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«THE RECEPTION HISTORY OF 2 THESSALONIANS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HAIMO OF AUXERRE, AND JOHN CALVIN ANDREW RHETT TALBERT, B.A., ...»

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Postponing this reading, however, allows for readings that naturally flow out of a contextual dialogue with the text and are equally constitutive of the meaning and history of the text. Historical enquiry charts the aesthetic range of a text and gauges the aesthetic value of a new reception. To exclude the third level of reading would mean that the “first two levels of reading would be lopsided in favor of our contemporary pre-understanding.”237 This safeguard restricts incorrect readings, presents new possibilities for understanding, and reveals “voices of domination” may have entered into the reception of the text or traditions of the reader.238 Having reconstructed the original horizon, one has the task of examining the fuller history of the text— the ensuing receptions.239 In this process, the aesthetic quality of a text comes to light and particular epochal moments of interpretation become clear. The reader gauges the readings in their substantiation by history, their establishment of traditions, their coherence with the text, and their comparison with the original horizon of expectation. Taking the insights from this process collectively creates the possibility for the transformation of the reader’s horizon of experience. If understanding stopped at historical reconstruction of horizons, then this would easily be a return to positivism. Yet Jauss vehemently rejects this as the end of hermeneutical enquiry. Rezeptionsästhetik views present meaning for social formation as the goal of interpretation. Furthermore, if we follow Pannenberg, we recognise that all meaning must be put in relation to a universal history, which is given its fullest content in the revelation of Jesus Christ.240

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Jauss’ articulation of the three levels of reading completes the methodology of his hermeneutical model. Conceivably, this technique has numerous advantages for biblical hermeneutics. Before describing my particular appropriation of Rezeptionsästhetik, it is prudent to work through a number of challenges that it faces.

3. Challenges Jauss’ reception history is not without concerns. The challenges to Rezeptionsästhetik relate to questions of relativism, reconstructing the original horizon of expectation, the use of “horizon,” methodology, misinterpretations, “use” versus “effect,” and the socially formative function of reception history.

As this dissertation focuses on the potential use of Jauss for theology and hermeneutics, it seems well-advised to begin with foundational concerns from a theological perspective.

I. Relativism An immediate difficulty facing reception theory is that it allows for unlimited interpretations of a text. Unlike other forms of reader-response theory and postmodern hermeneutics, however, the original horizon of expectation, reading traditions, the formative value of an interpretation, and the text itself serve as guideposts (albeit “flexible”) for interpretation in Rezeptionsästhetik.241 Generally speaking, the stability of a particular textual meaning will be considered in relation to its historical persistence and its tradition-forming potential.242 Additionally, the literary history of a work “progresses historically and follows a certain ‘logic’ that precipitates the In a rather humourous response to a critique by Richard Rorty, Eco offers an interpretation of a screwdriver and concludes with the quite reasonable point, “To decide how a text works means to decide which one of its various aspects is or can become relevant or pertinent for a coherent interpretation of it, and which ones remain marginal and unable to support a coherent reading.” See his “Reply” in Stefan Collini, Interpretation and Overinterpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 146.

Parris, Reading the Bible, 116.

formation and transformation of the aesthetic canon.”243 Iser helpfully notes, “acts of comprehension are guided by the structures of the text, though the latter can never exercise complete control.”244 Thus those who use Rezeptionsästhetik can make determinations about what constitutes legitimate interpretations of a literary or a theological work.245 Another author has stated the present aim of this project well as “steering between the Scylla of Cartesianism and the Charbydis of radical postmodern polyvalency.”246 In certain Christian circles this might cause one to question the role of the Holy Spirit in interpretation and whether it speaks in a manner contrary to the established traditions or in ways not necessarily consistent with the course of the text. On the one hand, reception history does not preclude new interpretations, as new historical moments provide new interpretive vantages.

On the other hand, the reception history and the interpretive trajectory of a biblical text serve as helpful guides for one to determine whether interpretation might be called divinely-sourced, or whether the reader has simply affirmed what they wanted to find in the text— something that Jauss aims to destabilise in his second thesis.247 Furthermore, “in the case of texts which are sacred, properly speaking, one cannot allow oneself too much licence, as there is usually a religious authority and tradition that lays claim to hold the key to its interpretation.”248 Eco extends this argument of limitless Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic, 147.

Iser, The Act of Reading, 24.





Jauss engages and incorporates part of Bultmann’s theological hermeneutics in his own work. Jauss, Question and Answer, 63–66.

See Thiselton in Lundin, Walhout, and Thiselton, The Promise of Hermeneutics, 156.

For an excellent summary of this thesis, see Thiselton, Hermeneutics, 317–18.

Umberto Eco, “Overinterpreting Texts,” in Interpretation and Overinterpretation, ed.

Stefan Collini (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 52–53. Adam lends weight to this perspective by observing that there are no transcendent interpretive criteria in biblical interpretation to the fourfold interpretation of scripture in the Middle Ages, which was “infinite in terms of time, but limited in its options.”249 This is a helpful way for looking at biblical interpretation that is open to the eschaton and the freedom of God to act and speak.

Related to this objection of relativism is the question of who and how one chooses receptions of a biblical text to include in their “canon” of the text’s history. Admittedly, Jauss encourages that all receptions of work be taken up in order to give a full picture of the text’s aesthetic quality, and to continue adding works as they are discovered or created. Yet “Canonising” and evaluating all receptions of 2 Thessalonians simply is not possible, and even less so with all of Scripture. As a further criterion for selection, Rezepstionsästhetik includes in its canon of “classic” works those that can continue to answer new questions in changing horizons by the way that they “engage the contemporary public on the level of performative, motivating, and transformative norms, both literary and societal.”250 Yet this canon is always held open and subject to scrutiny, so that it may be constantly reformulated.

Simply put, reception history must begin somewhere. Tracing the historical trends of interpretation has great potential for reshaping modern understanding of how and what readers are to do with Scripture. Not only can it expand horizons of understanding and expectation, it demonstrates how to ask better and broader questions of Scripture, and it encourages the remarriage of the currently diverse theological fields through engagement with historical voices and theological paradigms that have shaped biblical reading.

hermeneutics, but many local ones (i.e. contextual criteria). Adam, Faithful Interpretation, 57–65.

Eco, “Overinterpreting Texts,” 53. Emphasis added.

Rush, The Reception of Doctrine, 94.

II. Reconstructing the Original Horizon and Otherness Perhaps the issue that receives the most critique is Jauss’ emphasis on reconstructing the original horizon of expectation. Is this even possible? Is it not an attempt to apprehend the author’s intention in the text? Angus Paddison has levelled a substantial critique against “excavatory” hermeneutics as the normative interpretive methodology, because the author’s intent and the initial horizon of expectations are only partially recoverable, at best.251 Furthermore, excavations of the past for understanding any biblical text have not produced universal agreement in biblical studies, but rather a preponderance of interpretations.

First, it is perhaps more helpful to speak of textual directedness than authorial intention,252 because texts often communicate more than the author is aware, especially when put in dialogue with other texts (e.g. texts within the biblical canon).253 This accounts for the historical richness of biblical interpretation.

Second, Jauss is not interested in the psychologism of authorial intention. Rezeptionsästhetik avoids psychologising by concentrating on the objectifiable horizons of expectation (cultural and literary) of the readers so as to judge the aesthetic quality of the text in question,254 including the horizons of each reception of the text in question. Historical research has provided some assurances that can aid in interpretation and horizon reconstruction, but historical reconstruction does not equal the meaning of a text. Again, the goal Paddison, Theological Hermeneutics, 18–20.

Even language of a biblical author using a phrase intentionally is more hepful than “authorial intent.” For a positive construction of biblical authority based on the dimensions of “behind,” “within,” and “in front of” a text, see Thiselton, Thiselton on Hermeneutics, 637– 38.

Umberto Eco, “Between Author and Text,” in Interpretation and Overinterpretation, ed. Stefan Collini (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 73.

See Parris’ explanation of Jauss’ second thesis. Parris, Reception Theory, 130–33.

of his project is not the historical or singular meaning of a text, but social formation (Gadamer’s Bildung) and the formulation of contemporary questions for the concretisation truth. Not considering the original horizon of expectations would simply not be a complete reception history of a text.

A final critique has to do with whether it is necessary to reconstruct the initial horizon for the purpose of “reading against the grain” or restoring the “otherness” of the text. Is it not sufficient in the theological realm to assert Scripture’s quality of otherness because it comes to the reader as “the Word of God?” This notion of divine otherness is certainly essential for theology. It does not logically follow, though, that we must exclude other categories of otherness that fall under this. Acknowledging otherness is an essential step in understanding that prevents naïve consumption of a text and imposition of desired meaning into a text. Reconstructing the original horizon, as well as later historical horizons of reception, aids in reading against the grain and enriches the process of understanding.

Focusing too exclusively on the otherness of Scripture in its divine origin runs the risk of making it inaccessibly transcendent. Doing likewise with historical construction neglects its source, subject matter, and the community for which it is intended. Affirming both dimensions of otherness in Scripture provides a twofold safeguard against eisegesis and asserts the revelatory activity of God in history.255 III. Horizons and Methodology Robert Holub censures Jauss for his use of “horizon” and his methodology. These critiques, however, appear to amount to a lack of This latter point coheres with the general aim of liberation theology. See Christopher Rowland and Mark Corner, Liberating Exegesis: The Challenge of Liberation Theology to Biblical Studies (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1989), 114–26.

connection between Jauss and Gadamer in the former, and a confusion of the aims of Jauss and Gadamer in the latter. The first argument revolves around the indiscriminate and indistinct use of the term “horizon.” Holub concludes this results in uncertainty as to what he means, particularly because various scholars and fields implemented the term “horizon” at the time.256 Admittedly, Jauss appears to use the term “horizon” almost as a catchword257 throughout his work. Given Jauss’ background, however, it is not difficult to see how he has borrowed from and expanded the concept of “horizon” from Gadamer. In the particular case of the “horizon of expectations,” Jauss explicitly states the relationship of his use to that found in the works of Karl Mannheim and Karl Popper.258 Furthermore, the contexts in which Jauss deploys the terminology render its application apparent.

Holub argues additionally that, whereas Gadamer avoided describing a hermeneutical method, Jauss has, in fact, presented a methodology in which we must “bracket our own historical situatedness.”259 The error with this critique lies in misrepresentation and assumption. Jauss never intends to simply replicate Gadamer, and even admits to establishing a method in his

Robert C. Holub, Reception Theory: A Critical Introduction, New Accents (London:

Methuen, 1984), 59.

The following are examples of Jauss’ use of “horizon”: open horizon of first reading, retrospective horizon of second reading, horizon of expectation, horizon of experience, horizon of interpretive understanding, horizon of interpretation, horizon of aesthetic experience, horizon of literary expectation, horizon of experience of life, and the transsubjective horizon of understanding.

The term ultimately derives from Husserl’s phenomenology of perception. Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic, xii and 40–41; Rush, The Reception of Doctrine, 79; Rush makes mention of the parallels between Jauss’ horizon of expectations and the same in the work of art historian E. H. Gombrich. Parris identifies Gombrich as the immediate source for Jauss’ use of the concept, yet I can find no reference to Gombrich in any of Jauss’ work. Parris, Reception Theory, 151.

Holub, Reception Theory, 60; Knight follows a similar pattern of critique. Though he offers an insightful overview of Wirkungsgeschichte, reception theory, and reception history, his insight that Gadamer was not attempting to offer a methodology is decades old.



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