I like to help people learn how to read texts, especially the Biblical text. Watching others experience what Wald called, “The Joy of Discovery,” is a great joy for me. Peter Leithart is a writer who has helped me grow in my understanding of how to read texts, which has been a blessing for me behind both the pulpit and lectern.
Peter J. Leithart, Dean of Graduate Studies and Senior Fellow of Theology at New Saint Andrews College, is in my Fab-Five-Dream-Team of professors under whom I wish I could have studied (along with Bauman, Lundin, Veith, and Bauer, with Jacobs as the Sixth Man and Thiselton as a coach). I enjoy reading Leithart’s blog for his keen literary and theological insights. Readers of his blog would be familiar with his posts in the area of hermeneutics. Recently, while on his blog, I noticed that Leithart has a new work on hermeneutics available for pre-order: Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture (Baylor University Press, 2009). From the amazon.com product description:
Seeking to train readers to hear all that is being said within a written text, Peter Leithart advocates a hermeneutics of the letter that is not rigidly literalist and looks to learn to read not just the Bible, but everything–from Jesus and Paul. Thus Deep Exegesis explores the nature of reading itself taking clues from Jesus and Paul on the meaning of meaning, the functions of language, and proper modes of interpretation. By looking (and listening) closely, and by including passages from the Bible and other literary sources, Leithart aims to do for the text what Jesus did for the blind man in John 9: to make new by opening eyes. The book is a powerful invitation to enter the depths of a text.
Also, here is sample post entitled, “Another Hermeneutical Parable” from Leithart’s “hermeneutics” category on his blog (August 13, 2008):
For centuries, piano virtuosos had thrilled audiences with audacious performances of Liszt’s seventh Etude (in G minor, “Eroica”). Liszt scholars had written analyses of the music, and critics had compared various performances to one another and to what they believed was Liszt’s original intention for the music.
An industrious Liszt scholar then discovered by diligent study of Liszt’s notes and manuscripts that the Etude had been mistakenly transcribed since its first publication. It was written in G major, not minor, and the score was full of divergences from Liszt’s own composition. The scholar meticulously and compellingly proved his case.
Liszt scholarship had to be revised. Pianists relearned the piece, and critics revised their estimates of performances based on a radically revised score. (Mysteriously, a church in South Carolina split over the issue).
Moral: Every text generates a tradition of performance. But the text remains the touchstone of performance, such that it is always possible to point to the text and say “You got it wrong here.”
I am looking forward to Leithart’s text. I would encourage you to pick up a copy and join him in thinking more deeply about how we discern meaning from texts. I am certain Leithart writes to glorify Christ and his work in redemption, and that Deep Exegesis intends to help us to read to such ends. (For the intermediate reader, I also encourage you to obtain Elliott E. Johnson’s, Expository Hermeneutics [Zondervan, 1990], which also serves to help us read texts as if authors invested meaning into texts.)