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The New Exodus in Recent Scholarship

The New Exodus in Recent Scholarship

Last week I read Daniel Lynwood Smith’s article, “The Uses of ‘New Exodus’ in New Testament Scholarship” CBR 14.2 (2016): 207–243. I think Smith persuasively shows that the term is a helpful, if problematic, description that likely originated in Isaiah studies, possibly with J. A. Alexander, The Later Prophecies of Isaiah (NY/London: Wiley and Putnam, 1847), 244. Smith traces ‘New Exodus’ use under the following headings:

  1. Synthetic Treatments of ‘New Exodus’ from 1950–1980
  2. ‘New Exodus’ in Pauline Literature
  3. ‘New Exodus’ in the Gospel according to Matthew
  4. ‘New Exodus’ in the Gospel according to Mark
  5. ‘New Exodus’ in Luke–Acts
  6. ‘New Exodus’ in the Gospel according to John
  7. ‘New Exodus’ in the Book of Revelation

One of Smith’s primary critiques is that when NT scholars use the term ‘New Exodus’, they mean a number of different things by it. In additional to offering criticisms of the specifics of this or that proposal, he also questions the extent to which ancient readers would identify some of the exodus themes proposed by scholars for this or that NT book (and, as he notes, he is far from alone in such critiques).

Smith presented a version of the article in the Spring of 2014 which may explain why he has not engaged at all with the essays, one of which is my own, in R. Michael Fox, ed., The Reverberations of the Exodus in Scripture (Oregon: Pickwick, 2014). In any case, I am happy that many of my own reservations I expressed are shared by Smith, including specific critiques of David Pao’s argument. My essay, “The (New) Exodus in Luke and Acts: An Appeal for Moderation” (94–120), mostly challenges Pao’s arguments that the “Isaianic New Exodus” is the ‘hermeneutical key’ to Luke-Acts. Here is my own conclusion, quoted in full:

Pao fails to prove in a convincing manner that the Isaianic New Exodus is the “hermeneutical key” to Luke and Acts or that the Isaianic New Exodus pervades the text of Acts as extensively as he claims: (1) Luke’s citation of Isa 40:3–5 in Luke 3:4–6, the foundation of Pao’s argument, does not present itself as a hermeneutical key through which to read the whole of Luke and Acts, and, it cannot bear the weight Pao places on it; (2) Most of the New Exodus and restoration themes found in Isaiah that Pao argues are developed in Acts are not uniquely Isaianic, nor are those themes developed in Acts to the extent Pao claims; (3) Many of the claims of allusions and echoes of Isaiah are strained and fail to provide adequate support for the pervasive influence of Isa 40–55 on Luke and Acts necessary for the larger argument, and the circularity inherent to this line of reasoning only weakens it further; (4) The use of non-Isaianic texts in Luke and Acts is not adequately ac-counted for, including scriptural texts and traditional sources (e.g., Mark, Q, and L material) that demonstrate influence much broader than Isa 40–55.

It is precisely because Luke’s use of the Scriptures is so rich and varied that there are so many scholarly claims to explain it. F. Scott Spencer synthesizes the claims succinctly when he describes the use of the Scriptures in Luke and Acts as follows:

The narrative opens with a pair of natal accounts heavily stylized after miraculous OT birth stories involving barren women . . . Beyond Luke 1–2, not simply isolated texts from “Moses,” but also the broader template of a “prophet-like-Moses” (Acts 3:22; 7:37; cf. Deut 18:15–18) shapes the portraits of Jesus, Stephen, Philip, Peter and Paul . . . Moreover, as the glorified Moses discusses Jesus’ impending exodus . . . with him on the Mount of Transfiguration, he sets the stage for Jesus’ winding “wilderness journey,” as it were, in Luke 9:51 —19:27, providing instruction that both echoes and exegetes Moses’ farewell sermon in Deuteronomy and prepares the way for a “new exodus” or restoration of God’s exiled people, Jew and Gentile, envisioned in Isaiah and extended to “the ends of the earth” (Isa 49:6; Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47; 26:17–18). Along with this rich Moses/Exodus prototype, we should add the Elijah/Elisha model from Jesus’ programmatic first sermon (Luke 4:25–27).

–F. Scott Spencer, “The Narrative of Luke-Acts: Getting to Know the Savior God,” in Issues in Luke-Acts: Selected Essays, eds. Sean A. Adams and Michael Pahl, Gorgias Handbooks 26 (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias, 2012) 127–28; italics original.

Regardless of whether all of these scriptural allusions, types, motifs, patterns, etc., are really to be found in Luke and Acts in the way they are claimed, Spencer’s summary should caution the interpreter not to abandon a careful reading of the narratives on their own terms to go in search for a singular hermeneutical key elsewhere. Accordingly, Foster’s critique and consequent appeal deserves repeating:

The danger of a study like this is that it appears to smuggle in an Old Testament theme which actually is not at the foreground of Luke’s gospel and then suggest that this is the hermeneutical key for understanding the text. This whole enterprise of the study of echoes, allusions and intertextuality needs to be soundly re-assessed. Here is another example of a theologically motivated juggernaut overtaking the restraints of close textual analysis.”

–Paul Foster, Review of The Reading and Transformation of Isaiah in Luke-Acts, by Peter Mallen, ExpTim 119, no. 9 (2008) 451 (cf. notes 59 and 65 above).

In sum, the use of Isaiah in Luke and Acts indicates its importance in understanding the narratives, and the theology of the Isaianic New Exodus appears to inform them. Even so, the Isaianic New Exodus neither pervades nor controls Luke and Acts in any kind of singular way. Indeed, Luke’s use of Scripture is far too diverse for such a claim.

Quotation from Joshua L. Mann, “The (New) Exodus in Luke and Acts: An Appeal for Moderation,” in The Reverberations of the Exodus in Scripture (ed. R. Michael Fox; Oregon: Pickwick, 2014), 119–20.

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