Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A Hermeneutic for the Aqedah Test: A Way beyond Jon Levenson's and Terence Fretheim's Models
by Drew, Arlyn Sunshine, Ph.D., Andrews University, 2020, 414; 27832308
Abstract (Summary)

Problem

The work of Jon Levenson and Terence Fretheim highlights the problem of determining which interpretations of the biblical worlds of meaning around the text are congruent with the text of the Aqedah (also known as the Sacrifice of Isaac, Genesis 22: 1-19) and which should be disclaimed. A hermeneutical model is needed for Abraham’s test that provides a text-based paradigm for sound interpretation of the narrative world (in the text), the historical world (behind the text), the theistic world (above the text), the cosmological world (below the text), and the present world (in front of the text).

Method

Four steps were taken to create and apply a hermeneutical model for understanding the Aqedah test. First, Levenson's and Fretheim’s interpretations of the Aqedah were compared to test the usefulness of a tri-level hermeneutic analysis. Second, a tri-level (micro-meso-macro) spiral hermeneutical model was created that integrated the biblical text as the long central axis of the model and related the five biblical worlds of meaning to the text. Third, this model was tested by the Aqedah narrative of Genesis 22:1-19 and a new interpretive hypothesis was perceived. Fourth, the hermeneutical model and the interpretive hypothesis were evaluated.

These four functional tasks were accomplished through six chapters. Chapters one and two introduced the issues and compared the interpretations of the two theologians on the Aqedah. Chapters three to five paired sequential construction of the three levels of the hermeneutical model to their Aqedah application. The final chapter evaluated the two products of this study.

Results

Two conceptual products have emerged from this dissertation project: the Axial Model of hermeneutics and the Covenant Hypothesis for the Aqedah.

The Axial Model embeds the biblical text as the central long axis of a hermeneutical spiral. This text axis emanates the five biblical worlds of meaning (in, behind, in front of, above, and below the text) and norms any and all interpretations of those worlds. The spiraling ramp of the Axial Model slices through these worlds of meaning, depicting the features that are accessible for the particular interpreter. The interpreter progresses through the micro, meso and macro levels of hermeneutics (micro: exegetical and biblical hermeneutics, meso: theological and dogmatic hermeneutics, macro: philosophical and metaphysical hermeneutics) in a sequential fashion in order to grasp deep understanding of the text.

Within the Axial Model, the interpretive principle of Sola Scriptura is represented by the central long axis of the biblical text that emanates the biblical worlds of meaning and norms all interpretations of those worlds. Tota Scriptura is embodied in the canonical worlds of meaning behind and in front of the text which clarify and test all interpretations. Prima Scriptura extracts from the worlds of meaning above and below the text the biblical metaphysical framework for interpretation, and Viva Scriptura recognizes the Holy Spirit’s transformative work through the fusion of horizons between the interpreter’s personal and the text’s biblical worlds of meaning. The rolling path of the interpreter on the spiral ramp of the Axial Model integrates three hermeneutical circles (parts to a whole, fusion of horizons, projective-integrative) in achieving comprehensive understanding. This Axial Model was then activated by the Aqedah.

From the micro-hermeneutical level of exegesis, God’s final speech (vv. 15-18) in the Aqedah was recognized as an emphatic divine interpretation (“By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord”) of Abraham’s test response (“because you have done this thing”). Six of the seven Abrahamic covenant revelations were then evoked by God in retrograde sequence through covenant themes and blessings. Therefore, the Abrahamic covenant appears to be the divine test norm for evaluating Abraham’s test response.

On the meso-hermeneutical level, based on the covenant as the test norm, a logical interpretation was constructed and tested that saw the Aqedah, not as a test requiring mute compliance to destroy the covenant as embodied in Isaac but as a covenant crisis test to be solved by Abraham embodying the covenant. In other words, God’s purpose was to test Abraham’s covenant identity by eliciting a compassionate response of integrated covenant revelations (Gen 12:1-3, 12:7, 13:14-17, 15, 17, 18, 21:12-13). Had Abraham actualized all seven covenant lessons in his test response, it could have culminated in covenant-driven intercession for Isaac at the altar site, a mediation appealing to God’s character of justice and mercy (the covenant lesson of Gen 18). In that scenario, the discovery of God’s provided ram was set up to be the climax of Abraham’s test as the grace-filled divine test solution ("Lord will provide") given as the anticipated answer to Abraham’s prophetic mediation.

This ideal possibility was not perfectly actualized by Abraham. Hence, the divine interpretation that alluded to only six of the seven covenant lessons was an accurate assessment of Abraham’s historic test response. Abraham’s faith-filled (Now I know you fear God) but imperfect response still passed the test because he remained open (hinneni) to mid-test divine correction and did not sacrifice Isaac, but accepted and sacrificed the ram as God’s provided solution. This theocentric Covenant Hypothesis comes from a linear, non-retracting alignment of God’s actions as the Tester in the Aqedah.

Finally, on the macro-hermeneutical level, the Covenant Hypothesis revealed the Aqedah to be a summative (achieving the incorporation of past elements), evaluative (accountable to a standard or norm), diagnostic (revealing any hidden problems or flaw) and formative (assessing for improvement) test of Abraham. Abraham’s test obedience is revealed by God’s final speech to be an integrative, correctable, healing and dynamic fear of God that exceeds traditional anthropocentric interpretations of Abraham’s obedience as a literalistic, uncomprehending, yet hopeful compliance.

Conclusion

The tri-level Axial Model reveals the Aqedah test narrative holds higher moral consistency and rational complexity than has been traditionally assumed. Most importantly, the Covenant Hypothesis demonstrates that the enigmatic Aqedah text is fully capable of unbinding itself by making sense of its own parts. In conclusion, the Axial Model appears to be a text-normed hermeneutical model that can unearth deeper understanding of biblical texts.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Hanna, Martin F
Commitee: Doukhan, Jacques R, Matthews, John V G, Moskala, Jiri, Middleton, J Richard, Reeve, John W
School: Andrews University
Department: SDA Theological Seminary
School Location: United States -- Michigan
Source: DAI-A 81/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Theology, Biblical studies, Religious education
Keywords: Abraham, Aqedah, Genesis 22, Hermeneutics, Isaac, Sacrifice of Isaac
Publication Number: 27832308
ISBN: 9798607350468
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