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More thoughts on Typology in Biblical Theology

More thoughts on Typology in Biblical Theology June 10, 2013

As a follow up to my earlier post on Biblical Theology, I wonder if anyone else has come across a very interesting article in the Scottish Journal of Theology by Matthew Myer Boulton. The article is titled: “Supersession or Subsession? Exodus Typology, the Christian Eucharist and the Jewish Passover Meal” (66[1]: 18-29 [2013]). I don’t know Matthew, but it’s a very interesting suggestion he makes.

In a relatively brief article Boulton offers an alternative typology to the typical supersessionist one (which I refered to in the earlier post) which he labels subsessionist – I’m not sure the term will catch on.

Here’s how he says it in the abstract

I propose a subsessionist (as opposed to supersessionist) typological understanding of the Eucharist as a Christian rendition of Passover, at once distinct from its Jewish counterparts today and utterly dependent on the ancient Israelite festival for its intelligibility and force . . . the typology at play here, then so far from being a triumphalist ‘prophecy-fulfilment’ arrangement in which the ‘old’ is valuable only insofar as it serves as a signpost pointing to the ‘new’, is rather a ‘paradigm-rendition’ typology in which the new performance is clarified and authenticated precisely insofar as it corresponds to the old, exalted original (18).

Boulton opens the essay with a provocative analogy. He draws a comparison between Christian typology and something the then Senator Barak Obama did with Abraham Lincoln in the February 2007  speech announcing his candidacy for President on the steps of the Old State Capital in Springfield, IL. I know for some even the mention of Obama will not please. But it is a very interesting analogy and worth considering.

Boulton examines Obama’s use of Lincoln and describes it as ‘typological, performative [meaning mostly non-verbal – its location and date] and subsessionist”, and this as a way to suggest a fresh approach to typology, particularly with respect to the Eucharist.

Here are some of Boulton’s analyses of Obama’s use of Lincoln:

This performative, largely non-verbal typological figure does not conform particularly well to the garden-variety definition of typology commonly found in Christian sources . . . the event did not cast President Lincoln as somehow prophetic in relation to Obama’s own candidacy, nor did Obama cast himself as somehow superseding or superordinate to President Lincoln. On the contrary, Obama did two things: first, he cast himself precisely as a subordinate to Lincoln, in the sense of ‘standing in his shadow’, or ‘walking in his footsteps’. And second, Obama cast himself as coordinate to Lincoln, in the sense of being a contemporary version of him for another age – colloquially, we might say ‘another Lincoln’ . . . a ‘new Lincoln’ relies for his own credibility and legitimacy on the ‘original Lincoln’ of old (20-21).

In this sense, the typological figure involved no claim to supersession – and in fact, to sharpen the point, any claim to supersession would have seriously undermined the rhetorical move, since the move depends on exalting the mantel under which one claims to stand. Not supersession, then but rather the reverse: call it ‘subsession’. That is, Obama’s manoeuvre involved laying claim to a position underneath, so to speak, a particular mythohistorical pedigree and paradigm, precisely as a contemporary version of it for a new day . . . the present and the future are framed under the terms of the familiar, cherished, prestigious past. Call it not supersessionist, but rather subsessionistic typology (21).

Boulton argues in the essay that what Obama did with Lincoln, Jesus and the Gospel writers did with the Passover. How does he make such a claim? By showing it from the Hebrew Bible itself and the way typologically uses the exodus. Depending on the work of Michael Fishbane and Yair Zakovitch, Boulton attempts to show that the Passover is paradigmatic for the Eucharist in ways similar to Lincoln in Obama’s speech.

He says, “the key terms [in the Hebrew Bible for both Fishbane and Zakovitch] for conceiving of the relation between the exodus from Egypt and other remembered and anticipated redemptions are these: “concord”, “correspondence”, “paradigm”, “pattern” . . . If Isaiah’s new exodus is prophesied in terms of the old exodus, this is by no means to supersede the old event, but rather precisely to subsede it, that is, to narrate the new exodus as another manifestation of the basic archetype of salvation already revealed as the “once and future power of the Lord of history” . . . the divine signature of authenticity, we might say, is correspondence with the exodus motif” (25).

What do you make of this argument? I’ll provide my own response in a later post.


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