Guest Blog:Redacted Catfish and Stove Top Criticism

Dr. Mike Russell from In Search Of Arete recently wrote this excellent series on higher criticism based on a question I posted on Theologica. The posts poke fun while doing a great job explaining the different forms of higher criticism applied to Scripture. He graciously allowed me to repost them here at The Bible Archive. This is Post 4 of 4.

The final stage of composition for our text –

I started cooking too late tonight and it’s too cold and dark out to turn on the grill. Does anyone have a CatFish [sic] recipe for stove top or oven?!!? I hope people are online.

– necessitates our discovery of the influence of the individual author upon the account. This is the realm of Redaction Criticism, which “seeks to describe the theological purposes of the [author] by analyzing the way in which” sources are used. “Redaction” is a jargon term meant to exclude the hoi polloi from understanding something simple.1 A redactor is an editor; redaction criticism examines the editing done by the author in the course of telling his story.

Again drawing from CMM (Carson, Moo, and Morris), we can apply Redaction Criticism to the text. There are five basic elements to RC, but I’ll only address four. The last one isn’t really worth the time. Here goes:

1. “Redaction criticism distinguishes between tradition and redaction . . . ‘Redaction’ refers to the process of modifying that tradition as the [text] was actually written.”

This is clearly the case in Rey’s exclusion of local legend, i.e., demonic spirits or sprites frolicking around hot grills and devouring food and nearby people. In order to appear credible and empirical, the author simply omitted this information. He also eliminated traditions (surely known to him) concerning the value of aging catfish for weeks prior to preparation: this would have worked against the author’s sense of urgency and immediacy he sought to convey. Also excluded is the fact that Rey’s wife hasn’t spoken to him since his remark about her sister’s “junk in the trunk.”

2. “The redactional, or editorial, activity of the [author] can be seen in several areas:

“The material they have chosen to include and exclude . . .
“The arrangement of the material . . .
“The ‘seams’ that the [writer] uses to stitch his tradition together . . .
“Additions to the material . . .
“Omission of material . . .
“Change of wording . . .”
That Rey has carefully and intentionally included some source material while excluding other information is evident. No mention is made, for example, of the fact that Rey at the time hadn’t showered for days. His arrangement shows exceptional skill: the petition builds to a crescendo before the reader is jolted by his O’Henry-like conclusion, “I hope people are online.” His command of the language is demonstrated in the virtually seamless flow of the disparate fragments, as well as in his neologistic “CatFish” term. The opening words – “I started cooking” – are without question a late addition of the author’s, meant to inject himself into the drama for stylistic purposes. Finally, for obvious reasons the author has left out the fact that his family piled in the car and went to Chuck E Cheese while he was typing away at the keyboard.

3. “Redaction critics look for patterns in these kinds of changes within a [text].”

As we discover patterns, emphases become more and more evident. In our own text, it is obvious that the author is focusing on a theology of catfish as well as the superiority of house spirits to demons of the dark and cold. This tension is pervasive and the final exclusion of a recipe impels the reader to have some ice cream.

4. “On the basis of this general theological picture, the redaction critic then seeks to establish a setting for the production of the [text].”

By what Rey includes and excludes theologically, we get a glimpse of his setting at the time of constructing his petition. Obviously it included such things as fish, family, demons, and the “online” status of others. But no mention is made of Rey having searched his dispensational charts in hopes of finding a CatFish recipe somewhere between the Church Age and the Kingdom.

1 “hoi polloi” is a Latin phrase that means “the many” or “the masses,” and is used to make the writer seem sophisticated and to exclude the hoi polloi from understanding . . .

We now have a deeper, richer understanding of the text as it finally appears before us. We find Rey steeped in tradition, legends, superstitions, and catfish. The heart-breaking story of his starving (and now likely divorced) family comes to the fore as – almost as one – their cries were heard through the impassioned plea of a lonely author, typing through tears as the echoes of the keyboard mocked him and the howls of demonic cats seeking to devour the catfish sent chills up his spine.

Despite this enlightenment through the disciplines of Form, Source, and Redaction Criticism, we will never know the tragic, personal suffering of the petitioner embedded in text we only now so fully understand.

Next: How to Explain the Eternal Generation of the Son to Alzheimer Patients

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