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Waldemar Janzen, Old Testament Ethics: A Paradigmatic Approach, a Basic “Ethic of Reading” That Begins an Appropriate, Academically Informed Interpretation of Leviticus 20:13

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Using five different Old Testament stories as paradigms for correct ethical behavior, Waldemar Janzen provides a comprehensive way of understanding the ethical message in the Old Testament

The five models of the good life he uses are the holy life (the priestly paradigm), the wise life (the sapiential or wisdom paradigm), the just life (the royal paradigm), the serving and suffering life (the prophetic paradigm), and the familial paradigm.

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Janzen has developed the paradigmatic approach to doing OT ethics in deference to what he regards as the western attraction to principles. "Story," Janzen affirms, is the most important theological genre of the OT, for it is the means through which the ethical-theological instruction of God to his people is communicated. His starting point is C. J. H. Wright's definition: "A paradigm is something used as a model or example for other cases where a basic principle remains unchanged, though details differ . [I]t is not so much imitated as applied." However, Janzen immediately drops the concept of a "basic principle" out of Wright's definition and substitutes instead "mental images of model persons". It is not the "basic principle" that links the paradigm and the new situation, as in Wright's definition, even though that may be true of grammatical paradigms (from which the metaphor of paradigm was borrowed), but a paradigm is understood as "a personally and holistically conceived image of a model (e.g. a wise person, a good king) that imprints itself immediately and nonconceptually on the characters and actions of those who hold it". To attempt to extract principles from the OT would be to treat the Bible reductionistically and, I suppose, propositionally.

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For Waldemar Janzen, far too much emphasis has been put on the predominance of the Law throughout Old Testament study and specifically the study of Old Testament Ethics. The Family Paradigm as Janzen writes, "represents the comprehensive end of all Old Testament Ethics" (Janzen, 1994, 3). For Janzen the Family Paradigm is a model of correct behavior and is not only narrative and demonstrative but also prior to, as well as the basis for, the principles and even the commandments of the Old Testament (Janzen, 1994, 1). For Janzen this narrative approach is said to avoid the propensity towards reductionism that he perceives to be stemming from more command oriented approaches

Sadly Janzen's narrative and canonical attempt to avoid the attenuation of centrality, which is nothing short of admirable, finds its end as a similar form of reduction. In affirmation, Janzen is correct in his assertion that stories provide even children with adequate information enough to determine instances of right and wrong action. As well, Dr. Janzen should be praised for his attempt to grant "proper weight to the place of the narrative" in opposition to the supremacy of the Law as does the majority (Janzen, 1994, 30). In addition, by grounding his ethic in narrative there is a reverence for the unity of the Old Testament within the canon (Janzen, 1994, 42). The communal reality of the Old Testament history is also honored by Dr. Janzen's approach as he continually brings the reader into the importance of the family, and the community within the Old Testament: something that is quickly being lost to the more individualistic and indeed selfish nature of my generations' faith. Perhaps more importantly though Dr. Janzen reminds those who might begin their study of an Old Testament ethic with divine commands, just how closely related the narratives are to the rest of the canon (Janzen, 1994, 79, 89).

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After all, in his book Old Testament Ethics: A Paradigmatic Approach, author Waldemar Janzen attempts to persuade readers of the predominance of story over law as the ethical, and exemplary center to the ethics of the Hebrew Bible. For Janzen, this is demonstrated best by five paradigms consisting of one central and comprehensive paradigm (The Familial Paradigm, grounded in Genesis 13, concerning mainly a framework of: the preservation of life, the possession of land, and the idea of hospitality) and four internal, subordinate paradigms consisting of the Priestly Paradigm .

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Waldemar Janzen, Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 60 (2):226-226 (2006)

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