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Old Testament Ethics [Paperback]

By Waldemar Janzen (Author)
Our Price $ 25.50  
Retail Value $ 30.00  
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Item Number 95306  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   248
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.95" Width: 5.97" Height: 0.75"
Weight:   0.81 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 1, 1994
Publisher   Westminster John Knox Press
ISBN  0664254101  
EAN  9780664254100  


Availability  73 units.
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Item Description...
Overview
Using five different Old Testament stories as paradigms for correct ethical behavior, Waldemar Janzen provides a comprehensive way of understanding the ethical message in the Old Testament. The five models of the good life he uses are the holy life (the priestly paradigm), the wise life (the sapiential or wisdom paradigm), the just life (the royal paradigm), the serving and suffering life (the prophetic paradigm), and the familial paradigm. Janzen demonstrates that all five paradigms are linked because the familial paradigm represents the comprehensive end of all Old Testament ethics.

Publishers Description
In his book Old Testament Ethics: A Paradigmatic Approach, author Waldemar Janzen attempts to persuade readers of the predominance of story over law as the ethical, and exemplary center to the ethics of the Hebrew Bible. For Janzen, this is demonstrated best by five paradigms consisting of one central and comprehensive paradigm (The Familial Paradigm, grounded in Genesis 13, concerning mainly a framework of: the preservation of life, the possession of land, and the idea of hospitality) and four internal, subordinate paradigms consisting of the Priestly Paradigm (taken from Num. 25), the Wisdom Paradigm (taken from 1Sam. 25), the Royal Paradigm (taken from 1Sam 24), and the Prophetic Paradigm (taken from 1Kings 21). According to Dr. Janzen, taken together, all of these five paradigms present people who are meant to serve as archetypal images and of course, they are eventually shown to identify the person Jesus (Janzen, 1994, 193). For Waldemar Janzen, far too much emphasis has been put on the predominance of the Law throughout Old Testament study and specifically the study of Old Testament Ethics. The Family Paradigm as Janzen writes, "represents the comprehensive end of all Old Testament Ethics" (Janzen, 1994, 3). For Janzen the Family Paradigm is a model of correct behavior and is not only narrative and demonstrative but also prior to, as well as the basis for, the principles and even the commandments of the Old Testament (Janzen, 1994, 1). For Janzen this narrative approach is said to avoid the propensity towards reductionism that he perceives to be stemming from more command oriented approaches.

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More About Waldemar Janzen

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Waldemar Janzen is Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Waldemar Janzen currently resides in Winnipeg.

Waldemar Janzen has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Believers Church Bible Commentary


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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Old Testament Ethics: A Paradigmatic Approach  May 23, 2006
In his book Old Testament Ethics: A Paradigmatic Approach, author Waldemar Janzen attempts to persuade readers of the predominance of story over law as the ethical, and exemplary center to the ethics of the Hebrew Bible. For Janzen, this is demonstrated best by five paradigms consisting of one central and comprehensive paradigm (The Familial Paradigm, grounded in Genesis 13, concerning mainly a framework of: the preservation of life, the possession of land, and the idea of hospitality) and four internal, subordinate paradigms consisting of the Priestly Paradigm (taken from Num. 25), the Wisdom Paradigm (taken from 1Sam. 25), the Royal Paradigm (taken from 1Sam 24), and the Prophetic Paradigm (taken from 1Kings 21). According to Dr. Janzen, taken together, all of these five paradigms present people who are meant to serve as archetypal images and of course, they are eventually shown to identify the person Jesus (Janzen, 1994, 193).
For Waldemar Janzen, far too much emphasis has been put on the predominance of the Law throughout Old Testament study and specifically the study of Old Testament Ethics. The Family Paradigm as Janzen writes, "represents the comprehensive end of all Old Testament Ethics" (Janzen, 1994, 3). For Janzen the Family Paradigm is a model of correct behavior and is not only narrative and demonstrative but also prior to, as well as the basis for, the principles and even the commandments of the Old Testament (Janzen, 1994, 1). For Janzen this narrative approach is said to avoid the propensity towards reductionism that he perceives to be stemming from more command oriented approaches.
Sadly Janzen's narrative and canonical attempt to avoid the attenuation of centrality, which is nothing short of admirable, finds its end as a similar form of reduction. In affirmation, Janzen is correct in his assertion that stories provide even children with adequate information enough to determine instances of right and wrong action. As well, Dr. Janzen should be praised for his attempt to grant "proper weight to the place of the narrative" in opposition to the supremacy of the Law as does the majority (Janzen, 1994, 30). In addition, by grounding his ethic in narrative there is a reverence for the unity of the Old Testament within the canon (Janzen, 1994, 42).
The communal reality of the Old Testament history is also honored by Dr.
Janzen's approach as he continually brings the reader into the importance of the family, and the community within the Old Testament: something that is quickly being lost to the more individualistic and indeed selfish nature of my generations' faith. Perhaps more importantly though Dr. Janzen reminds those who might begin their study of an Old Testament ethic with divine commands, just how closely related the narratives are to the rest of the canon (Janzen, 1994, 79, 89).
The reality nonetheless, is that Waldemar Janzen's book is tragically flawed.
In my view there are five main seats of contention:
1.Story verses Principles
While Janzen's approach seeks to avoid principles and laws, he latter admits that in choosing a "paradigm" there should be a "basic principle [that] remains unchanged, thou details differ." (Janzen, 1994, 26) As such, Dr. Janzen has substituted central biblical commands, such as the Ten Commandments, for the more ambiguous and subjective principles he has extracted from early biblical narratives.
2. The Paradigm Problem
Perhaps more interestingly though is the issue of the paradigms themselves. Without any specifically identified provisos, the reader is left alone to wonder by what criteria these particular stories were chosen and just how the extraction of these stories avoids reduction. It seems only by random selection that these five stories are held up to be examples of morality. What's more, the linking of the four subsidiary stories under the larger heading of the familial paradigm often seems forced at best. The scheme does not seem to develop naturally out of the larger narrative context but is appears artificial.
3. Narrative verses Everything Else
Another major difficulty I had with this approach has to do with the place of narrative. While I do believe one can view the whole canon in terms of a narrative structure I do not believe this is possible while treating all the Old Testament stories as all example stories. If stories are the way ethics are told in the Old Testament, what then becomes the place of the wisdom literature? Are we then left to believe that the stories in the prophets are meant not to be prophetic so much as examples of right and wrong? What's more this concept seems to disagree with the entire Judeo-Christian tradition. After all the first collection of writings has always been called "the Law"; not "The Example Stories". Moreover these narrative paradigms seem to conflict. For example: if we are to believe that each story could fall under the familial heading with hospitality included, how then are we to view Lot's choice to offer up his own daughter (family) to protect his guests (hospitality). It seems rather that there is a major defect in attempting to read each of these stories all under the same genre heading.
4. Law verses Story
The place of story and its predominance over law in this book has also made me very uncomfortable. While I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Janzen's assessment that the Decalogue is not meant to be all-inclusive when he wrote, "No matter how one stretches the blanket of the Decalogue to cover the large bed of ethics, it is too small", I would also make the same statement as it pertains to narrative (Janzen, 1994, 92). Unfortunately Dr. Janzen does not merely suggest a lack of predominance of the Law but he also declares it to be inferior. On page 65 Janzen writes, "stories operate on an ethically prior or more primary level, whereas laws, even the comprehensively formulated apodictic laws, operate on a secondary or subservient level. This claim may seem particularly open to question when even the Ten Commandments, often regarded as the hard core of the Old Testament ethics, are consigned to that secondary level (Janzen, 1994, 65). Janzen however does in fact consign them to a secondary level and in the process suggests a hierarchical ethic, disunity to the canon, and challenges the authority of the scriptures. (Janzen, 1994, 111; 155) Janzen's claims that "the shape of this life stood before Israel's eyes in the form of a vivid, lifelike inner image, and not as a set of laws", flies in the face of our entire Christian tradition (Janzen, 1994, 96). Ultimately Janzen's suggestion that "the Decalogue's rootedness is in the central values of Israel's familial ideal" insinuates that the Israelites composed the Law as a kind of short-hand for the narratives and denies that the laws were divinely given. (Janzen, 1994, 100)
5. Right and Wrong
Unfalteringly though, the most blatant problem with Janzen's Old testament Ethic is that is isn't an ethic at all. While later scholars might use this framework as the basis for building an Old Testament ethic, this particular book reveals nothing in terms of ethical decision making. Janzen never tells the reader what is right or wrong. Though Dr. Janzen claims these stories as ethical models he never actually reveals the ethic of any given story. Instead the reader is left with only a skeletal view of narratives and the allegation of their primacy.
Unfortunately it is much easier to find the flaws in someone else's work than it is to be original for ones self (especially when it comes to the kind of monumental task that Dr. Janzen has engaged in). Whereas I would certainly stop short of claiming there to be no Old Testament ethic, I am exceedingly reluctant to suggest one. Instead I would rather purport that the Old Testament is not an ethics book but rather a divine revelation. Though the Old Testament and the entire Christian canon might include a number of examples and commands (though not all of these and perhaps even none of these should be seen as all-inclusive or absolute) these example stories only function as a part of the larger picture. Ultimately anyone can suggest an accurate and faultless ethical reality, such as "do only the will of God", the details and the day to day working of such a system though do not come so naturally.

 

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