Hacksaw Ridge Movie Preview

Thanks to an invitation through the Ethos Centre for Christianity and Society, based in Victoria, Australia, I spent last evening at a preview screening of Mel Gibson’s new film, Hacksaw Ridge. I thought while it was fresh, and since it hasn’t come out in Aussie cinemas yet, I don’t think, I’d offer a short evaluation.

The Story

We all hate spoilers, and this bit of fluff will give you time to look away…

Alright, in very brief, it’s the story of an unusual war hero, an American pacifist who went to fight on the Pacific front in WWII, voluntarily, but wouldn’t handle, let alone fire a weapon on principle. His name was Desmond Doss. And his principles were related both to earlier personal experiences and to Christian beliefs.

(I actually know some Americans, friends who have nearly the same level of distaste for guns of any kind. Just thought I’d put that on record. You can’t judge a book by its bookstore, I always say. From now.)

Okay, I won’t tell you how it all came out in the wash, but offer some pluses and minuses, while still trying not to spoil the plot.

Continue reading

Mini-Book Review: F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic

Okay, so it’s really old, published in 1973. This is one of those scholarly books that sits on the shelf of nearly every theological institution on the planet, but that is beginning to get a little dusty from disuse. It’s one of those books that any budding biblical scholar ought to have read, but some of us were like Linus in 1973, with our shorts nearly reaching the ground, and weren’t quite ready to read the works of scholars like Frank Moore Cross. So it has taken me a while to get to this.

But you ought to know that this is one of those books you ought to read if you want to understand the course of Old Testament scholarship in the last fifty years – one of Cross’s defining works, and thus a milestone for one of the leading scholars of the twentieth-century Albright school. It is a classic, a period piece, an effective marker of the state of anglophone thought on numerous Old Testament topics from Pentateuchal criticism and the Deuteronomistic History to the speciality of the Albright school, antique Hebrew poetry.

But remember…it is from 1973! It shouldn’t be read as contemporary research. But for the serious OT student with some introduction to critical issues, it should be read.

Mini-Book Review: Gerald Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter

Far from recently published, this is one of those books that leaves your teaching institution’s library (where it’s certain to reside, normally) and stalks you in the dead of night, saying, “Read me, read me,” and just occasionally, if you haven’t done it, “Put the cat out!”  It doesn’t matter that it was published in 1985 (ooh, that reminds me, here are the details:)

Wilson, Gerald. The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (SBL Dissertation Series 76; Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1985).

…we sometimes don’t get around to reading these things for a while!

If you have read any of Wilson’s more recent essays, he has pretty well stayed on key with this book since, so you probably have a good idea of his thrust in this book, but this was the one that set the tone for the whole discussion about Psalms being an intentional editorial whole with a kind of underlying narrative thrust.  That thrust, in his view, is that Books I-II of the Psalms celebrate the Davidic kingship (kicked off in Psalm 2), until in Book III that dynasty appears shattered, especially in Psalm 89, and then in Book IV there is a rediscovery of Israel’s (or really, Judah’s) roots in Mosaic and Aaronic terms, and a fresh focus on Yahweh as king.

There are little things you might disagree with, and if you would like to compare a contrasting position, check out the general scepticism of R. N. Whybray about an overall canonical coherence to Psalms:

Whybray, Norman. Reading the Psalms as a Book (JSOTSup 222; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1996).

But it is probably fair to say that Wilson managed to persuade many students and scholars of the virtues of at least a healthy dose of this perspective on Psalms, and in so doing brought some of seeds of his mentor Brevard Childs’ suggestions on Psalms to fruit.  Wilson died in late 2005, at an insufficient age…biblical scholars have a tendency to do this, for some reason.  See some of the details here: http://biblical-studies.ca/blog/2006/03/01/the-editing-of-the-book-of-psalms-a-tribute-to-gerald-h-wilson/

I should add: debates over the Qumran psalms manuscripts and particularly the critical 11QPs a are important to this work, as the question is asked whether that manuscript implies a different canonical psalm sequence at Qumran, or the incomplete formation of our biblical psalm sequence at that time.  Plus, any question you ever had about the Psalm titles probably comes up.  And this was a Yale doctoral thesis in its early life (1981), so it’s a little technical and lacks colour illustrations.

Book Review – David Parris, Reception Theory and Biblical Hermeneutics

I won’t call this one a mini-review, because that proved false advertising on the last one.

However, I’ll try to be brief.  Reception Theory and Biblical Hermeneutics, by David Paul Parris (Princeton Theological Monograph Series 107; Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009) is a great introduction to the topic, clearly and engagingly written.  You could say that it is the only introduction to the topic, because I can’t think of another that covers the same ground.

What exactly is the topic, you might ask.  Reception theory is the theoretical background to the trend quite evident in biblical studies in recent decades towards taking account of subsequent interpretation of a biblical text as we seek to understand the text itself.  The trend itself, usually called reception history for English speakers, also asks about the impact that a given text has had in societies where it has been heeded and interpreted.  This is an apt theory-and-practice pairing for biblical texts, for which we often have quite a string of strategic interpretations by many of the leading minds of the church, and have in various ways had a profound impact on ideas, culture, theology and history.  Reception history seeks to be a little broader than ‘history of interpretation’ by paying attention to forms of interpretation that go beyond straight biblical commentary and even beyond written texts per se, perhaps beyond the Christian sphere, perhaps beyond intentional interpretation to more accidental effects.

Now the theoretical side of this, reception theory, dwells within the broader field called ‘literary theory’, and for the uninitiated, it’s pretty disorientating.  Try to enter without good guidance, and it can be utterly perplexing.  Pick up Derrida and read him and you’ll see what I mean.  Parris does an excellent job, I think, at orienting the reader, not towards every voice in the field of literary theory, but to the key players for reception theory, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Hans Robert Jauss, along with R. G. Collingwood and others.  This is as clear and interesting a read as I have seen in this area, and a great introduction to the meaning or philosophy of this push towards reception history.

But one proviso: I don’t know how you would find it if you’ve had no introduction to literary theory at all.  I came to this book with a fair bit of background, and so the terms and ideas were familiar.  With little or none it might be a challenge.  If you want the ‘reception theory lite’ version, Parris has written that too: it’s called Reading the Bible with Giants (London: Paternoster, 2006).  Same basic idea, but more approachable, and just a thinner book.  I should mention that Parris is a New Testament man, so his examples mostly relate to his areas of study in Matthew.  But he uses examples abundantly, so in either book you will have many opportunities to see the theory at work in actual biblical interpretation.

This is an important trend in modern biblical studies, really a rediscovery in some ways of what the church’s best interpreters have done for centuries, but it’s positive, and I’d encourage you to familiarize yourself with it.