Joseph BlenkinsoppThis post represents an analysis of Joseph Blenkinsopp’s article in JSOT 1984.

Blenkinsopp – Old Testament Theology

He describes GL Baur as an example of the problem of finding a center in OT theology (3). It also illustrates the difficulty of finding a unity of thought or principle in the two distinct genres of narrative and wisdom literature. One way in which Christians have attempted to organize OT theology around a unifying principle is through the appeal to Heilsgeschichte. Von Rad and Cullman both utilized this approach to some degree in recent times, though Blenkinsopp claims its roots are in German pietism as found Bengel’s writings (7). One problem with Heilsgeschichte is that it claims revelation occurred in the events themselves, not in Israel’s beliefs and interpretation of those events. Yet, the historical-critical method has unraveled some of the historicity of the OT in recent times (8). Simple characterizations of the development of OT religion (Heilsgeschichte and its tripartite characterization of the development of OT religion) have been called into question by the documentary hypothesis in its various forms (8). Then with Ewald and Duhm’s hypothesis of the prophetic phenomenon as a mostly political force, the development of the religion came to be seen as hitting its high point with the prophets and then declining after that. Blenkinsopp claims that this view led to the characterization that early Judaism was a chasm that must be bridged, and that it was something which was criticized in the NT. Even Eichrodt’s theology produced this biased result in claiming that in early Judaism (2nd temple period) there was a loss of the true religion of the OT.

As a matter of recommendation, he writes, “No Theology of the Old Testament is therefore likely to be successful which perpetuates a prejudicial and false understanding of developments during the Second Commonwealth, one of which was of course the emergence and consolidation of the Christian movement” (11). He proposes that in the NT period, Jesus, Paul and the Qumran community all represent forms of expressing continuity with the faith of the OT. Perhaps these should be used as examples for OT theology  (13).

Strengths:

  • He seeks to correct anti-semitism in OT theology.
  • He encourages readers to approach OT theology in such a way as to search for a center which can incorporate the later sapiential and 2nd temple writings.

Weaknesses:

  • Though he gives the examples of Paul, Jesus and Qumran as possible ways to avoid anti-Jewish tendencies, he gives little description as to how this looks.
  • In arguing that Heilsgeschichte as an approach is lacking, he seems to give too much credence to historical-critical methods such as the documentary hypothesis. This may not be the case, but a cursory reading might result in this interpretation. Additionally, he leaves out the approach of Sailhammer who possibly provides a way forward.

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