Hallelujah: The Bible and Handel's Messiah, by Carol Bechtel
Dr. Carol Bechtel, shares with us how she is never tired of teaching the Bible and Handel's Messiah and her experience in writing the Biblical texts of Handel’s Messiah
Dr. Bechtel first encountered Handel’s Messiah as a member of her high school choir. In rehearsals, she admits that she would sometimes stare off into space thinking about the words when she was supposed to be singing.
“I first started teaching a class on the Bible and Handel’s Messiah for an adult Sunday school class at First Presbyterian Church in New Haven when I was a graduate student at Yale. I worked especially hard on it because you never knew who would show up in the adult Sunday school class in that place! Richard Hays, then teaching at Yale and now a New Testament professor at Duke, would often be there.”
“I realized then that I needed to find ways to talk about how the Old Testament texts in Messiah were about the Messiah. As an Old Testament student, I had been taught the importance of exploring the original context of the texts. I was—and still am—committed to that. But it was also clear to me that the Church hears these passages as being somehow ‘about’ Jesus Christ. Since I was working with Old Testament scholar Brevard Childs at the time, I began to listen for what he liked to call, ‘canonical echoes’ between the testaments.”
She would get the chance to wrestle with these issues when she was invited by Kerygma to write a study of the Biblical texts in Handel’s work.
“As I wrote the study, I came to realize that the question was not whether passages like Isaiah 7, 9, and 53 were about Jesus, but how are they about Jesus. While the original context was crucial, there was also a sense in which these passages had been ‘recontextualized’ as the early church attempted to understand their experience of Jesus Christ. So, in terms of context, I believe it’s not so much a question of either/or, but both/and.”
“I’m still not tired of teaching The Bible and Handel’s Messiah. That may have more to do with the quality of the music and the scripture passages than with anything else.”