Top critical review
12 of 13 people found this helpful
gets the job done pleasantly (for the most part)
on March 5, 2011
One of the many flavors of introductory biblical criticism books available. What I enjoyed about this book--and one of its particular aims--was its fresh, non-technical presentation of thoughts and ideas under consideration, casting new light on familiar concepts and grounding them in the everyday world, and how it made plain the many questions we oftentimes intuitively ask about the text, but aren't fully aware of doing. This book takes the common sense from which the sophistication of biblical criticism has been built and exposes it, which is truly delightful.
When I read that it was going to have a two-testament approach, I was skeptical. Other such books that have attempted a more holistic, inclusive outlook (such as To Each Its Own Meaning by McKenzie and Haynes), have tended to draw from their pool of examples unevenly. It is certainly instructive, for instance, for a person in New Testament studies to see a certain methodology or concept applied to a Hebraic text (or vice versa), but to see this play out in one's specific field of study--especially when dealing with an introductory book--is a necessity. Although many of the examples given in this book are widely used, appearing in other forms of this literature, I was pleasantly surprised by the very balanced treatment of both testaments throughout. This increases its value to students of both fields. The only place where I felt more could have been provided was in the discussion of textual families, which focused almost exclusively on New Testament texts without revealing the hidden secret (at least to new exegetes) that the so-called Masoretic Text is really a family or type of text and not a single manuscript.
One book belonging to this type of literature is Reading the Old Testament by John Barton. I love that book. And this is certainly no match for Barton. But one thing Barton lacked was any historical treatment of the texts. This book includes a very welcome chapter on historical criticism including a brief introduction to Reception History. The latter proved worthwhile because it revealed to me a conundrum I experienced when talking about biblical interpretation with certain varieties of religious folk. I would say something about doing historical work with the text, and they would respond favorably, but interpret me to be speaking about interpretations of the text throughout history within the church (like what Augustine or Luther might have thought the text meant). Thanks to this book, I now understand them to be speaking of Reception History, a valuable tool of interpretation to be sure, but something entirely different.
Another welcome insight provided by this book occurred in the chapter on Grammatical Criticism, where it laid out various common pitfalls encountered by those attempting to gain an informed reading of the text through its grammar and syntax. I have a feeling that some of this is discussed in a book I've been meaning to read by James Barr called The Semantics of Biblical Language. This was incredibly revealing and even corrected a few mistakes that I, myself, have made in the past.
There are, however, a number of problems. Its treatment of what it calls "special focus" exegesis (like cultural, gender, sexual, economic, and other such perspectives) is appallingly brief. It lumps together the past thirty or forty years, which saw an explosion of new critical perspectives that radically changed the field of biblical studies, into one chapter. And that is the single shortest chapter in the book. What it does in that chapter, it does well, such as introducing us to Liberation Theology (and giving me my first glimpse at Queer Theory), but one would expect at least as much time and attention to this whole new arena as was given to the other in chapters 2-10. This is where a book like To Each Its Own Meaning outshines it, with individual chapters dedicated to things like Social-Scientific Criticism, Rhetorical Criticism and Intertextuality, Narrative Criticism, Reader-Response Criticism, and Feminist Criticism. This is a serious fault of the book. It is floating above a two-star rating only on the strength of its other parts. And, finally, I have mixed feelings about the Appendix--a section on computers and internet. The authors acknowledge how out-of-date it will likely be by the time it is published and that is certainly true at the time of my reading. But I'm really not sure how helpful it is. Whatever generation is reading this book nowadays is pretty computer and internet savvy. If the Appendix tells them anything that would be useful to their studies, it is quite likely that they already know about it or have experience with it. Additionally, if they were going to go the route of exposing their readers in a general sense to different computer software useful in biblical studies, it would have been beneficial to include references to less known, but just as helpful and powerful alternatives that exist outside the proprietary world (like BibleTime, Xiphos, Alkitab, and PocketSword).