Sunday, October 31, 2004

New Ways to Look at the Bible

In Judaism, there are a few extra books that have some sort of authority alongside (some would argue over) the Hebrew Bible: Talmud and Targumim. The Talmud is a book of various Rabbi's opinions about 'halakic' questions (halakh, from the Hebrew for 'to walk', means basically how one lives--or better yet, how one responds to God). In a lot of ways, especially when connected with the Mishnah, the Talmud serves as a commentary on the Hebrew Bible. Although I cannot develop it right now, I have argued in the past that the New Testament is the Christian Talmud--which solidifies its place as connected organically and eternally to the Hebrew Bible.

What I'd like to concentrate on here is the targumims, which is the plural of 'targum'. A targum happened like this: in the synagogue, someone would read the Hebrew text; since most Jews in the first century AD knew Aramaic and NOT Hebrew, the priest/rabbi would paraphrase the Hebrew text into Aramaic and 'update' it to apply to their contemporary situation. It was a very important process, especially since many Pharisees held the 'targumic' positions and could influence the masses (seen in how they prodded on many revolutionaries in the War of 66-70 AD).

Walsh and Keesmaat, in Colossians Remixed, give an example of Colossians in a modern targumic form. It is fascinating and enthralling--a more effective and affective sermon than I think I've ever heard. As they explain in the book, there is a lot of freedom in targumic interpretations, but if one has 'Old Testament ears to hear' the overtones are brought out quite nicely. The question I wonder is, should we bring back this old time style of sermon?

Having studied Hebrew and Greek for my major, they are very dear languages to me. I would love nothing better than that all God's saints would know the languages (except that it would further limit my job potentials). I would love it if all the saints grew a respect for the canonical word (Brevard Child's style). However, they don't. I don't even know them well enough. Most Christians don't even seem to realize that the translations that they use are interpretations, subject to human error. The original text (if we leave out text-critical problems aside for a moment) doesn't suffer from these things. Would it be so bad to read (or preferably chant) the original language texts in Church? Obviously, nobody would understand what was being read...unless there was a targum...

Sermons would have to follow the form of the text closely to be faithful to God's word, and use a lot of wisdom in developing targums week by week. But it is a magnificent way to draw the congregation into the text without worrying about 'literal-functional' translation issues or, for that matter, gender-inclusivity debates. In a very important sense, the prophets targumed the Torah in poetic form for their sermons. The overtones and echoes of Scripture are rich in prophetic deep that they can only be truly appreciated at the level of worldview.

This 'targuming' would lead to a prophetible three-office structure of the Church: prophet, priest, and king. The 'priest', the pastor (almost all Protestant pastors say that they are the representative of God bringing His word--which was the job of the local Levites), would interpret God's word targum-style, much like in the days of Ezra. The prophet would do what prophets do: bring cases against the people in terms of that very word--and also against the 'priests' if they are misrepresenting the word or misapplying the word. The king is, of course, the one we all are answerable to...our Lord Jesus Messiah. This scheme would require a greater knowledge of the word, especially the Hebrew Bible, to work. Who, though, is saying that that is a bad thing? The checks-and-balances would be nice; giving the Session and the 'priesthood-of-all-believers' adequate authority to keep the pastor in check (by which I mean both critique and encouragement) and also to do ministry of their own (something Paul talks about in Ephesians). It might also do justice to the offices of 'bishop' and 'deacon' as they are found in the New Testament, not to mention 'elder'.


One possibility that this model might entail is the repositioning of the Word in the context of the worshipping community. The Bible was not meant to be read ex situ, but rather has its full meaning and significance in the context of the liturgy.

Shalom olam v-olam (Peace forever and forever; or, targum-style, God's restorative, gracious wholeness be with all His people unto the end of the ages).


Sean Purcell said...

Russ, Nice exploration of the role targums could play.

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