November/December 2018

A Handbook to Old Testament Exegesis

Author: William P.Brown
ISBN: 978 0 6642 5993 8
Date: 2017
Price: £26.00
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Publisher: Westminster/John Knox

This book by a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary is designed as ‘a handbook for beginning students’, but it is, designedly, one that differs markedly from others. One innovation is ‘its focus on the reader’s self-understanding and experience as an exegete’. In its aim to help the student-reader to practise, and not just learn about, exegesis, it begins with a chapter in which the reader is invited to articulate his/her ‘exegetical profile’: to state, in other words, their ethnic and cultural background, their experience of reading Scripture, and the issues that chiefly engage their attention and concerns. ‘To be self-aware as an exegete’, Brown writes, ‘is to be more aware of Scripture’s impact upon you and your impact upon its meaning’.

Five model profiles are offered to indicate how to proceed in this enterprise.
The first major section of Brown’s book is the one that most resembles material to be found in a more traditional type of Handbook. It itemizes and explains analytical approaches including Text Criticism; Stylistic Analysis; Structural Analysis; Literary Analysis; and Canonical Analysis. As Brown says, ‘These chapters have…a largely descriptive aim, with the slight exception of the canonical approach, which is also constructive in practice’.

An important development in biblical studies, Brown believes, is ‘the dismantling of the interpreter’s “objective” position vis-à-vis the biblical text’. The second major section of this book, ‘Readings in Place’, therefore invites the reader to engage more actively with the realities ‘in front of’ the text. The issue here is ‘What does the text mean to you and to the communities with which you are associated, as well as to other communities with which you may not identify?’ The sample contexts considered here are Science; Ecology; Gender; Empire; Minority; Disability; and Theology. Brown believes that exegesis should foster ‘an expectancy of surprise’. It should be an ‘hermeneutical adventure’, generating a sense of wonder.

The typical student-reader is anticipated to be preparing for Christian ministry either as a member of the clergy or as a teacher. For this reason the final section of the book offers a model Sermon. This is based on Genesis 2.4b-15 and Romans 8.18-23 and is designed for a congregation with an agricultural background. The chapter also includes a Lesson Plan for three sessions on Genesis 1 for a large, well-educated class of adults.

A major feature of his book is the great use that Brown makes of worked examples. Two particular texts, Genesis 1.1-2.4a and 2.4b-3.24, are explored at the end of every chapter. These are chosen for the reason that they ‘well accommodate each and every method discussed’. Each chapter contains a bibliography.

This is a very impressive piece of work, challenging, insightful and very wide-ranging. It is a testament to the fact that what is understood today by the ‘meaning’ of texts has evolved considerably. It perhaps raises the question whether we can any longer distinguish between valid and invalid readings of a text, and if so by what criteria.

Bernard Robinson, Newcastle

An Introduction to the Scriptures of Israel: History and Theology

Author: Tzvi Novick
ISBN: 978 0 8028 7542 6
Date: 2018
Price: £20:99
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Publisher: Eerdmans

This introduction to the Old Testament is by a (very ecumenical) Jewish professor from the Catholic University of Notre Dame in Indiana. It is based on his lectures at Notre Dame.

A major preoccupation of Novick’s book is with the tension between particularism and universalism. The OT, with its concern with Israel, might seem to be overwhelmingly particularist (as against perhaps the NT, in which the Gentile world assumes great importance). Novick insists, however, that even when the OT speaks of Israel ‘it is also speaking about the universal, the human condition.’ Most OT books combine the two perspectives.

The patriarchal narratives in Genesis are concerned with the origin and history of the covenant, leading to the emergence of the people of Israel, but God there declares that through Abraham ‘all the nations of the earth shall be blessed’ (18.18). The Book of Job is about a problem that concerns the whole of humanity (Job himself is a Gentile), but it climaxes in a revelation of YHWH, the God of Israel. Exodus is about the liberation of the Hebrews, but Moses intervenes not only on behalf of his own people but in order to save the seven daughters of a Midianite priest (2.16-17). The Decalogue of Exod. 20 is particularist, laying down conditions for loyalty between Israel and its God, but the Covenant Code of Exod. 21.1-23.33, like the Laws of Hammurabi, is universalist, defining justice and law for humanity generally.

Another tension that Novick highlights is that between the OT as read as the Word of God within a believing community, Jewish or Christian (the Traditional-Canonical Method as he puts it), and the OT as understood according to the Historical-Critical Method. The two approaches, he insists, can not only co-exist; they are mutually reinforcing. He illustrates these two approaches in a discussion of the Eden story. From a historical-critical perspective he interprets the narrative as an ‘incomplete revision’ of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The two stories share ‘a single dynamic, in which an animal-like being transitions into a human being and attempts to go further, to become godlike and immortal, only to be stymied.’ On top of this ‘hierarchy dynamic’ as he styles it, Genesis adds a ‘command dynamic’. God gives Adam a command, which he disobeys. Adam and Eve stand in a covenantal manner of relationship with God. From a ‘traditional-canonical’ perspective, the Eden story has spoken to Christians of a Fall and of Original Sin, but this reading of it, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, ‘is revealed only in the light of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.’ One rabbinic reading treats the Tree of Life as standing for Wisdom, identified with the Torah. If human beings reject God’s commands, they are offered a second chance through the divine gift of the Torah.

After an Introduction, Novick’s book consists of fifteen chapters, analysing all the books of the Hebrew Canon, plus Sirach, except for Chronicles, Jeremiah and some of the minor prophets. The material does not follow the canonical order, or the probable date of composition, but is thematic. Each chapter covers blocs of material that share theological, historical and/or literary features, though the pairing of the patriarchal narratives with the Song of Songs is a little surprising. Most chapters pick up a point, or points, from the immediately preceding one. Each begins with a list of ‘Readings’ (biblical and other texts to be discussed) and ends with ‘For Further Reflection.’ This is a refreshingly different OT Introduction. It is authoritative, intelligent and readable.

New books about St Oscar Romero

Revolutionary Saint.
The Theological Legacy of Oscar Romero

Author: Michael Lee
ISBN: 978-1-62698-226-0
Date: 2018
Price: £19.99
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Publisher: Orbis books

Archbishop Romero’s Homilies.
A Theological and Pastoral Analysis

Author: Thomas Greenan
ISBN: 978-1-5272-1586-3
Date: 2018
Price: £10.00
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Publisher: Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund

The canonisation last month of Oscar Romero has occasioned the publication of at least two new books, inspired also by the publication of the full English collection of his homilies1. Both these books attest to something which is clear to anyone who has studied even a small selection of Romero’s writings: that had he not been martyred he would still have been a significant theological figure in the Church, not only in Latin America but worldwide.

Michael Lee from Fordham University has written an impressive study of Romero’s theology, drawing not only on the homilies but on the four great pastoral letters which Romero wrote when archbishop. He begins by looking at Romero’s very conventional theological and spiritual background, the product of a strict clerical formation, largely in Rome, in the war years. One of the key issues which has dominated discussion is the process of development in his theological outlook from being a conservative prelate considered to be a ‘safe pair of hands’ by the rich families and political elite in El Salvador, to being a pastor unambiguously on the side of the poor and at odds with the military and political establishment in the country, becoming an object of loathing by those who had supported him. Often the murder shortly after he became archbishop of his Jesuit friend Rutilio Grande is seen as crucial; but as Lee points out signs of change can be seen before that in Romero’s time as bishop of the small diocese of Santiago de Maria.

Lee looks in detail at Romero’s complex and evolving relationship with Liberation Theology; he also, towards the end of the book, uses his martyrdom as a prism for examining his theological place in the Church – this is important because in the cause for beatification and now canonisation the idea of odium fidei became central, not without controversy (for some in El Salvador this was seen as an insult to the poor whom he defended). The book concludes with a helpful account of the long path to beatification itself.

Much of the substantial material written in English about Romero emanates from the United States, so it is very good that the second book here is published in Scotland by SCIAF. Fr Tommy Greenan is a priest of the St Andrews and Edinburgh diocese who has worked for much of his ministry in central America.

Ashley Beck, St Mary’s University, Twickenham

Why Liberalism Failed

Author: Patrick Deneen
ISBN: 978-0300223447
Date: 2018
Price: £20.00
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Publisher: New Haven & London: Yale University Press

This important and timely work can be mis-read in one of two ways. First, as a simple critique of progressive liberalism, seeking to take us back to simpler days before metropolitan elites. Secondly, an apologetic for the rise in contemporary populism in politics – the sort of ‘countries get the leaders they deserve’, approach. Deneen’s work is neither, even if there are a few generous nods towards a world which reminded this reviewer – rather fondly – of the Bedford Falls of George Bailey and It’s a Wonderful Life, minus Clarence the angel.

Drawing inter alia on Hobbes, Locke, Descartes and J.S. Mill, Deneen identifies a crisis of legitimacy in liberal democracy, that monolith which has been given almost metaphysical deference in the West for generations, and which, as recently as 1989, was seen by some (Fukuyama) as the end point of history.

Deneen sees liberalism as privileging the powerful while ‘buying off’ the people with the myths that materialism is sovereign and ‘freedom from’ any sort of constraint amounts to real freedom. The result: ‘literal and moral obesity’ (p.126). Liberalism (without forgetting communism and fascism) has been a dominant movement for over a century. More recently, populist political outcomes (think US, Austria, Italy, UK?...) have manifested themselves not as mere symptoms of a malfunction within the erstwhile irreproachable apparatus of liberalism but, in fact, as the deep-seated flaws within the apparatus itself.

Liberalism has operated as a form of ideological lubricant, flowing between established systems of social order which include cultural norms, religious traditions and certain elements of hierarchy. The apparatus was able to prevail for such a long time precisely because it was claiming to deliver what in fact was delivered by those older, constituent elements. As those elements have faded – deliberately or otherwise- the facade started to implode.

Deneen’s point is that it is not the quest for a better system that will yield a better life but the living of a better life that will generate the better system:

‘Only a politics grounded in the experience of a polis – lives shared with a sense of common purpose, with obligations and gratitude arising from sorrows, hopes, and joys lived in generational time, and with the cultivation of capacities of trust and faith-can begin to take the place of our era’s distrust, estrangement, hostility, and hatreds.’ (p.xv)

Deneen looks at US education, but could have been looking at the UK, and sees in the demise of liberal arts the move towards privileging so-called STEM. As we genuflect evermore to technology, we head ever further towards losing the global environmental battles either unfolding or soon to unfold with ‘our carbon-saturated world’, a ‘hangover of a 150-year party in which, until the very end, we believed we had achieved the dream of liberation from nature’s constraints.’ (p.15)

The final chapter, looking not to bloody revolution or some anti-ideology but, rather, to small-scale action including the building of resilient new cultures against the anti-culture of liberalism, would welcome further elucidation. However, this scholarly, balanced and eminently readable account should be read by all, including those reflecting on the interface of faith and culture, as a contribution to a critical reflection of the status quo. Perhaps, I am left thinking, there is another way, with or without Clarence’s help!

Simon Uttley, Blessed Hugh Faringdon School, Reading.

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Michael A. Hayes 1957 - 2017


Michael A. Hayes 1957 - 2017

It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of Rev. Professor Michael Hayes editor of The Pastoral Review.

Many friends and readers of The Pastoral Review and The Tablet will have been shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Michael Hayes early on Easter Saturday.   Read More


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