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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Difficult but excellent discussion of how texts have meaning, December 12, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: New Horizons in Hermeneutics (Paperback)
This is not a work for beginners. While biblical hermeneutics are in view, it really concerns how we interpret any text. Thiselton has one major concern: are there standards of meaning that go beyond any particular society and embrace all humanity, or not? Thiselton argues throughout the book that there are, while thoroughly and (I think) fairly presenting the alternative viewpoint(s). His major supports include the later Wittgenstein, the speach-act theory of Austin and Searle, and (to a lesser extent) the eschatological vision of Pannenberg. His major targets are the deconstruction of Derrida and Barthes, the pragmatism of Rorty and (some but not all) liberation theologies, and the reader-response theory of Fish. In a typically understated British way, he cheerleads for the one side and pans the other through the whole book. In both modes, however, Thiselton keeps an impressive critical distance (most of the time) in admitting both to the strengths of those he opposes and the weaknesses of those he supports. While difficult, I know of no better one volume treatment of the subject. A thorough and discerning work for the serious student.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A monumental work, August 8, 2000
This review is from: New Horizons in Hermeneutics (Paperback)
For advanced students in biblical hermeneutics, this book is indespensible. No more comprehensive analysis of the history and present state of this field is available anywhere. Thiselton traces the more significant developments in hermeneutics in great depth from Schleiermacher up to the present day. In the earlier sections, Thiselton has a tendency ramble. His style becomes significantly more concise, particulalry as he moves toward the contemporary era and the impact of general literary studies on biblical hermeneutics. One of the problems with most discussions of hermeneutics is that they stay almost exclusively on the theoretical level, and rarely venture into application of the methods dsicussed. Thiselton's work is somewhat uneven on this count. The application of some methods is presented and critiqued, while in other areas the biblical text never comes into view. Thankfully, Thiselton does move in determined fashion toward his own hermeneutical perspective, outlines his principles clearly, and offers a preliminary application to some Pauline texts. Biblical studies students will be frustrated that developments in hermeneutics are not more consistently related to the history of biblical exegesis. The hermeneutical assumptions and implications of source and form-criticism, for example, are never discussed directly. These criticisms aside, Thiselton has taken on an immense task and, while his execution is not perfect, there is likely no scholar in the world who could surpass his performance in this vook.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, August 8, 2010
This review is from: New Horizons in Hermeneutics (Paperback)
Anthony Thiselton is Professor of Christian Theology at the University of Nottingham and author of a number of other hermeneutics volumes including Two Horizons: New Testament Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description, Thiselton on Hermeneutics: Collected Works with New Essays, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, and Hermeneutics: A Historical Overview, as well as commentary on 1 Corinthians (NIGTC) and The Living Paul.

This is the second time I have made my way through New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading. I first read this volume, along with Two Horizons and Thiselton on Hermeneutics two summer ago when I was working heavily on hermeneutics and interpretation theory. New Horizons in Hermeneutics is best described by Thiselton himself as "a description and critical evaluation of all the major theoretical models and approaches which characterize current hermeneutical theory, or which have contributed to its present shape." (pg. 1). The book is meant for both those involved in scholarly hermeneutical study and Biblical scholars. This second audience means special attention in New Horizons in Hermeneutics will be given to applying these hermeneutical approaches to the Bible.

The first chapter introduces the moorings involved in recent hermeneutical study and outlines the theme of each chapter to come. The first three chapters discuss the nature of textuality and the recent post-modern attempt at textual deconstruction. Before focusing on the the most recent interpretive trends Thiselton moves backward. In chapter 4 there is an excellent discussion on pre-modern interpretation focusing on the role of tradition and allegory. The fifth chapter then develops the interpretive assumptions of the Reformers, from Luther to the English. The history lesson comes to an end with a overview of Schleiermacher's system in chapter six and an application of Schleiermacher's, Dilthey's and Betti's approach to Pauline texts.

Chapters 8-14 are the heart of the book. Here Thiselton lives up to his standard and gives in depth analysis of the current interpretive and hermenutical theories. The discussion ranges from existentialism, to Speech-Act Theory, Paul Ricoeur, Socio-Critical theory, Liberation theology, Literary theory and Reader Response. This section is not simply a critique of these various theories and Thiselton commends that which is positive in each case. In the final two chapters, Thiselton combines his critiques and affirmations to formats an alternative to the standard approaches, which draws from and add to them. He calls it "The Hermeneutics of Pastoral Theology." The most enduring part of these chapters encourages Christian readers to remember that their sinfulness effects their interpretation and their interpretive systems do not escape their idolatrous tendencies. If we rely on our own abilities in Biblical interpretation we will have betrayed the Gospel story of the Cross and Resurrection we are seeking to better understand. A wise word.

With such a deeply philosophical nature, what role does this volume have in the tool box of Biblical scholars and Bible teachers? The first thing that must be noted is the difficulty of this text. While I do have an undergraduate in philosophy, I am not a professional trained philosopher and I found this book challenging to read at many points. I needed to go slow and rehearse what Thiselton was claiming about each position and then register his comments on it. I relatively well acquainted with most of the models Thiselton interacts with and I found most of his comments to be either on target or quite illuminating. With that said, I would encourage more pastors and Bible interpreters to spend more time considering their interpretive assumptions and methods. Here the chapters on Speech-Act Theory and Literary Theory have the most relevance for Biblical exegesis, both of which have had significant impact on Biblical interpretation in the last 20 years, in part thanks to Thiselton. In addition, while I found some Thiseltons discussion on Reader-Reader response and Liberation theory a bit too accepting, their is much to learn from his descriptions and interaction. Finally, Thiselton's discussion on the role of text and reader having a cyclical effect of change is quite useful for pastors and any Bible reader interested in better understanding the hermeneutical spiral.

For those without previous work in philosophy of language or 20th century continental thought I would suggest that you start with Hermeneutics: A Historical Overview or The Hermeneutics of Doctrine from Thiselton or Is There Meaning in This Text? by Kevin Vanhoozer. For those more comfortable in these areas, New Horizons in Hermeneutics moves Thiselton's work in Two Horizons forward by interacting on a very high level with the litany of options facing the interpreter today.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Classic that Builds on The Two Horizons, February 27, 2007
This review is from: New Horizons in Hermeneutics (Paperback)
New Horizons in Hermeneutics critically assesses almost the entire range of hermeneutical schools of its day from a stance that had largely, if not entirely, been formulated in Thiselton's thinking from as early as 1976.

Thiselton basically argues that hermeneutical theory needs to be rebuilt programmatically so as to overcome the dichotomies and one-sidednesses inherent in broadly positivist, broadly existentialist, broadly structuralist, broadly post-structuralist, and broadly neo-pragmatic approaches - whether to theory or practice. This rebuilding requires a considerable modification of Gadamer's thought along seven axes.

First, dialogue needs to be broadened at the level of pre-understanding such that as many traditions as possible are allowed to contribute positively to the hermeneutical conversation. Notably, Gadamer's tradition requires correction from that of Pannenberg and T.F. Torrance, from that of the later Wittgenstein, from that of Saussure, from those of Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Bultmann, and from that of Austin, Evans, Searle, Recanati, and others. This is not at all to say that Gadamer was not well read (!), but rather to say that these traditions should have been allowed to contribute more positively to the critical synthesis within the preunderstanding with which hermeneutical problems and questions are approached. Notably, Gadamer lacks the revealed Christological criterion of the tradition of Pannenberg by which traditions can be interpreted against the broader background of the narrative wholes of eschatological anticipations of history-as-a-whole (metacritical explanation) or by which they can be socio-critically evaluated by a Christological ethics (metacritical evaluation).

Second, Heidegger and Gadamer fail to find a philosophy of history that properly accounts for both Dasein's subjectivity (a hermeneutic of selves - not understood transcendentally) and a hermeneutic of traditions without over-emphasising one or other of these two poles in a dichotomous manner that violates the unity of historical reality - a unity that must somehow embrace a process that produces both a posteriori differences and a posteriori continuities whilst also moving towards an eschatological whole. Neo-pragmatic attempts to divorce present reading communities from historical traditions and their operative influence violate the philosophical axiom of the unity of history that resonates with a theology of the unity of creation.

Third, Gadamer and Heidegger thereby fail to properly reinstate subject-object conceptualisation - even in its properly historically embedded form premised upon historical continuity and difference - in relation to the critical testing of the transmitted content of traditions against anticipations of trans-temporal, trans-contextual criteria. That is, theology provides solutions to the problem of the metacriticism of traditions and societies left by Heidegger, Gadamer, and even by Habermas and Apel though they fully realise the issues at stake. Ricoeur rightly attempted to reinstate the explanatory dimension of hermeneutical understanding, but had inherited too much of the thought of Heidegger and Gadamer to achieve this adequately or escape their historical, epistemological, linguistic, and interpretative theoretical dichotomies. Notably, Ricoeur's middle period excursion into dialogue with structuralist approaches left him with too strong an intra-linguistic notion of textual effects to the neglect of 'behind-the-text' factors that embed intra-linguistic effects within an extra-linguistic background of speech-actions. A greater consideration of theories of conversational implicature would have solved this problem, thereby allowing Ricoeur's epistemological 'explanatory' axis to be better grounded in the dialectic between past and present horizons.

Fourth, Gadamer fails to overcome the artificial linguistic dualism attendent upon Heidegger's construal of the language problematic from within the coordinates of the epistemological embeddedness and centrality of Dasein for whom propositions and assertions represented a disparaged derivative mode of thinking. Further, these dualisms led to an artificial ontological prioritisation of language over history that Gadamer fails to properly eradicate, and which Ricoeur fails to fully overcome. By contrast, the later Wittgenstein overcomes the linguistic dualism by embedding all language within human (and we might with Thiselton add divine) speech-actions of various kinds - including assertions and propositions of various types. By implication, dualisms or dichotomies are removed when the language problematic is construed from within a theory of action that, in turn, presupposes a broader philosophy of history in which the unity (but not uniformity) of history is the precondition for all language and understanding. The structuralist tradition wrongly tried to return to a kind of idealist notion of language grounded in basic 'formal' oppositions, thus divorcing language from a properly historical perspective. Post-structuralism rightly deconstructed the 'formal' axioms of Western philosophical writings by showing them to be literary devices, but also failed to construe the language problematic within an adequate philosophy of history. This led to a kind of dichotomy between a still-idealised precondition for linguistic flux and shifting 'histories' construed linguistically. The result was a kind of 'docetic' approach to language and textualities that artificially divorced language from historical continuities and traditional criteria. This then allowed texts to have potentially endlessly indeterminate meanings constrained only by present readers.

Fifth, in relation to Western culture and culture criticism more broadly, then Habermas and Apel were right to seek a basis for trans-contextual and trans-temporal criteria against which the interpretations, interests, and practices of traditions could be evaluated, though their lack of a theological dimension rendered their success limited. Thus, these thinkers rightly tried to flesh out the metacritical side of Gadamer's thought by moving beyond an explanatory dimension towards an evaluative dimension. By contrast, Rorty and Fish violated both a theological basis for metacriticism and a philosophical criterion against which historical texts could reshape reader-horizons on the ultimate basis of the unity of historical reality. Liberation and feminist hermeneutical strands which presuppose meta-socio-critical theoretical frameworks may be affirmed in this attempt. Those that presuppose - even in disguised form - socio-pragmatic theoretical frameworks are largely rejected on the metacritical grounds that they adopt the power-abusers own strategies of self-assertion - whether at the level of 'interest groups' or individually. The socio-pragmatic 'solution' is thus a formula for disastrous social conflict and fragmentation with no criteria for exposing abuses of power other than personal narratives. The basis upon which it does this is a self-assertive suppression of dialogue with the philosophy of history - a dialogue that would have shown that texts can indeed impact readers from beyond their own horizons. Links with readers' prior concepts can be maintained whilst simultaneously extending the grammar of those concepts and superimposing them in new ways. To say otherwise is like saying one cannot add to a Lego set. Tradition may come to speech in the language of the readers, but reader horizons can still be transformed beyond a phenomenology of self-discovery and self-imperialisation.

Sixth, in relation to a hermeneutic of selves, then Gadamer's near-reduction of selves to the products of a hyposticisation of the inter-subjective and suspiciously near-intra-linguistic tradition-background requires correction by the emphasis on individual subjectivity as found in Kierkegaard, Schleiermacher, Heidegger, and Bultmann. Whilst subjectivity is de-centred by virtue of its situatedness within a larger socio-historical and ultimately theological historical process, it is not neglected altogether. Thus, there remains a place even for a stress on personal narrative as in socio-pragmatism - so long as this does not then become a basis for ethics.

Seventh, Gadamer's hermeneutical circle requires modification in that distancing and fusion need to be recast in more properly historical terms over and against an overly intra-linguistic perspective (by appeal to the later Wittgenstein, Austin, Evans, Searle, and Recanati), in more properly epistemological-metacritical evaluative terms over and against mere assessments of difference between horizons (traditions can distort truth), and in less linguistically dualistic terms in the sense that in the later Wittgenstein's partly parallel notions of noticing and showing propositions can function so as to highlight Gadamer's own emphases on broader rationality and on effective history. The Saussurian tradition can also help lend specificity to Gadamer's notion of distancing. the particularity of the textual horizon, of reading goals, and of reading interests means that no single interpretative model or model of textuality can be imperialised. Fusion - especially in biblical hermeneutics - is not only a matter of actualisation, but also of divine speech-acts operating via the biblical texts so as to shape readers according to promise. This involves appropriations and applications in the extra-linguistic world in which divine promises will be fulfilled. This in turn contributes to the hermeneutical circle at the level of the processes of tradition such that tradition can neither be imperialised in a static form that over-emphasises the past (cf. premodern hermeneutics) or the present (cf. postmodern hermeneutics) nor naively rejected (cf. modern hermeneutics).

It should also be noted that Thiselton adds two final chapters on the practical implications of the different approaches to interpretation that he covers in New Horizons in Hermeneutics. A major thesis is that no single model of texts and no single interpretative strategy can be imperialised. Nor can textual action be divorced from the dimensions of actualisation, appropriation, and application. Nor can textual action be divorced from extra-linguistic 'behind-the-text' factors - pastoral theology should not reduce the biblical texts to functions of the present horizon, but the genuine merging of two distinct horizons is required. None of this indicates that Thiselton fails to achieve a unified new theoretical subtext for hermeneutics, even if that subtext (outlined above) remains provisional itself. Rather, Thiselton's unified hermeneutic at the level of theory allows for multiple models to be applied at the level of practice - simply because Thiselton's over-arching but provisional and programmatic theory allows for historical and textual particularity in a way that precludes over-arching 'Method'. And by this last sentence, we are NOT indicating that Thiselton is simply 'Gadamerian' (see above)!

I can thoroughly recommend New Horizons in Hermeneutics, though most of the framework outline above is already implicit in Thiselton's earlier work, The Two Horizons. In disagreement with one of the other reviewers, I must stress that The Two Horizons may well be the first work on hermeneutics to overcome the problems of dichotomies that has plagued the discipline for the last half-century. Admittedly, the above analysis of Thiselton's thought cannot be read off the surface of New Horizons in Hermeneutics. Nevertheless, Thiselton himself affirmed a considerably expanded version of this overview when I presented it to him in celebration of his 40 career - a career which is producing even more fruit now than at the time when New Horizons in Hermeneutics was written. Why Thiselton still hasn't been properly recognised as the first person to achieve a unified theological hermeneutical theory in the history of the discipline is cause for grave concern.
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New Horizons in Hermeneutics
New Horizons in Hermeneutics by Anthony C. Thiselton (Paperback - February 10, 1997)
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