Thursday, October 10, 2019

Review of Novenson, The Grammar of Messianism

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Matthew V. Novenson, The Grammar of Messianism: An Ancient Jewish Political Idiom and Its Users. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. Pp. xvi, 361. ISBN 9780190255022. $78.00. Reviewed by D. Clint Burnett, Johnson University (
His work is not based on new data, but on a new way of perceiving ancient Jewish and early Christian messianic texts, namely unencumbered by the messianic idea and with fresh contextual exegeses of messianic texts that probe their inner logic. He shifts the conversation about messianism from the general to the particular and from the realms of politics and history into that of particular texts, contexts, and exegesis. Adopting Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theory of language game—the “theory that human language is best conceived not as a set of symbols corresponding to things in the world, but rather as a set of rules for participation in various kinds of discourse” (12)—Novenson claims that words derive their meanings from context. Therefore, scholars must avoid preconceived notions or ideas about what words mean, especially in ancient texts. It is clear that Jewish and Christian authors’ use of messianic language is part of “one great Mediterranean language game” that can be traced to their contextualized interpretations of the Hebrew Bible. In short, Novenson concludes “ancient messiah texts constitute one example . . . of the vast, sprawling ancient Jewish and Christian project of scriptural interpretation” (17). The purpose of this book is to map the rules of this language game or the grammar of messianism. (21).
Past PaleoJudaica posts on the book are here and links.

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