Gary A. RendsburgHendrickson Publishers / 2019 / HardcoverOur Price$41.995 out of 5 stars for How the Bible Is Written. View reviews of this product. 4 Reviews
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Alex Hamilton5 Stars Out Of 5A Must Have for Student of the Hebrew BibleJuly 30, 2019Alex HamiltonThis is a fantastic book by a well-respected scholar. In easy-to-read English, Professor Rendsburg eloquently discusses how subtle nuances in the Biblical text can have a deep and literary impact on one's reading of the text. To understand a text's subtleties this well, one needs to truly and deeply understand the culture in which it was written, which lives up to one of Professor Rendsburg's common sayings, that he "lives in the Biblical world".
It is perhaps one of the most user-friendly guides for understanding textual difficulties including alliteration, confusing language, and wordplay. I have referenced it already numerous times for various research projects and papers. It is able to be used by both the tenured professor and the undergraduate student. This is a must have for any level Biblical scholar.
LEB5 Stars Out Of 5A literary perspectiveMay 30, 2019LEBQuality: 5Value: 5Meets Expectations: 5"How the Bible Is Written" is an eye-opener, even for folks like me who have read medieval and modern Bible commentaries for decades. This is a different perspective. It focuses on how multiple literary techniques were used by ancient authors when the Bible was primarily heard rather than read silently, to make the book engaging to the listener.
Many are fascinated by the beauty of Shakespeare or the KJV. Prof. Rendsburg shows how similar thought went into word selection in the original Hebrew text. He focuses examples on commonly known narrative sections of the Old Testament. A verse index makes the book an excellent reference work for Bible study groups.
Rendsburg translates each verse and pertinent word. However, those with even a basic knowledge of the Hebrew alphabet will gain the most, as they can skip the formal transliterations that are difficult for a lay reader.
Rendsburg mostly avoids commentary aside from word use, so the book is appropriate for readers of any Christian or Jewish denomination. The focus is on how the original Hebrew carefully chose word patterns and sounds to increase interest of listeners as it is real aloud. There are two exceptions he shows that narrative sections of Genesis through Numbers were by a single source, and not separate J, E, and P sources as in the Documentary Hypothesis. That is based on multiple instances of wordplay that carries across sections attributed to different sources. He argues that the entire received Genesis through Samuel dates from the 10th century BC.
Here are a few of the many literary devices highlighted:
Alliteration of similar consonant sounds. He searches for unique or rare words that appear three or fewer times in biblical prose, and then looked for nearby alliterative words. He found enough such combinations to make a credible case that frequent alliteration was intentional to increase the "storytelling" quality, as with good poetry.
Repetition of phrases with minor changes each time, so that the repetition emphasizes some point while still maintaining the interest of listeners.
Grammatically incorrect Hebrew traditionally assumed to be scribal errors. He shows those are purposeful to verbally indicate confused or stressful situations. The pattern is sufficiently frequent to give credibility to Rendsburg's perspective.
Use of Aramaic style words for stories that take place in Aram or the northern kingdom of Israel (e.g., Jacob's 20 years with Laban in Aram), similar to Shakespeare's use of Scottish or Welch sounding words in the mouths of speakers from those regions.
Frequent use of the Hebrew word translated as "and behold," not merely as a figure of speech, but rather intentional to change the perception of the listener in the middle of a verse or paragraph. For example, from the narrator's view to the viewpoint of the individual in the story.
The net effect of these and many other literary devices is to make the narrative sections of the Hebrew Bible/OT engaging to listeners and later to silent readers across the millennia. Just as with Homer, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain, great storytelling is a combination of great ideas with engaging use of language. "How the Bible Is Written" focuses on the use of language. The books adds depth to one's understanding of The Book.
V. Beiler5 Stars Out Of 5A big book, but well worth the readMay 22, 2019V. BeilerQuality: 5Value: 5Meets Expectations: 5Written in Gary Rendsburg's characteristic blend of readable yet academic writing, How the Bible is Written describes not what the Bible says, but "how the Bible says it" (from the introduction). This wide ranging book (29 chapters, 640 pages) covers a number of literary topics, with particular attention given to alliteration and repetition with variation. Throughout, Rendsburg demonstrates how the Hebrew writers were wordsmiths of the first order, engaging in all manner of wordplay, either for the fun of it or to drive a point home.
Those familiar with Rendsburg's work will recognize some of the chapters from his earlier publications--which is to be expected, as Rendsburg has been working on literary nuance in biblical Hebrew for the past several decades. In spite of his borrowing of previously published material (8 chapters out of 29), the book is not noticeably stitched together, and, in my estimation, manages to be much more than the sum of its parts.
How the Bible Is Written is not without controversy, as Rendsburg tends to eschew form criticism in general and the Documentary Hypothesis in particular (chapter 22). The acceptance of Rendsburg's views on these matters is not essential for most of the points being made, however, and one can still observe that the Hebrew text, as it stands, is often worth taking quite seriously in ways that text critics may not have supposed. For example, Rendsburg shows how that confused syntax in the Bible may sometimes be intentionally misaligned, the better to demonstrate confusion on the part of the speaker or situation (chapter 8).
Throughout the book, Rendsburg frequently refers to the hypothetical reader of the Hebrew Bible as "she." The purpose for doing so is well-intended, although I found the inclusion of this nonstandard designation to be somewhat distracting from the larger points being made. This is a minor matter, of course, but I mention it as one stylistic matter that I wish were otherwise.
The book's primary audience is undoubtedly the academy, although lay persons can also follow without difficulty; the frequent inclusion of Hebrew text is always followed by an English translation. Those teaching literary readings of the Bible to undergrads may find the book particularly useful, viz., students have the chance to practice their Hebrew reading skills while also becoming acquainted with matters of style. In addition, the Hebrew font is similar to that found in BHS (it looks like SBL-Hebrew font), all vowels are pointed, and the cantillation markings are included--all of which should help to make those who are less certain of their Hebrew feel quite at home.
In sum, I highly recommend How the Bible Is Written. It is in many respects Rendsburg's magnum opus, and I say "job well done."
Jim West5 Stars Out Of 5A Volume Worth your TimeApril 30, 2019Jim WestQuality: 5Value: 5Meets Expectations: 5Hendrickson, the publisher, writes
"Readers typically approach the Bible (and specifically, the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament) primarily for its moral teachings, theological insights, historical information, and the like, without giving much or even any consideration to the literary aspects of the text. The result is that while the Bible's contents are well known, the careful and often sophisticated manner in which those contents have been crafted is usually poorly understood. As a result, readers frequently miss out on a great deal of the richness the Bible has to offer. The goal of How the Bible Is Written is to bring interested readersscholars and laypeople alikecloser to the original text of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and to provide them with a greater appreciation of its literary artistry and linguistic virtuosity. In short, this book focuses not so much on what the Bible says as how the Bible says it.
Specific topics treated in this book include wordplay, wordplay with proper names, alliteration, repetition with variation, dialect representation, intentionally confused language, marking closure, and more. Readers of this book will gain a profound appreciation for the artistry and genius of the biblical authors and will better appreciate how understanding the way in which the Bible is written contributes to a deeper and fuller understanding of what it says."
Many years ago I had the distinct privilege of reading Michael Fishbane's 'Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel'. I have read many hundreds (thousands) of books since then, but my memory of that volume is quite vivid because it made a very great impression on me. Indeed, few volumes have been so important for my understanding of the literature of the Hebrew Bible.
I mention Fishbane's brilliant work because Gary Rendsburg's new work is almost as good and equally memorable. That is not to say that I agree with all of Rendsburg's conclusions. Indeed, I cannot follow him in his dismissal of the documentary hypothesis. Sure, it has its problems, but it is still the best explanation for what we have and Rendsburg's attempt to dislodge it from my ancient heart failed.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed Gary's book immensely and I shall be returning to it frequently.
The volume presently under consideration is a series of 29 chapters, 8 of which have appeared in print previously to their inclusion here. Rendsburg weaves them into the fabric of the present volume seamlessly, so without the notice on the opening pages that they belong elsewhere no one would be the wiser.
The purpose of this book is to show readers, even if they do not read Hebrew (though it will certainly help if they do, there's Hebrew [translated too] everywhere), how the writers of the Hebrew Bible used their language to communicate superbly. As R. remarks
"To repeat the comment from the Introduction: there are lots of books on what the Bible says; this is a book about how the Bible says it."
Following the canonical order of things, Rendsburg spends the rest of his time illustrating that claim. Along the way R. offers asides hither and yon that are worth spending time with:
"Important Digression: By this point, you may be wondering whether it was indeed possible for the ancient reader of Genesis 1 to apprehend all of the literary devices inherent in the text, as delineated herein."
That is a relevant observation, to say the least. R. answers it with aplomb.
Proceeding through the volume, readers are treated to really insightful readings of some of the Bible's most interesting alliterative material. By the time we arrive at chapter 21, though, we have left aside, for the most part, the exegetical portion of the volume and we find ourselves in the more speculative segment. Accordingly, in chapter twenty one, R. asks and answers 'When was All this Written?' His answer for the Torah? Around the 10th century BCE. That's a bit too early for my tastes, but R. has his reasons and not all of them are awful.
Chapter twenty two is R's challenge to the documentary hypothesis. He is right to observe
"The main point is: we know absolutely nothing about the prehistory of the biblical text, for all we posses is the text in its final form."
And that, to be sure, is true. But there are clearly different sources in that final form. That, it seems to me, is beyond refutation. From this point on to the end Rendsburg offers evidence for his understanding of the final form's appearance. And it isn't terrible. Nonetheless, for the present reviewer, it isn't persuasive.
But maybe I'm just old and set in my ways and others will find it very persuasive. It is certainly worth considering even if one does weigh it in the balances and find it wanting.
The present volume is a delight to read. It is intelligently written and accessible even to non experts. It is insightful and informative. It would be ideal in a class on Hebrew poetry or in an introduction to Hebrew exegesis. And it would also not be out of place in an Introduction to the Bible course. Not to mention its usefulness just as a pleasure read.
I heartily and happily recommend it.
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