Ignacio Carbajosa’s Faith, the Fount of Exegesis: The Interpretation of Scripture in the Light of the History of Research on the Old Testament answers John Ratzinger’s twofold call for a “criticism of criticism” and for a renewal of faithful, faith-filled exegesis.

With regard to the first, Carbajosa carries out an internal critique of Old Testament criticism. Following Ratzinger’s observation that historical criticism, as a historical discipline, can only be true to itself if it examines its own philosophical assumptions and genealogy, he argues historical criticism of the Pentateuch is built on romantic and evolutionary assumptions that ill fit the data. He also offers a fine summary of recent work by Rendtorff and others that has abandoned the documentary hypothesis from within critical scholarship itself.

He also shows that the documentary hypothesis fails on methodological grounds: It relies on circular arguments, and has to make the rather curious assumption that the producers of the documents are absolutely consistent while the redactors are inconsistent. Why didn’t the redactors smooth out the discrepancies? is a question that waited far too long to be asked.Carbajosa believes that the Pentateuch is “obviously” a composite document, but he thinks that the future of Pentateuchal studies will attend more to the synchronic text rather than its production.

On the second, more positive side, Carbajosa begins from the premise that Scripture is revelation, and that faith is the proper response to revelation. Faith must thus be worked into from the foundations of biblical exegesis, not something added extrinsically after “scientific” criticism has done its work. By emphasizing the reality of revelation and the role of faith, Carbajosa attempts to heal the breach between theology and history that has characterized much of modern critical scholarship.

Carbajosa’s volume is clearly written, well organized, penetrating in its criticism of criticism, appealing in many of its positive proposals. It’s a good ground-clearing exercise on ground that is desperately in need of clearing.

More on: Hermeneutics

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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