But the printed word has its downsides. Our books and articles may convey our ideas to wider audiences, but they can also conceal us, the women and men behind the ideas. Every semester I try to get my students to see the authors behind the texts they read, whether the authors of modern secondary course texts or the writers of ancient primary sources. Commentaries don't tell you what a text means; they tell you about an author and what she or he thinks a text means (or, I'm discovering with my own work, what they once thought a text meant). Monographs are not comprised of disembodied ideas; they are the products of years of embodied labor, involving the fluids associated with the body—blood, sweat, tears—and affected by all that befalls the body—health and vitality; illness and decline.
Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (Baylor University Press, 2016). The title is, of course, evocative of Hays's now-classic work, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (Yale University Press, 1989), which in many ways began the tidal shift in the discussion of Paul's use of Israel's scriptures. We no longer read the Apostle merely as a proof-texter who lifted words from the Hebrew Bible and twisted them to serve his own interests; today it is not difficult to find scholars who see in Paul's letters evidence of a creative and attentive reader who shaped and was shaped by biblical traditions and texts. A similar perspectival shift has already affected scholarship on Jesus and the Gospels, and not without reference to Hays's work on Paul's letters. (Think names like Juel, Watts, Marcus, and many, many, many others.) For this reason, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels will struggle to make as monumental an impact on the field of NT scholarship as did its older sibling, though that is perhaps an unreasonably high standard. But we'll turn to the book in a minute; for now, I want to keep our focus on the author.
Hays begins with a seven-page preface that does what all prefaces do: it introduces the reader to the book (pp. xiii–xix). Here Hays offers the standard fare; he offers some explanation of how the book came to be, describes his own interest in the book's subject, and mentions how this book relates to other material he has published (especially his Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness [Baylor University Press, 2014]).
But then the preface ceases to be standard and becomes . . . what? It becomes moving. Unlike other prefaces, the preface to Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels pulls back the curtain to reveal the author as a human being, to make visible the book that follows as an embodied work that participates in all the hopes and fears of life in this Now/Not-Yet. The move from "standard" to "moving" really begins here:
In July 2015 I was suddenly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. In light of this shattering diagnosis, I stepped down from the deanship immediately and went on medical leave. As I write these words in early October 2015, I have been through two months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and it is still unknown whether the treatments will have been sufficiently effective to make it possible for me to undergo surgery. If so, my prognosis will be uncertain. If not, my life expectancy will be short. (p. xiv)here); the words attributed to Amanda's Army in this graphic perfectly expresses my sentiment. My prayers, weak and ineffectual as they may be, are for Richard, his body, and his family.
The remainder of the preface describes "the remarkable events of the past two months" (p. xv), a span of time that, in addition to the myriad personal and existential affairs that require attention in the wake of a dire prognosis, saw the completion of Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. While every published book (and article) is the product of a team effort, Hays explains the unusually robust contribution that friends have made to the present volume, from Carey Newman and his staff at Baylor University Press to Hays's research assistant to four NT scholars who undertook the task of taking one of Hays's four massive chapters (on Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John) and getting them ready for publication. (I will leave these individuals unnamed, for the most part; see pp. xvii–xix for their identification and a description of their extraordinary work.) When the reader finishes reading the preface, s/he comes away with a sense of relief that this 500+ page behemoth went live while its author was still around to see his work published and while readers might still have access to the embodied perspective behind the work.
I guess what I'm trying to say is: Reading this book, and offering one of the very earliest of reviews, affords me a sense of honor. There will, I'm sure, be occasions to argue and critique. But those occasions will not detract from my gratitude for playing even this small part in the story of this book.
Okay. On to the book itself.
As early as p. xvi, Hays explains the primary objective of Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels: "this book seeks to shed light on the whole range of scriptural interpretation and hermeneutics in each of the four Gospels." Later, in the Introduction, Hays restates this objective: "this book will seek to trace the ways in which the Gospel writers themselves articulated their message through deep engagement with Israel's Scripture" (p. 6). This last statement already reveals a vital component of Hays's thesis (viz., that the Gospels exhibit the marks of their authors' "deep engagement with Israel's Scripture"), though Hays is also careful to acknowledge that this feature common to the four canonical Gospels is not identical in all four texts. All four bear the marks of Israel's sacred traditions, but they bear those marks in various and variant ways.
Hays begins with a discussion of "figural interpretation," a retrospective reading of the past in light of the newly unfolded events of the present. Reading the Old Testament (this is Hays's preferred term, rather than "Hebrew Bible") figurally is not as mechanical or restrictive as reading them predictively. The hermeneutical activity of figuration belongs to the reader rather than the author. "For that reason, a hermeneutical strategy that relies on figural interpretation of the Bible creates deep theological coherence within the biblical narrative" (p. 3; my emphasis).
I find all of this helpful, both for enabling a robustly but respectfully Christian reading of texts from the Hebrew Bible and for a historically sensitive reading of the Gospels (and other texts from the New Testament). Even so, I would quibble with Hays's formulation of the primary question. He asks: "How does each one [of the Gospel writers] draw upon the Old Testament to depict the identity of Jesus and to interpret his significance?" (p. 4). One gets the sense that Hays sees "the Old Testament" as something distinct from the early Christians' perceptions and understandings of Jesus, as if they turned to scriptural texts in order to communicate something they already knew apart from those texts. The influence of biblical tropes, themes, and images, however, belongs not to the early Christians' depictions of Jesus' identity but to their very apprehensions of him, both their perceptions and their interpretations. As I acknowledged earlier, this may seem a quibble. But I think the difference matters, like the difference between contact lenses and eyeballs, or between clothes and skin.
The primary thrust of the remainder of the Introduction (after the restatement of the book's purpose, quoted above) is a discussion of the book's design: its scope, structure, and method (pp. 6–14). As to "scope" (pp. 6–8), Hays is clear that this book is not about the historical Jesus, nor about the earliest Christian social contexts, nor about the development of an early "high" Christology. "Instead, this is a book that offers an account of the narrative representation of Israel, Jesus, and the church in the canonical Gospels, with particular attention to the ways in which the four Evangelists reread Israel's Scripture—as well as the ways in which Israel's Scripture prefigures an illuminates the central character in the Gospel stories" (p. 7, italics in the original have been removed).
As to "structure" (pp. 8–9), the book features one chapter for each of the four canonical Gospels, followed by a brief (twenty-page) conclusion. Each chapter is comprised of five sections: (i) an overview of a given evangelist as an interpreter of Israel's Scripture, (ii) the in/evocation of Scripture to re-narrative Israel's story, (iii) the in/evocation of Scripture to narrate Jesus' identity, (iv), the in/evocation of Scripture to narrate the role of the church vis-à-vis the world, and (v) a summary conclusion (p. 9; see also p. 14). Hays also briefly justifies the decision to address the three Synoptic Gospels alongside the distinctive Gospel of John together in a single volume (p. 9).
As to "method" (pp. 10–14), Hays offers at least three substantive points. First, Hays "presupposes that all four canonical Gospels are deeply embedded in a symbolic world shaped by the Old Testament . . . that their 'encyclopedia of production' is constituted in large measure by Israel's Scripture" (p. 10). The Hellenistic (Greco-Roman) context is also significant, but secondarily so. Second, Hays rehearses how he employs the standard terms "quotation," "allusion," and "echo," with some extended discussion of the last of these (pp. 10–13). "These terms are approximate markers on the spectrum of intertextual linkage, moving from the most to the least explicit forms of reference" (p. 10). This section includes Hays's one reference to John Miles Foley (in an endnote; see p. 370 n.21); in my view it is unfortunate that Hays has not been more profoundly influenced by the Foley's work on tradition and reception, both of which are central concerns in Hays's own works. Even so, Hays rightly grasps the academic task at hand: "not some arcane theory-driven methodology . . . [but rather] simple attention to the way that human language and storytelling ordinarily work" (p. 11). And again, "our discourse is inherently intertextual and allusive" (p. 12). Indeed. Third, Hays assumes Markan priority, but he also employs an ambivalent Q-skepticism: "It seems to me equally probable—indeed more probable—that Luke knew Matthew and that the verbal agreements between these two Gospel can be explained in this fashion rather than through positing a hypothetical Q source" (p. 13). It seems to me, speaking impressionistically, that Q-skepticism (in the specific guise of Markan priority without Q) is quickly becoming an equal rival—if not a dominant option—among non-source-critical scholarship on the Synoptic Gospels; for another recent significant work that rejects Q, see Francis Watson's Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective (Eerdmans, 2013). A fourth point, offered not so much as method but rather as clarification, concerns the legitimacy of the Evangelists' appropriation of the Jewish Scriptures. Here I think Hays preserves an unfortunate set of categories (viz., Christian and Jewish) and attempts to foster respectful and honest discussions between them. But these are our categories, not our texts'. Our authors—all four of them, in my view—wrote as Jews, of a Jewish messiah and other Jewish cultural and theological ideas, and did not approach the concerns and problems they faced with these categories at hand. Even Luke's use of the term Christian (Χριστιανός; Christianos) in Acts 26:28 understands this as a Jewish descriptor; a Christianos is something a Jew (like Paul, and like Agrippa) can be.
Despite these perhaps gnatty criticisms, the preface and Introduction set up Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels as an interesting, insightful, and engaging work of embodied literary scholarship. I'm looking forward to diving into the four substantive chapters on each of the canonical Gospels, though their length is also somewhat intimidating (Chapter 1, on the Gospel of Mark, comprises eighty-nine pages, along with twenty pages of endnotes!). It may be a while before you see pt. 2 of this review, though I can envision interacting with this or that point as I work through the chapter. So I encourage you to watch this space, but do so patiently. In the meantime, buy this book and read it along with me. And if you do, drop me a line to let me know what you think as you read it.
Scripture Reverberating through the Gospels: pt. 1
Scripture Reverberating through the Gospels: pt. 2