Review: Stones and Stories

stones and stories

Stones and StoriesJudith E. Anderson. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2019.

Summary: A guide for understanding and writing with clarity, whether about literature or in any of four forms of discourse.

Do you remember those high school literature and composition classes? I vaguely remember learning clues about understanding the metaphors, symbols, and themes one might find in a work of fiction, and learning to pay attention to plot, characters, and recurring motifs that helped one recognize what this was “all about.” I also remember writing papers, having to analyze a piece of literature (Silas Marner and The Scarlet Letter come to mind). I discovered how hard it can be to write, and how putting ideas to paper (no computers then) brought and forced a degree of clarity to my thought.

I can’t recall that we had a book to instruct us in how to do all this. I remember reading books and having to write about them, trying to emulate and apply the things our teachers taught and modeled. Reading this work, I think having something like this would have helped. Judith E. Anderson, a retired high school teacher has written a primer that teaches how to analyze a piece of literature, how to understand various figures of speech, how to pay attention to context in interpreting literature, and then how to apply all this in written compositions.

She employs two helpful devices that run through this work. The first is the use of stones and what they mean. She carries the metaphor of stones through the work, including proposing a myriad of composition prompts around stones, and proposing an exercise in biblical interpretation using seven biblical passages on stones that seem to contradict.

The second device is that various exercises or written responses are included throughout. The book uses different approaches from simple questions and responses, to drawing visual images that symbolize certain concepts, to writing compositions, learning how to use, quote, and cite material. She explains plagiarism and how one can mis-cite material.

One of the most helpful parts of the book for me was her distinction of four forms of discourse: the descriptive, the expository, the persuasive, and the narrative. She offers and example of each, inspired by a picture of a partially crumbling stone wall, and explains the significance of each word or phrase.

This book is intended as a primer for high school students. While the author proposes its usefulness in public, private, and home school contexts, my hunch is that it might be used most in the latter two of these contexts, and because of the biblical content, more likely in Christian contexts, despite the centrality of the Bible in English literature. The book does not proselytize, except for learning how to read and understand literature, and how to write with clarity and proper citations. It could be used by teachers, or by tutors and parents working with students struggling to learn literary analysis and composition.

I found the book personally helpful. Many of us were not paying attention in high school or college, or just enough to pass the class. This is a great refresher for the adult who wants to read well. It also is an excellent refresher in the fundamentals of good writing, useful for those who blog, who have to write reports for their work, who want to tell a story, or to make a persuasive case in a letter to the editor. It is brief, practical and clear. Using the exercises and prompts will make you a better reader and writer. It just may be that you are finally in a place where you know why that matters.

________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Interpreting the Prophetic Books

Prophetic BooksInterpreting the Prophetic Books, Gary V. Smith. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2014.

Summary: This is a concise guide for those preaching from Old Testament prophetic texts covering issues of genre, themes, interpretation, preaching, and contemporary application.

This summer, I’ve been part of a preaching team covering a number of the shorter books in the Bible one book per Sunday, including the Minor Prophets. My assignment has been the books of Nahum and Habakkuk. This is a challenging task if you are not a specialist in this area and some distance from your seminary classes! Distinguishing between near and distant fulfillment, understanding the setting, recognizing different genres within prophecy, and moving from the meaning of the text to relevant application for an audience separated by over two millenia and a cultural gap are all issues that face anyone working with these biblical texts.

Gary V. Smith’s book, part of Kregel’s series of Handbooks for Old Testament Interpretation, is a concise and helpful guide for all these issues and more. In six chapters coming in at under 200 pages, Smith covers the following:

Chapter 1. The Nature of Prophetic Literature: Temporal categories of present, future, and apocalyptic, genres of prophecy, and poetic elements including parallelism and imagery.

Chapter 2. Major Themes in the Prophetic Books: Themes running through the prophets, and themes by specific books.

Chapter 3. Preparing for Interpretation: Knowing the setting of the pre-exilic prophets to Israel and Judah, the exilic prophets, and the post-exilic prophets, issues to be aware of in Ancient Near East Prophecy, textual criticism, and the use of commentaries, including recommendations of commentaries by book (conservative to mainstream Western scholarship).

Chapter 4. Interpretive issues in Prophetic Texts: Literal vs. metaphorical, contextual limits, conditional or unconditional, near or far future, and prophecy and its New Testament fulfillment.

Chapter 5. Proclaiming Prophetic Texts: Getting oriented, shaping the presentation, determining the principle, and reflecting on the application.

Chapter 6. From Text to Application: Offers examples of the steps of Chapter 5 with reference to near future and distant future prophecy.

The book concludes with a glossary of terms relevant to interpreting the prophetic books.

The organization of the book follows good principles of biblical exegesis and provides pointers to the most common exegetical and interpretive issues that arise in handling the prophetic material. There is a brief and then more detailed table of contents that allows one to consult material relevant to a particular prophetic text. The author provides examples from scripture throughout to illustrate points. And the examples in Chapter 6 illustrate the process and care involved in putting together a message that is both exegetically sound and appropriate for one’s audience.

If there was any criticism that could be made of this book, it would be the very limited attention (six pages) given to prophecy and New Testament fulfillment, and particularly, to Christological interpretation. It may be that the author decided to defer to other texts that give greater attention to these matters but given that this is written for use by pastors of Christian churches, a fuller treatment might have been helpful.

On the whole, however, this is a valuable work that serves as a helpful review for those who have had seminary-level training in prophetic exegesis, and a valuable and accessible primer for those without such training.

_____________________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”