Essays on Prophecy and Canon: The Rise of a New Model of Interpretation, Book Review

Title: Essays on Prophecy and Canon: The Rise of a New Model of Interpretation
Author: Christopher R. Seitz
Publisher: Mohr Siebeck, 2021
Price: 149 € (amz)
Binding: Hardback
Pages: 412
In this volume, Christopher Seitz gathers twenty articles and essays from across his career that examine the nature of the biblical canon and the shape of the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible.

This material is a fitting follow-up to several of his most recent monographs. In The Elder Testament: Canon, Theology, Trinity (Baylor, 2018), Seitz provided a mature statement of a canonical and theological approach to the Old Testament Scriptures. In Convergences: Canon and Catholicity (Baylor, 2020), Seitz supplemented this work by arguing that a canonical approach to biblical studies is distinctive, but not idiosyncratic. In both books, Seitz argues that this focus on the final form’s shape and theological witness is something anticipated in certain strands of historical-critical study and also a project that finds sympathetic dialogue partners across ecclesial and intellectual traditions. This collection of smaller works, then, explores similar themes with a focus on the exegesis of the prophetic books and developments in the field of Old Testament studies over the course of the last forty years.

Seitz begins with an autobiographical introduction that situates the flow of the selections and explains the inner logic of the topics covered (pp. 1–32). Prior to formal education, Seitz notes that he had only encountered the Old and New Testaments through lectionary readings that “did not give one much sense of the serial movement of the text, or the Bible as a whole work” (p. 1). He then recounts his orienting study in a university setting that emphasized historical context and critical accounts of the Bible’s development. His doctoral study with Brevard Childs at Yale and in Germany, then, both gave him expertise in historical-critical methods and also prompted a reconsideration of this approach in light of a commitment to final form exegesis. In Childs he finds a biblical theologian who was “not sundering the work of historical-criticism but bending it to a different purpose” (p. 3).

As he began to teach in academic and congregational settings, Seitz further honed his appreciation of the shape of biblical books as a way to navigate the endless possibilities that historical reconstruction offers. He reflects, “The practical matter of holding myself accountable to the biblical canon, in its wide Old Testament form, guided how I brokered the findings of historical-critical methods—which I knew well and which I appreciated for what they were able to explain” (p. 6). Grappling with the relationship between a given work’s canonical presentation and its possible historical background will then feature prominently in Seitz’s teaching and scholarship through his early career (see pp. 9–22) up to his present work (see pp. 23–32).

The major sections of the book contain essays that trace developments within the field of Old Testament studies and in Seitz’s own scholarship. The three areas include treatments of the book of Isaiah (“Beyond the Three-Isaiah Model for Interpretation”), the book of the Twelve and the Prophets section of the Hebrew Bible (“Beyond the Chronological Model for Interpretation”), and the book of Jeremiah and issues of method and hermeneutics (“Canonical Interpretation: Rethinking Author, Setting, Audience”). The final section includes two brief essays on the reception of the Prophets in the modern and pre-modern era (“Prophecy in the History of Interpretation”).

One of the unique benefits of this volume is the way it charts the organic development of Seitz’s thinking on central issues in exegesis and biblical theology throughout his career. The case studies themselves illumine the nature of Old Testament studies and track the academic conversation on critical issues like the shape of Isaiah, the compilation of the book of the Twelve, the notion of authorial intention, and the broader relevance of reception history. These essays do not provide extended commentary on the prophetic books but rather focus on some of the critical exegetical decisions that inform Seitz’s commentary treatments and dedicated monographs on Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the Twelve (e.g., the strategic significance of Isa 40:1–8 for the shape of the book or the function of Hosea as the opening of the Twelve). One drawback of this type of collection would be inevitable points of repetition. However, most of the overlap in this volume involves Seitz’s own rehearsal of previous arguments along with extension and further development (e.g., his unfolding discussion of the structure of Isaiah in the series of six essays in section 1, pp. 35–127).

Alongside these focused studies in the prophetic books, Seitz also reflects at length on some of the key methodological issues involved in a canonical approach to biblical studies. Resisting both an exclusive diachronic study of prior sources and an overly synchronic account of single authorship, Seitz consistently argues that “the final canonical form is a mature and seasoned commentary on a series of historical moments, now taken up and crafted in service of the project of setting forth a divine word which speaks of the past in order to address the future” (p. 296). Given his understanding and prioritizing of the canonical context, Seitz articulates the concept of authorship and intention in a way that is not tied to a historical-critical recovery of an original mental state of an individual author and remains open to the dynamic of the canonical process (see esp, pp. 113–27; pp. 302–314).

Like a nerve running through his major contributions, Seitz consistently reckons with the enduring relevance of the “depth dimension” provided by historical-critical investigation even while allowing the final form of the canon to assign relative proportion to this mode of analysis (see esp, “Provenance as a Factor in Interpretation,” pp. 315–25). At several points, Seitz also lingers on the legacy of Brevard Childs, noting strong areas of continuity with his overall approach and also specific examples of divergence (e.g., their different takes on the referent of the servant in the “servant songs” of latter Isaiah, pp. 291–92).

This collection of essays ably demonstrates the breadth and depth of Seitz’s scholarly contribution to the study of the Old Testament throughout his career. Students of the prophets and the canonical approach will find much here that is worth consulting and carefully considering. Full of substantive arguments and inter-connected scholarly discussions, this volume is a fine complement to and commentary on Seitz’s major commentaries and monographs.
Also in Trinity Journal 43.1 (Spring 2022): 96–97.
Book Review
July 20, 2022


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