I recently began reading Richard B. Hays' Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul. In another effort to consolidate my understanding, I’m planning to write my summaries and thoughts on each chapter. This is on Chapter One: The Puzzle of Pauline Hermeneutics.

Hays traces two main critical approaches to Pauline hermeneutics. The first approach is to be dismissive of Paul’s hermeneutics, “because [this approach] see[s] his reading of Scripture as periphetal to the core of his religious experience.” (p.6) The second approach recognises the “hermeneutical gap between the original sense of Scripture and Paul’s interpretations of it, [and] seek to minimise the gap by … justifying his methods of interpretation.” (p.8)

Hays argues that these approaches, and the recent appeal to “midrashic interpretation of Scripture” (pp.10-14) are inadequate, and proposes “intertextuality” as an alternative approach. This section discuss this approach, which originated from literary studies and popularised by Julia Kristeva and Roland Barthes (p.15). Hays then introduces the term “echo” because it is often less clear than allusions and quotations. “Echoes” have a transumptive or metaleptic quality, where the “figurative effect of the echo can lie in the unstated or suppressed (transumed) points of resonance between the two texts” (p.20).

He also highlights that this is not a “method” but of sensibility. To paraphrase, Hays is saying that a lot of our reading of Scripture has been too mechanical, perhaps even “scientific” (see how historical criticism wants to read the Bible “scientifically”). Instead, we should read the Bible as literature, which in this case means being more attentive to “internal resonances of the biblical text.” However, to read in this manner is to presuppose that Scripture actively (consciously?) rereads and reinterprets its own texts and traditions. If this can be established, which I think can (see Michael Fishbane’s Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel), then this approach has greater merit. For more discussion on “literary” approaches to biblical interpretation, see Craig Bartholomew’s Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics (pp.376-430).

In the next section, Hays reads Philippians 1:19 intertextually as an example, and in the final section, he anticipates objections and problems to this way of reading Paul. “If echo is a metaphorical way of talking about a hermeneutical event … in whose mind does that event occur, and how are claims about intertextual meaning effects to be tested?” (p.26) This question is important because we have to test the validity of a reading, otherwise it’s just fanciful and should be disregarded. If we don’t want our hermeneutical reading to be a wanton exercise of individual imagination, then we have to ground it somehow.

Hays identifies five possibilities where this hermeneutical event occurs, although he wants to “hold them all together in creative tension” (p.27):

  1. It occurs in Paul’s mind.
  2. It occurs in the original readers of the letter.
  3. It occurs in the text itself (not an “event per se”).
  4. It occurs in my act of reading.
  5. It occurs in a community of interpretation.

He then offers seven tests to examine and judge whether an echo is valid:

  1. Availability of the proposed source to both author and reader.
  2. Volume. How clear or explicit does the echo refer to the source text?
  3. Recurrence. How often does Paul use the same scriptural passage?
  4. Thematic coherence. How does the proposed source contribute to Paul’s current argument?
  5. Historical plausibility that this echo is what Paul intended. Hays privileges “interpretive proposals that allow Paul to remain a Jew.” (p.31)
  6. History of Interpretation.
  7. Satisfaction. Does the reader think this echo makes sense? Hays concedes that this can be arbitrary, but that’s why earlier he said that this requires “sensibility”.

One passage on how texts almost have a life of their own (p.33).

Texts are not inert; they burn and throw fragments of flame on their rising heat. Often we succeed in containing the energy, but sometimes the sparks escape and kindle new blazes, reprises of the original fire. That is a way of saying that texts can generate readings that transcend both the conscious intention of the author and all the hermeneutical strictures that we promulgate.

To appreciate this is to presuppose a certain view of Scripture, one that views it not so much “scientifically” but as “art” which can take on a life of its own.

Notes on Chapter Two: Intertextual Echo in Romans.