Given the inevitable selectivity in processing the massive amount of material characteristic of any discipline or field, Brueggemann notes that “the decision to include or exclude, to accent or deemphasize, is never innocent.” What emerges in any given work are the “presuppositions” that underlie the interpretive biases of the selection process.” While the interpretive process is inescapable by the constructive nature of theological probing, what he describes as “themetization “violates the very character of the testimony that relishes the detail” embedded in exacting description. As further put, “themetization is our required work and our most profound hazard” (italics in original).[i] Other than noting this dilemma, he does not directly confront its implications at this point, which, as always with Brueggemann, requires further amplification.
As Brueggemann further explains, thematization is not synonymous with systematization in that the former “aims only at a rough sketch and not close presentation.” In resisting “closure,” thematization “allows for slippage, oddity, incongruity, and variation,”[ii] while providing some basis for coherent argumentation. In short, without making thematic claims there would be little of value to say, in which all cats would be grey, even as claiming too much carries its own set of problems. Wrestling with the gap between core assertions and the multitude of facts on the ground requires a perpetual winnowing process where for Brueggemann boldly sharp claims are made as central arguments which then become qualified as additional considerations are brought into the picture. Thus, the emphasis he places on Israel’s core and countertestimony is qualified by what he refers to as “Israel’s embodied testimony” in which the various testimonies provided within the Old Testament narrative are arbitrated themselves through continuous negotiation.
This goes as well for Brueggemann’s account of texts that speak of radical disjunctions between God’s uncompromising standard of holiness and his unyielding faithfulness to an often unfaithful Israel. Although he states that he does not want to exaggerate these seemingly irreconcilable tendencies, sharply dualistic polarization is built into the very thematization that structures his text. This tension needs accounting for, which he partially undertakes in the later sections of Theology of the Old Testament, where he offers important qualifying commentary. While duly noted, “Core Testimony” and “Countertestimony” provide the dramatic structure and organizing framework for Brueggemann’s courtroom drama.