Evoking Scripture (by Steve Moyise): A Book Review

Evoking Scripture (by Steve Moyise): A Book Review July 2, 2008


One of my top interests in New Testament research is how the New Testament relates to the Old Testament.  In this area of scholarship, one tends to think of scholars such as Richard Hays, Greg Beale, A.T. Hanson, Richard Longenecker, Scott Hafemann, James Dunn, and C.H. Dodd.  Well, one who should be more recognized as a leading expert in this area is British scholar Steve Moyise, Professor of NT at University of Chichester, UK. 

Not only is he the editor of the T & T Clark series on the Old in the New which includes Psalms in the NT , Isaiah in the NT, and Deuteronomy in the NT, he also wrote an introductory book on the subject for T & T Clark.  Moreover, he is the organizer and chair of the Annual Seminar on the Use of the Old Testament in the New Testament that normally meets in Wales every year.  I have met and chatted with him on a few occasions and he has offered some feedback on my research, so I am happy to offer a review of his new book: Evoking Scripture: Seeing the Old Testament in the New.

This is not an introductory book, which is what I imagined it to be when I read the title.  It is more of a reflection on how various expert scholars approach the topic from a methodological and theological point of view.  In fact, students who have read little on the subject of biblical intertextuality will not glean much from the dense discussion that Moyise engages is.  Rather, Moyise takes a step back from the diligent work of NT scholars in this area and he does a state-of-the-discipline kind of discussion.  The book, I think, has a bit of a critical and cold tone, but Moyise only takes this approach as one who has devoted his career to this subject and wants to be fair and circumspect in his approach out of respect.

The format of the book is a bit unique: it is composed of 8 case studies of particular NT texts (from Gospels, Paul, 1 Peter, and Revelation) to inspect closely how and why interpreters make the decisions they do about the intertextual issues.  What we get from Moyise overall is a kind of discussion that goes like this.

Hays says about this passage:  blah, blah, blah.  There, see how it all works.

Watson says: blah, blah, blah.  There, see, this makes better sense.

C. Stanley: No, no, no.  That’s nonesense.  It can be explained in terms of this…

Moyise, after much patience and critical listening leans forward and says: Fellas….not so fast….is it really that simple?  Let’s see if your theory really works out all the problems…[After some experiments and tinkering…].  No, see there’s much yet unaccounted for.  Its much too complex.  Besides, if the three of you geniuses disagree, how could it possibly be that simple to interpret Paul???

Case after case, Moyise uses different texts and brings forward different scholars to make a similar point about presuppositions, method, focus, orientation, selective emphases, neglect of complexities.  In one sense, this is a very sobering book. 

Time only permits me to point out, generally, some of Moyise’s concerns with scholarly discussions of NT use of OT texts. 

1. Nature of Evocations: Since Richard Hays’ work on intertextuality and metalepsis, scholars have been keen on seeing how a quote from one verse in, let’s say, Isaiah, is meant to evoke the whole chapter from Isaiah, or a major section not explicitly stated in the citation.  Moyise finds this to be Ok in general, but what happens when the NT text (such as Paul in Rom. 2.24) seems to be quoting Isa. 52.5 without any real close association with the context and meaning of Isaiah 52 in general.  It would seem that the original context of Isaiah 52 is one of reassurance to an exiled Israel, while Paul’s use is one of judgment.  Does metalepsis work here…?

2. Attitude towards OT text: Most conservative scholars presume that, if God is the figure behind the whole Bible, the NT author would not completely overturn an OT text, right?  But Moyise points to instances in Mark and Revelation where the authors seem to evoke a scriptural text only to undermine it. 

3. Evocation and Orientation: Beale begins and focuses his attention on the author and what he intended in the scriptural citation.  Someone like C. Stanley finds that to be misleading because maximalists, like Beale and Hays, don’t seem to take into account the ability the receipts would have had to understand the wider background of the original OT text.  Moyise on this issue is critical of the author-only approach and endorses a more nuanced method that is both interested in the author and the reader.

4. Purpose of evocation: Does someone like Paul first believe something based on the Gospel or special revelation and then look for scriptural proof to strengthen his arguments (which seems to be the more traditional view)?  Or, did he first discover some things based on key Scriptural texts and develop his theology from that (which leans more towards Watson’s Hermeneutic of Faith)?  Moyise explores this further, making positive comments about Watson’s work.  Again, the issue is shown to be complex.

5. Adaptation in Evocation: How much freedom did the author of NT text have to alter the script and meaning of the evoked OT text?  This is perhaps the most significance question from a theological standpoint.  This has some bearing on the art of interpretation in general as the question arises, a very postmodern one, can a text have an endless number of meanings?  This certainly overlaps with the matter of whether authorial intent is a primary concern.  Moyise, as noted above, is not nearly as focused on authorial intent as others.  So, he seems to be confortable with more freedom for NT authorial adaptation.

Thoughts: Moyise’s analyses are always careful and never hasty.  He writes as if providing color commentary on an conversation that is taking place among a group of scholars.  He is not trying to peddle his own perspective, but is reflecting on method and approaches as one who is not afraid to dive in to the messiness of interpretation. 

Only a couple of things could have been improved, in my humble opinion.  First, even though this is a very detailed dense text, the publisher (or author) chose to transliterate Greek words, which I found to be odd.  The kind of person who is going to read this book will almost certainly also know Greek.  Or, the other way around, if you don’t know Greek, don’t bother reading the book!  Pick up Moyise’s introductory text!

The other thing is that the introduction is extremely brief (less than 5 pages) and I felt like this could have been a good opportunity for Moyise to do give a bit more of how this discipline has gotten to where it is.  Just when the intro gets going…it over.  The conclusion, though, is excellent.  And, the end bibliography is a great resource for students and scholars like.

Final thoughts: This is a must-read for those studying the use of the OT in the NT.  Any new dissertation on the subject will have to interact with Moyise, though he is not specifically wishing to offer his own special solution.  I see his comments more like that of a consultant who wishes to improve, not replace.  One of the more stimulating contributions that Moyise makes, I think, pertains to how intertextuality works.  In Moyise’s view, a text that evokes another one is volatile and unstable.  It is at the same time attractive (in the sense that it is a puzzle, like a metaphor) and incomplete (in terms of leaving the reader to connect the texts).

Since the [NT author] has not made it clear how he wants a particular allusion to be taken, the reader must ‘activate’ the allusion by finding a connection that is helpful, satisfying or stimulating…Allusions are by definition elusive.  Essential informaton has been withheld, allowing the reader/hearer space to ‘activate’ the allusion.  In that sense, it is closer to poetry than prose, operating more at the emotional rather than cognitive level (which is not to deny some cognitive content.

This is a very welcome contribution to the field and we expect more from Moyise.  The fact that Richard Hays and Christopher Stanley endorse the book is a testament to Moyise’s balanced treatment of the subject.

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