A Helpful Thesis but a Problematic Assumption -- By: Jason Meyer
JBMW 15:2 (Fall 2010) p. 59
A Helpful Thesis but a Problematic Assumption
A Review of John L. Thompson, Reading the Bible with the Dead: What You Can Learn from the History of Exegesis that You Can’t Learn From Exegesis Alone. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007.
Assistant Professor of New Testament
Bethlehem College and Seminary
John L. Thompson is professor of historical theology and Gaylen and Susan Byker Professor of Reformed Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. This review article will summarize the contents of the book, especially the chapters dealing with women’s roles, and then offer a concluding assessment.
Summary of the Book
The conclusion features a helpful paragraph in which the author summarizes the book in general and specific terms. In general, he claims that the book began as a bet that the Bible is “better read and used” when one is conversant with the contributions of commentators from the so-called pre-modern era of the church. Specifically, he claims that the book “illustrates how these old books and interpreters can offer us guidance with respect to some of the Bible’s most obscure and difficult texts—the texts that lectionaries often avoid, and pastors as well” (216).
The table of contents and subtitles alert the reader as to what those “obscure and difficult texts” are: Hagar (chapter 1), Jephthah’s daughter (chapter 2), Psalms and Curses (chapter 3), Patriarchs behaving badly (chapter 4), Gomer and Hosea (chapter 5), Silent Prophetesses (chapter 6), Divorce (chapter 7), Paul’s arguments about women (chapter 8), and Sex and Violence (Dinah, Bathsheba, Tamar, and others) (chapter 9). The introductory chapter of the book offers something of a road map (10). Here the author says that these nine chapters actually boil down to one of three themes: (1) texts focusing on violence and abuse (chapters 1-5, 9), (2) texts focusing on domestic issues like divorce (chapter 7), and (3) texts that deal with women in leadership (chapters 6 and 8). The book also features a conclusion that highlights the present benefits of becoming conversant with the past, a glossary of biblical commentators and other writers, and a guide to finding English translations of commentaries written before 1600.
The readers of this journal will likely have a special interest in the chapters that relate most directly to the issue of gender roles and women in leadership (chapters 6 and 8). Therefore, I will summarize these chapters in more detail. Thompson points out that lectionaries often bypass texts that focus on violence or illicit sexual relations, but they also omit texts that treat “male-female relations in hierarchical terms” (2...
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