March 27, 2004

Concrete

Category: Hermeneutics :: Permalink

In his response at the end of Jesus and the Restoration of Israel, N. T. Wright draws some helpful distinctions:

Strictly speaking, the opposite of metaphorical is literal. These two words refer to the way words refer to things, not to the things themselves. Confusion arises, not least in present discussions, because this pair is regularly muddled up with the words abstract and concrete, which indicate not the way words refer to things but rather the sort of things words refer to. Thus “Plato’s theory of forms” refers, literally, to a doubly abstract entity (the forms themselves, by definition, are abstract, and the theory is an abstract idea about those abstractions). If I say “Plato’s whole box of tricks,” intending to refer to that same theory, I am referring metaphorically to the same abstract entity (or entities). Alternatively, if I talk about “my car,” I am referring literally to something concrete; and if I say “my old tin can,” I am referring metaphorically to that same concrete entity. Matters are made much worse because, in popular usage, literally is regularly used to add emphasis to a sentence without any serious intent to mean what it says (“we were literally driving at the speed of light”; “my grandfather is literally as old as the hills”). We are thus bereft of the literal meaning of literal, and we find ourselves wallowing in all too many metaphorical meanings of metaphorical (pp. 261-262).

In a footnote, Wright then adds this, which should be of interest to all the many concrete workers in my congregation:

The word concrete is interesting in itself. We today may think of it as referring literally to the compound regularly used in building and so on; hence, we may think of it as referring metaphorically, as in the last sentence, to solid physical entities as opposed to abstract ones. But its original meaning, from the Latin concrescere, had to do with the putting together of solids, so that the meaning “physical, nonabstract” is the more literal meaning and the meaning “the substance used in building” the more metaphorical (p. 318n23).

Confused yet?

Posted by John Barach @ 2:03 pm | Discuss (0)

Jesus and the Restoration of Israel

Category: Bible :: Permalink

Yesterday, I finished Jesus and the Restoration of Israel, a collection of essays which interact with and sometimes critique N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God.

As with almost every essay collection, it’s a mixed bag. Craig Blomberg’s essay, for instance, is largely just a summary of Wright’s book. Blomberg’s only significant criticism, it appears, is that Wright isn’t a premillennialist. In fact, much of the criticism Wright receives in this volume relates to his preterist approach to Mark 13, as might have been expected.

Klyne Snodgrass’s charge that Wright overreads the parables may have some validity. Craig Evans offers extensive evidence that many Israelites in Jesus’ day did see themselves as being in exile, though he doesn’t ask whether the Jews were correct in their attitude toward the Romans. Richard Hays offers some helpful comments with regard to Christian ethics in the light of Jesus’ life and death.

Some of the comments in the book, however, were downright strange. Alister McGrath, for instance, says, “If Sanders or Wright is correct, Martin Luther is wrong” (p. 169), an overblown claim which certainly deserves more explanation (and justification) than McGrath gives. Later, McGrath suggests that Wright gives more emphasis to the Last Supper than to the cross., a criticism that baffles Wright.

C. Stephen Evans misunderstands Wright at several points, not least Wright’s statement that “many other people” besides Jesus healed people and performed what we would call “miracles.” That statement disturbs Evans (p. 191) because he sees it as “naturalizing’ Jesus’ mighty works. But all Wright means is that the prophets (e.g., Elijah and Elisha) did things that were similar to the things Jesus did and therefore we shouldn’t conclude that the performance of “miracles” proves that Jesus was God (see Wright’s response on p. 294). Wright also adds this about Evans’ essay:

I am amused, by the way, by Stephen Evans’s speculations about what might be helpful for me to think “as a clergyman.” I wonder how many Episcopal priests he actually knows?” (pp. 316-317n4).

Luke Timothy Johnson completely misses the boat when he criticizes Wright for having a minimalist view of the resurrection, a charge that’s really funny in the light of Wright’s new massive The Resurrection of the Son of God. Here’s Wright’s response:

I intend to address the question head-on in the next volume in the series, which should also put paid to the (frankly very funny) suggestion by Johnson that I hold “minimalist” view of Jesus’ resurrection. Why Johnson thinks I describe the resurrection as a “resuscitation” (p. 219) I don’t know. Why he thinks I restrict its significance to Jesus as an individual I can’t imagine. What he means by the “radical character” of the resurrection is not clear. And why he supposes I “dislike” such a view (p. 221) I have no idea. It is strange that Johnson, who is so skilled as an exegete of first-century texts, has such trouble reading one or two texts by a twentieth-century colleague that he must needs first invent a view for me to hold and then tell me off for holding it. If, of course, he means that when the early Christians said, “Jesus is risen from the dead,” they were referring not to something that had happened to Jesus but to an experience that they had had, then not only is it he who is the minimalist but it is he who is inventing a story that none of the New Testament writers corroborate (p. 268).

It was helpful to have Marcus Borg’s comments toward the end of the volume, largely because it helped to highlight what Borg rightly recognizes as Wright’s fundamental orthodoxy. Wright’s own response to all the essays, though necessarily brief and sometimes too brief, is quite helpful. It’s somewhat unfortunate that the editor, Carey Newman, then tacked on a conclusion in which he critiqued Wright, without allowing Wright a chance to respond to him (and his critique really does seem to be a ball that Wright could easily knock out of the park).

Jesus and the Restoration of Israel, then, is a moderately helpful book. Some of the essays are rather dull. Some aren’t all that helpful. A couple are challenging. And Wright’s response is worthwhile.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:36 pm | Discuss (0)
March 18, 2004

Narrative Space and Mythic Meaning in Mark

Category: Bible - NT - Mark :: Permalink

The other week, I read through Elizabeth Struthers Malbon’s Narrative Space and Mythic Meaning in Mark. On the whole, I found Malbon’s work much more helpful than either Smith‘s or Rhoads and Michie‘s.

Malbon’s treatment, however, seems to be valuable, not because of but rather in spite of the theory which undergirds it. Malbon is following in the footsteps of Claude Levi-Strauss, whose theory about myths is that “myth operates to mediate irreconcilable opposites by successively replacing them by opposites that do permit mediation. In other words, myth is a way of thinking that involves the progressive mediation of a fundamental opposition” (pp. 2-3).

In yet other words, a myth always seeks to mediate two things that are really complete opposites. To do that, the myth talks about two other things which represent the irreconcilable opposites. Those two other things are slightly closer together. As the story progresses, however, those two not-so-irreconcilable opposites get replaced by two more things which are even closer together and even less radically opposed. And eventually, toward the end of the story, there is a sort of mediation, bringing together two things which aren’t that far apart but which represent the previous set of opposites which represent the previous set, and so forth, all the way back to the two irreconcilable opposites which the story was created to mediate.

Clear as mud? Well, I can’t say that Malbon’s opening chapter, in which she set forth this approach, was all that clear to me either. But as she went along, applying this approach to Mark’s Gospel, what she meant became clearer. I should point out, as Malbon herself does, that she isn’t claiming Mark’s Gospel is myth; rather, she thinks the structure of the gospel may be similar to that of the myths Levi-Strauss examines.

Here’s how it works in practice. As you read through Mark, you notice that the first part of Mark involves the sea and the land. The land itself is either foreign land or Jewish homeland. And the Jewish homeland is either Galilee or Judea.

Malbon posits that the basic contrast, which is outside the story and which itself is irreconcilable, is between order and chaos. In the story, which seeks to mediate these opposites, order is represented by the land and chaos by the sea. That fairly radical contrast is replaced in turn by the contrast between the Jewish homeland (order, land) and the foreign lands (chaos, sea). Finally, that not-so-radical contrast is replaced by a contrast which is much more easily mediated, namely the contrast between Galilee (order, land, Jewish homeland) and Judea (chaos, sea, foreign lands). Now the fascinating thing, as Malbon points out, is that we’d expect Judea to be on the side of order and Galilee (“Galilee of the Gentiles”) to be lined up with chaos, but in Mark’s Gospel it’s the other way around and that means that Mark is standing some of our expectations on the head (as Jesus did).

Well, fascinating as it may be, I don’t buy it. For one thing, I don’t know how we get from these opposites in the story to the contrast between order and chaos outside the story. Why pick that particular contrast? To be fair, some of the extra-textual contrasts which Malbon posits make more sense, but the positing of extra-textual contrasts in general seems suspect.

For another thing, the whole approach seems to be a matter of imposing a scheme on the text. Malbon wants to see everything in the text, it seems, in terms of contrasts (with occasional intermediaries, such as mountains which mediate between earth and heaven). I can’t say that I’m even all that clear as to how the supposed mediation is taking place in her approach or, for that matter (and it’s no small matter) exactly how Jesus fits into all of this.

Nevertheless, in spite of Malbon’s questionable theory, I did find the book quite helpful. Malbon focuses closely, as her title suggests, on narrative space. She spends a chapter on geopolitical space in Mark (e.g., Galilee, Judea, foreign lands), another chapter on topography (e.g., mountains, sea, land), and a third on architectural space (e.g., synagogues, houses, tombs, temple). It’s interesting to think about the role space and the different kinds of space play in the Gospel of Mark.

For instance, much of the Gospel works with a contrast between Galilee and Judea. At the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus goes from Galilee to Judea to be baptized by John and then returns to Galilee again, where He begins His work. That Galilee-Judea-Galilee pattern at the beginning of the Gospel appears later. As Malbon explains:

In addition to establishing a link with John, Jesus’ initial journey from Nazareth of Galilee to Judea, near Jerusalem, serves another function: it foreshadows Jesus’ final journey to Judea, to Jerusalem. In the beginning Jesus journeys to Judea to be baptized by John into a ministry that leads, in the end, to a journey to Jerusalem to be crucified. The Markan Jesus would appear to interpret the first journey as a metaphor for the second in asking James and John, “‘Are you able to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’” (10:38). But Jesus’ initial return to Galilee from Judea also foreshadows Jesus’ final return to Galilee from the tomb in Judea (16:7). The crucial importance of 1:14 as the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry is generally recognized, but it must be noted that his ministry opens with a return to Galilee from Judea. In the opening of Mark, Jesus’ return to Galilee is reported; in the closing of Mark, Jesus’ return to Galilee is anticipated. At the initial return to Galilee, Jesus comes “preaching the gospel of God” (1:14). At the final return to Galilee, it would appear, Mark comes preaching “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). The preaching of Mark follows the preaching of Jesus, which follows the preaching of John (pp. 24-25).

Cool stuff. I’ve often wondered about that rather mysterious return to Galilee at the end of Mark’s Gospel, and Malbon’s explanation is helpful. Jesus’ first return led to preaching and mission (including mission to foreign lands) and opposition. Jesus’ second return will lead to the disciples’ preaching and mission (including mission to the Gentiles) and opposition. They also will have to take up their crosses and they may die. But the mission will continue.

Malbon also points out a parallel between the healing of the Gerasene demoniac and Jesus’ later work:

Among tombs lived the Gerasene demoniac, though his life was more death than life; his possession by a legion of unclean spirits had exiled him beyond society, beyond the realm of the living. As the tombs among which he lived (5:2, 3, 5) foreshadow the tombs of John (6:29) and Jesus (15:46a, 46b; 16:2, 3, 5, 8 ), so his departure from the tombs, his renewal of life through Jesus, his return to the realm of the living to preach, foreshadow Jesus’ response to the tomb (p. 115).

One of the oppositions which Malbon sees in Mark is the one between the synagogue and the house. She posits that the synagogue represents sacred space and the house profane space. Well, maybe. But the interesting thing is that in the early part of Mark’s Gospel, the house seems to parallel the synagogue and then, at a certain point (6:4ff.) to replace it:

Initially in the Gospel of Mark, the actions enclosed by a house parallel those enclosed by a synagogue. Jesus enters a house and heals “immediately” after having left the synagogue where he has healed (1:29). “At home” (2:1) Jesus preaches and heals. So many come to Jesus that the house cannot contain them; they spill out the door (1:33; 2:2). Jesus’ table fellowship with “tax collectors and sinners” in his home (2:15) disturbs the scribes, and later his family “at home” (3:20; RSV 319) joins the scribes in being disturbed at Jesus’ activity. Following that controversy, Jesus is no longer reported to be in his own home, but he continues to heal in the houses of those who call out to him (5:38). After healing persons, Jesus frequently sends them to their homes (2:11; 5:19), but the healer himself, like a prophet, is rejected “in his own house” (6:4).Jesus has declared his family to be “‘whoever does the will of God’” (3:35), and he appears to have that family in mind in sending his disciples out among houses not their own (6:10). Wherever Jesus goes now, the house replaces the synagogue as the architectural setting for teaching; the questioning disciples replace the accusing scribes as listeners (7:17; 9:28, 33; 10:10); the new community has a new “gathering place” (p. 118).

Later on, the disciples will follow that same pattern: controversy in synagogues will lead to being outside the synagogues (13:9) and eventually they will also need to flee their houses (13:15).

A bit later in that chapter, Malbon spends some time on the significance of Jesus’ leaving the Temple to sit on the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple (ch. 13), which makes clear the contrast between the Temple (which will be destroyed and the band of disciples around Jesus (pp. 123-124). Malbon, rightly I think, sees a parallel between Jesus’ departure from the Temple to sit on the Mount of Olives and the departure of the LORD’s glory-cloud from the Temple to the Mount of Olives in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezek. 11:23) (p. 161).

Those are just a few of the neat things Malbon points out. One doesn’t need to buy into her scheme or into Levi-Strauss’s approach to appreciate Malbon’s invitation to meditate on space in Mark’s Gospel. There’s a lot worth thinking about here!

Posted by John Barach @ 4:14 pm | Discuss (0)
March 15, 2004

Reading in Red Deer

Category: Updates :: Permalink

Today, I preached twice (morning and late afternoon services) at Grace Reformed Church in Leduc. I drove down to Red Deer, to my parents’ place, on Saturday, pleased to see that Friday’s snow had all disappeared and that the roads were bare and dry. This evening, it started snowing again, but the weather report says that Monday’s weather is supposed to be good again.

While here, I finished reading P. G. Wodehouse’s The Indiscretions of Archie. It was fun in spots, but not my favourite Wodehouse. Though it purports to be a novel, it is very episodic. Each episode is about two or three chapters long, but each has little connection to the preceding or following episodes.

I often felt that I wanted to know more about what happened after certain events. For instance, we meet the Sausage Chappie at a certain point in the book, but he disappears from the plot as quickly as he appeared. So, for that matter, does the waiter Salvatore, though he, at least, makes a brief appearance later on. The unscrupulous but Bible-quoting valet appears in the early part of the book but fades away.

In other novels, Wodehouse has the knack of tying things together. My guess is that The Indiscretions of Archie may originally have been a series of short stories for magazine publication (later slapped together as a “novel”). Either that or Wodehouse just had a number of story ideas all starring Archie and decided to write them up as a quasi-novel.

Oh, well. It was fun. I’m moving on now to Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides.

In non-fiction, I’ve been reading Doug Wilson’s Federal Husband. It’s a quick read, and I was familiar with much of what Wilson has to say already (in part, from Reforming Marriage), but it’s been profitable. Here’s a quotation with regard to honouring pregnancy … or rather, with regard to the way that people fail to honour pregnancy:

We have rejected the contempt the world shows for the results of pregnancy, but we have not yet learned to honor pregnancy ourselves. If a pregnant woman enters a modern gathering of Christians in the condition that Luke describes concerning our Lord’s mother (i.e., great with child), the chances are good that she will hear three rude comments before the evening is out. Two people will want to pat her stomach, as though being pregnant makes one’s body public property, and one person will set up shop as a wit. “Does the doctor know what causes this?” A few more serious individuals will express some concern for her, the kind of concern that baits the snare for discontent. “Is Joe taking care of you? You look awfully tired” (p. 84).

Posted by John Barach @ 1:07 am | Discuss (0)
March 10, 2004

Le Voix Baroques

Category: Music :: Permalink

It’s not every week that Grande Prairie gets two great concerts. But this week is an exception. Last night, I heard the Vancouver Chamber Choir. Tonight, I got to hear Le Voix Baroques, a three-piece chamber ensemble featuring Grande Prairie’s own Chloe Meyers on baroque violin, Amanda Keesmaat on baroque cello, and Marie Bouchard on harpsichord. They’re touring with a soprano, Shannon Mercer.

Le Voix Baroques, as their blurb announces, is “dedicated to historically informed performances and recordings of unexplored 17th and 18th century repertoire for voice and instruments.” Their recent CD Elegiae won th Cannes International Classical Music Award.

They began tonight’s performance in Italy with Dario Castello’s Sonata Ottava, followed by three pieces by Claudio Monteverdi: Si dolce e il tormento, Maledetto sia l’aspetto, and a piece apparently inspired by Psalm 150 and possibly titled Laudate domino in sanctis. The Italian set closed with Antonio Bertali’s Ciaccona.

From Italy, we moved to England for Handel’s War, He Sung, Is Toil and Trouble from the oratorio Alexander’s Feast (as is typical for Le Voix Baroques, this isn’t one of the Handel songs most people know). Then, after Henry Purcell’s Plaint from The Fairy Queen, they performed three traditional English songs, A Trip to the Boar (I think), Allie Crocker (I think), and The Prickeli Bush (I’m sure; and no, that’s not a typo).

After a short intermission, Marie Bouchard, the harpsichordist, returned for a brief lesson on the harpsichord and a performance of Rameau’s Le Vezinet. She was joined by the rest of the ensemble for Marin Marais’s Sonnerie de Ste. Genevieve du Mont du Paris and, with Shannon Mercer joining in on vocals, some excerpts from Louis Nicholas Clerambault’s opera Orphee. As you’ve guessed, that set was from France.

The final set, of course, was from German composers, starting with Chloe Meyer’s favourite, Johann H. Schmelzer, represented here by his Sonata Quarta. It was followed by a piece from a cantata by Bach. During the introduction, I thought I heard that this piece was from Cantata 30, but the opening words sounded a lot like “Hort, irh Volker,” which would be Cantata 76, No. 3. (I know that only from the program). The final piece was Reinhard Keiser’s Cara luci from his opera Masaniello Furioso.

The concert was delightful and quite instructive. The performers took the time to explain why they play strictly the original baroque instruments instead of more modern steel-stringed instruments. They also explained some of their technique. In Bertali’s Ciaccona, for instance, the continuo plays the same ground bass 185 (or so) times, while the violin soars above and the harpsichord, still part of that continuo, varies the chords from time to time.

It was an evening well spent. And when I emerged from St. Paul’s United Church one of the first things I saw was a magnificent display of northern lights rippling across the sky from northwest to northeast. Glorious!

Posted by John Barach @ 12:19 pm | Discuss (0)
March 9, 2004

Five Points & Five Sacrifices

Category: Theology :: Permalink

Here’s something James Jordan writes in the latest Biblical Horizons newsletter (no, it isn’t online yet). The article is entitled “Misusing the Westminster Confession”:

… it is important to realize that to a large extent the Standards were intended for pastors, for ordained clergymen. The writers knew that what laymen need is the Bible, the whole Bible. The Confession set up standards for the guardians of the Church. But there are churches today that are full of people who know the five points of Calvinism, but who cannot tell you the five basic “sacrifices” of the Bible, because these laymen have been indoctrinated primarily in the Westminster Standards rather than in the Bible. That was not the intention of the writers, though of course they expected pastors to teach the content and theology of the Standards along with teaching the Bible.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:14 pm | Discuss (0)

Symbolism and Leviticus

Category: Bible - OT - Leviticus,Hermeneutics :: Permalink

A thesis for discussion: The modern exegete’s reluctance to deal with symbolism and typology and his quest for quasi-scientific certainty in exegesis (i.e., a strict grammatical-historical approach) has produced few, if any, helpful, Christ-centred commentaries on Leviticus.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:06 pm | Discuss (0)

Vancouver Chamber Choir

Category: Music :: Permalink

Tonight, after supper with James (whose blog I don’t know the link for yet), Alex, and Calvin, I went (with James) to hear the Vancouver Chamber Choir, which is reputed to be the best professional vocal ensemble in Canada.

The concert opened with Buxtehude’s Missa Brevis, a Lutheran mass which was beautifully performed though perhaps somewhat heavy as an opener. It was followed by Brahms’s Shaffe in mir, Gott, a rendition of the first part of Psalm 51, which ended with a delightful and unexpected fugue, signifying (I suspect) the answer to the prayer “und der freudige Geist erhalte mich” (“Let Thy spirit of joy come over me”).

Next, the choir sang Healey Willan’s Behold the Tabernacle of God. Willan was Canada’s first great composer, and much of his work was written for liturgical use. This piece was written in 1934. I had never heard any of Willan’s music before, but I quite enjoyed this piece and so I picked up the Choir’s recording of many of Willan’s works: An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts.

From Canada in the 20th century, the Choir moved to Russia in the 19th and sang Tchaikovsky’s Otche Nash, a beautiful rendition of the Lord’s Prayer. They then returned to Canada for Stephen Chatman’s Two Rossetti Songs, a setting of “Song and Music” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and “Remember” by Christina Rossetti, before closing their first set with Ralph Vaughan Williams’s rather complex Three Shakespeare Songs (“Full Fathom Five,” “The Cloud-Capp’d Towers,” and “Over Hill, Over Dale”).

After the intermission, the Choir started its second set with four Nordic songs: Hugo Alfven’s Aftonen, Matti Hyekki’s On suri sun rantas’ autius (what an odd and interesting and very un-Germanic language Finnish is!), HafliÄ‘i Hallgrimsson’s Nú vil ég enn í nafni ţínu, and Niels Gade’s Morgensang. I enjoyed all four. But the next two songs I didn’t care for. R. Murray Schafer’s Felix’s Girls was a loose collection of short songs based on poems by Henry Felix, a Polish-Jewish poet. It was stylistically challenging, but both the content and the music left me cold. Eric Whitacre’s Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine was better, but shared what seems to be the shapelessness of much modern “classical” music.

With Jon Washburn’s Balm in Gilead, the Choir returned to more accessible material. Washburn is the Choir’s director. This piece was based on a traditional spiritual, and it was fairly enjoyable, though (to my ear) a bit meandering. I would have preferred it to have more punch (as the second stanza’s baritone solo did). The concert ended with Bob Chilcott’s The Runner, a fairly engaging piece based on a Walt Whitman poem. For the encore, the Choir sang a Cuban song, whose title and composer weren’t mentioned.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening, though I much preferred the first half of the program to the second.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:50 am | Discuss (0)
March 8, 2004

Chaucer

Category: Literature :: Permalink

If you were about to plunge into a study of Geoffrey Chaucer (which is something I’ve been wanting to do for some time), which books on Chaucer would you most recommend? I’m looking in particular for books which will explore Chaucer’s literary art, symbolism, and so forth.

By the way, this book, edited by Roy Battenhouse, looks great. I believe I read the article by Nevill Coghill back when I was in university and loved it.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:42 pm | Discuss (0)

Trollope’s Symbolic Names

Category: Hermeneutics,Literature :: Permalink

Often exegetes of Scripture get nervous about symbolism and typology, or even about conclusions drawn from literary features of the text (repeated words, chiasms, and so forth) — after all, those things aren’t completely provable or (as one person expressed it to me once) they aren’t “falsifiable.” You never have the kind of certainty about symbolism that you do about Greek grammar or about the identity of the Pontius Pilate referred to in the Gospels.

As I read through Anthony Trollope’s Doctor Thorne a question came to mind: How would you respond to someone who asked you to prove that many of the names in this book are plays on words or have some symbolic reference? I’m thinking of names such as Dr. Fillgrave or the pub manager Mr. Reddypalm who just wants his little bill paid (by the candidate for the election).

Clearly those names aren’t just random syllables Trollope has put together, nor are they simply common English names which Trollope happened to pick because they sounded nice. Trollope crafted those names, intending them to have significance (and intending them, especially, to make us chuckle).

But if you were exegeting the novel using the sort of strict grammatical-historical approach many exegetes apply to Scripture, what would you do with those names? If you were to approach Trollope with the same caution with which some exegetes approach Scripture, with the fear of not having quasi-scientific certainty in your exegesis, could you say anything about the significance of those names? What kind of proof would you provide someone who claimed that Dr. Fillgrave’s name isn’t funny?

The proof wouldn’t be grammatical or historical. Part of your response, I suspect, would be to take the questioner to a number of other books (including perhaps The Pilgrim’s Progress) in which characters have significant names: It’s a common feature of English literature. But your questioner would likely say that you haven’t proven anything; you’ve simply moved his question from Doctor Thorne to the rest of English literature.

You might also want to assert that the meanings of the names do fit well with the way the characters are described in the book and with the events that involve them. In other words, within the framework of the story, this interpretation of the names seems to fit and make good sense and even contribute something to the story. Would that satisfy your questioner? Probably not. But I’m not sure how much more proof you need.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:33 am | Discuss (0)
March 7, 2004

Bad Books

Category: Literature :: Permalink

In the latest Credenda/Agenda, Nathan Wilson has an article on “Bad Books for Boys,” with which I concur wholeheartedly. I haven’t read all the books he mentions, but I have read a fair bit of John Buchan and H. Rider Haggard. (One quibble with Wilson’s comment: I’m not sure that the Buchan books contain “inadequacies.” Maybe they do, but I don’t spot ‘em when I’m reading.)

Which brings me to this comment: I’m sure there are some people who hear about classical Christian education and start making plans to have their kids read all the classics and nothing but the classics — no mysteries, no science fiction, no fantasy, no swashbuckling adventures.

I don’t want to say too much against the classics, though some of them are overrated and several are rather dull. I would remind you of James Jordan’s beef with much classical education. But I’m very thankful that my parents didn’t raise me reading nothing but “good books” (in the sense Wilson is using the term “bad books”). Give me some of the classics, sure, but I’ll take Buchan any day — to say nothing of Gene Wolfe and Rafael Sabatini and P. G. Wodehouse and Colin Dexter and….

Posted by John Barach @ 10:50 pm | Discuss (0)

Doctor Thorne

Category: Literature :: Permalink

My first encounter with Anthony Trollope took place when I was 10 years old. I read The Warden and Barchester Towers and then plunged into most of the rest of Trollope’s Barchester books. I didn’t finish the series, however. In fact, at the end of that year, I reread Barchester Towers. Eleven years later, I reread both The Warden and Barchester Towers. And last year, I reread them again.

This time, however, I’m once more moving on to the rest of the Barchester books. The other night, I finished Doctor Thorne, the third in the loosely-connected series. While the book was enjoyable, marked by Trollope’s usual good humour, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did the previous two books in the series. Part of the reason for that may be that those books dealt with the ecclesiastical situation of the town of Barchester and this one didn’t. But it also strikes me that some elements of this book are a bit too contrived. I’m not going to give anything of the plot away, but it did strike me that the book might have been more interesting if Trollope hadn’t introduced a deus ex machina which allowed a resolution within the expectations of the people of the day. It seemed to me that he took the easy way out.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy the book and someday I’ll move on to Framley Parsonage and the rest of the series. Right now, however, I’m about halfway through Colin Dexter’s Death Is Now My Neighbour and I’m having a hard time putting it down. (I love Chief Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis!)

Posted by John Barach @ 10:36 pm | Discuss (0)