Interview with Richard B. Hays

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detail of Joseph von Führich’s Der Gang nach Emmaus

On June 4, 2016, Garrett Brown recorded an interview with Richard B. Hays, which was initially released as an hour-long podcast on the New Books Network. The transcript below, which includes 20 additional minutes of conversation, has been edited and revised by the authors. An abridged version of it first appeared in the November/December issue of Books and Culture.

The authors would like to thank Carey Newman of Baylor University Press for his comments on an early draft of this transcript and John Wilson of Books and Culture for his support and enthusiasm for the project.

About Richard B. Hays

Richard B. Hays, George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, is internationally recognized for his work on the Gospels, the letters of Paul, and on New Testament ethics. His scholarly work has bridged the disciplines of biblical criticism and literary studies, exploring the innovative ways in which early Christian writers interpreted Israel’s Scripture. He has also consistently sought to demonstrate how close reading of the New Testament can inform the church’s theological reflection, proclamation, and ministry.

Hays’s book The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation (1996) was selected by Christianity Today as one of the 100 most important religious books of the twentieth century. His more recent books include The Art of Reading Scripture (2003, co-edited with Ellen Davis), The Conversion of the Imagination (2005), Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage (2008, co-edited with Beverly Roberts Gaventa), Revelation and the Politics of Apocalyptic Interpretation (2012, co-edited with Stefan Alkier), Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (2014), and Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (2016).

Professor Hays has lectured widely in North America, Europe, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Japan. An ordained United Methodist minister, he has preached in settings ranging from rural Oklahoma churches to London’s Westminster Abbey. Professor Hays has chaired the Pauline Epistles Section of the Society of Biblical Literature, as well as the Seminar on New Testament Ethics in the Society for New Testament Studies, and has served on the editorial boards of several leading scholarly journals. Professor Hays received an honorary doctorate (Dr. theol. honoris causa) from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2009. He served as dean of Duke Divinity School from 2010 to 2015.

The Interview

Garrett Brown: Would you start by telling our readers a little bit about yourself and your background?

Richard B. Hays: I grew up in Oklahoma, went to an Episcopal day school as a high school student, and had a rich education there that included daily chapel. That had the effect of getting the Book of Common Prayer into my bones, although I was a Methodist by family upbringing.

I went to Yale as an undergraduate and ended up being an English major. I was particularly immersed in poetry and drama of the 16th and 17th centuries. After that, I went to seminary, graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1977, and continued on to a PhD at Emory in New Testament Studies. Continue reading “Interview with Richard B. Hays”

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Tolkien, Coleridge, and Subcreation

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Tolkien’s idea of subcreation has been much discussed by his fans and critics. Few, however, have located the source of that idea in the work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The Biographia Literaria provides a clue. In chapter 13, on the imagination “or esemplastic power,” we read:

The imagination I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary imagination I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to re-create; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealize and to unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.

Fancy, on the contrary, has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The Fancy is indeed no other than a mode of Memory emancipated from the order of time and space; and blended with, and modified by that empirical phenomenon of the will, which we express by the word Choice. But equally with the ordinary memory it must receive all its materials ready made from the law of association.

According to Adam Roberts’s new edition, Coleridge crossed out the line set in roman above. But it is precisely this phrase that Tolkien and others seize in making a firm distinction between creative acts of God and those of artists. As Robert explains, “God has created the cosmos as an act of primary imaginative power. When creative artists create their work, they are engaged in a finite imitation, in a kind of ratio inferior, of that primary act. . . . Such work is necessarily secondary to the divine creation, but only in degree, not in kind.”

While we readily recognize Tolkien’s anti-modern sensibilities, we can see here that he was also clearly operating within a Romantic framework, where the artist retained his status as myth-maker and his labors were not yet unmoored from religious significance. That side of Tolkien’s thought deserves greater recognition and appreciation.

Be Still

At church this morning, I was reminded today how wonderful the following hymn is. The words were composed by Katharina von Schlegel in 1752; were trans­lat­ed from Ger­man to Eng­lish by Jane L. Borth­wick in 1855; and then set to the tune “Finlandia” (1899) by the great composer Jean Si­bel­i­us.

The Cyberhymnal notes, “Borthwick be­longed to the Free Church of Scot­land. In 1855, she and her sister, Sarah Findlater, co-produced a book of translations of German hymns titled Hymns from the Land of Luther. In 1875, while liv­ing in Switzerland, she produced another book of translations called Al­pine Lyrics. Borth­wick was al­so ac­tive with the Edinburgh House of Refuge, the Moravian Mis­sion in Lab­ra­dor, and other mis­sion work. She nev­er mar­ried.”

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.

Editing and Eternal Life

Few scenes in the gamut of film history bring together the importance of scholarly editing and our intimations of eternal life as tightly or as movingly as the following scene from Wit, a play by Margaret Edson that was adapted for the small screen by the incomparable Mike Leigh.

Its main character, Vivian Bearing, is a professor of 17th-century British literature, specializing in the holy sonnets of John Donne. At the start of the play, she receives a diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer and consents to an aggressive course of chemotherapy. The “full dose” of an experimental chemotherapy plays against the “uncompromising” scholarly rigor that Vivian applies to her study and teaching of Donne’s intricate puzzles. Both efforts are justified for making a “significant contribution to knowledge.”

Continue reading “Editing and Eternal Life”

Peat: a poem from my archive

Peat

Interviewer: Then you have had the freedom you wanted?

Carl Sagan: Yes… I was obviously less free when I was in love with someone…. But one’s not in love all the time. Apart from that… I’m free.

It’s not obvious at first,
the strange thickness of this cloud of witnesses,
the fecundity of the soil beneath your feet,
but then it appears, suddenly—
a firm embrace of damp earth,
soft like peat and rich
with the decay of broken branches
and leaves from winter’s past.

Continue reading “Peat: a poem from my archive”