Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Discussion summary: Reading Gen 22 through Gen 23

We have almost unapologetically left the text behind this week, because the discussion has primarily focused on the rather broad and complex problem of typology, something suggested by Jacob's typological reading of Genesis 22 and several (round-about) confirmations of this in Genesis 23. The following paragraphs attempt only to establish the problems we have uncovered.

Thinking typology, it would seem, must begin with the question of "identity," that is, with the question of "typological structure." Two (broad, perhaps even unhelpful) typological structures have been (this week) proposed: type-antitype and type-archetype. Unfortunately, however, the relation/difference between these two proposed structures has not yet been made clear. What is ultimately at issue (and, for now, undecided) is what it is that the type ties typologically to.

Another difficulty in thinking typological structure: the question has been raised whether a typological structure is something "in itself" or something "for us," whether the structure is something inherent in what is tied together typological or whether the structure is something given to us (in either case, typology appears not to be something we impose).

In the course of discussion, it has been suggested that the structure of the sign and/or the play of differences might provide a starting point--or at least serve as a foil--for thinking about typological structure. This suggestion has underscored the importance of the question of temporality (roughly--perhaps sloppily--equated here with causality) in thinking typological structure. At the very least, it is clear that typology in some sense opposes temporality/causality (though even this might be too strong). The most progress has perhaps been made here, though the discussion is, for now, rather embryonic.

Finally, the question of how family is to fit into all of this has been raised, and, for the most part, left unanswered.

I would like to see discussion continue on this subject, perhaps best under this summary (if it genuinely recasts the important issues here).


Blogger Jim F. said...

Adam, I like very much what you said earlier about typology folding time back on itself. I also like the word "figure" because it seems to me that we can see typology as figuring the world, giving it shape.

2:44 PM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

I'm inclined to think about these issues in terms of sacred/spiritual language vs. secular/temporal language (I have the Tower of Babel and Isa 28-29 particularly in mind here), with the key difference being in terms of intertemporal commitment. It seems that, even when giving new revelation, God always reuses old language, drawing on words, expressions, types, names, parables, metaphors etc. that have occurred in previous dispensations. This requires continual interpretation of past events, something that turns our hearts to our fathers. At the same time, spiritual language seems to require an openness and commitment toward the future, e.g. prophecies and covenants which point us toward our children. Types, then, fit naturally into this sacred, familial language, complementing sacred words, expressions, names, parables, and metaphors, in a way that---importantly---preserves old meaning even while new meaning is continually being created. It is this simultaneious commitment to the past and future that I think makes God's course "undeviating" and distinguishes spiritual (i.e. connected) language from temporal (i.e. cut-off) language.

I'm not sure how the archetype/antitype distinction would be important. Language pertaining to creation and generations, or fall and wandering, or father and son, or unity and marriage---these all seem to be recurring typological themes, although new types also seem to be continually created as history is newly enacted (I'm thinking, for example, of Abinadi's being burned by fire which is described as a type prophetically, without reference---at least that I could see---to a previous type). Inasmuch as these typological themes are recurrent, perhaps we might think of them as archetypal, but I'm not sure how useful this distinction is. Rather, I think what is important is that all types seem to be part of the (spiritual) history between God and the family of Adam. It is the language of this history (past or future, esp. prophecies of Christ in the BOM) that typology always seems to draw on, and it is this history that must be interpreted by each dispensation and generation. Each event in history, then, has the potential of being interpreted as an antitype in the larger typological structure of God's interactive history with the family of Adam. What seems distinct about spiritual language is that it refuses to exclude any part of this history, and it always has future generations in mind. Perhaps, then, truth, faith, love, etc. point to means by which we---through language---can be inclusive of others, past, present and future, whereas sin is can be viewed as a refusal to be part of God's ongoing spiritual creation of history, an ordering by which we can all be a part of if we allow ourselves to be subject to this symbolic-ordering language of creation....

5:05 AM  
Blogger Rosalynde said...

Joe, I'm enjoying listening in on the discussion about typology very much. Can we tether the theoretical discussion at least loosely to the text? (I know that these ideas spun out of the text in the beginning, but I for one have lost the thread a bit.) On signs v. types, perhaps we can talk about the two kinds of covenantal cutting we see in the story: circumcision, which functions as a sign, and the binding of Isaac, which works as a type. Do these fit the categories you're developing? (diachronic/synchronic, causal/free, etc).

Robert, I appreciate your remarks on the always-already reclaimed character of sacred language. I agree fully. You figure this reclaiming in terms of familial harmony---but I think the process of reclaiming language for the sacred is as often a matter of misreading, textual violence and appropriation as benign "reinterpretation." (Or wait, maybe that's my kids' bickering I'm thinking of.)

On the reading itself (and I'm sorry to be commenting so late; I've put my remarks here to be a bit more visible, but Joe please feel free to remove them to the other thread if you like): I read chapter 23 (and parts of 24) as a kind of skeptical revisioning of the covenant---perhaps a sort of contained subversion. God has covenanted with Abraham to give him a promised land (as a gift? in any case, wholly apart from monetary/material exchange); in ch 23 we see him negotiating the terms of purchase for his land. Covenantal communion becomes banal bargain. Likewise, in ch 24 (forgive me for skipping ahead a little), Rebekah's family send her off with an archaic poem---"Our sister, become hence myriads teeming. / May your seed take hold of the gate of its foes"---that largely reiterates the terms of God's promises to Abraham, showing them to be of a piece with the boilerplate kin-triumphalism that underlies myth and poetry.

I'm thinking here in terms of Stephen Greenblatt's notorious subversion-containment thesis (a new historicist shibboleth; all you philosophers are probably not familiar with it). I don't think the terms---which give themselves to analyses of politics and power---are a very good fit with this text, but it's an entry point, anyway.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

May this discussion continue! Thanks for the further thoughts, everyone.

Jim, your paper on apocalyptic theology also mentions your preference (and I know I might be overstating things with that word) for the word "figure" over "type." Let me express at once my enthusiasm and concern for that term. On the one hand, I like the possibilities it offers, and I appreciate how it ties up with French thought (of course Ricoeur, but also, I think, Marion and Henry). On the other hand, I worry that it collapses the historical/temporal concerns/themes that the language of typology calls forth (at least in the writings of mid-twentieth century German OT scholarship, which cannot be read without an explicit recognition of the overwhelming influence of the historical work of German scholars in the 19th century). In short, introducing the word "figure" into the discussion suspends me between the desire on the one hand to let go of questions of temporality and the desire on the other hand to take it up thematically. Having been reading some of Margaret Barker's work today, I might be leaning towards the anti-historical this afternoon, though....

Robert, thank you for your thoughts on typology and family. I substitute taught seminary again today (the local full-time seminary guy is out for a month while his child start chemotherapy), and the text was D&C 116, which of course buried me all day in thoughts about the fathers and the children, those in heaven being sealed to those on earth, and the interrelations between the first and second Adams, etc. In addition, I was just doing some thinking (in research for my book) Isaiah 10:22 (=2 Nephi 20:22): "the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness." Isn't it in grace precisely that we violently re-read texts (like Jonah's failed prophecy or the second Isaiah's old things/new things and yet one set of things business)? I've got to think about this more closely, about how typology might simply be the anticipation of an overturning of everything happening now according to the superabundant grace of the coming Savior....

Rosalynde, I'm glad you chimed in, and especially with the tie-in to the sign/type distinction right in Gen 22! I need to take some time tomorrow morning and look quite closely at these two so that I can have something better to say in response than "Wow!" Your comments about subversion, etc., draw out of me some latent thoughts about why it is that Abraham buys land in an attempt to appropriate Sarah's death specifically. That is, might the purchase suggest that Abraham does not want the burial place to be a part of the gift of the covenant, that Sarah's death is something he would rather economize for some reason? Does this somehow keep her alive for him? I don't know how to think about this yet, but there is something more to the fact that it is death that imposes the economic here.

For now....

2:05 PM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

At Rosalynde's prompting, I'm trying to think through the space between the two cuttings at work in the story here, taking circumcision as a sign (`wt in Hebrew, at Gen 17:11) and the Moriah experience as a type (per Jacob 4). So here we go: just a few thoughts.

First of all, a couple of correspondences between the two. It is certainly significant that Gen 17 closes the lkh lkh portion of Gen (in the Hebrew bible) and Gen 22 closes the wyrh portion: the two cuttings are parallel precisely in their placements as closure. This highlights the two pericopes as pivotal moments (the promise of Isaac's birth, the promise of Isaac's death). In both cases, Abraham is commanded to do something to Isaac, and perhaps we can say that in both cases Abraham is commanded to do something to himself: in Gen 17, he is commanded to circumcise himself as much as he is to circumcise Isaac, and in Gen 22 he is putting Isaac on the altar in a mirroring of what happened to him in the land of Ur (facsimile 1, etc.). Perhaps we can then say that what closes of each of these two stretches of the Abraham story (again, as delineated in the Hebrew text) is a double wounding: Abraham is to wound himself, and he is to wound the other. Can the two stories be read, then, as a kind of crescendo of self- and other-wounding? One further correspondence is worth mentioning, though I'm not sure how far to take it: both woundings are something to be hidden. That is, though circumcision is a sign, it is one that is hardly put on display for the world, but rather is kept (the emphasis on this word in Gen 17 might well be significant in this regard). Similarly, the burnt sacrifice removes from any play of presence the sign of the killing. Both wounds are covered up, and just so, kept from the play of presence. Both sign and type are kept back, it seems, from sight.

But these similarities perhaps only undergird the differences, allowing them to interrelate. Could we say that while circumcision is a cutting into, the wounding on Moriah is a cutting through? That is, circumcision is a kind of engraving, a kind of writing, while the cutting to be performed on Moriah leaves no scar behind. Perhaps this is highlighted in the manner of hiding in both cases: the circumcision remains a vis-able scar, though it is covered, while the body that has been wounded unto death is burned so as not to be vis-able at all. Another way to put this same point, perhaps, is to say that the sign allows one to live, to be, to remain in being, while the cutting of the type cuts one off from all such exchange. In this same spirit, perhaps one can say that circumcision amounts to a kind of objectifiable cutting, while the typological cutting of Moriah outstrips objectification (as an event). That is, the event of circumcision leaves a trace behind, while the event on Moriah might be said to be a pure event, leaving no trace (does that bring us close to Marion?).

What is to be made of the difference in age between the two events? Circumcision is performed on Isaac eight days after he is born. Can this be called an act of pure grace? He does absolutely nothing to be drawn into the covenant, but it is rather imposed on him. Over against this, as Jim has mentioned, Isaac seems to have been an adult when the Akedah took place. If this implies a willingness on Isaac's part, does this point to a kind of works-over-grace emphasis, or is it perhaps a still more graceful event? Is Isaac's giving himself up an act of grace that matches in that it meets up with the grace (the gift) of death? (This makes me think about the wrestle implied in the original vignette behind facsimile no. 1, rediscovered in 1967.)

A couple of other differences I don't know how to flesh out (no pun intended): circumcision is tied to Abraham's having seed, while the Moriah experience is tied to Abraham's losing seed; the circumcision does not seem to be tied to a particular site, while the sacrifice is to be done at a specific place, and one that is at some distance (both spatially and temporally); strictly speaking, circumcision amounts to a detaching or a cutting away, while the cutting on Moriah would probably only have been a cutting that resulted in death and nothing would have been detached (the latter would have left Isaac, so to speak, whole). Other differences?

I'm beginning to see some richness here, though I'm still unsure of how to think the sign and the type in all of this. I'm beginning to wonder how to think Abel into all of this. The mention of Abel in the JST for Gen 17 seems significant, and then Isaac finds himself in almost the same position. The JST accounts (the Book of Moses) of the Cain and Abel business make it quite clear that Abel's death meant for Adam and Eve the impossibility of fulfillment of the covenant/promise as well, until Seth was born. But more thought needs to be done there.

How does this spell out our thinking about signs and types? And especially because none of what I've done in this comment even makes note of the fact that the cutting is never performed on Moriah (though of course that could be said to be a type of the resurrection... and some of the Rabbis, if I remember right, believed that Isaac did die under Abraham's knife, but was resurrected). Thoughts?

6:57 AM  

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