According to Christopher Heard@Blackwell Bible Commentaries, Roland Boer in his Against “Reception History”@The Bible and Interpretation caricatures the approach of “the majority of biblical scholars working in reception history.” Go here.
Heard has the better of the argument. It is the case that, as Heard puts it, "Reception history does not assign an ideological primacy to singular textual meanings ‘uncovered’ by historical-critical exegesis." How could Boer suggest otherwise? He has created a straw man.
On the other hand, I am not impressed by the way Mary Callaway and John Sawyer cited by Heard create a hearing for their research focus by putting it on the same plane with the study of biblical texts in terms of the meanings they would have had for their authors and intended first addressees.
It is not clear to me why students of the history of interpretation feel a need to diss interpretation of the author/reader/first context kind. I read, and recommend that others read, exegetes who privilege textual meaning uncovered by historical and literary methods, meaning presumed to have existed at the intersection of ancient author and reader. I defend the right of an ancient text to have a meaning specific to its time and place, a meaning that deserves to be understood as primary even if we can only seek to recover it, as opposed to know it for certain down to the last detail. I defend interpreters who reconstruct such meanings from the charge that their reconstructions inevitably contain an admixture of content which depends on them and not on those they assign it to – as if such an admixture were not constitutive of all interpretation, even auto-interpretation of one’s own texts.
That said, the singular [relatively singular, of course] meanings assigned to the biblical text at any given point along the breadth and length of its reception history – by Clement in Alexandria in the late second and early third centuries to Nick Cave in Australia in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries - are also worthy of exegesis, again, by historical and literary methods.
The extent to which we are able to understand what a text meant for someone else will always be approximate. That is no excuse for not privileging what the text meant for the one who wrote it, and the ones for whom he or she wrote it, insofar as we are able to reconstruct such meanings.1
For the Bible no less than for Homer’s Iliad, Dante’s Inferno, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, the call for a return to the sources (ad fontes) is never out of place.
There you have it: a proposal of terms for a truce between classical modern and post-classical modern exegetes of biblical literature. Will the terms be accepted by Boer? By Heard? I doubt it.
1 From a theological point of view, I hold that the author of the biblical text is God, and “I” am the text’s addressee. But I also hold, from a theological point of view, that I am to hear God through the words of the author according to the meaning the author intended them to have – and, typologically or analogically, in light of the “fulfillment” or actualization said words have received and continue to receive, as time goes by. Inherent in that acknowledgment is the call to return to the sources (ad fontes). In addition, I have a suspicion that, by analogy with Carl Schmitt’s famous dictum [1922!] that “all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts,” all significant concepts of interpretation which license the strong reading or “co-authoring” of texts are secularized theological concepts, with an added dose of hubris and excess.
How far apart, after all, are 1922 and 2011? How far off is the crash to come, and all that will follow?