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Furthermore, Jauss and proponents of his reception history do not propose their method to the exclusion of historical methods. Knight, “Wirkungsgeschichte,” 137-46.

literary history,260 though the process is open to creative use. He picks up in part where Gadamer, who has been critiqued for not articulating a methodology in his hermeneutics,261 left off, though his methodology is not as rigid as Holub makes it seem. In Rezeptionsästhetik, Jauss seeks to display the “aesthetic” richness of a text found in its history of interpretation, which includes contemporary readings. “Bracketing” provides the reader with the opportunity to enrich their understanding of a text, but it is not the first step in the process of reading. The process involves a degree of freedom in interpretation, but it also scrutinises the horizon of the reader to prevent selfinterested, dominating, oppressive, or simply incorrect readings that could have the potential to expand ad infinitum.

Gadamer’s specific objection to the use of method in the Geisteswissenschaften was that he saw it as an infection from the natural sciences. Alternatively, Gadamer proposed his Wirkungsgeschichte in which the “other” reveals the truth of itself to the interpreter, and that a method cannot be applied to the “other.” Jauss, however, approaches the “other” from a different angle. Rather than emphasising the effect of a work, Jauss advocates the “principle of the history of reception, which does not have as its starting-point the presumed objective truth of a work but rather the comprehending consciousness seen as the subject of aesthetic experience.”262 One cannot suggest a method for being affected by something external; the “other.” Because he begins with the “comprehending consciousness” Jauss “The question as to how literary history can today be methodologically grounded and written anew will be addressed in the following seven theses.” Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic, 20.

Emphasis added.

Thiselton, New Horizons, 328–29.

Hans Robert Jauss, “The Theory of Reception: A Retrospective of Its Unrecognized

Prehistory,” in Literary Theory Today, ed. Peter Collier and Helga Geyer-Ryan (Ithaca:

Cornell University Press, 1992), 59.

can describe a method of reading and participating in the aesthetic experience that seeks to understand contextual forces that cause a reader to receive a text in a particular manner. The method does not begin, however, in the intitial aesthetically perceptual reading (i.e. “play”) of the text, but in the reflective movements of interpretation and application.

IV. Misinterpretation and “Use” Versus “Effect” Because reception history opens biblical texts to indefinite interpretations (within a theologically-guided trajectory), it faces the difficulty of being able to articulate what counts as an appropriate interpretation.263 Part of the problem lays in the fact that Rezeptionsästhetik is not immediately interested in misinterpretations, but in all receptions of text. Räisänen raises a similar concern with Wirkungsgeschichte by querying how one differentiates between “effect” and “use” of a text. He questions further as to how one can distinguish between the effects of a text and the general effects of culture/history on how one reads the text. In the midst of his argument, Räisänen conflates “reception” and “effect” as essentially the same.264 Therein lies the problem. What Räisänen attempts to flatten, Jauss draws out as decided differences between Wirkungsgeschichte and Rezeptionsästhetik.

Today, the interaction of effect and reception is commonly defined in such a way that effect is the name given to the element of concretization determined by the text, while reception is the element determined by the person to whom the text is addressed. Thus the implication of the text and the explication of the addressee, the implicit and the historical reader are dependent on one another, and the text itself is thus able to limit the arbitrariness of the interpretation, guaranteeing the continuity of its experience beyond the present act of reception.265 Parris raises this concern at the beginning of his dissertation. Parris, “Reception Theory: Philosophical Hermeneutics, Literary Theory, and Biblical Interpretation,” 10.

Räisänen, “Effective ‘History’,” 311–14.

Jauss, “The Theory of Reception,” 60. Emphasis original.

For Jauss, the text limits the capacity of misinterpretation and reception history examines the cultural particularities that a reader brings to the text. Both the Wirkungsgeschichte and Rezeptionsästhetik of a text include its misuse.266 The latter recognises misuse as part of the text’s history and challenges the reader to consider whether a particular misuse has posed legitimate questions to the text.267 The aim of these programs is not simply to list what interpreters have said about biblical texts. Rather, they seek to examine the aesthetic quality of their reception in comparison with other receptions, to confront modern horizons of expectation with possibilities readers may not have considered, to reveal to later readers when interpretations have entered the dialogue, and to expose unrecognised prejudices so as to render the project of biblical hermeneutics both more inclusive and more critical. In so doing, Rezpetionsästhetik achieves a higher level of critical engagement with Scripture than historicism.268 An added level of protection against misinterpretation comes from the Christian community. “The best interpreters of scripture are those actively engaged in communities of biblical interpretation, and the single most important practice to cultivate is involvement in reading scripture with others who take its message seriously and who meet regularly to discern its meaning for life and faith.”269 Orientation toward the subject matter of Scripture within its intended audience is a necessary supplement to reception history that we suggest should be essential to a biblical studies program.270 Bockmuehl, “A Commentator’s Approach,” 61.

Parris, Reception Theory, 44–46.

“Kritischer müßten mir die Historisch-Kritischen sein!” Barth, Der Römerbrief, xii.

Joel B. Green, “Scripture and Theology,” Interpretation 56, no. 1 (2002): 16 and 19.

It remains unclear why Morgan insists on holding theological interest in “subject matter” as separate from the reception history of Scripture, which, by its nature, is interested V. Social Formation/Application A final critique of Rezeptionsästhetik has to do with whether Jauss’ model achieves anything that might resemble social formation. This is best addressed through the triad of comprehension, interpretation, and application that Jauss appropriates from Gadamer. Rather than distinguish the three as entirely separate, Gadamer demonstrates that when one interprets, they are already involved in the process of comprehending, and in comprehending, they are already applying what they have understood to their horizon of experience. All three of these elements should, in Gadamer’s eyes, be subsumed under the larger category of understanding.271 Application begins as a mental exercise and eventually matures into demonstrable social formation.

The fact that many do not exhibit the socially formative capacity of literature, particularly Scripture, in their lives is actually an issue of whether the reader has submitted to the text as one who has been addressed.272 There are undoubtedly other critiques, including those from within the field of literary theory and philosophy. The above-mentioned criticisms represent, however, the weightiest arguments against Rezeptionsästhetik, with particular attention to theological concerns.

4. Rezeptionsästhetik in Biblical Studies Jauss’ aesthetics of reception plays a significant role in biblical hermeneutics. By reading Scripture with the eyes of the contemporary in textual claims formulated as appropriate answers to questions. Reception history is neither unconcerned with valid interpretation, nor does it exclude adaptation by theological principles.

If anything, Rezeptionsästhetik, in its concern that textual meanings must affect social praxis, it is more appropriately primed for theological interest in the “Sache” of Scripture than certain other methods. Morgan’s reading, though rightly concerned with the hypothetical danger of reception history, reflects no engagement with Jauss and appears to be more of a critique of the history of interpretation than the methodology of Rezeptionsästhetik. Morgan, “Sachkritik,” 189–90.

Gadamer, Truth and Method, 275–78.

Lewis refers to such as “unliterary readers.” C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 38.

historical context, questions arise to which the Scriptures provide new answers, as well as fresh appropriations of old questions. Engaging with the past receptions of the texts recognises the “history” of a text in a much more developed capacity than historicism and forces readers not only to engage with a text’s origination, but also its life beyond this. They have asked insightful and varied questions between its origination and our current reception that provoke a contemporary horizon of expectation by forcing one understanding to engage with another and consider the legitimacy of questions asked.

Further to this, reception history reveals that differences in biblical meaning do not confirm the evolutionary advancement of knowledge. Instead, it indicates differing paradigms in which certain meanings are validated or prioritised. A paradigm shift results when an older paradigm cannot adequately answer a question posed to a text.273 We see precisely such a shift from primarily theological readings of the pre-modern era to primarily historical readings in modernity. Presently, the historicist paradigm is not epistemologically sufficient to address questions of a theological nature, and a paradigm shift has been messily underway for the last several decades. These questions unite the shifting paradigms both by the nature of ongoing dialogue and the inability of one paradigm to answer a question resulting in the formation of a new paradigm. This reality is the scarlet thread of continuity running through pre-modern and modern interpretations of Scripture.274 This is certainly not the first endeavour in utilising reception theory in biblical studies. Numerous articles as well as several commentaries have made Occasionally, new discoveries (e.g. the Copernican revolution) render old answers obsolete and necessitate a new paradigm. This does not, however, cancel the historical dialogue and the “new” becomes so only in “the mediation of the new through the old.” Jauss, “Tradition,” 375.

Jauss, Question and Answer, 69–70; Parris, Reception Theory, 174–200.

forays in the field. A brief review of several key works and series will prepare the way for our own offering of reception history.

I. Major Works on Reception Theory275 i. Brevard Childs Brevard Childs’ commentary on Exodus is an early venture (1974) at incorporating reception theory into the biblical commentary genre. As is well known, he developed a particular strand of canonical criticism that concentrates on the final form of the text as the “vehicle of revelation and instruction”276 and promotes an aim of seeking contemporary address through Scripture that closely parallels the work of Jauss.277 Though the work offers a great deal of historical-philological detail like most modern commentaries, he also includes sections on the history of exegesis, which illuminate “the text by showing how the questions which are brought to bear by subsequent generations of interpreters influenced the answers which they received.”278 Such study helps us to understand the reality-shaping nature that Scripture has had through history.279 In one example of the reception of a passage (Exod 1:8-2:10), Childs takes up the question of how Pharaoh could have raised a Hebrew in his household without suspicion. More recent commentators reject the passage’s historicity and therefore preclude further discussion. Early Church and medieval commentators, however, focused on whether the midwives had been rewarded by God for lying and the theological-ethical implications of this to the extent that it became the focal text for discussions of Unfortunately, Vásquez’s impressive work on reception theory was published and discovered too late to adequately incorporate it into my research. Víctor Manuel Morales Vásquez, Contours of a Biblical Reception Theory: Studies in the Rezeptionsgeschichte of Romans 13.1–7 (Göttingen: V&R Unipress, 2011).

Childs, Exodus, xv.

Ibid., xiii. Childs rejects the results of historical-critical inquiry as the end of interpretation. See also Brevard S. Childs, The New Testament as Canon: An Introduction (London: Continuum, 1992), 22–23 and 40–42.

Childs, Exodus, xv.

Ibid., xvi.

lying, including in the works of Augustine, Aquinas, Peter Martyr, and Calvin.280 Childs’ work is a helpful and insightful early attempt at involving reception theory in the biblical commentary. Rather than focusing on every verse of Exodus and its history, he importantly limits the discussion to texts that have generated the most discussion through history. Such selection for a commentary is critical both for introducing a reader to important areas of reception and in setting boundaries in research.

ii. Ulrich Luz281 Ulrich Luz offers a more clearly defined implementation of reception theory than Childs by concretely importing Gadamer’s Wirkungsgeschichte into his commentary on Matthew. In this process, Luz distinguishes between the “history of interpretation” as commentaries and the “history of influences” as all other media,282 an interesting, but perhaps captious, distinction.

Unhelpfully, it can imply that commentaries do not have a historical influence and/or that they are not part of a biblical text’s Wirkungsgeschichte, but Luz qualifies that the former includes the latter.283 In a manner strikingly reminiscent of Pannenberg, Luz warns that the historical-critical tools of biblical studies are crucial, but miss their purpose if they fail to lead the interpreter to meaning in the present. An attempt to bypass the historical dimension of a text’s origination in an appeal to its existence as Ibid., 22–24.

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