Richard Hays’– Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels– a Dialogue


(The full review of the book will come in tomorrow’s blog post).

“Richard B. Hays, The George Washington Ivy Chair of New Testament, Duke University, one of world’s most important and celebrated New Testament scholars, will release his most important book in June (Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, Baylor University Press [add link]). I had the chance to discuss the book with Dean Hays.”

BEN: Richard this book has been long in the making, as you explain in your introduction. And you had to make a significant shift in your research and writing foci to do this project. What was it about the Gospels that so fascinated you when it came to the subject of intertextuality? After all, it might have been easier and more natural to compare and contrast your Pauline findings to what is going on in Hebrews?


The Gospels are at the heart of Christian proclamation. Over the past 35 years of my teaching career, I have repeatedly taught exegesis courses on each of the Gospels. So I have long known that after focusing on Pauline theology in the earlier part of my scholarly work, I wanted to move on to write more extensively about the Gospels. One underlying question that has particularly fascinated me is whether I would find in narrative texts some of the same strategies of intertextual allusion that I had identified earlier in Paul’s letters. I had sought to show that there was a narrative substructure in Paul’s theology, and I had also tried to demonstrate that Paul’s references to Israel’s Scripture were not atomistic, but that they presupposed a deeper and wider attention to the context, including narrative context, of the citations. Consequently, I wanted to see whether the Evangelists were working with similar perceptions and similar techniques of intertextual reference. As readers of the new book will see, I think I have demonstrated that this is indeed the case—though each one of the Evangelists carries out this sort of intertextually inflected narration in an interestingly distinct way.

As for Hebrews, it is very evident that OT quotations play a major role in the development of the argument of that text. Hebrews is unusual in its strong emphasis on reading the Psalms as “intra-Trinitarian” dialogue between God the Father and the Son (analogous to the reading of Ps 110:1 that appears in Mark 12:35-37 and parallels). Readers interested in my take on Hebrews may want to consult my essay, “ ‘Here We Have No Lasting City’: New Covenantalism in Hebrews,” in R. Bauckham, D. R. Driver, T. A. Hart, and N. MacDonald (eds.), The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 151-73. In that essay, I revised some earlier judgments about Hebrews that I had made in Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul.

BEN: You tell your audience early on in the study that you are focusing on an ‘intertexuality of reception’ as opposed to an ‘intertextuality of production’. What do you mean by these phrases, and why focus just on the former?


Your question appears to refer to an early footnote in the book (p. 367, n3). That note refers readers to a helpful essay by Stefan Alkier, where these terms are explained and discussed. In brief, attention to “intertextuality of production” would focus on ways in which the author of an earlier text A was generating meanings that pointed forward to a later text B, whereas “intertextuality of reception” would refer to the way in which the author of a later text B is retrospectively discovering meanings in an earlier text A. I think it is important to note that my footnote does not describe my own critical method as an “intertextuality of reception.” Rather,

my footnote is simply giving a definitional account of “figural interpretation.” That sort of interpretation is always retrospective, and therefore necessarily concerned with reception of earlier texts. My book simply seeks to offer an account of how the four Evangelists were practicing this sort of retrospective interpretation of Israel’s Scripture. You will note that the major subhead in the book’s table of contents for the central meat of the book is: “The Evangelists as Readers of Israel’s Scripture.” That describes the central project of the book, which is nicely signified by the book’s cover, artfully designed by Hannah Feldmeier using images from the stained-glass Lamentation Window in Cologne Cathedral.

BEN: As something of a way of narrowing things down, you focus on three major questions to be answered in regard to each Gospel— How does X employ Scripture to re-narrate the story of Israel? How does X draw on the OT to narrate the identity of Jesus? How does X evoke the PT to narrate the church’s role in the world? Why just these three questions? Why not, for example, How does X use the OT to narrate the future of human history and its goal and end? (see. e.g Revelation’s use of Is. 65-66 to do that)?


No book can answer all questions. I was particularly interested in showing how the Gospels receive and carry forward the story of Israel—not least because Christian theology and NT criticism have sometimes unfortunately posited a sharp break between Israel and church—or even between Israel and Jesus. My interpretation seeks to trace narrative continuities that are grounded in the Evangelists’ continuing appropriation of OT stories and images to narrate the identity of the Christian community in their own time. Your question about the future, including the eschatological future, is an interesting one. Perhaps it will inspire someone else to follow up on my work by writing a whole book on just that topic. But I do think that readers of Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels will find some discussions of the goal and end of history in the on my work by writing a whole book on just that topic. But I do think that readers of Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels will find some discussions of the goal and end of history in the concluding sections of each of the four central chapters. The reason for that is simple: the identity and mission of the church are eschatologically ordered, and therefore several Gospel texts that narrate the church’s role draw on OT to explicate this. To give just one example, see my discussion of Matthew’s images of Gentiles in the eschatological judgment, and his use of Daniel 7 in the climactic “Great Commission” text of Matt 28:16-20 (pp. 181-85 in my book).

BEN: You use the term ‘pre-figured’ a lot in both of your last two books, as opposed to the more familiar term ‘foretold’. What in your mind is the difference between saying something is pre-figured as opposed to something is ‘foretold’? Would the term ‘foreshadowed’ be a better synonym for what you are getting at with the term ‘pre-figured’? Does this reflect a concern about avoiding a more narrow term like ‘predicted’?


It is not clear to me why “foreshadowed” would be “better” than “prefigured.” I would see them as nearly synonymous. You are correct to say that the term “predicted” is not adequate to describe the manifold subtle evocation of the OT in the Gospels. The story of Jesus stilling the storm (Mark 4:35-41) echoes Psalm 107, but it would be strange to assert that the author of that psalm intended to be making some sort of prediction about Jesus. And indeed the Christian tradition has not ordinarily made claims of that kind. The term “foretold” is closely linked to

ideas of “prediction.” I do not mean to say that the OT never contains foretelling of future figures or events. Clearly, there are some passages that envision a future king or deliverer who will set things right. But such examples constitute a surprisingly small slice of the Gospel writers’ fascinating and complex engagement with Israel’s Scripture.

BEN: In a figural reading of the OT, one has to read backwards first, in order to see the connections I imagine, and in this regard it is much like typology. No one would have seen Melchizedek in the Pentateuch as a type of a later historical figure if they had not also read a source like Hebrews. It appears to me that your take on figural readings focuses on narrative comparisons, and the presence of absence of key terms or phrases in such narratives, as opposed to the comparison or development of abstract ideas. Right? How would you distinguish your figural readings from traditional typological readings? It seems clear that this whole approach, while not a-historical in character, is more literary (even narratological) and canonical in its presuppositions– right? RICHARD:

I actually don’t think there is any significant difference between typology and figural reading, if typology is rightly understood. I have generally preferred to speak of “figural interpretation” because I find Erich Auerbach’s delineation of the term so helpful as a descriptive critical tool. Also, sometimes discussions of “typology” have gotten bogged down in fruitless arguments about the historical factuality of the earlier pole of the typological relation. But Auerbach himself notes that the literary phenomenon he is describing has often been designated as typology. The critical point is the assertion of correspondence between earlier and later figures/events “within the flowing stream which is historical life” (see the full quotation from Auerbach on p. 2 of my book). Precisely because of this imbeddedness within temporality, the correspondence can be discerned only retrospectively. (Your example of Melchizidek is a good one.) But for the same reason, whether we call it typology or figural interpretation, this kind of reading is necessarily concerned with concrete personages or terms/images rather than “abstract ideas.” Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels is not tracing a “history of ideas;” rather, it is investigating the specific reception/interpretation of OT texts in the Gospels. In that sense, the project is very much an exercise in canonical interpretation. And the theological findings of the project presuppose that the full biblical canon, when read intertextually, does indeed disclose a coherence and theological richness that would be inaccessible to many modernist, reductive historical methods.