The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Sep 6, 2014

Review of Defending Hope: Semiotics and Intertextuality in 1 Peter by Justin Langford

Note: I was not given this book; rather, I purchased it with my own money (like almost all of the books I review) which means I can review it any way I want, bwahahahahahhahaha!!! [JUST KIDDING! I'll try to be fair.] Also, as a personal preference, I will always have at least a little bit positive and a little bit negative to say, my reasoning being that even Bart Ehrman is a zippy read and can contribute to the discussion, while only Scripture itself is inerrant (so only Scripture would get a perfect review by me!).

Dr. Justin Langford, at the time of publication, is an adjunct NT professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. His book Defending Hope: Semiotics and Intertextuality in 1 Peter (Eugene, Oreg.: Wipf and Stock, 2013) seems to be a revision of his dissertation. I also had the privilege of hearing him speak at last Fall's ETS in Baltimore, and I look forward to interacting with his work on 1 Peter more in the future.

Defending Hope focuses on a branch of study known as "Semiotics" and its relation to the NT use of the OT in First Peter, especially 1 Peter's citation of Isaiah (or allusions, echoes, etc. of Isaiah). As Langford states early on, "The fundamental assumption behind intertextual study is the belief that 'no text exists in a vacuum'" [quoting Fewell, Reading between Texts] (xv). Yet Langford bemoans the fact that "no standard or agreed-upon method exists for doing such studies" [re.: "methodological applications of intertextuality"](p. xv). Consequently, Langford proposes using "semiotics" to pave the way forward. Thus, early on, he states, "The purpose of this study, then, is to explore the use of semiotics as an overarching method for doing biblical intertextual studies" (p. xvi). Soon after, he defines "semiotics" as "a broader term [compared to semiosis] referring to the scientific study of signs and sign systems" (p. xvii).

In the first chapter, Langford focuses mostly on a history of the theory and application intertextuality, eventually narrowing in on the history of intertextual studies in 1 Peter (noting also key dissertations such as Edward Glenny's discussion of NT use of the OT in 1 Peter). At the end of the chapter, he declares, "The importance of this book lies in both the application of a semiotic method for interpreting intertextual references and the treatment of Isaiah in 1 Peter" (25).In chapter 2, Langford focuses on developing a methodology for his study, stating that he will follow linguist Stefan Alkier--1. "Establishing a theory of textuality based on semiotics, 2. perform[ing] an intratextual investigation of 1 Peter, and 3. perform[ing] an intertextual investigation of the use of Isaiah in 1 Peter." Later in the chapter he focuses on the work of C. S. Peirce, Pierce's concept of "universe of discourse," and the concept of an "encyclopedia (including the role of "cultural knowledge," see p. 46).

In chapter 3, Langford focuses on "The Textual Universe of 1 Peter," which includes both the "epistolary" and "rhetorical" outlines of 1 Peter (Langford includes some helpful charts comparing various scholars). In chapter 4, "Opening the Encyclopedia of 1 Peter," Langford the social, historical, and cultural background of 1 Peter. After this, he focuses on how citations function in 1 Peter  (which texts are cited [LXX? Masoretic?], how they were cited, etc.).

Finally, in chapter 5, Langford discusses "'Signs' of Hope in 1 Peter." He (mostly convincingly, in my opinion) follows the thread of "hope" all throughout the quotations, allusions, and echoes of Isaiah in 1 Peter. He states,
      "A semiotic investigation of the use of Isaiah in 1 Peter demonstrates the integral role of the book of      
      Isaiah in the composition of the epistle. As the dynamic object, the book of Isaiah motivated the
      generation of numerous Isaianic signs in 1 Peter. The signs all point to one specific aspect of the book of
      Isaiah, their immediate object, and in doing so create an interpretant. Each interpretant was described in
      the sections above, and most of these interpretants were determined to communicate the idea of hope.
      While each interpretant communicates in its own right a picture of hope for the audience, the cumulative
      force of all the interpretants points to a message of hope, one that saturates almost every section of this
      short epistle" (p. 124; see also his excellent chart on page 125).

Now for critique: on the (very) plus side, this is a worthy addition to the panoply of scholarship on 1 Peter. Langford gives us a unique contribution (1 Peter, Isaiah, and semiotics), he delves deeply into the realm of semiotics, and artfully focuses on Isaiah in 1 Peter.

I believe that, for the most part, Langford demonstrates his thesis on hope in 1 Peter via Isaiah. Indeed, chapter 5 alone is worth the price of admission. Furthermore, Langford demonstrates excellent scholarship, interacting with almost all the major sources [with one major exception, noted below]. At an affordable price (thanks to Wipf&Stock's publishing model, of which I am also benefiting), it would be almost inexcusable for any budding scholar on 1 Peter or (more generally) NT use of the OT to not own this book. Let me stress again, this is an excellent discussion of 1 Peter's use of Isaiah.

And now for some quibbles (and please, dear reader, don't let the length of my discussion detract from the fact that this is a mostly positive review, and you should buy this book if you're serious about researching 1 Peter). First of all, I felt that for what the author was trying to accomplish this book was way too short. We do not see near enough discussion of the concept of hope in Scripture in general (what I feel would be a necessary precursor to discussing hope in both Isaiah and 1 Peter; however, Langford does clearly know the difference between concept and word, and he does discuss the concept of hope in the relevant chapters; I just think he could have done more, including a more clear definition of hope), and we do not enough discussion of the original contexts of the various Isaiah passages. I think this book would have benefited from another 50 pages (and yes, I know what it's like to have to add material to a book, so this is not just an armchair quarterback speaking!). In addition, I felt Langford could have segued into a more comprehensive "theology of hope" in 1 Peter.

Secondly, there is already an entire article devoted to the concept of "hope" in 1 Peter, and Langford does not cite it (John Piper's "Hope as the Motivation of Love: 1 Peter 3:9-12" on NTS vol. 26); now I know, I know, it's easy to nitpick and always find some obscure source that an author doesn't cite (I anticipate this if anybody reviews my own book on 1 Peter), and, to be fair, Piper does not focus on any of the passages that Langford focuses on (see Piper's article here). Nevertheless, I feel there is enough overlap in topics for at least a mention--after all, the whole point of the book is to provide an intertextual discussion of hope in 1 Peter, and New Testament Studies is a major, top-tier journal.

Thirdly, occasionally the author hurries over a statement that should need much more explanation, or at least a footnote. For example, on page 95, he states, "the formula pistos o logos . . . found in 1-2 Timothy and Titus reflects a phrase found in the Qumran Book of Mysteries that refers to a prophecy." Even without the controversial assertion "reflects a phrase . . ." I would expect a footnote for this (the only footnote in the paragraph is at the very first sentence). Another example: the whole socio-political situation of the recipients (metaphorical? literal? both?) of 1 Peter deserves more than the one paragraph he allocates on page 90 (if I'm missing something, I apologize, but that's all I saw in a thorough reading of the book), especially since this ties directly into the necessity of hope.

Finally, a complaint that is not unique to Langford's book: Scholarly, technical books need indexes!!!!!! Please let me repeat that: scholarly, technical books need at least a subject index and a Scripture/ancient sources index! This should not be optional! (but, as I said, a lot of books coming out these days, including revised dissertations, sadly do not have any).

In conclusion, though, let me state Langford's Defending Hope  is an excellent book on 1 Peter. It gives us an excellent introduction to semiotics, a decent discussion of intertextuality, and a fantastic overview of the concept of hope weaved throughout 1 Peter's use of Isaiah. Let me emphasize again, concerning the last point, Langford succeeds masterfully, and may my critique not detract from my praise.

I did not receive this book in exchange for a review; I purchased it with my own money, and it is well worth the price!