Reading the Silences

I am currently reading the third volume of Pauline Theology, the volume on Romans, edited by David Hay and Elizabeth Johnson. The first article is by Leander Keck, and he makes a most interesting claim. He believes that answering the question of what makes Romans tick cannot be answered unless we take into account both what is present and what is absent from the book (pp. 16-17). I really wonder whether this is a profitable approach. Keck spent a great deal of time (pp. 7-16) going through the various literary analyses concerning whether certain passages are genuine or not, or interpolations; a useless enterprise, in my judgment, if one is concerned about what makes Romans tick. For if we ask the question of what makes Romans tick, then we are inherently asking a question concerning the final form of the text.

However, Keck goes on to state the unusual position regarding the silences. I regard reading the silences as a very perilous undertaking. The reason for this is that “reading the silences” attempts to explain why something is not present in the text for the purpose of gaining a greater appreciation of the author’s intent. The difficulty here is that there could be various explanations for why something is not present in a text. How can one be certain that one has ruled out all the various possibilities, or that one has even thought of all the possibilities? Exegeting the text is difficult enough without adding to it the exegesis of what is not in fact there!

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5 Comments

  1. July 30, 2010 at 2:03 am

    This is why reading books by liberals will curdle your brain. “Reading the silences” – what a useless, pointless thing to do. If arguments from silence are weak (and they are), then why would anyone pursue this?

  2. Paige Britton said,

    July 30, 2010 at 5:07 am

    Maybe it’s kind of “artsy” to pay attention to the negative space?

  3. Matt Holst said,

    July 30, 2010 at 6:36 am

    Ditto # 1. How much time did you waste reading that chapter?

  4. Cris D. said,

    July 30, 2010 at 7:55 am

    What has drawn you to this book (or series)? Have you worked with either of the 1st two volumes? What other essays are in vol. 3? The catalog at WTS library doesn’t give details. I’ve occasionally found Keck to have insights, so I won’t dismiss your efforts automatically.

  5. greenbaggins said,

    July 30, 2010 at 9:32 am

    I am seeking to read the most important works on Romans. Volume 3 of Pauline Theology is on Romans. The volume is quoted rather a lot in the literature, so I decided to read it. There are some very good authors in this volume (it’s a collection of essays sparked by the SBL forums on Pauline theology).


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