Two Good Reads

A few weeks back I finished this historical biography on Anne Bradstreet (1612-1642) by Faith Cook: Anne Bradstreet Pilgrim and Poet (Carlisle: EP Books, 2010).  This is a great introduction to an amazing Puritan woman’s life, times, and writings.  Anne came to America with some of the first Puritan refugees in the 1630s and faced the tough shores of the American East coast.  Her life was filled with death – many of her children, siblings, and friends died at young ages.  Her poems often reflected this unavoidable reality along with the truth of life after death:

All men must die and so must I
This cannot be revoked
For Adam’s sake this word God spake
When he so high provoked
Yet live I shall, this life’s but small
In place of highest bliss
Where I shall have all I can crave
No life is like to this.

I enjoyed this book; I’ve not read many books about this time period in America’s Puritan history, so it was fascinating.  I recommend it for anyone who enjoys historical biography along with excellent poems of Christian piety.  Faith Cook is a superb author and biographer.  This book will not disappoint.  It would be a good one for a women’s book club at your church.

Another EP book I want to recommend is Every Word Counts by Tom Barnes (Carlisle: EP Books, 2010).  This new book was written in response to the ongoing discussions and debates about the nature of Scripture, including inerrancy, authority, and infallibility.  He starts by very briefly mentioning the Beale/Enns debate, along with other authors like A. T. B. McGowan, John Webster, and Timothy Ward, just to name a few.

This book is helpful because Barnes simply goes through scripture highlighting what it says about itself.  When we talk about if, how, and why scripture is inerrant/infallible, we have to do so in scripture’s own terms.  Of course, this is a key truth to the whole debate.  Barnes talks about Jesus’ use of the OT, the “true” aspect of scripture, inspiration, how scripture is a treasure, and how the church should respond to scripture.  It was pretty straight forward and clear.  In fact, I think it is much more helpful than Beale’s The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008) because it is easier to read, more level-headed, less polemic, and didn’t overstate premises as much as Erosion.

In summary, Every Word Counts is a great book to read and study if you want a good scriptural summary on the Bible.  I’ll hand this one out to Christians who do have questions about scripture – it will answer quite a few of those questions and give the reader an appreciation for and love of the Bible along the way.

Note: Thanks to EP books for sending me these review copies.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Fokkelman on Hebrew Poetry

In seminary, we read parts of J. P. Fokkelman on biblical narrative and biblical poetry.  Recently, while studying the Shirat ha-Yam (the Song at the Sea) in Ex 15, I read parts of Fokkelman on poetry again to review several aspects.  I realize there are several different approaches to biblical poetry; I need to read some of M. O’Connor’s Hebrew Verse Structure sooner than later, but Fokkelman should be on your shelf if you’re studying Hebrew poetry.  Even if you disagree with some of his conclusions, there are good insights there.

Here’s what he says about poetry, which he later applies to biblical poetry.

“What a poet undertakes does have a lot to do with creating ‘density.’  Poetry is the most compact and concentrated form of speech possible.  By making the most of his or her linguistic tools, the poet creates an immense richness of meaning, and this richness becomes available if we as readers know how to handle the density: how we can cautiously tackle complexity, probe the various layers one by one, and unfold them.  The poet creates this abundance of meanings by visiting all the nooks and crannies of the language, and by being an expert at it” (p. 14).

This is true – I counted around 160 Hebrew words in the Song of the Sea in Ex 15; most English translations have around 430 or so.  Also, there are “layers” in the Song of the Sea – we have to recognize metaphor, simile, onomatopoeia, anthropomorphism, and so on.  In the Song of the Sea Yahweh is over the forces of creation, anti-creation, enemies, the sea-monster, false gods, yet in all this he is for the people he covenantally owns.  I like Fokkelman’s “nooks and crannies” and “abundance of meanings” – it is not a flat text, but a “3-D” one, if you will.  Not surprisingly, many scholars disagree on the divisions of the song in Ex 15.  Perhaps it is anachronistic to want to split up Hebrew poetry like we do our poems.

Fokkelman defines Hebrew poetry this way:

“A poem is the result of (on the one hand) an artistic handling of language, style, and structure and (on the other hand) applying prescribed proportions to all levels of the text, so that a controlled combination of language and number is created” (p. 35).

Sasson, from a different perspective, gave an alternative yet parallel explanation: the essence of Hebrew poetry is a departure from the constraints of prose (unfortunately, I cannot find the reference to this phrase, since I wrote it in the margins of Fokkelman’s book.  Any help here?).

In summary, Hebrew poetry is a different world than Hebrew prose.  It takes somewhat different interpretive rules and translating techniques, which of course affect the homiletical act of preaching poetry.  Fokkelman doesn’t talk about preaching a poem, but in my opinion, biblical poems scream out “preach me!”   Understanding that a poem is “thick” demands a different pulpit approach than does a narrative.  Consequently, preaching a poem is difficult – often like describing Van Gogh to a mathematician.

A final note: one way to think about biblical poetry couched in narrative (like Ex 15) is comparing it to a picture in the middle of a story book.  Pictures create a world synonymous to the text, adding depth – Ricoeur should be consulted here as well.  Poetry-pictures  are meant for both sides of the brain, and it needs to come out in homiletics.

shane lems

sunnyside wa