Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 4 (2002-2003) - Review

Bruce Chilton, Redeeming Time: The Wisdom of Ancient Jewish and Christian Festal Calendars (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), Pp. viii + 132. ISBN: 1565633806. Hardcover. $ 19.95.


This book attempts to recover some of the redemptive qualities of time as experienced in ancient Judaism and Christianity. It begins with a discussion of the problem of time in modernity, that it is experienced too much as constraint, and even more fundamentally, that it is dichotomized into constraint and rhythm, and then rhythm is dichotomized into recurrence and interval (cyclical and linear). It then discusses how sacrificial systems in general better integrate recurrence and interval, and then moves on to a detailed analysis of ancient Judaism and Christianity. The most interesting part of the book is the ending that shows how Judaism and Christianity adapted differently to the end of the sacrificial system by each conceiving of a different kind of eternity that would overshadow or swallow up the historical moments that brought tragedies such as the destruction of the temple: "For the Mishnah, the interval of eternity is a matter of infinite extension; for the Epistle to the Hebrews, that interval is a single moment consuming all other moments" (p. 90).

As different experiences of time need to be integrated in order to live life fully, so in a book there are different types of writing that need to be balanced and connected if the book is to communicate effectively to its audience. In a scholarly book that seeks to reach a wider audience such as this one, perhaps the most important integration is between specific and general analysis: detailed analysis should lead to broader conclusions that are more generally applicable and therefore more interesting, while broad conclusions should always be supported by detailed (but accessible) analysis. This book does not integrate these two aspects as well as it could, and therefore, it does not fully deliver on the promises carried by its subtitle. There are moments of profound insight, especially in Chapters One, Two, and Five, but some of the discussion seems disconnected or vague in its context (e.g., the last two sections of Chapter One and the second half of Chapter Two). And the real disconnect is between these chapters and Chapters Three and Four, which engage in fairly technical questions of New Testament interpretation, while the implications of these for the larger issues is sometimes unclear.

The balance between sections and the accessibility of the analysis is highly uneven: on the one extreme, over five hundred years of Israelite history, literature, and theology are summarized in five pages (pp. 36-40), while on the other, a lengthy engagement with the work of Ren Girard (pp. 25-33) will remain inaccessible to any but the specialist. Overall, the book gives much less attention to Jewish history and liturgy than it does to Christian. Some of this is surely understandable from a Christian scholar writing for a Christian audience, but the lack of any mention of the Megillot, for instance, makes the Jewish calendar appear rather lacking in content and underdeveloped, and the analysis of the Jewish calendar in Chapter Three is mostly used to shed light on early Christianity, analyzed in Chapter Four.

Although imperfectly executed and uneven in some respects, this is an original book by a scholar whose intellect ranges widely over many topics, and deeply into many questions. In its detailed discussions, specialists should find much to debate and discuss, and in its general observations, everyone should find much to ponder as we attempt to experience time and eternity as redemptive.

Kim Paffenroth
Iona College