The Five Books of Moses:
A New Translation with Introductions, Commentary, and Notes
By Everett Fox
Schocken, 1,024 pages, $50
This volume stands alone among the many new translations of the Bible that have appeared in recent years. In fact, Everett Fox's volume is less a translation of the Pentateuch at all than an imitation of its Hebrew within the confines of contemporary American English. As he nicely puts it in the preface, “I have presented the text in English dress but with a Hebraic voice.” Those more interested in the ideas in the Torah than in the experience of reading it will receive quite a jolt when they first look into Fox. For, recognizing that “there is a difference between translating what the text means and translating what it says,” he emphatically elects the latter, thus reconnecting the genre of modern Bible translation with the ancient practice of reading aloud and, as a result, conveying much of the texture of the Hebrew in ways that other translations cannot. Paying “careful attention to rhythm and sound,” Professor Fox “tries to mimic the particular rhetoric of the Hebrew whenever possible, preserving such devices as repetition, allusion, alliteration, and wordplay”—all essential to an accurate understanding of the text and well-nigh impossible to capture in a more fluent English rendering. Consequently, the poetry that so often lurks just beneath the prose of the narrative (and often the law as well) can once again be heard, a process enormously aided by Fox's disregard of the late verse divisions and his replacement of them with colons that better reflect the rhythms of the Hebrew itself. He somewhat mitigates the shock of all this to the reader unfamiliar with the original by providing helpful introductions and notes and a useful bibliography. But he still insists “that the reader must be prepared to meet the Bible at least halfway and must become an active participant in the process of the text, rather than a passive listener.” As Fox gratefully acknowledges, the idea for his work came from the great translation of the whole Hebrew Bible into German begun by Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber in 1925 and finished by Buber alone in 1962, thirty-three years after Rosenzweig's death. More supple than English, German is better suited for this kind of translation, and in both instances one can wonder whether the Hebrew sounded so exotic, so choppy, and so gruff to an ancient Israelite as it does when its cadences and conventions are mimicked in a modern Western language. Fox's “text in English dress but with a Hebraic voice” sometimes sounds more like English pronounced with a Hebrew accent, with all the danger of misunderstanding therein entailed. This is, nonetheless, a major achievement in the history of English translations of the Bible, and if it underscores all that is lost when one approaches the text without a knowledge of Hebrew, that, too, makes it a worthy contribution.
—Jon D. Levenson
Pluralism and Particularity in Religious Belief
By Brad Stetson
Praeger, 145 pages, $45
In the Christian theology-of-other-religions debate, John Hick's pluralist hypothesis dominates the field. According to Hick, all religions are equally salvific; we are all taking different routes up the same mountain. Many teachers of religion simply assume that this is the only morally just position to take. Yet the hypothesis is problematic: little things, like Truth and the Incarnation, have to go. Brad Stetson, in this well-written and elegant book, has set out to expose the difficulties in the pluralism hypothesis. Hick is the target of his analysis: the concept of truth is confused; pluralism should not be allowed to claim the ethical high ground; and the whole outlook has striking parallels with some of the confusions endemic in postmodernism. On the ground marked out by Stetson, he is entirely victorious. His arguments are well-constructed and sharp. However, in the last chapter, he sketches out his alternative—Christian particularism (i.e., exclusivism). While one can concede that there is value in exclusivism, Stetson fails to confront the substantial difficulty. The problem is that the God of the exclusivism is not trinitarian: in correctly stressing the revelation of God in Christ, the exclusivist loses sight of the creator God who is active throughout the world. Stetson's positive alternative needs more work. Even so, his study remains a superb analysis and critique of a highly influential position. For that we should be grateful.
Grace and Responsibility: A Wesleyan Theology for Today
By John B. Cobb Jr.
Abingdon Press, 192 pages, $14.95 paper
This book is the result of a lecture series on “Wesleyan Theology and Process Theology” delivered in 1993 by process theologian John Cobb. It is offered as a hopeful proposal for the United Methodist Church to “reclaim its past and move forward into its future.” Cobb's is not a back-to-Wesley proposal. Rather, his is an attempt at appropriating and updating Wesley. Though Cobb's sketches of Wesleyan theory and practice are helpful, problems arise. His update, the author himself confesses, involves “extensive translation and revision”; and extensive it is. In general, the book translates and revises Wesley to be modernity-friendly. Cobb contends that the Wesleyan project, yesterday and today, centers on love, faith, good works, and the Holy Spirit's action in the lives of believers and in their life together. Therefore, reason and experience, along with Scripture and tradition, deserve to be given formative roles in the church's life. Unfortunately, this leaves little place for church-constituting truth. Indeed, Cobb argues that confessional and creedal consensus is not essential for the denomination's mission, and he suggests that those who are overly concerned with doctrine are the real heretics who should look elsewhere for ecclesial homes. Cobb's Wesleyan proposal, nuanced and sophisticated as it is, in the end offers up a liberal Protestant agenda that has been around for decades. (Though his note on Wesley's engagement with slavery, on the basis of natural law, has significant implications for contemporary Methodism's engagement with abortion.) The Wesley processed by John Cobb is alive and well in the academic, bureaucratic, and leadership offices of the United Methodist Church. Hence, this book functions more as a brief for the status quo than a proposal for the future.
—Paul T. Stallsworth
Seedbeds of Virtue
Edited by Mary Ann Glendon and David Blankenhorn
Madison, 294 pages, $27.95
To a remarkable degree the “family policy” debate of the last three or four years has been won. Dan Quayle was right: Americans should not celebrate Murphy Brown deciding to have a baby. What is happening to the family in the United States and other developed countries produces dreadful consequences for everyone, and especially for children. On that almost everybody agrees. What has not been won is the debate over what should now be done. Some want to fiddle with the welfare state, while others want to dismantle it and rely solely on the dynamics of freedom. This book persuasively offers a “civil society strategy.” The title refers to what Berger and Neuhaus call “mediating institutions” and Glendon terms “communities of memory and mutual aid.” They are the civil institutions—and most importantly the family—that turn children into good citizens. In addition to the editors, contributors to this book include some of the wisest heads around: Don S. Browning, Jean Bethke Elshtain, James Q. Wilson, David Popenoe, and Judith Martin (“Miss Manners”), among others. All sensible people these days say they are pro-family. This book helps us to understand why that is, and how Americans might turn pro-family talk into steps toward the renewal of the family and the civil society of which it is the most crucial part.
The Pluralist Game
By Francis Canavan, S.J.
Rowman & Littlefield, 164 pages, $22.95
In 1963 Fr. Canavan claimed that the reasoning behind the Supreme Court's school prayer decisions would diminish rather than increase pluralism in American life, and it did. In 1965 he argued that the government's distribution of funds exclusively through state-managed bureaucracies would endanger private charities and impose an impossible burden on the monolithic welfare state, and it has. In 1983 he asserted that public obscenity and the pornography industry had become the sign of liberalism out of control, and who either here or in Eastern Europe since 1989 could disagree? But the republication of these fourteen essays from the last thirty years constitutes more than the “I told you so” of an unheeded Cassandra. Fr. Canavan, now an emeritus professor at Fordham University, is one of our most careful thinkers about church and state, a Catholic political theorist whose time at last has come. The consistent theoretical work behind these essays, the intellectual analysis that undergirds them, make The Pluralist Game valuable reading for anyone who wants to understand how we got ourselves into this mess and—more important—how we might get ourselves out.
Red Scare or Red Menace? American Communism and Anticommunism in the Cold War Era
By John E. Haynes
Ivan R. Dee, 214 pages, $24.95
The author, an historian at the Library of Congress, has had access to recently opened Soviet archives which make clear that American Communists, far from being “liberals in a hurry,” were frequently knowing agents of the Soviet Union. In this balanced overview of the controversies swirling around anticommunism in the U.S., a convincing case is made for the conclusion that, all in all, the anticommunism of the 1940s and 1950s was an “understandable and rational response” to a very real threat to American democracy. Heroes in this telling are such as Reinhold Niebuhr, Arthur Schlesinger, and Hubert Humphrey, even if, as Payne points out, most of these liberal figures failed to see that some others, such as Whittaker Chambers, understood aspects of the threat better than they. The book is a welcome antidote to the Oliver Stoning of American history.
The Shepherd and the Rock: Origins, Development, and Mission of the Papacy
By J. Michael Miller
Our Sunday Visitor. 383 pages, $19.95
This book has got just about everything in a relatively short compass, plus the advantage of being very nicely written. The problem of bad popes, the blessing of holy ones, and whether it's possible to get rid of heretical ones; how Peter got to Rome, if he did, and why more emphasis should be placed on the pope as patriarch of the West rather than universal pastor; what is meant by infallible teaching, and why the papacy is assuming ever greater ecumenical importance. Miller's treatment is impeccably orthodox while also engaging fairly the views of more peccable theologians. Warmly recommended for Catholic and non-Catholic readers alike.
Writing Was Everything
By Alfred Kazin
Harvard University Press, 152 pages, $17.50
Even the most apparently aimless country rambles find a destination, when lead by a master guide. In this printing of his 1994 Massey Lectures at Harvard, Alfred Kazin meanders through his sixty years as a master critic and reviewer, pausing here and there to recollect as a book, an essay, or a personality comes to mind. Writing was indeed everything for Kazin, but what he really means is that writing about reading was everything: “Book and notebook,” he remembers, “went hand in hand.” Along the way in his writer's life, he met all the writers of his time, all the artists, thinkers, and characters, and he recounts the stories of his meetings with them all. But these lectures mostly concern a time in American life in which he remembers literature mattering more than it does now. The destination of Kazin's ramble through his memories is his realization that when writing succumbs to ideology and critical theory, it ceases to illuminate human experience—and quickly ceases to matter.
Creation at Risk? Religion, Science, and Environmentalism
Edited by Michael Cromartie
Eerdmans, 166 pages, $15 paper
An unusually well-informed and straightforward consideration of the many questions included under the rubric “environmentalism.” The treatment is the more valuable because care has been taken to engage opposing arguments. Cromartie is senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C., and has produced an exchange that transcends the conventional polemics on these issues.
Reclaiming the Bible for the Church
Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson
Eerdmans, 137 pages, $13 paper
Simply to list the contributors is to say this is an important book. Elizabeth Achtemeier, Brevard S. Childs, Karl P. Donfried, Roy A. Harrisville, Thomas Hopko, Aidan J. Kavanaugh, Alister E. McGrath, and of course the two editors, both of whom are contributors to this journal. Using Childs' “canonical” interpretation of Scripture, all the authors address the question of bridging the yawning gap between critical scholarship, on the one hand, and the Church's worship and mission, on the other.
Ancestral Voices: Religion and Nationalism in Ireland
By Conor Cruise O'Brien
University of Chicago Press, 221 pages, $13.95 paper
Twenty years ago the author published States of Ireland, in which he outlined a benign and a most malign future for Ireland. Only the second is believable now, according to O'Brien. The increasing convergence of religion and nationalism drives the determination of the Sinn Fein-IRA, with help from Irish Americans, to drive the British from the North and beat the Protestant majority into subjection. The current “peace process” ballyhooed by the Clinton Administration is, in O'Brien's view, utterly fraudulent. There are many who hope that the recently disturbed pause in “the roubles” will be restored and made permanent, but O'Brien offers naught for their comfort. One must hope that he is wrong.
The Substance of Things Hoped For: A Memoir of African-American Faith
By Samuel DeWitt Proctor
Putnam, 243 pages, $22.95
Former codirector of the Peace Corps and, much more important, former pastor of Abyssinian Baptist in Harlem, Dr. Proctor gives ample evidence in his memoir that he is in almost all respects a thoroughly decent man. Reared within the black bourgeoisie, Proctor is rightly appalled by the violence, crime, and general degradation that defines so much of the life of the urban underclass. He is upbeat about the possibilities of faith and education to remedy these ills, although all his specific recommendations are for more of the same from the welfare state. His manifest decency fails him in his railings against Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, and others whom he describes as black conservatives striving to ingratiate themselves with the white establishment. Foreword by Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund.
Welfare in America: Christian Perspectives on a Policy in Crisis
Edited by Stanley W. Carlson-Thiess and James W. Skillen
Eerdmans, 581 pages, $22 paper
A very big book of twenty-two essays that, in the course of ranging across a vast variety of analyses and proposals, provides a long introduction to the current debate about welfare reform. The essays emerge from conferences sponsored by the Center for Public Justice in Washington, D.C., which combines centrist politics with a mostly Calvinist theological and ethical orientation. While the book will definitely be of interest to policy specialists, there is no one clear and crisp argument that is likely to capture the attention of politicians or the general public.
God: A Biography
By Jack Miles
Knopf, 446 pages, $15 paper
The newspaperman Jack Miles is a former Jesuit, trained as a biblical scholar, who left the Los Angeles Times to undertake a literary study of the Old Testament, and God: A Biography, issued now in paperback, presents the results of his trek. The fundamental question for readers of the Bible, as Miles sees it, is the question of literary character. When we encounter a text like Hamlet, we must, in order to make any sense of it at all, perform what Coleridge called “the willing suspension of disbelief” and assume that the characters are somehow real people. Similarly—similarly?—when we read the Bible we must perform the suspension of disbelief and assume the protagonist God to be a real person. This God-Character tries on various roles—six major and eighteen minor, according to Miles' account—and gradually finds that His point is to disappear from His story altogether: the Old Testament ends with human histories. Miles believes his account to be a daring, postmodern one. And in a postmodern context that rejects all biblical content, it probably is. But what it has to say to the faith that does more than suspend disbelief is something of a question.
Not My Own: Abortion and the Marks of the Church
By Terry Schlossberg and Elizabeth Achtemeier
Eerdmans, 137 pages, $11 paper
Members of the mainline Protestant denominations will especially welcome this clear and straightforward presentation of the impossibility of any Christian remaining a Christian and supporting abortion on demand. Biblical theology and sacramental theology—as the distinctive marks of the Church—combine in the authors' analysis to point to the absolute necessity to defend the unborn. The classical theological analysis and the responsible treatment of the distinctiveness of Christian responses to ethical questions make this an important and highly recommended resource, not only for those engaged in answering the pro-abortion forces, but for all who want to understand why Christians can never accede to an abortion culture.
Telling the Truth
By Lynne V. Cheney
Simon & Schuster, 255 pages, $23
If this were just another book about the wacky world of lefty academics and their attempt to make America safe for neo-Marxism, or if this were just another collection of anecdotes about the silliness of political correctness, it wouldn't be all that valuable. The news is news, as A. E. Housman once put it, that men have heard before. But Lynne Cheney—heading the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1986 to 1992–has fought in the trenches of the culture wars and has seen up close the damage to our cultural sense of beauty and purpose that those wars have wrought. Telling the Truth—the title is drawn from Vaclav Havel's expression for the opposition to tyranny, “living in truth”—certainly contains its share of anecdotal evidence. It contains as well, however, an important assertion of the intellectual causes of our current situation and argues a strong case that political correctness on campuses, the disappearance of journalism's standard of objectivity, and the frightening phenomenon of “recovered memories” in jurisprudence all derive from the single source of the culture's increasing disdain for truth. Along the way, the book makes an impassioned and convincing plea for a return to old-fashioned standards. The humanities and the arts may not often reach the high goals of beauty, morality, and truth, but they must not cease to strive for them.
Are We Alone? Philosophical Reflections of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life
By Paul Davies
Basic, 176 pages, $20
Paul Davies is the Australian physicist whose writings on the relation between theology and mathematical physics won him the 1995 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. (His Templeton acceptance speech was published in First Things, August/September 1995, and generated a lively exchange between Davies and his critics in our correspondence section, December 1995.) In his new book, Are We Alone?, Davies presents in an accessible way the current scientific thinking about life on other planets and meditates on the philosophical complications that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would create. His scientific explanations—in his accounts of DNA probability and the factors involved in light—speed transmissions—are not easy, but they are not beyond the reader untrained in mathematics. Theologians will want to ponder Davies' cosmology carefully, for the way in which he claims “organized complexity” and a universe of design sends tricky and ambiguous signals that seem at first blush more likely to support pantheism than orthodox theology. But Davies is one of our few contemporary thinkers who understands the extent to which even cosmological issues as speculative as the existence of extraterrestrial life have implications for both science and theology. His passionate defense of the dignity of knowledge and his rousing rejection of the notion that truth could be divided make nearly
What On Earth Is The Church? An Exploration In New Testament Theology
By Kevin Giles
Intervarsity, 310 pages, $16.99 paper
For many, if not most, Protestants, the Church is somewhat incidental to being a Christian. That's not true of New Testament Christianity, argues this evangelical Protestant author, and he argues the point with learning and verve. A welcome addition to a growing evangelical literature on the doctrine of the Church.
History of Paradise
By Jean Delumeau
Continuum, 288 pages, $29.50
After a rather casual introductory account of the lost “Golden Age” in the myths of the Greeks and other ancient cultures, Jean Delumeau traces in eleven careful and fascinating chapters the concept of the Garden of Eden in the history of Christian thought. Delumeau handles with great verve the endless deviates in the patristic and medieval writers about the exact geographical location of the Garden, about the extent of powers lost to humankind in the expulsion from the Garden, and even about the diet and sexuality of Adam and Eve before the Fall. His conclusion, however, in which he claims that modern scientific advances have put an end to any literal reading of the Garden of Eden and thereby put an end to the “pessimistic anthropology” of Saint Augustine, is less than convincing.