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Walter Brueggemann

Wise Beginnings, Surprising Endings

Genesis: the rest of the story

The new ferment in Scripture study concerns the polyvalence of the text, a rich variety of methods of interpretation, and a plurality of interpretive voices, each of which reflects and speaks from a particular context. The loser in the new enterprise, of course, is the historical-critical hegemony that dominated scholarship for a long while and that managed for the most part to hold together critical perspective and a "soft" theological sensibility that in fact lived uneasily with critical perspectives. In three recent books on Genesis, the new approaches to Scripture are on full and powerful display. While these writers differ sharply from one another, all three clearly reject the older critical reading of Genesis that was largely preoccupied either with source analysis or with Ancient Near Eastern parallels. Neither of these issues is given more than passing attention in these books, indicating the profound shift that has taken place in interpretive perspective. On offer here are three quite distinctive presentations of Genesis that rarely linger over critical issues but that proceed by eager, imaginative participation in the ongoing interpretive process.

In Genesis: The Story We Haven't Heard, Paul Borgman of Gordon College has written, as a teacher, an accessible introductory overview designed for students like his own. A professor of English, Borgman is interested in the character and power of storytelling, and he takes the Genesis texts as stories on their own terms.

By noting recurring patterns that make for good pedagogical usage, Borgman seeks to get beyond the fragmenting of the text that is as much a feature of routine Sunday worship as it is of historical-critical method. Thus:

  • The discussion of Abraham and Sarah is organized around the "seven visits" that God makes to them;

  • Jacob is presented in terms of "three mirrors" that reflect his ambiguous, dubious character through other characters in their shady or problematic dealings with him: Laban, Leah, and Rachel, and eventually the contentious birth of children. In each case of struggle, deception adds to the complexity of the narrative;

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