Thursday, January 25, 2007

Update, with Bibliography (with later correction)

I haven't been able to raise much controversy here lately, because I've been working on gunning up the adults in my congregation: In February, I'm going to do a four-week adult forum on Genesis 1-3 (which I'm calling "Reading Genesis Together") in which I hope to lead a discussion, chapter by chapter, of this marvelous section of that marvelous book. I hope not to lecture TOO MUCH (that is very difficult for me, despite by Great Books background), but rather to work with whoever shows up to uncover new appreciation for the language, the drama, the whatever. I don't want to just jump into a discussion of such dogmatic issues as "The Doctrine of Creation" or "Creatio ex nihilo" (which is not very well supported by these chapters, anyway, incidentally). But I'm confident that with some due seriousness about the text, we will grow in reverence, awe, and gratitude to the God who created, redeemed, and sustains all that is.

I'm using a variety of what are for me nontraditional sources. My reading and thinking are being guided by references that are new to me. (A few years ago, I read von Rad's commentary on Genesis and fell in love with reading commentaries as books, in their entirety. I am, however, refraining from reading commentaries-as-commentaries this round, so I won't be quoting the dear Doktor Professor.)

First on my list is Leon Kass' The Beginning of Wisdom. Kass is not a theologian; he's not even a religous Jew. Rather, he's trained as a physician and a philosopher who now teaches at the University of Chicago. (Some may remember that he headed up the President's commission on biomedical ethis a few years ago. That gives you some indication of where he sits.) But he had been required to teach the book as a part of a core-curriculum program at the UofC, and it finally got in his craw and he began a diligent study of the book. (He's also something of an expert on evolution, so there was a connection there, too.)

Kass tries to think about Genesis a priori -- that is, philosophically, not theologically, to see what opens with a close reading. In the process, he lays out some of the linguistic fun of the book. But he spends most of his time positing a kind of "what if the book leads us to think this" rhapsody. It's a brilliant boo, I think. And it's giving me a new perspective on a book that I thought I rather knew.

From the other end of the spectrum, I am spending a lot of time with Robert Alter's The Five Books of Moses. Here's anaother non-religious treatment of the book, this time a translation by one of the country's finest experts in comparative literature. He doesn't intend his book to be a commentary or reflection, but he so amply footnotes his translation, providing lucid explanations for why he translated something the way he did, that it's almost like reading a commentary.

As for commentaries, as I said, I'm pretty much avoiding them -- except for the Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scriptures volume on Genesis. For those who don't know it, this is a compilation of comments on the Scripture by the early Christian fathers -- that is, the Christian preachers, teachers, and mystics from the Church's early years. It's a successor to Thomas' catena auria (or gold chain), which was a listing of pearls of wisdom that the early Christians offered on the lectionary readings. Here, under the editorship of an evangelical scholar (!), Thomas Oden of Drew University, the effort is to collect such wisdom for each book of the Bible.

The upshot for my class is that I'll have tidbits of wisdom to bring in from readings in the Scriptures from earliest times. Thus, my title "Reading Genesis Together" will be an attempt to read as a community in Minneapolis that is informed and in communion with the community of the Church's history. It doesn't look like I'll have time to read Luther (woe is me!), but I'll put that up the group, too.

Finally, friend Susan Palo Cherwien (the poet and hymntext writer) recommended Everett Fox's translation of the Torah for the Schocken Bible. Also called The Five Books of Moses, this is an effort to translate the Bible (obviously understood as what Christians call the "Old[er] Testament") in such a way as to preserve its Hebraic quality -- and thus, a kind of foreignness to the text. The translation is meant to sound (when read aloud) more like the Hebrew would have sounded -- and, yes, I understand the problem with such a statement. And it's given me some interesting insights, too. (If I recall correctly, Jaroslav Pelikan -- may his memory endure -- used the Schocken translation in all his reflection during the last years of his life.)

Here I try to make two points: First I explain my lack of postings: I have been immersed in Scripture study, and have not sought to put thoughts to paper that do not relate to that endeavor. I have not grown humble and, thus, shut up about matters theological. I intend to continue blogging -- even though a significant number of my blog-models have quit doing so. I'm wrestling with a couple of books as bedtime reading, and I hope to comment on them soon. Second, the books I cite here are all worthy resources for your attention, and I commend them to you.

On an entirely different track, I am also involved in trying to make sense of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. We're reading it for my Saturday book group, and since I have never read this work by Faulkner, I'm giving it the old college try. (Joan Buckley, this one is for you.) I can't imagine the response to the book when it was published. I can only reflect on comments that fellow-readers are having -- e.g., "I read that first chapter and I'm thinking, 'What the hell is this?'" I don't think it's as incomprehensible as one review suggested, but we'll see! I've always been a Faulkner fan (God knows why -- maybe because I got a really good grade and comments on my paper on Light in August -- more Joan Buckley.)

So, read you Bible -- especially Genesis. And if you have thoughts about it, the comments section is open.



Ruthie Black naked said...

Since I've met WILLIAM FAULKNER, all his "Gen-Next" groupies want me to tell of his "vibe." Well in 1963, he was kind of washed-out, with pale cheeks and white moustache & hair - - thickly white, but combed, buzzed, manicured. No five o'clock shadow on him. Washed out and wrinkled khaki linen 3-piece with pockets full of 'bacco and a corn cob, stained dark as mahogany. His eyes were nothing when he talked - - flat and hard as steel. But when he listened, they were frightening. Deep - - yes, cavernous - - no, deep like jewels, with points that pierced you and disected your thought before you spoke 'em. I stammered, stuttered, and clipped off my replies to him. He noticed my nervousness, looked away and whispered "I'm sorry." That was the part of him I liked, the gentility.

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Dwight P. said...

I had another brain seizure while I was writing this post: The rabbi whose translation of Genesis I am using is EVERETT Fox, not "Emmett." I regret the display of my carelessness!