THE BIBLE AS LITERATURE A central concern of many books published this year was the relation between biblical interpretation and the literary forms contained in the Bible, or, to use the technical jargon, between hermeneutics and literary criticism. Bible scholars have long been concerned with what they call literary, or “higher” (in distinction to “lower,” or textual), criticism, but we have in these new studies something different. Here is the application of the principles and techniques of general literary criticism, rather than of narrowly confined “biblical criticism,” to the study of the Old and New Testaments. And the result is, as a rule, a very happy one.
Pride of place goes to The Literature of the Bible by Leland Ryken (Zondervan), a work far superior to any other on the subject with which we are familiar. The author is a professor of English at Wheaton College; what he says shows a degree of theological sophistication rarely present in books of this nature. The categories are not the theologian’s “form criticism,” “redaction criticism,” “traditio-historical criticism,” and the like, but rather such things as “the story of origins” (Genesis), “heroic narrative” (the patriarchs, judges, David, and Daniel), “the lyric poetry of the Psalms,” “biblical satire” (Jonah, Amos, and the parables of Jesus in Luke), and “the gospel as a literary form.” Ryken’s work will doubtless serve as a useful text for college courses on the subject and also as a guide for high school teachers, who now are having increased opportunities to teach in this area. It will also give fresh insight to pastors and theological teachers, who are all too accustomed to looking at the Scriptures in a narrowly professional manner. Rather more loosely connected but also helpful is Literary Interpretations of Biblical Narratives edited by Kenneth R. R. Gros Louis (Abingdon). Arising out of a series of summer courses for high school teachers of English literature held at Indiana University, this symposium contains articles on “The Rabbinic Method and Literary Criticism,” “Some Fallacies Concerning Literary Criticism of the Bible” (by Ryken), and “The Two Kingdoms in Matthew’s Gospel,” and essays on Genesis, Judges, Ruth, Kings, Jonah, Isaiah, Job, Mark, and the Apocalypse. A third volume in this area is by a theologian, but the point is similar: The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative by Hans W. Frei (Yale). Frei traces the change that took place in biblical hermeneutics during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, leading to a loss of the sense of realism in reading the biblical text. Focusing mainly on the creation story and the gospel accounts, Frei writes a very insightful account of the influence of general culture on the theological enterprise. His work will be of interest primarily to the specialist, who cannot afford to ignore Frei’s thesis even if he is unconvinced by all his suggestions.
Of a very different character are two books written from the perspective of modern linguistic principles. Translating the Word of God by John Beekman and John Callow (Zondervan) is the fruit of years of labor and reflection by two missionary linguists with the Wycliffe Bible Translators. They discuss fundamental principles of translation and then give many specific illustrations of how these basic principles are applied to a variety of translation problems. This study will be of supreme service to those who serve the Lord as translators of the Word of God, but it will be of value also to the ordinary Bible student who wishes to understand why various translations differ with one another. Discourse Considerations in Translating the Word of God by Kathleen Callow (Zondervan) is designed to be a companion to Beekman and Callow and deals with a relatively new field in linguistics, one that is concerned with reclothing the meaning of a text in the words and syntax of the new language. How to Understand Your Bible (InterVarsity) is an elementary handbook to Bible study by a veteran student worker in India, T. Norton Sterrett. Though not concerned with the modern science of linguistics, the author is vitally concerned with such basics as words, grammar, context, figures of speech, Hebrew idioms, and other matters that fall into the traditional category of linguistics.
THE BIBLICAL WORLD Certainly the outstanding new volume in this category is Great People of the Bible and How They Lived (Readers Digest), a cooperative venture of journalists, scholars, and artists. Richly illustrated with color photographs, line drawings, and paintings of ancient scenes, this coffee-table book provides a wealth of background to the study of the Bible. The editorial assistance of the Old Testament scholar and biblical archaeologist G. Ernest Wright of Harvard assured a degree of technical accuracy not always received in works of a popular nature. Discovering the World of the Bible by LaMar C. Berrett (Brigham Young University) is a Bible student’s guide to Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. Apart from an occasional betrayal of the author’s religious perspective—Mormon—and the necessarily brief nature of the work, this paperback guide is the ideal companion for a Christian traveler in Bible lands. Biblical references are included in the text where appropriate.
Two major revisions of important geographical tools appeared in 1974. In The Geography of the Bible (Harper & Row), noted author Denis Baly has completely rewritten the standard text in the field. Much new light has been shed by the seventeen years of research since the appearance of the first edition, and we can thank Professor Baly for taking the trouble to thoroughly rework his already fine work. Another standard work, H. G. May’s Oxford Bible Atlas (Oxford), has also appeared in a new edition. The revision is not quite so extensive as Baly’s, but the revised maps, photographs, and texts of archaeological interest will make the new edition even more useful as a textbook. The Oxford Bible Atlas is by far the best, handiest, and most accurate work of its kind and is available in both hard and soft cover.
BIBLICAL THEOLOGY The relation of the two Testaments to one another has been of perennial concern in the Church, if not always in the thought of modern theologians, who have often tended to isolate the two parts of Holy Writ from each other. Henry M. Shires’s Finding the Old Testament in the New (Westminster) offers, at a level that the thoughtful layman as well as pastor can appreciate, a first-rate introduction to the way the New Testament uses the Old. The author does not blaze any new trails in biblical research, but he does lay out the data in a way that is very useful and certainly clarifies many obscurities. It is heartening to read a writer who is not embarrassed by the way the authors of the New Testament handle the Old Testament but who instead forthrightly identifies with their distinctively Christian reading of the Hebrew Scriptures. This book can be commended both for the information it contains and for its theological understanding of the subject. Especially helpful are the eleven appended tables classifying the ways in which the Old Testament is used in the New. Creation and New Creation by John Reumann (Augsburg) and Behold My Servant by Gaetan Bourbonnais (Liturgical) provide the serious Bible student with paradigms of reading the Bible thematically. Both authors—one a Lutheran and the other a Roman Catholic—approach their subjects in a scholarly and devout fashion, as “under the Word of God,” and therefore offer edification and illumination to the believer.
God’s Strategy in Human History by Roger T. Forster and V. Paul Marston (Tyndale) is rather awkwardly written and arranged, and is therefore a little difficult to read; nevertheless, it is a stimulating work that will encourage Arminians, alienate Calvinists, but perhaps instruct ordinary Christians. For the thoughtful person who has been troubled from time to time by the apparent moral difficulties in the Bible—How can a good God condemn sinners to hell? What about the holy wars and cursings in the Old Testament? Why does God allow, sometime even appear to use, moral evil in the world?—John W. Wenham has written a wonderfully helpful little book, The Goodness of God (InterVarsity). No easy answers will be pawned off on the reader, but he will be helped to see reality more in keeping with the focus provided by the biblical perspective. This book will not be of help to believers but could prove to be of real service in the task of evangelism among thoughtful and sensitive non-Christians. Finally, The Gospel and the Land by W. D. Davies (University of California) is a heavyweight monograph dealing with the significance of the land of Palestine in the Old Testament, Judaism, and (principally) the New Testament. This is a very important study for all those who seek to understand the relation of the two Testaments and also of Israel to the Church.
GENERAL Unger’s Guide to the Bible by Merrill F. Unger (Tyndale) combines a book-by-book survey, a dictionary, and a concordance.
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