The Feisty Walter Brueggemann
I was preparing a presentation for my OT theology class and came across this quote from Walter Brueggemann. I hadn’t interacted with his writing until this past week, but from the brief bits I skimmed, I found his writing to be colorful, feisty, and enchanting. Here’s a sample:
Old Testament study in general and Old Testament theology in particular are in the first instant preoccupied with and limited to a text, to a practice of codified rhetoric. Thus at the first level, we may say that the only mediation of Yahweh from ancient Israel to which we have any access is the rhetorical operation of the text, which is variously an exercise of persuasion and testimony. While the text is what we have in hand, it is also evident that the text, in its stylized “final form,” is removed from the concrete practice of the ancient community.
It is clear, from our exposition, as from elsewhere, that the rhetoric of the text is indeed a lively mode of mediation in which the community gathered around the text has found itself connected to Yahweh. James Kungel has observed how “the scroll” took on remarkable properties in the life of Judaism. Moreover, in every contemporary “battle for the Bible” among Christians (and especially Protestants), the text itself is understood as a mediation, which connects the listening, reading community to the central character of the text.
We are able to draw two conclusions when we consider the text itself as mediator. First, in rhetoric as mediation, in the utterance that bespeaks this connectedness everything is possible, everything is imaginable, and everything is utterable. Acts can be committed, miracles can be performed that in any other arena would be problematic. Second, the rhetoric of the text as mediation of Yahweh is enormously elusive, for the speech of the Bible conceals Yahweh even while it discloses Yahweh. Thus to say that the Bible mediates God is not to say that the Bible “hands God over” to the reading community as possession or as prisoner. the reading community has been wont, on occasion, to imagine that it possessed or imprisoned the God of the Bible. Such a self-deception takes a protestant form of bibliolatry and a Catholic form in magisterial infallibility. Such self-deceptions, however, are acts of serious disregard to the text in its daring specificity. The daring, maddeningly deconstructive temper of the text keeps its central character elusive and refuses to make Yahweh available in ways that violate Yahweh’s odd character. Thus the function of the text as a mode of mediation confronts the reading community with all the problematic that belongs to Yahweh’s own unsettlement as a God who is both mutual and incommensurate.
See what I mean?
Walter Bruggeman, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), pp. 573, 574.