Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Reading the Law within Narrative: Notes to a Muslim Student

* Note: A gentleman stopped in at the college where I'm employed and asked about resources regarding religion and banking.  He is a Muslim doing Masters level work in a Middle Eastern country.  I sent him the following:

Greetings!  We met last week when you stopped by and chatted with a few of us 
about your thesis you are working on regarding the religious foundations of banking 
practices.  I did a little digging and came up with a few articles that may be of 
interest to you.  
Usury in Scripture by Chad Brand
Five Myths About Jubilee by Art Lindsley
Jubilee and Social Justice by Michael Harbin

I would especially recommend the Klaus Issler piece in that it reflects a detailed 
textual analysis of key Old Testament texts, works through interpretative options, 
and provides a wealth of bibliographic data.  There is even a brief mention of 
Islamic banking in footnote # 74 on page 785.

The Chad Brand piece is not as detailed as Issler but he covers more texts.  You 
may notice some interpretative differences between Issler and Brand.

In that you are attempting to compare, integrate and synthesize the various 
textual materials from the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Qur'an I 
thought it might be helpful to consider how the law code functions in the Torah.  
In his massive work God, Justice, and Society: Aspects of Law and Legality in 
the Bible Jonathan Burnside writes:

"One of the most striking aspects of how law is presented in the Hebrew Bible 
is its integration with narrative, by which we mean the specific biblical story of 
God's involvement with humanity.  It is crucial to recognize that bibilcal law is 
not presented as 'codified law' but is integrated 'at every stage' into the wider 
story of God's purposes for Israel, and, beyond that, for the world.  For example, 
the Sinai narrative (see Chapter 2) switches between story (e.g., Exodus 19:1-25); 
law (Exodus 20:1-17); story (Exodus 20:18-21), law (Exodus 20:22-23:33), and 
back to story again (Exodus 24:1-18).  What is true of the Sinai narrative 
(Exodus 19-24) is true of the Pentateuch as a whole.  All of the Pentateuch's 
legal collections are firmly embedded in their own narrative contexts.  This 
means that to be good readers of biblical law, we should not split what authors 
and compilers have joined together.  Nor should we imagine we have arrived 
at the'true' meaning of biblical law when we have 'boiled off' the narrative to 
a set of rules or underlying principles."  (p. 14)

This focus on the narrative context of biblical law is important.  There are 
developments in the law and fresh applications as the narrative of God's 
dealing with his people Israel develops.  Burnside, again, captures this dynamic:

"Biblical law is dynamic.  As we study it, we will see how Torah adapts itself to 
new circumstances.  This is partly because, as we have seen, it is integrated 
into the story of God's involvement with Israel and the world--and this story 
keeps on developing.  Because biblical law is embedded in a story arc, we 
must keep a constant eye on such things as plot, character, and setting.  
We need to know where we are 'in the story' to be able to interpet biblical law." (p. 22)

This focus on narrative as the context for biblical law is unique.  I am not a student 
of the Qur'an but Ida Glaser in an essay entitled "Qur'anic Challenges for the Bible 
Reader" mentions the following point:

"The Qur'an is almost entirely horatory.  Although it contains narrative, nearly 
every story is told as part of an argument or exhortation.  The stories are most 
often used as illustration, as warning or as encouragement, or as indicating the 
pattern of divine and human action through history.  In contrast, Barry Webb 
describes narrative as the Bible's 'master' and 'indispensable' genre."  
(Chapter from The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures edited by D. A. 
Carson, page 1027)

This difference in the Bible's and the Qur'an's understanding and use of narrative 
creates different kinds of interpretative communities with varying interpretative 
expectations.  Glaser notes that, in regards to the Bible, "the form is as much a 
part of the revelation as is the content." In seeking to determine what the form 
of the Bible  tells us about its content Glaser notes the following four points:

* If the Bible is largely narrative rather than exhortation, that implies an emphasis 
on the history of God's covenant interaction with his world rather than on his 
commands to his creatures.

* If it includes the prayers of God's people, that implies an emphasis on a two-way 
relationship between God and humanity rather than on prophetic words from God 
to people.

* If it includes human wisdom and questioning about death and suffering, that 
implies an emphasis on human response to God.

* If a large proportion of the Gospels is given to accounts of the crucifixion and 
resurrection, that implies an emphasis on God's finding a way to deal lovingly 
and justly with covenant breaking rather than on judgment of disobedience.  
(p. 1049) 

I hope that my comments and quotation are helpful in your interpretative 

I would recommend Burnside's book to you.  His first chapter--"The Character 
of Biblical Law"--is important reading for understanding the nature of biblical 
law and how to properly interpret it.  Also, he has two full chapters that may 
be of more direct relevance to your thesis: chapter 6 "People and Land"; 
chapter 7 "Social Welfare."

 Please feel free to interact with my thoughts.  I wish you well in your 
research and writing.

Richard Klaus