27 August 2007

returning to normal life

my thesis is almost finished. i couldn't quite get it done for today. but it is still almost finished - i completed a lot (80 pages in final draft form! and 35 pages in almost final draft!) - and for that i'm thankful.

i'm a bit disappointed that i didn't get it finished but the disappointment is mixed with feeling a satisfaction of having focused all my energy and time on it last week. the feedback i've received on what i've done has been positive - what i've handed in thus far is a good beginning for my ph.d. dissertation (yay!), which i'll start as soon as my thesis is done. and the paperwork in registering for school again wasn't quite as difficult as i thought it would be (and ironically enough it might be cheaper for me to do it this way - even if it means that i pay again for at least part of a year!)

but most of all, i'm so grateful to return to normal life. it has been good to spend so much time in my head - and it was good to try to exercise my brain/intelligence to the utmost of my abilities. but i missed my crazy family. Crystle and Dave Numan were here for awhile and surrounded me with community - but i missed coffee times and sharing in chores and processing what's going on around me and blogging and emailing and hearing others' joys and complaints and practicing my dutch and laughing too loud. academic books and living inside my head are a bit dull compared to the surprises and joy of everyday life in community (just in time to start welcoming new people :)).

so hopefully life will be slightly more balanced again for awhile - and it's a wonderful relief not to have the weight of a far-from-done (and late) thesis hanging over my head.

22 August 2007

an image for the day

as i continue to try to spend every waking hour focused on my thesis (3 more days of this regiment!), i'm reminded again of why i'm spending all this energy on it now. the hope is that by getting it finished (or at least almost finished) now before the season here starts, my unfinished (late) thesis won't be hanging over my head. and i'll be able to divide my energy a little more evenly amongst theological and biblical issues, prepping for a couple of classes, finding/earning some kind of income, spending time with friends, and participating in community.

this morning in chapel, i got an image of what community is. one of 'our' little girls who is 2 came with her mother to chapel - she was obviously sick as she was burrowing into her mother's arms when we all know she'd much prefer meandering around the chapel, especially as her friend was there. her friend (another of 'our' 2-year-olds) saw that she was sick and was quieter during chapel and kept looking over to see how she was. at one point, her friend walked over with the picture Bible that they both like a lot to give it to her in order to make her feel better.

and watching this little 2-year-old respond to her sick friend was an image to me of what community should be like. if someone is not doing well, it changes a bit how we act - and should prompt us to reach out to them in some way.

20 August 2007

thesis blogging break

As I haven't put anything on my blog for awhile now, I thought I'd officially acknowledge that most of my energy in trying to clarify what's going on in my head has been directed towards my thesis. The thesis is now over 100 pages long, and more than 50 of those pages are in all-but-final form (This may be challenged by my supervisor today). So, until that gets finished (hopefully in less than 2 weeks!), there probably won't be anything new up here (except for possible updates on the thesis).

And other than somewhat 'out-of-sorts' feeling I generally get from spending too much time writing a paper, life has been good, and I'm looking forward to being able to share more about it hopefully sooner rather than later.

07 August 2007

one of the most important things i learned last year: methodology

At some point in time, I'd like to talk/write a bit more about my own (developing) methodology in looking at the Bible - and about how i want to (and can) share more about the academic side of my life. but until then, here is something with which to begin.

Academically speaking, the most important thing i learned last year was about methodology [i'd define methodology as how one looks at something and then on what basis one makes conclusions]. It was partially through reading texts dealing with methodology (including several case studies related to prostitution). My learning occurred mainly through the general atmosphere of the University that methodology should be taken very seriously, including being able to respond to the questions that different methodological perspectives would bring to one's work.

since methodology is one of the things that Calvin Seminary did not spend a lot of time on (as one cannot really preach methodology), my understanding of methodology could use some work. without an awareness of the methodology involved, i lose one of my best tools in evaluating another's work and conclusions. your methodology belies the assumptions that you have made in coming to the conclusions that you have. if your methodology is faulty, so are your results (methodology is thus one of the biggest concerns in writing a dissertation). if your work is not capable of withstanding criticism and the questions addressed by certain methodologies, then your work will be dismissed. so if i want both to understand and be heard better, i need to understand, acknowledge my use of, and argue against the different methodologies involved in studying the Bible.

i've included below the report i made on biblical exegesis and the books i read to learn more about this. my supervisor thought it was done well (and it is slightly less academic and more personal than a published work on methodology) so it's read-able but it's still a discussion on biblical methodology (with a bit of a feeling of a book report - so if you haven't read the books, you're a bit lost, although maybe you'll want to read one of the books now) - and i don't expect it to be the kind of thing that most non-theology people find fascinating. but for the few people who will appreciate it, here it is:

Methods of Biblical Exegesis
Completed by Brenda Heyink - December 2006

A Discussion of Various Perspectives on Methodology

Several different authors and books were read to get a better understanding of methodology in biblical exegesis [see endnote 1]. Although each approached the text slightly differently, all were careful not to advocate for only one single method of 'standard' methodology. As space allowed, each showed positive and negative aspects to the different methodologies. This attempt to give each method a valid hearing allowed the authors better to be heard, but also pointed out the need in exegesis for something other than using only one of the existing methodologies.

This essay will begin with a summary of the books and articles, followed by a short evaluation of them. Barton's book provided the most helpful overview, and Cline's article was the most helpful in providing a short overview of the challenges involved in our own understanding of methodology. Jonker's book was probably the one that I found the most difficult to understand and appreciate, even though his attempt to find some common ground was appreciated. Talstra seems to be better able to navigate the different methodologies and give a viable alternative to either one methodology or the necessity of using all methodologies. Acknowledging that I have come to these readings with a certain bias towards some methodologies based on my past (academic) training and the influence of my church, I realize that the most helpful part of this exercise was to give me an appreciation for methodologies that I might have ignored previously as well as recognizing these biases.

Barton's book presupposes a knowledge of the different methodologies currently used in biblical exegesis. His goal is to explain the purpose of the methods [endnote 2] and show their interrelationship as "these methods are not just a random collection of techniques but hang together, make up a family, cover the range of possible questions people can ask about texts" (Barton, 3). Barton, in no ways, is trying to invalidate different methods on his way to showing which exegetical method is the most correct. He argues that "all interpretations of texts are 'readings', not the final word on the subject… Interpreters have deluded themselves into thinking that correct answers exist, if we could only find them (Barton, 216)." Barton thus does not advocate any one method but does indicate that some provide more validity than others.

Barton shows what the method is trying to correct as well as acknowledging its problems. For example, in his analysis of source criticism, he notes that the possibility of different sources arose as a logical explanation for 'discrepancies' in the text. Form criticism also arose as an explanation for the discrepancies. Barton, in his evaluation, does point out that what is understood by 'discrepancies' in the ancient text is problematic as there are no set guidelines for determining what is a discrepancy and what was placed there purposely by the redactor or written that way for rhetorical purposes, as redaction criticism and rhetorical criticism respectively might argue.[endnote 3] He uses the example of Ecclesiastes to show how all of these methods would actually work, illustrating how different methodologies bring different exegetical emphases but many of them still do come to a very similar answer to the purpose of Ecclesiastes.

Barton's work has the goal of being very objective, and for the most part he does this well. I grew in appreciation for the methodologies that I had sometimes dismissed in the past (e.g. source criticism, new criticism) as well as understanding some of the pitfalls of the methodologies I had a tendency to favour (e.g. canonical criticism, structuralism, form criticism). However, I had the impression that he thought less of the validity of canonical criticism than the other methodologies. I also got the impression that even though he was willing 'to play' with post-structuralist methodologies, he dismissed them overall as being illogical. My impression is that the 'newer' methodologies have not been around long enough to receive the tempered evaluation that Barton gave to the methodologies that have been used in exegesis for a longer time.

Barton's article continued along the same lines (as would be expected as it was written about the same time.) He argues that there is not common ground between historical criticism and literary interpretation but that this does not mean that each cannot help the other nor that they do not both struggle with certain issues. Both struggle with a similar problem - defining what is considered to be a discrepancy in the text. They also both focus on finding a single 'theme' in the text, which is the purpose of the text. Barton argues that this concept of theme is not necessarily how things were written (to be read). His evaluation once again helps point out how everyone, no matter which methodology they use, comes to the text with a bias - and thus so do I. His work has encouraged me to try not to allow any bias I have towards certain methods to prevent me from acknowledging the insights gained from these methods, which are not necessarily ones that I would have received with the questions I have been asking of the text.

Jonker's work also evaluated the different methodologies, although in a different way than Barton. Jonker spent less time on evaluating the methodologies and more illustrating them with the purpose of finding a multidimensional or integrated methodology. He exegetes Judges 13 through first a diachronic (historical-critical) methodology and then a synchronic (narrative) methodology. He explains the different methodologies in the first part, does the exegesis in the second part, and evaluates the results in the third part. I found his book not only to be less helpful than Barton's, but it also left me feeling slightly frustrated.

There was much in Jonker's book that I felt I did not understand properly. His explanations for the different methodologies consisted mainly of quotes in German, which caused some of the misunderstanding in terms of what he meant by the methodologies. However, his understanding of historical-critical methodology is significantly different than the understanding I have, even after reading Barton's book. Under this category of diachronic analysis, he includes a section called Theologische Kritik, which I would consider not to be inherently diachronic nor would I consider redactional criticism [endnote 4] to be diachronic. Under the category of synchronic methodology he looks at the text only from a literary view (narrative methodology as understood by Sternberg, Alter, and Berlin).

Besides having a problem with how he understood a diachronic and synchronic analysis, it did not seem that he gave the synchronic method a fair evaluation. The synchronic evaluation was based primarily on one kind of methodological criticism defined by Barton whereas the diachronic evaluation had several kinds. I also found it frustrating that he assumes that his diachronic methodology was religious whereas the synchronic method only dealt with literary methods. [endnote 5] Jonker clarifies this slightly by acknowledging that both methodologies argue that the text has meaning (Jonker, 297-98), but the language that he uses to differentiate the methodologies seems problematic to me. Perhaps I am misunderstanding Jonker, but I would argue against Jonker in saying that literary methods of approaching the text do not implicitly consider the text any more the word of God than historical-critical methods. [endnote 6]

Although Jonker does a good job of highlighting the exegetical insights he received from the different methodologies, he does not do a good job of comparing his results. The insights from the different methodologies were not all that different. He never gives an explanation of why such similar insights were obtained from two different methods. More importantly, he did not point out what one would miss by only using one method, which would have more adequately proving the need for an integrated methodology. His study, although fruitful in its exegesis, was slightly disappointing in terms of its methodology.

Although I agree that neither a synchronic or diachronic methodology alone is the best way of approaching the text, the articles that I read did a better job of convincing me of this than the work by Jonker or even that of Barton. The work, Synchronic or Diachronic? A Debate in Method in Old Testament Exegesis was especially helpful with this.

Cline's article is probably the one that I found the most helpful. His article is actually a summary of a workshop. It begins with a brief summary of his belief that the opposition of diachronical and synchronical methods is unhelpful. He thus goes on to define what he means by a workshop, provides the questions and handouts of the workshop, and then reports on what the results were. The questions brought forward helped participants better to understand the terminology of diachronic and synchronic, to acknowledge their emotional investment in the concepts, to see how different biblical methodologies contained both synchronic and diachronic elements, and to evaluate the process by which they could learn all this. His article not only gave a basic overview of the concepts but also showed the questions that those doing biblical exegesis could ask in a non-threatening environment. As a compliment to him, there are elements of his workshop that I would be interested in 'copying' in a classroom setting to help students better understand biblical methodologies.

Talstra's article on methodology was especially of interest to me, as it is prudent to understand the methodological preferences of one's supervisor. As his suggestion of how to approach the text is different than the other methodologies, it is slightly difficult to understand at first. However, after having now taken a class with him, things make slightly more sense. Unlike others, he does not assume that the more methodologies the better: “I do not agree with some modern statements that a maximum of methods should be used, that every single method has its own way of asking questions of the text, so that applying all of them would help us achieve a maximum of insight” (Talstra 1998, 3). Instead, he argues for a hierarchy of techniques/methods in approaching a text. One needs to first study the text carefully, understanding the text first in terms of syntax and literary elements before trying to understand the text based on such things as authorial intent or redactional elements. Asking how a modern day reader understands is a final element. He uses the examples of Dtn. 29, 1 Kgs. 9 and Jer 22 to illustrate this in one article (Talstra 1998) and looks at Dtn. 9-10 in the other article (Talstra 1995). It is clear that Talstra is actively trying to get past some of the problems of the other methodologies (for example, seeing chiasms in every thing, as well as using source criticism to get the Bible to say whatever you’d like it to, such as the theory that judges were good and kings were bad).

I am certain that there are things still to be worked out in the methodology of Talstra but he provides a way of appropriating the insights from the different methodologies without being stuck into a little box having to defend one methodology. It does not necessarily validate each method to the same extent at the same time nor does it require one to go through the lengthy process of using all the methods to show in multiple ways a lot of similar things with a few discrepancies (as illustrated by both Barton and Jonker).

As I felt like my understanding of the different methodologies of reading the Bible was lacking somewhat (it was something I had previously ignored as much as possible), this assignment was good for me to do. I think that I am more well-versed in the different methodologies. This allows me at least a few more insights into the biblical text and a significant amount of insight into those who are analyzing and writing about the text. Understanding someone's method helps one to see what they might be over-emphasizing and what they might be missing.

As I continue to learn more about methodologies, J. Barr's comment at the end of his essay is helpful. It is a wry comment on the state of biblical exegesis today and something which it is helpful to remember to keep things in perspective:

In conclusion, I feel I ought to apologize for reading a paper which has in it little or no detailed reference to the Old Testament. This however is not an accident. The methodological discussions in which biblical studies are now engaged see to me to have rather little to do with the Bible itself. They are not based on the Bible, nor can they be settled by the Bible….These discussions seem to me to be discussions of our own modern experience and it is our own modern experience in its many varied aspects that is the authority to which we are appealing. (Barr, 14).

[1] The books and articles are listed in a bibliography at the end of this paper.

[2] The methods that he discusses are: source analysis (literary criticism), form criticism, redaction criticism, canonical approach, structuralist criticism (both literary and biblical), 'new' criticism (which is an adaptation of literary criticism of about a hundred years ago), rhetorical criticism, postmodernist, and deconstructionist.

[3] This problem of discrepancies is illustrated well in the article by Carroll. He gives several discrepancies in the book of Jeremiah (Nebuchadnezzar being called servant of the LORD in one place and a beast in another), which he believes can only be explained through a diachronic reading. He argues that those who attempt to read the text synchronically have tended to pretend this is not really a discrepancy. Carroll thus shows how one's approach/ methodology can have a significant effect on what one considers as a discrepancy and then how one solves that 'problem'. His conclusion of the need for a diachronic method thus seems to me a bit false but I'm not sure if I dislike the conclusion because of my background or because I dislike the claim he makes for the (absolute) need of the diachronic method.

[4] He also includes Redaktionskritik under historical-critical methodology.

[5] Certainly the literary methods can ignore religious questions but synchronic readings are not only literarily based.

[6] Barr is careful in noting that good theology is not something that is inherent to either synchronic or diachronic methods (Barr, 11).


Barr, J., 'The Synchronic, the Diachronic and the Historical: A Triangular Relationship?', in J.C. de Moor (ed.) Synchronic or Diachronic? A Debate on Method in Old Testament Exegesis. Oudtestamentsche Studien 34 (1995): 1-14.

Barton, J., Reading the Old Testament. Method in Biblical Study (revised and enlarged edition), Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, Kent., 1996 (orig. ed. 1984).

Barton, J. 'Historical Criticism and Literary Interpretation: Is There Any Common Ground?', in S.E. Porter, P. Joyce, D. E. Orton, Crossing the Boundaries. Essay in Biblical Interpretation in Honour of Michael D. Goulder, Leiden: Brill, 1994: 3-16.

Carroll, R. P., "Synchronic Deconstructions of Jeremiah: Diachrony to the Rescue?', in J.C. de Moor (ed.) Synchronic or Diachronic? A Debate on Method in Old Testament Exegesis. Oudtestamentsche Studien 34 (1995): 39-51.

Clines, D. J. A., 'Beyond Synchronic/ Diachronic', in J.C. de Moor (ed.) Synchronic or Diachronic? A Debate on Method in Old Testament Exegesis. Oudtestamentsche Studien 34 (1995): 52-71.

Jonker, Louis C., Exclusivity and Variety. Perspectives on Multidimensional Exegesis, Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology 19, Kampen, 1996.

Talstra, E., 'Deuteronomy 9 and 10: Synchronic and Diachronic Observations', in J.C. de Moor (ed.) Synchronic or Diachronic? A Debate on Method in Old Testament Exegesis. Oudtestamentsche Studien 34 (1995): 187-210.

Talstra, E., 'From the Eclipse of the Art of Biblical Narrative. Reflections on Methods of Biblical Exegesis', in E. Noort (ed.), Perspectives on the Study of the Old Testament and Early Judaism: A Symposium in Honour of Adam S. van der Woude on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday, Groningen 1997, Leiden: Brill, 1998: 1-41.

05 August 2007

some of the great parts of living in community

having people around to talk to, and share with, and help each other out are some of the reasons i love living in community. and tonight was a good illustration of those things.

i was wandering around the house saturday afternoon doing odd chores hoping to bump into somebody to talk to as a break from spending way too much time sitting in my room thinking about my thesis (or trying to avoid thinking about it). as i was returning a book to the library (having our own library is, incidentally, another one of the great parts of living in community), i bumped into someone using the computer. i was clearly in a chatting mood and he looked like he'd welcome a distraction, so we ended up having a good conversation about emotions and general well-being. and i returned to my room, content to get back to the chores awaiting me.

awhile later, i got a knock in the door announcing a phone call/message from the people who'd just left for a 2-week vacation and had lent me their apartment during that time (and i'd water the plants). turns out they'd left a load in the washing machine and could i take it out? of course (i only live downstairs and can you imagine unhung wash after 2 weeks?!?). we did have to laugh at them, though.

then i decided to join whoever was around for tea for awhile. so a bunch of us sat outside and 'tourist-watched.' when you live in a high sight-seeing area, most of the people coming by are tourists who are rubber-necking and include my house (and all of us in it) as part of the potential attractions to check out. they usually are a bit startled by the rather ordinary-ness of a bunch of people sitting around on their porch (steps usually), drinking tea, chatting, and living ordinary life in a place people expect something a lot different. (The report from the Americans who visited mentions how the normalcy is a witness: "the community we are serving this week are so normal and simple that we become a show. At dinner people walk by the front window by the street and see a community dinner. It is glaringly different to what is in windows on either side of us. People stand and watch decent people doing decent things... It saddens me that our normalcy is such a show, but it is inspiring that so many people stop and inquire to what is going on.")

while sitting outside, i saw a former house-mate coming home for whom i'd been watching out for about week. so i went to see her new apartment. and met the new kitten who was sleeping over at her house while the couple above went on vacation - and because the house has a bit of a mouse problem, which has not gone over well with her (her initial reaction to finding a mouse has been repeated a few times through the community, with chuckles). so the couple have a cat-sitter and she has a mouse-scarer (it's a bit young so i'm not sure if it's really a mouse-catcher yet or more of a mouse-player) - and everyone benefits. and i had a lovely chat in english and dutch. and got a dinner invitation for tuesday :)

finally, back to those chores. only to hear within a few minutes someone outside in my hallway (which i don't share with anyone at the moment). it was someone checking to see if our machine for doing the floor had been returned by someone else using it (the floor-machine is only one of many machines that we own - our new super efficient high-duty clothes dryer is my favourite at the moment, though). and so we chatted for awhile and shared stories. and my chores waited awhile longer.

the chores finally did get done. my room might now pass for neat (by my mother's standards and not just mine:)). and the evening was great for getting to spend time with the people here that i know and love - and of being reminded of some of my favourite parts of community.

03 August 2007

the effect of global warming on Amsterdam

this summer, most of the people i know have been suffering from super hot summers. i spent a week or two in humid Grand Rapids and am very glad not to be spending my summer there (nor having any plans to do so for awhile). i'm fairly certain that global warming has something to do with this heat and the other crazy weather disasters around the world.

and i'm pretty sure that global warming is at least partially to blame for the Amsterdam weather that most of us are complaining about. it's been raining a lot lately (which isn't entirely unusual - except not usually so much at this time of the year). and the lack of sun is kind of sad. but more so, it's chilly. like "sweater and pants in the middle of the day" kind of chilly. and so, since we had such a warm winter here, i don't think that the average temperature in the summer has been much warmer than that in the summer!

i'm rather a large fan of 17 degree celsius weather, so i won't be complaining too much about the weather here (summer or winter!). and i think the Netherlands has fared the best with the weather this year. but all of these funny temperatures make me slightly unsettled about what else will be coming to all of us as we start to feel more and more effects of global warming.