Right now I'm waiting on the proofs for my most recent article, to be published in the journal History of Political Thought. In the article I look at Melchizedek as an exemplar for kingship in some twelfth century political treatises, and discuss difficulties that arise for the idea of non-hereditary kingship over the question of whether Melchizedek was "without genealogy" as the Christian interpretation had it, or was identified with Shem, the son of Noah (and so possessive of a genealogy).
The paper sounds like useless antiquarianism. No need for others to be polite about it... I'm happy to admit it. Few people are looking for biblical arguments in support of monarchy these days, and fewer still would take the political discussions of eight or nine centuries ago to be all that applicable for a political theology of these matters today. Insofar as my research succeeds as a filler for historical lacunae, it of course serves a real (if small) purpose. But I'm a student of theology, not of history. It's worth my asking what exactly the point of such a project might be.
I have a scholarly interest in the history of exegesis, so this explains some of my attention to these questions. But beyond research focuses and antiquarian gap-filling (both commendable but pretty limited justifications), I tend to find the explorations of theological dead-ends and irrelevancies important on a more indirect level to my theological work.
As an aspiring theologian, I do not simply stand on the crest of advancing research and provide critical input for current expert reflection upon matters of faith. Nor, on the other hand, am I a high priest of some archive. The Good Lord gave us an inerrant scriptural canon, the Spirit leads us through rather more errant traditions of orthodoxy, but beyond basic strictures of these sorts there is little for the theologian to protect in some high-strung conservationist sense. The preservation of a past church or the creation of a present one does not stand or fall on theological legwork. We do an important job of making sense of the tradition and advancing meaningful structures of thought for the sake of its health, but we're also very much along for the ride. We are creatures of the subject of our study rather than simply curators of it.
Because of this, I like to think of my historical pursuits as a sort of making myself at home in the tradition. I am a part of the tradition, and I will throughout my life make my own contribution to its development. The more I explore the landscape, however, and the more I provide tools for others to explore the landscape, the better my vantage point will be from which to do constructive work. Not because I have examined all of the essential aspects of the history for understanding the Current Important Problem, but rather because I have taken in a lot of inessential details that provide a more textured and aesthetically robust backdrop against which to see clearly the speculative and intellectual concerns that most theologians find important.
John Milbank's sense of Christianity as a "counter-narrative" may be helpful here. I agree with the general reasons why he uses this approach (although I don't follow his lead in pitting this counter-narrative so decidedly against something like "modernity" or "nihilism"). The point of a narrative isn't primarily polemical, however. Narratives are things that you live into and out of- they provide conventions for thought. They are the huge mass under the tip of the iceberg. There is no urgency to exposing the details of a narrative; no apologetic goals are going to be directly achieved by it. But the formative effect of forgettable events and unimportant details is what colors our perception of the world with which we engage, and in this sense the useless antiquarianisms are essential to the "real work" of constructive discourse.
We've been at this a long time, and we'll be at it a long time yet. I don't see the point in rushing toward the utopia of a comprehensive account of the stuff of theology. Taking the time to make one's home seems much more conducive to good thinking on these matters, and that's why I find it helpful to resist the seduction of focusing exclusively on various constructive priorities in theological work. It would be wrong of me to neglect such priorities (or rather, it would be wrong of me to do so and continue to call myself a theologian), but I don't think that's what I'm doing by turning away from them periodically in order to entertain other questions.