Monthly Archives: May 2012

Eunuch and Catholicity

I had forgotten that I was up for sermons two Sundays in a row (I know, I know, ‘big whoop’ say my unimpressed weekly-preacher clergy colleagues, but I’m supposed to be doing other writing-type things at the same time). The week passed by, and I worked on a thesis, and a book review, and a short essay, and Sunday lay in wait without revealing itself to me till about Saturday morning — at which point, it leaped out of hiding, with teeth bared, and a ferocious roar. I was not even armed with a sermon from years past (how can that be, after all these lectionary cycles? because they surreptitiously changed the lectionary, to thwart the energy-saving impulse to recycle sermons). Yet with the partial, somewhat dented armour of kind-of-righteousness, I managed to subdue the prowling lion and assemble a sermon that didn’t fall to bits in the pulpit.
 
The morning was exquisitely sunny, almost warm, a refreshing walk from home, and the service went well, and now I’m securely ensconced at the Palais Partickhill. I’ll return to the thesis this afternoon, and tomorrow I’ll take up the editor’s version of my James commentary, which he’d like back before we visit the States for Pippa’s graduation. It all feels good, though — lots to do, without too much intervening between me and my obligations (productivity!). Maybe I’ll write some more about exegesis this week, if I wrap up the thesis. Oh, and the sermon is in the ‘read more’ section below.
 
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Phantom Library Syndrome

I’ve written before about my on-going discovery of gaps in my library caused by the necessary dispersion of our household goods. When we had to move from Evanston and Princeton to Durham and Baltimore, and then from Durham and Baltimore to Glasgow, we were obliged to cut back on one of our principal possessions — viz., about two-thirds of our extensive theological library. And since our relocation took place under time pressure, the process of de-acquisition was not systematic, but somewhat haphazard; some boxes were kept, based on the books most obvious at their top, although it turned out that those boxes included mostly less useful volumes, and some boxes were given away although they will have turned out to have contained some important texts.
 
That’s all as it may be. The circumstances were what they were, and we did what we had to at the time.
 
But over time, I’ve been experiencing what one might call ‘phantom library syndrome’ — the conviction that I really must have, somewhere, books that I know we didn’t ship over to Glasgow. And that, in turn, complicates my dealings with books in the here and now. Shall I buy another copy of The Future of Our Religious Past (just spotted it at Oxfam)? Well, no; I really wouldn’t use it that much — except it feels as though a copy belongs in my library. And what if we move again? I’m strongly disinclined to buy books, sinceI’m haunted by the awareness that we might have to shed them yet again. Even newly-published books rarely appeal to me now. They all look heavy, bulky, burdensome. At the same time, though, the phantom library continually whispers to me of what is missing, what should be there, what needs to be replaced.
 
There’s no point in my suggesting this as a lesson to you all; for most of you, the odds that you’ll have to dissolve your library (or other comparable personally-invested material possessions) is comparatively small, and I don’t suppose you should alter your behaviour lest you the same experience befall you. I suppose, though, that if someone else is feeling the effects of Phantom Library Syndrome, you should know you aren’t the only one.
 

Long Range Planning

Just noted, for now — I anticipate gathering up all my ‘How To Do exegesis’ posts and compiling them into a PDF that I’ll make freely available. I expect that elements of that compendium will eventually grow into a published book about exegesis, partly into the more technical volume on Exegetical Method and more, probably, into a pedagogical guide to committing successful exegesis. In the latter case I’d go over the whole thing to smooth out wrinkles, harmonise divergences, and so on — but I expect to leave the blogged musings up indefinitely (after all, they’re all there anyway in the individual blog posts).
 

OK, How Do You Do Exegesis?

After having written about what makes exegesis difficult (and subsequent posts), and after having written about criticism and evidence, I’ll get to the point and suggest how you actually set about doing exegesis.
 
First and most important: do what your instructor says. I can’t emphasise this enough; there is no Platonic ‘exegesis’ such that if you deviate from what your instructor says, you’d be doing it so correctly that even your scorned instructor would have to give you a good mark. No, no, no. I’ll acknowledge that some practices are well-nigh universal among critical interpreters, and that some idiosyncrasies and stipulations depart from what most scholars would approve, but if you]re doing this for academic credit, do what your instructor wants. If you don’t, whether out of unshakeable personal principle or vanity or cussedness or whatever reason, it’s not my fault. Instructors, check this out: I told them to listen to you.
 
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Signed, AKMA

I have started but not finished a post about how one might really do exegesis, but for now I’ll just point to these two delightful comics by David Malki (one, two) that remind me of the portion of What Is Postmodern Biblical Criticism? where I comment on 2 Thessalonians 2:1f, 3:17 (drawing, as I note there, on Derrida’s ‘Signature Event Context’ and ‘Limited Inc’).
 
Malki is one of a number of comics artists (including Nina Paley (below), Dorothy Gambrell, Ryan North, and I’m sure there are others) who’ve riffed productively on problems enmeshed in (biblical) hermeneutics. In a more nearly perfect world, I’d love to write a book with one or more of them, but they surely have more productive, more lucrative things to do.
 
if the author is dead what explains us / we're just the readers' interpretations / please interpret us better
 
Sometime, though, I may put a number of these comics together for an essay or a presentation. Removing the discussion from the familiar grounds of dry technical essays in academic books and recontextualising them in comics form offers a greater chance of breaking through the current theoretical logjam.