Voyages in Uncharted Waters: Essays on the Theory and Practice of Biblical Interpretation in Honor of David Jobling (Hebrew Bible Monographs 13). Edited by Wesley J. Bergen & Armin Siedlecki


Pp xi, 234 , Sheffield , Sheffield Phoenix Press , 2006 , £50.00 .

This is a most enjoyable festschrift for David Jobling, noted traveller beyond the traditional boundaries of biblical criticism. Several short pieces situate the contributions or pay personal tribute, leaving 13 longer pieces in three sections. Five contributors handle part A –‘Post-Structuralism’. Much of the tone and focus of The Postmodern Bible (Yale 1995) survives here, with an essay on Babel, an analysis of ‘scholars of repute’, and in a slightly bizarre piece by George Aichele the claim is offered that the Christian God has survived death at the hands of modernity to be reborn as one of the many gods of polytheistic postmodernism, ready to nurture readings far and wide. Part B, ‘Ideological Criticism’, hosts four slightly more traditional biblical essays, including a thoughtful analysis of the strange text in Numbers 5 offered by Roland Boer, seeking to resist the ways in which commentators often try to co-opt the text into more understandable frameworks. Part C is ‘Global Readings’– four more pieces including two very notable short analyses: Ed Conrad on vision in the prophetic books, and Norman Habel on the flood narrative, entitled ‘What kind of God would Destroy Earth anyway?’ These are both clear and well-focussed pieces drawing on longer works elsewhere. The most striking contribution of all, and it does not really fit the general tone of the volume, is Gerald West's 30-page autobiographical analysis of his own work on ‘contextual Bible study’, a fascinating, challenging and richly-illustrated account. It has already been published once, in a South African journal, and may perhaps reach further readers here, though this book does not seem likely to attain a high profile.

One of the personal pieces quotes a sermon from Jobling which captures something of the positive point of unusual, theoretical angles: ‘To whom shall I liken the Common Lectionary? It is like a hostess arranging her tables, who puts together old friends who are comfortable with each other, but have run out of new things to say to each other. … [Better is] risking embarrassment in the hope that new and exciting conversations will happen.’ (p. 212) This was a high point of the book. A low point was the thesis (defended herein, pp. 136–7): ‘Don't read anything more than five years old’. (This advice is thankfully ignored by all those contributors who talk of the value of reading Jobling's own work, a bibliography of which stretches back through 29 years …). Somewhere between these two extremes we have here a varied collection of pieces highlighting all sorts of interesting ways in which the biblical scholar may travel in uncharted waters, a suitable achievement in honour of David Jobling.