Reviews of

Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels

In Baylor University Press, Emanuel Conțac, Gospels, Intertextuality, review, Richard HAYS on April 5, 2017 at 3:01 pm


2017.04.08 | Richard B. Hays. Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016. xix + 504 pages. ISBN: 9781481304917.

Review by Emanuel Conțac, Pentecostal Theological Institute of Bucharest.

After writing two seminal books on the complex issue of Old Testament interpretation in the Pauline corpus (Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, 1989; The Conversion of Imagination, 2005), Richard Hays has moved into a different field, applying to the Gospels the ample expertise gained during his arduous engagement with Paul’s thought and his reading of the Hebrew Scriptures. The prolegomena to the new inquiry came in the form of a little book entitled Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (2014), a distilled version of the much larger manuscript that eventually, in very dire circumstances for its author (a grueling battle with pancreatic cancer), was published as Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels.

Given the topic addressed, the author naturally uses a fourfold division, allotting a section for each of the four Gospels and reading them in chronological, rather than canonical order. The overall structure of the book shows a penchant for the Synoptics, with Mark (89 pages), Matthew (86 pages) and Luke (90 pages) receiving on average significantly more space than John (65 pages). A sizable chunk of the volume is taken up by endnotes (75 pages), all grouped in one section at the back of the book.

The volume displays a certain symmetry of composition, in that each section contains five chapters arranged chiastically. For instance, the first and the last chapters in the Mark section deal with “Mark as Interpreter of Scripture” and “Mark’s Scriptural Hermeneutics,” respectively. The second and the fourth chapters form an appropriate theological inclusio by examining Israel’s story and Church’s suffering in Mark’s Narrative. At the very heart of this sequence lies an important Markan christological topos: Jesus as the crucified Messiah. It is thus obvious that Hays is not interested in an analysis of all OT quotations, allusions and echoes present in each of the four evangelists. In fact, the pattern of each section is designed to answer three fundamental questions: (1) “What kind of hermeneutics does the Evangelist employ?”; (2) “How is Jesus portrayed in his Gospel?”; and (3) “How does the evangelist define the relationship between Israel and the Church?”

Before delving into the subject proper, Hays raises in the Introduction a very thorny question for the scholarly establishment: “Can we read the OT as witness to Jesus Christ?” Fully aware that his reply will clash with the method of historical criticism according to which the OT is silent about Jesus Christ, Hays states his case boldly from the outset: the Hebrew Scriptures can be read christologically, he maintains, if we resort to “figural interpretation,” a method that does not require the authors of the OT to have been conscious of predicting Christ. Rather than using Israel’s scriptures as a book of predictions and proof-texts, Hays invites us to read the OT backwards, beginning with the facts experienced by the Church. When this retrospective interpretation is applied to Israel’s traditions, everything is illuminated. The OT, argues Hays, is no longer a bi-dimensional picture. It gains depth; a third theological dimension allows us to see the Christ-event in a new light.

In the methodological section, the author puts forward the traditional classification of scriptural intertextual references: quotation, allusion and echo. If quotations are easy to identify, mainly by virtue of their citation formula, allusions can only be caught by a perceptive reader because they usually include only a few words signalling the connection between source text and target text. The most subtle form of intertextual reference is the echo, which “may involve the inclusion of only a word or phrase that evokes, for the alert reader, a reminiscence of an earlier text” (p. 10). Unfortunately, the introduction does not supply any examples from the Gospels illustrating the difference between allusion and echo. Instead, the reader is directed to Hay’s other works that discuss Paul’s use of the Scriptures.

Another important term defined in the Introduction is metalepsis, the literary device used by NT authors who cite from the OT with the expectation that readers will grasp the meaning of a citation in light of the context from which it was taken. Although separated from their original setting, quotations retain a memory of it, which serves to illuminate the new surroundings in which they are embedded. Inspired by Eco’s theory of semiotics, Hays adopts a key hermeneutical binomial – “encyclopedia of production” and “encyclopedia of reception” – in order to emphasize the complex and multi-layered connections that must take place between the author of a text and his readers, for effective interpretation to take place.

The most original contribution of the book lies in its most fundamental and bold claim, namely that, beyond the obvious proof-texts that they adduce, the Evangelists skillfully interweave in their narrative fine OT strands that create a tapestry portraying Jesus as “the embodied presence of the God of Israel” (p. 46). Hays takes issue with the dichotomy that sets in opposition the “human” Jesus of the Synoptics and the “divine” Jesus of the Fourth Gospel (p. 78), arguing for a more sophisticated approach to Christology.

According to Mark, Jesus is “both the God of Israel and a human being not simply identical with the God of Israel” (p. 78). As for Matthew, his christological hermeneutics should not be reduced to “random cherry picking of a few juicy prophetic prooftexts” (p. 189). During the Great Commission scene, “Jesus assumes the roles both of Moses (authoritative teacher departing) and of God (continuing divine presence)” (p. 145). Moreover, in light of Matthew’s affinities with Sirach, Jesus is portrayed not simply as the embodiment of Wisdom, but as “something greater than Wisdom” (p. 157–58). In the Luke section, Hays disputes the conventional understanding of modern scholarship that ascribes to Luke a “low” or “primitive” christology (p. 223). Although the evangelist does not draw on scriptural citations and allusions to identify Jesus as Israel’s Lord and God, he develops his christology cumulatively (p. 243–44). As such, in Luke 13:34, Jesus “casts himself, at least metaphorically, in the role of the God whose wings seek to shelter Israel” (p. 261). The Fourth Gospel is to be placed in a separate category because John’s hermeneutics rely mainly on “images and figures from Israel’s Scriptures” (p. 284), which form a “web of symbols that must be understood as figural signifiers for Jesus and the life that he offers” (p. 344).

It comes as a surprise that, even with the ingenious and perceptive method used by Hays to read the OT metaleptically, there remain Gospel passages that continue to baffle exegetes and for whose meaningful interpretation no “encyclopedia of reception” will do. One such case in the composite quotation in Matthew 27:9–10, which takes Jeremiah 32:6–15 (38:7–12 in LXX), a long passage describing the purchasing of a field, as the “hermeneutical frame” on which it attaches the transaction involving 30 pieces of silver described in Zechariah 11:12–13. Hays loses his patience with the hermeneutic employed by Matthew at this point and writes that this fulfillment quotation “seems badly garbled” (p. 159). And yet perhaps such passages deserve to be revisited afresh in light of what Hays advocates throughout his whole work. After all, it is not the passages that are limpid that need a skilled interpreter, but those that are “badly garbled.”

While not all of Hays’ conclusions will be found equally persuasive by his readers (a point at which the author himself hints from time to time), it is safe to assume that most of his creative insights will have a lasting impact on the way scholars look at the use of the OT in the NT. Beyond its value in bringing to bear reception theory on the text of the four Gospels, Hay’s Echoes of Scripture will have serious implications for the way in which we construe the christologies of the New Testament.

Although the author quotes extensively from the Greek text of the Bible (less often from the Hebrew text), the citations are woven into the argument is such a way as not to impede the fruitful use of the book by students who are not yet familiar with the more arcane aspects of Greek syntax and vocabulary. The highly-nuanced arguments deployed by Hays are a valuable tool both for the unsuspecting reader and the seasoned scholar, expertly guiding them through the complex maze of scriptural intertextuality evinced in the Gospels.

Emanuel Conțac
Theological Pentecostal Institute of Bucharest
emanuelcontac [ at ]

  1. Reblogged this on Vaisamar and commented:
    One of the best books I have read in recent years. I can safely predict that Hays’ book will remain a landmark contribution in the field of “Gospel studies”.

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