Matthew: Poet, Historian, Dialectician (Studies in Biblical Literature 103). By Marshell Carl Bradley
Version of Record online: 27 NOV 2008
© The author 2009. Journal compilation © Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered 2009
The Heythrop Journal
Volume 50, Issue 1, pages 158–159, January 2009
How to Cite
McNamara, M. (2009), Matthew: Poet, Historian, Dialectician (Studies in Biblical Literature 103). By Marshell Carl Bradley. The Heythrop Journal, 50: 158–159. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2265.2009.00438_43.x
- Issue online: 27 NOV 2008
- Version of Record online: 27 NOV 2008
Pp. 22, 178 . New York , Peter Lang , 2007 , $67.95 .
The publisher Peter Lang, with principle centre now at New York, cites centres at eight other places in the USA and Europe. An end page tells us that the series carrying the present publication invites manuscripts from scholars in any area of biblical literature. Both established and innovative methodologies are welcome. The series seeks to make available studies that will make a significant contribution to the ongoing biblical discourse. The series editor makes the same point in the preface to the work. ‘For every volume considered for this series, we explore the question as to whether the study will push the horizons of biblical scholarship. The answer must be yes for inclusion’. Bradley, the back cover informs us, has a Ph.D. in philosophy and is currently Associate Professor of Philosophy in Texas. He is widely published in international journals in philosophy, theology, and literature, is the author of a full-length play. The text itself is preceded by ‘Advance praise’ from two scholars. Robert Price, Jesus Seminar Fellow and Author of Deconstructing Jesus, and Philip Blosser, Professor of Philosophy and Assistant Director of the Annual Aquinas-Luther Conference, both making reference to the work's Hegelian approach, on what we might learn if we applied Hegelian insights to the New Testament.
B. begins his brief introduction by recalling that the virtually universal consensus is that Matthew, more than any other gospel, displays a very conscious transformation of the Jewish faith into the Christian. Yet to date no commentary has fully appreciated how Matthew does this. More particularly, the challenge is to see how Matthew presents a transformational logic by a vocabulary unique to his Greek: a dialectical and Trinitarian logic, with many permutations, as crucial for understanding Jesus as are particulars of the life of Jesus. In a footnote to this he remarks that some terms in this book will sound Hegelian to modern readers. However, once the logic of Matthew is duly noted, Hegel sounds more Matthean than Matthew sounds Hegelian.
He refers the reader to some literature on the topic, including Frederick C. Copleston, and somewhat later in the introduction has a quote from Hegel. He has one long citation in the introduction, ‘lest [he] give the impression that [his] Mathew is overly preoccupied with either gnosis or Hegelian interpretations of Christianity’. His citation reads: [T]he historic Christ event, as that event is adjudged, under the inner witness of the Spirit … has mythic power because it discloses the fundamental structures of ultimate Being in which human being is located and it has existential power because the truth of Being, now understood as essentially ordered by the universal principle of reconciliation, provides the ground for human hope and courage in the face of life's apparent contradictions'. B. tells us the significance of each the terms used in the subtitle to describe Matthew: a poet, a historian and a dialectician. What is meant by dialectic, a word much used and abused by various thinkers for centuries, he reminds us, will become clearer in the course of his commentary. But, at the outset, he may say that Matthew is as concerned with dynamic ontology as much as he is with history. Matthew presents a dialectical logic, often intertwined with formal logic, and at very crucial moments employs terms that are stranger or more technical sounding than dialectic. The aim of his book is to present Matthew as a work that operates by a remarkable internal integrity that has never been properly appreciated. Matthew, by its very appearance, clearly endorses the position that polemics have a place in theology. Encounters between Jesus and his several theological enemies are many in the book. But Matthew seems to have been waging other intellectual wars besides those germinal to Judaism. Matthew's aim also, if only subtly, was to counter premises of Gnosticism that would appear in budding Gnostic Gospels. Matthew, as B. says he will show in the course of the commentary, refers to gnosis and variations of the term, often, far more often than he refers to faith. Central to B.'s analysis of the first gospel are Matthew's Greek terms for seeing, which B. examines in this introduction, in the root forms: the id-form the ora-form; the blep-form; the theo-form; the ops-form. The id-form, especially as ‘behold’ or idou, evokes awareness of the tension between the singular (or private) and the universal; or between the provincial (the collective singular, as it were) and the universal. The ops-form is used in both negative and benign senses, but always in a sense of exclusion. And similarly for the other roots.
The book gives B.'s commentary on Matthew, chapter by chapter, in keeping with his plan, the chapters subdivided into sections, in ‘trinitarian’ divisions, for instance 2:1–12: ‘Governor of the Jews’, ‘Magi’, ‘Governor of Israel’. In this section once more Matthew is seen as displaying the tension between the private (or provincial) and the universal via idou (‘Behold’, the id-root). Matthew's repeated id- constructions emphasize the seeing/thinking, private-universal dynamic and that the magi appreciated the universal significance of these events. And thus throughout B's commentary with regard to the ops- and id-roots, to the very last chapter where John Meier admits he dos not know why Matthew here uses the id-form rather than the ops-form for seeing. B. notes that now his reader having almost completed reading this his book sees the reason why.
B. is sparing in his notes but throughout has references to some philosophers and relevant writers: Hegel, Nietzsche, Pope Benedict XVI (condemnation of a child-molesting priest to spiritual solitary confinement), commentaries on Matthew, including the Navarre Bible. There is a bibliography (2½ pages) and a general Index of names and subjects.
B.'s work has certainly pushed the horizons of biblical scholarship. It will be for scholars to carefully weigh his arguments to see if the structure of Matthew's Greek text and its terminology support the weight he puts on them.