Die "Bindung Isaaks" im Kanon (Gen 22): Grundlagen and Programm einer kanonischintertextuellen Lekture, by Georg Steins. Herder: Freiburg, 1999. Pp. x + 302. C45.00.
The polyvalency of the Bible presents serious difficulty for those who expect a symphony of voices in perfect harmony. Rather than celebrating the multiple witnesses to revelation, many interpreters search earnestly for a norm by which to read the seams and to mute the cacophony. Steins opts for the canon as controlling norm but seeks to provide methodological rigor. As a test case, he studies the Akedah (Gen 22:1-19). The book therefore consists of two distinct and roughly equal parts, method and application.
The result, a Habilitationsschrift from the University of Munster, illustrates both the potential of canonical criticism and its weaknesses. Context shapes the manner in which a given text is read; that much seems clear. The problem arises when one insists that a particular external context takes precedence over others. First, which canon provides the structure for reading-the Pentateuch, the poetic books, prophetic texts, Wisdom literature; Hebrew Bible or Septuagint; ancient Near Eastern literature or Jewish extrabiblical literature? Second, which religious community-jewish, Christian, or neither? Third, what manuscript tradition, or oral tradition, or stage of transmission is definitive-the final destination or stages on the journey?
Steins subscribes to a positive understanding of canonical reading, despite these inherent flaws, and endeavors to salvage the enterprise by providing a methodological underpinning. His proposal has three ingredients: dialogic discourse as outlined by Mikhail Bakhtin, intertextuality as propounded by Julia Kristeva, and psychological insights of reception theory. The initial pages, nearly half the book (pp. 1-102), offer elaborate analysis of these three prongs; here and there one comes across perceptive insights about this oft-discussed duo, along with incisive quotations (e.g, Kristeva's formulation of a post-Cartesian axiom: "I speak, you hear me; therefore we are"). Few readers today would contest the claim that discourse is polyphonic, that metatexts enrich one's understanding of a given textual unit, and that three factors-author, text, and reader-make up the dynamic of interpretation.
Where I find the method wanting is at the point of choosing hypotexts, specifically Gen 12;1-19; Exod 3-4; 19-24; 29:38-46; Lev 8-9; 16; and Dent 8:2-6; 12, for the test case, Gen 22:1-19. The mere occurrence of similar vocabulary (in particular, three days, rain, burnt offering, mountain, appear, fear) fails to link them in more than a superficial way, for the vocabulary is too common and the substance too disparate to carry the weight of the hypothesis. Steins seems to imply that readers would have thought of each one of these texts when interpreting Gen 22:1-19. The few links isolated by linguistic similarities seem altogether accidental, and the fact that they point away from the real problematic of Gen 22, which comes closest to the prologue in the book of Job, does not help.
Similarly, the author's assumptions about the position of ancient interpreters on the continuum of orality and literacy, so much in dispute today, raise questions. …