Friday, September 18, 2015

A note on Richard Hays, Reading Backwards

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While reading Richard Hays’ book, Reading Backwards, I became fascinated with this symbol:


It occurs fifteen times in the book, bringing a sense of unity and coherence to the otherwise narrativally disparate elements (cover, table of contents, chapters, indices etc.). Figurally we could say that it unites the book like the fifteen days of conversation united Paul and Peter (Galatians 1.18), or that it covers the whole book like the fifteen cubits of water cover the whole earth (Genesis 7.20). Of course fifteen in Greek letters is “IE”, which also means “Jesus” - calling out to the one who brings Genesis and Galatians into intertextual figural conversation. 

Of course the most significant feature is the revision of the old ALPHA and OMEGA motif (reflected in Revelation 1.8; 21.6; 22.13) in favour of the more unusual PI and OMEGA motif. New Testament critics have looked only for the obvious all these years in emphasising Jesus as the ALPHA and the OMEGA (based on a merely superficial reading of the text). In a more subtle analysis Hays introduces Jesus as the PI and the OMEGA. Clearly with such a carefully produced book only the most old-fashioned critics would take this as a failure of narrative communication or mis-print. We should take seriously the final narrative form of the text, presume the competence of the narrator, and take this as an opportunity to detect those intertextual echoes beloved of the author.

PI is the 16th letter in the Greek alphabet, and OMEGA is the 24th. At one level we thus have 2/3rds and 3/3rds, a trinitarian musterion. Further, reading backwards, we get that 24 -16 = 8, clearly an echo of the eight days tradition in Luke’s Gospel - the gospel from which the church can most learn about intertextual figural interpretation - a tradition which focuses our attention on Jesus (his circumcision and transfiguration - Luke 2.21; 9.28).

8 comments :

  1. . . . . . .
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    Huh?

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  2. Not sure I got it either, James. But then again, deep down I still harbour a suspicion that Peter Head really did snag the wildcard spot on the Olympic speedwalking team...

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  3. Oh, the 6, 7, 8 response, huh?

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  4. I suspect that someone's tongue is firmly planted in his Australian cheek ...

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  5. Or it could just be a case of χρ[α]πω...

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  6. Please, nothing "χρ[α]πω" here, just a clever spoof of a typo: "Clearly with such a carefully produced book only the most old-fashioned critics would take this as a failure of narrative communication or mis-print. We should take seriously the final narrative form of the text, presume the competence of the narrator, and take this as an opportunity to detect those intertextual echoes beloved of the author."

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  7. I don't think it was really a typo. It's just a graphical representation of an alpha that looks like a pi. I think it is probably a drawing based on a coin with this symbol where the alpha looks like that.

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  8. Eric, you are too logical. Loosen up and get all-agorical like Peter Head!

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