Richard S. Briggs
How should Christian readers of scripture hold appropriate and constructive tensions between exegetical, critical, hermeneutical, and theological concerns? This book seeks to develop the current lively discussion of theological hermeneutics by taking an extended test case, the book of Numbers, and seeing what it means in practice to hold all these concerns together. In the process the book attempts to reconceive the genre of “commentary” by combining focused attention to the details of the text with particular engagement with theological and hermeneutical concerns arising in and through the interpretive work. The book focuses on the main narrative elements of Numbers 11–25, although other passages are included (Numbers 5, 6, 33).
With its mix of genres and its challenging theological perspectives, Numbers offers a range of difficult cases for traditional Christian hermeneutics. Briggs argues that the Christian practice of reading scripture requires engagement with broad theological concerns, and brings into his discussion Frei, Auerbach, Barth, Ricoeur, Volf, and many other biblical scholars. The book highlights several key formational theological questions to which Numbers provides illuminating answers: What is the significance and nature of trust in God? How does holiness (mediated in Numbers through the priesthood) challenge and redefine our sense of what is right, or “fair”? To what extent is it helpful to conceptualize life with God as a journey through a wilderness, of whatever sort? Finally, short of whatever promised land we may be, what is the context and role of blessing?
“At once judicious and bold, Briggs’s hermeneutical meditations on Numbers model an open style of biblical interpretation that is methodologically self-conscious and modern but also theologically adept. The wilderness locale within the biblical story serves as his metaphor for the journey of reading, and Briggs guides his own readers to become better readers of scripture by developing an approach he calls ‘ascriptive realism.’ The result? Numbers, the most overlooked book in the Pentateuch, comes alive again with renewed vigor and theological importance.” — Stephen B. Chapman, Duke University
“This book is a sophisticated meditation on the nature of theological interpretation flowing from an extended discussion of the text of Numbers. Of particular value is the manner in which the book uses some of the central passages of the text as test cases for exploring possible paths through complex hermeneutical quandaries. I cannot think of other texts in the burgeoning literature on ‘theological interpretation’ that manage this task so successfully.” — Lewis Ayres, Durham University and Australian Catholic University
“With refreshingly little throat-clearing Briggs gets his hands dirty and offers a compelling, theologically engaged reading of a complex text. Combining textual, literary, hermeneutical, historical (in the broadest sense), moral, and theological insight, Briggs’ reading of Numbers is a demonstration of readerly wisdom. All who want to know what wise theological interpretation looks like will need to engage with this book.” — Angus Paddison, University of Winchester
“This scholarly study scintillates. Richard Briggs holds together premodern, modern, and postmodern perspectives in creative tension. This guide to Israel’s journey through the wilderness has springs of insight all along the way.” — Walter Moberly, Durham University