Sean the Baptist, aka Sean Winter, provides a restrained review of Anthony Thiselton’s recent forays into what the latter purports is “reception history”.
I say restrained, because after reading Thiselton’s recent commentary on 1-2 Thessalonians, my own response is that it is little more than an uncritical catalogue of pre-critical interpretation, and a perfect example of all that should be avoided in reception history. The commentary is in large part an abuse of the study of reception history, a field which has done much to highlight the quite contingent nature of the impact and interpretation of authoritative texts, and which when applied judiciously exposes the power interests which lie behind their interpretation and reinterpretation. Perversely, Thiselton’s commentary appears content to amass quotations from orthodox Christian commentaries, few of them dating any later than the nineteenth century (and thus, largely excluding modern critical commentaries), all of which serve as a great cloud of witnesses against any critical interpretations which have since appeared.
In Thiselton’s hands, reception history becomes a blunt instrument to marginalise perceptive criticisms of biblical texts. One of the most flagrant examples from Thiselton’s commentary on Thessalonians is his response to Antoinette Wire and Elizabeth Castelli, who argue, in different ways, that Paul’s language about imitation imposes an authoritarian and manipulative rhetoric upon Pauline communities, something which undermines any simplistic reading of Paul’s stated intentions that “our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery” (1 Thess. 2:3). Thiselton’s thoroughly uncritical – even unintentionally ironic – response is to insist that we all simply take Paul at his word. And he buttresses Paul’s word with the weight of the history of pre-critical reception, thereby reinscribing the authority of 1 Thessalonians itself. In a dereliction of one’s responsibilities as critic, Thiselton not only fails to demystify the ideological-critical strategies of power but cloaks them with a gobsmackingly simplistic reading of the text.
But do have a read of Sean Winters’ more moderate, more British, comments here.
h/t: W. John Lyons