Author: Mark G.V. Hoffman
Dissertation: Psalms 22 (LXX 21) and the Crucifixion of Jesus
Reader: Steven D. Fraade, Professor, Religious Studies, Yale University

Although Mr. Hoffman's goals are modest, his methods cautious, and his results largely negative, this is a work of enormous industry and scope that makes important contributions to the study of biblical interpretation in the New Testament. In seeking to understand the particular place of Psalm 22 in the New Testament's accounts and understandings of Jesus’ death, Mr. Hoffman leaves no exegetical stone unturned. He is particularly successful at delineating the wider context in which the New Testament's use of Psalm 22 must be placed in order to be fully measured and understood.

To one side are the often subtle "trajectories" of interpretation that begin within the web of innerbiblical interpretation and association and extend through the early biblical translations and parabiblical writings that preceded or paralleled the New Testament. To the other side are the much more fully developed traditions of interpretation of Psalm 22 among later Church fathers and rabbis. Between these two—exegetical potential and realization—Mr. Hoffman seeks to locate the New Testament's use of Psalms 22 for its barely budding program of narrating and understanding Jesus’ crucifixion in distinctively Christian yet scripturally familiar terms. From both sides, his cautious and controlled approach yields sparse but valuable fruits. In Mr. Hoffman's hands, the received, pre-Christian trajectories of interpretation, especially in their associative links, are suggestive rather than definitive, multivalent rather than monolinear. Likewise, he is careful not to read the later, more fully fleshed out Christian and rabbinic interpretations back into the New Testament, but rather to employ them to highlight, by contrast, its more subtle and tentative use of frequent scriptural allusion and occasional citation.

Mr. Hoffman is excellent at asking the right questions and answering them in the right ways. He is also right not to force the answers where they are unobtainable. Yet with all his caution and modesty, he arrives at some very insightful and original results on the local level of the New Testament's employment of Jewish (Greek) Scriptures. In the end, the New Testament's use of Psalm 22 cannot be anticipated from its prior history of interpretation, nor comprehended from later Christian commentary to either. Mr. Hoffman's modest, even negative conclusions are an important corrective to more self-assured studies in the history of interpretation. Why particular trajectories of scriptural interpretation congeal in one religious culture differently than in another cannot be explained by the supposed rules of interpretation alone. Each such interpretive culture brings to the same scriptures and their potential for interpretation different sets of shared experiences and expectations, which are only partly within our intellectual powers to grasp.