donderdag 21 februari 2013

Review of: Jack R. Lundbom, Jeremiah 37-52: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 21C), Doubleday, 2004; in: Interpretation

Jack R. Lundbom, Jeremiah 37-52: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 21C), Doubleday, 2004.

Review in: Interpretation 2005 59: 412
Review door: Kathleen M. O'Connor
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Jeremiah 21-36: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary
by Jack R. Lundbom
The Anchor Bible 21B. Doubleday, New York, 2004.
649 pp. $68.00 (cloth). ISBN 0-385-41113-8.

Jeremiah 37-52: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary
by Jack R. Lundbom
The Anchor Bible 21C. Doubleday, New York, 2004.
624 pp. $68.00 (cloth). ISBN 0-385-51160-4.

JACK LUNDBOM, ALONG WITH Phyllis Trible and Walter Brueggemann, was a student of James Muilenburg, the eloquent articulator of rhetorical-criticism for biblical studies. Lundbom is a well-known practitioner of rhetorical-criticism and a highly regarded interpreter of the book of Jeremiah. The publication of the second and third volumes of his Anchor Bible commentary concludes a massive labor of love on his part and marks a welcome addition to Jeremiah studies. For biblical scholars and teachers, these works are treasure troves of information, exposition, and interpretation relating to Jeremiah's ferocious book. For pastors seeking help with sermon preparation or theological reflection, I am not so sure.

The difficulties lie in the format of the Anchor Bible Series that presses heavily upon matters of text, translation, history, and interpretive problems. Lundbom imparts vast amounts of information about these in lucid prose on each portion of the text. He is highly appreciative of Jeremiah's rhetoric in its linguistic creativity, multiple genres, metaphors, and persuasive claims. The books can serve ministers well by laying the groundwork for theological and hermeneutical reflection, but they are theologically thin and require readers to integrate the material from the commentary's multiple sections themselves.

The two new volumes do not stand alone but need to be read in conversation with the "Introduction" to the first volume (Jeremiah 1-20,1999, 55-151). There Lundbom lays out the rhetorical-critical method and discusses other critical questions of canon, divergences between the Hebrew and Greek versions of Jeremiah, relationships between poetry and prose, division of the book into literary units, historical settings of the book, and the life and ministry of the prophet Jeremiah. This first volume is worth acquiring for its clear, detailed exposition of rhetorical criticism (pp. 68-101). Lundbom teaches readers how to decide genre and boundaries of texts and how to discover structural elements and the "configuration of their component parts" (p. 72). By discovering the text's effects, he shows how to identify the text's claims upon readers and makes it possible for readers to do similar work themselves.

The commentaries follow a four-part division: "Translation" of the section of the text under consideration, "Rhetoric and Composition," "Notes," and "Message and Audience." Lundbom's translation for each volume appears in continuous form at the front of the book and is repeated section by section in the commentary. He captures the cadences and heated imagery of Jeremiah's poetry. His word order, faithful to the Hebrew, is often surprisingly effective in English.

By far the most original contribution of these commentaries appears in the "Rhetoric and Composition" section where Lundbom applies rhetorical-criticism with fulsome, scrupulous detail. He uncovers how the text creates its power, musicality, and rushing force. In the process, he names structural features from a variety of perspectives and represents them in graphs. For example, on Jeremiah's narrative polemic against emigres to Egypt (Jer 44:1-30), Lundbom divides the text in half according to the chapter's two superscriptions and further divides the two parts on the basis of Hebrew grammatical markings of closing and opening that coincide with genre divisions (poetic oracles or narrative). With a second graph, he presents structuring elements such as repeated syntactic structures, key words, and repeated vocabulary. Finally, he divides the chapter in yet another way on the chronological basis of past, present, and future. These accumulating literary features reveal a text that speaks of evil in the past, present, and future.

With refreshing new insight arising from his literary work, Lundbom calls into question standard assumptions of Jeremiah studies. First, he disputes the view that the more complex Hebrew version, by contrast to the leaner Septuagint translation, is not the result of scribal errors and additions. The expansive Hebrew text of Jer 44, for example, indicates "vigorous discourse, something akin to the music of an organist who ends a grand performance by pulling out all the stops" (Jeremiah 37-52, p. 155). Such is Lundbom's sense of the literature's power. Second, Lundbom challenges the long-held assumption that Jeremiah comprises three or more pre-existing literary documents combined in haphazard fashion. From his close literary readings, he concludes that a far more inventive literary process takes place in this book than a rough editorial patching would allow.

"Notes" on text and translation are amazingly thorough. They attend to deviations between the Septuagint and the Hebrew translations and offer detailed information about place names, unfamiliar terms, and cross references to texts biblical and otherwise, ancient and modern. For example, Lundbom includes a lengthy accounting of the double spelling in Jeremiah of the Babylonian emperor's name, Nebuchadrezzar and Nebuchadnezzar.

Although the analytic divisions of Lundbom's commentary are deeply erudite and clearly written, I find little integration among its various levels of analysis. The "Message and Audience" sections are the most disappointing throughout the two volumes. I expected to find in them a synthesis of material so far discussed or a highlighting of central themes and images, culminating in theological questions or reflections on meaning in the passage or in relation to the whole book. Instead, these entries generally paraphrase the text almost in a pre-critical fashion, as if one could successfully interpret the text at face value. Paraphrases of the text's "message" generally make little or no reference to the preceding analysis and leave readers to assimilate the various sections of the work on their own.

By "message," Lundbom typically means a straightforward retelling of the passage. By "audience," he means the groups in the population named in the text under study rather than the "implied audience" of the book itself. Sometimes the audience is the whole community, or kings, or priests, or in Jer 44, the expatriots in Egypt with whom Jeremiah is immensely angry. But what are the text's claims upon the readers? How might passages have functioned for the audience of the book? Why, for example, is Jer 44 preserved and included in this part of the book and not elsewhere in the redaction? How does it contribute to the life of Judeans and to larger biblical theology that it should be preserved at all? In commenting on the new covenant passage (31:31), however, Lundbom finds apt and startling analogies between the text and the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. and between other texts and words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther's, and struggles in present day Palestine.

Among contemporary interpreters, "historical reliability" of the accounts of Jeremiah's life and words are a subject of deep controversy. Lundbom concludes the "Message and Audience" sections by dating passages on the basis of the general history of the period. An appendix at the end of Jeremiah 37-52 lists important dates of the period. Lundbom is no historical literalist; he recognizes the difficulty of making an "historically precise reconstruction" from some of the narrative material (p. 51). Nonetheless, he trusts the text more than I do, particularly in his presentation of Jeremiah's life. The large amount of "biographical" information about Jeremiah may be recorded simply to keep the details of his memory alive, but it is likely that the portrayal of his life has further symbolic purposes to address the situation of a people devastated by the Babylonian invasions.

Most of the twelve appendices to the commentary are of great help to general readers of the Bible: conversion tables of weights, measures, and distances; extensive lists of differences between the Hebrew and Greek versions; names and dates of archaeological periods; and even the names of the months in the Jewish calendar, plus a glossary of rhetorical terms. Also important are two excurses, "The New Covenant in the literature of Judaism, including Qumran" and "The New Covenant in the New Testament and Patristic literature to A. D. 325" (Jeremiah 21-36). Although fine descriptive histories of theological interpretation, these two excurses stop short of implicating modern Christians in anti-Semitism on the basis of the new covenant interpretation.

I think Lundbom's commentary is too trusting of historical information, and wish it were more attentive to critical theological questions, and more integrative of its own information. However, I will use these reference books often and with gratitude for the depth and breadth of their scholarship on nearly everything concerning Jeremiah.

Kathleen M. O'Connor

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