," as well as divinely "inspired." Only later did Athanasius (ca. 350 C.E.) identify la biblia ("the books" of scripture) with the noun kanon (a list of normative books). The same usage in Judaism belongs only to the modern period, though, as in Christianity, Jewish scriptures possesses a special normative quality-it is "spoken by God" and "defiles the hands." In both Christianity and Judaism, the identification of books belonging to scripture preceded by several centuries the determination of a textus receptus, or fixed textual tradition. Prebiblical uses of the word "canon" reflect well the ambiguities attendant to the formation of a "normative" scripture.
As a Semitic loan word transliterated into Greek and Latin, "canon" can denote (1) an ideal, standard, central criterion, or essential summation and/or (2) a list, catalog, or measure. Something "canonical" may not yet be situated in a fixed list or collection of similar canonical things. So, biblical traditions and even whole books may be viewed as "canonical" long before they belong to a fixed "canon" or list of such books. A scripture is, of course, only one special type of canonical text or tradition. Other canons may include oral Torah, magisteria, special exegetical traditions, the inspired interpretation of a rabbi, or a contemporary word of Christian prophecy. These extrabiblical canons may seem more immediately influential for practical religious life than the scripture. The practice of religion is, of course, further subject to still other secular authorities or canons. Nonetheless, scripture is, at least in theory, assigned a superior place as a norm of faith within Judaism and Christianity.
Premodern handbooks or introductions usually began by considering the subjects of text and canon. As the more rigorous historical orientation of the modern period came to dominate, canonical issues seemed to belong only to the last steps in a long process, at great distance from the original historical events upon which the revelatory claims of a religion depends. Therefore, modern scholars, whether conservative or liberal on questions of biblical history, tended to shift the treatment of these subjects to the back of introductions, following the lead of such major orthodox interpreters as J. G. Carpzov (1721). This same priority of biblical history to biblical text informed much of the recent "Biblical Theology Movement" which often focused the theological worth of the Bible to the "acts of God in history" or defined the biblical witness in terms of an "actualized" report about a historical event. The canon could be viewed, according to this model, as merely a late and flawed premodern effort to preserve efficacious "confessions" about history. A canonical approach challenges the assumption that the earliest historical events play such a determinative role in the capacity of scripture to have authority or to render reality. Without denying the value of information gained by means of any critical investigation, a canonical approach seeks to understand a different issue: how a biblical text is normative within religious interpretation, that is to say, how the context of ancient traditions within scripture functions as an arena in which certain religious questions are asked and answered. In this approach, one seeks to recognize the textual warrants and rules whereby a scripture makes specific religious claims, perpetuates paradoxical and ambiguous expressions of faith, engenders the need for repeated interpretation, and imposes upon the reader a vision of the world that God has made.
Though various canonical approaches explore the same neglected perspective on the nature of a biblical text, their chief interpreters (to not always agree on terminology, on methods of analysis, or on the practical implications for the future of biblical interpretation and commentary. James Sanders first coined the term "canon criticism" and popularized it through his Torah and Canon (1972). Through the study of interpretations within the Bible, which he calls "comparative midrash," Sanders sought to find a "canonical hermeneutic" that would explain why the same normative traditions could properly be interpreted  with contradictory implications at different times and places. Later, in Canon and Community (1984) he changed the terminology from "canon criticism" to "canonical criticism," stressing its alignment with other critical methods. Brevard Childs, for one, initially used the term "canon criticism" in the 1970s (e.g., Exodus OTL) but dropped it as a misleading label for his own approach. It does not occur in either his Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (IOTS) or The New Testament as Canon (NTC). For Childs, "canon criticism" wrongly suggested a "criticism" parallel to other standard biblical methodologies (e.g., source, form, and redaction criticism).
Childs prefers to speak of a "canonical approach," highlighting how "the canonical shape" of a biblical book established possibilities and limits to its interpretation as a part of Jewish and Christian scripture. He starts with "the final text" of scripture; without uncritically accepting the textus receptus, and makes observations about how diverse, even contradictory, traditions share a canonical context together. Rather than allowing the reader to pick and choose what elements of traditions seem the most appealing, this canonical context deepened the demand for interpretation in specific ways and in certain significant theological directions. Leaning more in the direction of Childs than Sanders, Rolf Rendtorff's The Old Testament An Introduction (1983, ET 1986) finds evidence of additional unifying "literary" features in a Kompositionsgeschichte ("composition criticism" or "history of composition") for each biblical book. Rendtorff stresses the inability of form criticism to account for how the "literary" dimension of the biblical text extended the audience and often detached traditions from their historical moorings for the purpose of establishing another theological way of receiving these traditions within Judaism and Christianity.
Related studies include I. L. Seeligmann's seminal study of "canon conscious" exegesis within the Bible. Nahum Sarna and Michael Fishbane have elaborated cases of "inner-biblical" interpretation that similarly presume plays upon fixed normative traditions, anticipating in some instances later types of Jewish midrashic interpretation of scripture. More radically, the French school of "anthological midrash" (e.g., A. A. Robert, R. Bloch DBSup 5: 1263-81) sought to describe a particular type of inner-biblical interpretation that reemploys words and phrases from canonical traditions in order to compose whole portions (e.g., parts of Proverbs 1-9) of some late biblical books. A number of redaction-critical studies, such as those of Ackroyd, Blenkinsopp, Clements, and Sheppard, have called attention to the special nature of canonical traditions from the perspective of later editors. Certain "canon conscious" redactions tell readers how some biblical books should be read in the context of others (Sheppard EncRel 3: 62-69). An editor's use of certain esoteric techniques in the alteration and placement of a tradition suggest self-conscious terms of restriction and freedom in how biblical authors/editors handled the preceding normative traditions. These traditions can be seen to function within the formation of the Bible with a special "semantic depth" (Clements), "vitality" (Ackroyd), "adaptability" (Sanders), or within an implicit "scriptural vision" (Fishbane), or with a special potential for "actualization" (Childs). This highly tendentious sketch of scholarly activities that are often associated with "canon criticism" illustrates some of the diversity in the present debate. In order to convey what is at stake in these newer approaches, a more general discussion of the canonical dimension will be followed by some examples of implications for assessing biblical literature.
Canonical criticism has become a popular, though debated, label for a variety of approaches that inquire into the forth and function of tire Bible as scripture. A canonical approach assumes a particular perspective by-which biblical studies can understand the nature of scripture and its relation to the history of religious interpretation and theology. As shown by Childs' commentary on Exodus, this perspective encourages a critical examination of the history of interpretation, both ancient and modern. In my view, attention to the canonical context of scripture is essential for air appreciation of how religions construe reality and how competence in biblical interpretation is recognized in earlier periods. In the larger task of contemporary Christian theological interpretation, canonical approaches offer foundational descriptions of the context of scripture and detect warrants for a reading of the diverse traditions as multiple human witnesses to the same subject matter of faith and revelation.
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