Category Archives: Books

New book to add to my list

Reframing Biblical StudiesJust received the weekly BookNews email from Eisenbrauns (the last one for 2009). I’ve got quite a reading list going right now, but this new release has really caught my eye and will be something I will want to read in the not-too-distant future: Reframing Biblical Studies: When Language and Text Meet Culture, Cognition, and Context by Ellen J. Van Wolde.

This is the publisher blurb:

Until recently, biblical studies and studies of the written and material culture of the ancient Near East have been fragmented, governed by experts who are confined within their individual disciplines’ methodological frameworks and patterns of thinking. The consequence has been that, at present, concepts and the terminology for examining the interaction of textual and historical complexes are lacking.

However, we can learn from the cognitives sciences. Until the end of the 1980s, neurophysiologists, psychologists, pediatricians, and linguists worked in complete isolation from one another on various aspects of the human brain. Then, beginning in the 1990s, one group began to focus on processes in the brain, thereby requiring that cell biologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, linguists, and other relevant scientists collaborate with each other. Their investigation revealed that the brain integrates all kinds of information; if this were not the case, we would not be able to catch even a glimpse of the brain’s processing activity.

By analogy, van Wolde’s proposal for biblical scholarship is to extend its examination of single elements by studying the integrative structures that emerge out of the interconnectivity of the parts. This analysis is based on detailed studies of specific relationships among data of diverse origins, using language as the essential device that links and permits expression. This method can be called a cognitive relational approach.

Van Wolde bases her work on cognitive concepts developed by Ronald Langacker. With these concepts, biblical scholars will be able to study emergent cognitive structures that issue from biblical words and texts in interaction with historical complexes. Van Wolde presents a method of analysis that biblical scholars can follow to investigate interactions among words and texts in the Hebrew Bible, material and nonmaterial culture, and comparative textual and historical contexts. In a significant portion of the book, she then exemplifies this method of analysis by applying it to controversial concepts and passages in the Hebrew Bible (the crescent moon; the in-law family; the city gate; differentiation and separation; Genesis 1, 34; Leviticus 18, 20; Numbers 5, 35; Deuteronomy 21; and Ezekiel 18, 22, 33).

A Tale of Two Books

Is the measure of a good book in its story or its telling? Truly great books will have both, but sometimes one is enough.

I’m not sure if The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, is truly well written (although, it is definitely clever). I’ve heard opinions (from people I respect) on both sides of the spectrum. But I do know that the words of the story relentlessly hit on my heart like the heavy, pounding raindrops of a summer storm on a tin roof.

This story of a missionary family’s tragic mis-adventure in the Belgian Congo of 1959 is told from the point of view of the five women in the family. I can relate to all of the roles: wife, mother, daughter, sister. Perhaps this made the book all the more bitter and sweet. But, even my husband (who is not a wife, mother, daughter or sister!), was affected by the story (see his review here).

I read TPB several months after reading Fieldwork (by Mischa Berlinski). Fieldwork unravels the story of an anthropologist, a multi-generation missionary family, a journalist, and a murder.

I read Fieldwork almost non-stop. I could not put it down. It tore through my soul. I read The Poisonwood Bible in daily fits and spurts. But its story haunted me through the hours in between turning the pages.
The Poisonwood Bible   Fieldwork

I think these two books should be required reading for people preparing to work overseas (particularly as missionaries or NGO workers). They are not instruction manuals or glowing tales of missionary faith. Neither are they outright condemnations. But both books reveal the heart of darkness that is sometimes carried into a place by the very people seeking to bring light. And that is what both of these books capture so well: the knife-edge between darkness and light, life and death, hate and love, understanding and ignorance, arrogance and humility.

The characters and situations–in both books–are vehicles for the larger issues the authors illuminate. Do not be distracted by the (sometimes) strong caricatures and miss the emotional workout that the authors ask the reader to commit to.

Reviews by friends of mine:
Fieldwork (Mindy Withrow)
The Poisonwood Bible (Mark Traphagen)

Biblical Hebrew Textbook Comparisons

At the 2009 ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) meeting in New Orleans just prior to the SBL meeting, there was a session about how to choose a Biblical Hebrew textbook. I wasn’t at the session, but some friends did obtain a copy of the handout for me. As a result, I also contacted Dr. Hélène Dallaire and asked about the textbook reviews she had done previously (she presented some of her own material at SBL 2006 and the 2009 ETS handout included a completed chart that she had started with Jason DeRouchie). She graciously sent me some digital copies and gave me permission to post them here.

I think these are helpful for instructors trying to make informed choices about textbooks to use for classes. There is no one “best” textbook. Rather, a teacher must consider their students, the type of class, the goals for the class, and their own teaching style and skills in selecting a textbook. The summaries are also helpful for students who are looking for supplemental reading and reference. I have tried to track down a digital copy of the ETS handout, but have not been successful yet, so I am posting a (relatively poor) scanned copy. If someone knows who has the original, I would be grateful if you brought that to my attention.

There are some additional textbooks due out which I hope to review. Most notably the Hendrickson textbook, A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew by Jo Ann Hackett and Fred Putnam‘s upcoming grammar to be published by Sheffield Phoenix.

Michael Fox discusses his commentary on Proverbs

Michael Fox discussed the second volume of his commentary on Proverbs with a group of bibliobloggers gathered at a dinner hosted by John Hobbins at the Deutsches Haus in New Orleans. Great food, fellowship, fun and discussion. The evening benefited Jericho Road, a charity rebuilding community after Katrina. I’ll post more about this fine evening later.

Christian Attitudes Toward Hypnosis (a survey commissioned by CTR)

Alan Streett, editor of the Criswell Theological Review sent me a note, which I quote here.

The Spring 2010 Criswell Theological Review (CTR) will focus on the mind-body connection. Besides articles by Joel Green and other scholars, we will include the results of the first-ever survey of Christian attitudes toward hypnosis, which we have commissioned. The findings should be interesting and significant.

Hopefully, you can let your blog readers know about this and encourage them to take the survey at:

We want to get a sampling from a wide range of people from within the Christian community.


Alan Streett, editor
Criswell Theological Review

The mind-body connection has been in the news recently (e.g. the NPR series The Science of Spirituality) and as a result I’ve been involved with some interesting conversations regarding this topic. Whatever your thoughts about the mind-body connection or hypnosis, let your opinions be part of the survey the Review has commissioned. And then, be on the lookout for the journal next year to see the results!

“Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” makes Amazon Top 10 Editors’ Pick list

Last month, I wrote about William Kamkwamba on my blog here and here.

I was thrilled to see that his book is #10 on the Amazon Editors’ Pick list. I highly recommend the book. He describes his family and life in Malawi with detail and affection.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
The description of how his family survived a famine and the story of how he continued to push himself to learn even when unable to go to school are inspiring. Here’s a young man who took a book from a library, taught himself how to harness wind power to generate electricity, and built a windmill with scrapyard parts (and tools that he had to make himself). Buy the book (because it helps support his efforts to support development of leadership in Africa), read it, and then pass the book along to someone else. The co-author of the book (Bryan Mealer), a journalist who for years had only horrific news to report from Africa, finally gets to bring a story of hope and inspiration back home.

The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1 (Mark S. Smith’s new book)

I just received my copy of Mark S. Smith’s new Fortress Press book The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1 which Jim West announced in August. For the record, I bought it myself. Perhaps with my newly earned position of #28 in the Biblioblogs Top 50 for October (up 127 places from last month), I will be able to convince some publishers to send me review copies of books to discuss on my blog (feel free to contact me for a mailing address!).

Priestly Vision of Genesis 1

I am looking forward to reading this book. I only want to note right now that this is truly a Mark Smith book: the text itself ends on page 159 and the appendices, endnotes, and indices take up pages 161-315. Since the book has a 2010 copyright, I feel like I am reading the future!

More anon.