IN HIS RICH AND SUGGESTIVE STUDIES OF THE HISTORY OF MODERN CRITIcism, John Rogerson has traced the primary intellectual and theological currents that have shaped our study. These include rationalism, pietism, and orthodoxy. Along with tracing these complex currents, Rogerson has inevitably cited specific instances and cases of the ways in which emerging criticism has shaped our understanding of the texts. Among others, he has exhibited the way in which the unity and single authorship of Isaiah has been critically undermined, until we have arrived at a critical consensus concerning the tripartite structure of the book of Isaiah and the role of the so-called Servant Songs in interpretation.
Because Rogerson’s research has not reached into the later twentieth century in any sustained way, his report on critical developments in the book of Isaiah does not reach as far as the recent discussion of “canonical” Isaiah. A number of scholars, but especially Brevard Childs and Ronald Clements, have been preoccupied with showing how the critically divided book of Isaiah can be understood with canonical coherence.1 Indeed, scholarly work on the book of Isaiah at the present time concerns the tension and relatedness between the established critical consensus and emerging attention to canonical claims.
The subject of this collection, “The Bible in Human Society,” however, sets our thinking in a quite different direction. The phrase “in human society” considers the Bible not as an object of considered reflective scholarship, but rather as the use of texts in an intentional but not critically knowing way. Such use of texts may or may not be informed by scholarly opinion, but it tends to use specific texts in life contexts, without attention to either critical consensus or canonical shape. Such texts are regularly taken up seriatim and freshly situated in quite different interpretive occasions, so that the text claims for itself new meanings.2
Here I will identify and consider briefly five such uses. I refer to these as “strong rereadings.” Readers will recognize my allusion to Harold Bloom’s notion of “strong misreadings.”3 By the phrase, Bloom, as I understand him, did not mean “wrong” readings, but only courageous acts of interpretation that read texts in new directions without subservience to any established or even “clear” meaning. I use the term “reread” to refer to what Bloom intends, but also to suggest that the new readings, given the readers’ situations, offer credible readings.
I do not suggest that such ad hoc readings, which may violate critical consensus or canonical intentionality, constitute any correction of or