Characters and Characterization in Luke-Acts (Skinner)

dicken-snyderI just received my copy of a new book edited by my friends, Frank Dicken (who is also a former student) and Julia Snyder. The book, Characters and Characterization in Luke-Acts (LNTS 548; London: Bloomsbury/T & T Clark). Here’s a description from the back of the book:

Like all skilful authors, the composer of the biblical books of Luke and Acts understood that a good story requires more than a gripping plot – a persuasive narrative also needs well-portrayed, plot-enhancing characters. This book brings together a set of new essays examining characters and characterization in those books from a variety of methodological perspectives.

The essays illustrate how narratological, sociolinguistic, reader-response, feminist, redaction, reception historical, and comparative literature approaches can be fruitfully applied to the question of Luke’s techniques of characterization. Theoretical and methodological discussions are complemented with case studies of specific Lukan characters. Together, the essays reflect the understanding that while many of the literary techniques involved in characterization attest a certain universality, each writer also brings his or her own unique perspective and talent to the portrayal and use of characters, with the result that analysis of a writer’s characters and style of characterization can enhance appreciation of that writer’s work.

Part One consists of seven chapters devoted to character issues in the Gospel of Luke. Part Two consists of six chapters devoted to Acts. The book also boasts an all-star lineup of scholars working in the US, UK, and Germany, including: Sean A. Adams, Cornelis Bennema, Hannah M. Cocksworth, John A. Darr, Frank E. Dicken, Stephen E. Fowl, David B. Gowler, Joel B. Green, James L. Ressguie, Julia A. Snyder, F. Scott Spencer, Steve Walton, and Brittany E. Wilson.

Receiving this book made my day for two reasons. First, I am proud to be associated with both Frank and Julia and happy for their accomplishment. Second, I am excited to see further work being done on characters and characterization in the NT narratives. This represents the third book on the subject in the Library of New Testament Studies; the first two were my books, Characters and Characterization in the Gospel of John, and Character Studies and the Gospel of Mark (co-edited with Matt Hauge). As I understand it, Matt Hauge is also working on Characters and Characterization in the Gospel of Matthew. I am excited that this work on characterization is continuing.

Congrats to Frank and Julia!


Interview with Douglas Estes on How John Works (Skinner)

douglas-estesA few weeks back I mentioned the publication of a really great new book entitled, How John Works: Storytelling in the Fourth Gospel (Atlanta: SBL Press), co-edited by Douglas Estes and Ruth Sheridan. I was privileged to contribute one of the fifteen chapters to this volume, which boasts an international lineup of Johannine scholars. I recently had a chance to interview Douglas about the book. Here’s what he had to say.

1) With the proliferation of books in biblical studies, what makes this book special?

“This book is special because it fills in a needed gap between an in-depth commentary and a more topical survey of the Gospel’s features. How John Works is neither a commentary, nor a monograph; instead, it explores fifteen of the most important issues that makes John ‘work’ as a gospel. Each of these issues are part of the ‘narrative dynamics’ of the Gospel—what makes the story John’s story. Also what makes this book special is that it covers the Gospel in a wide-ranging way but without getting too bogged down in the details (as a commentary does, for good reasons, of course) or only looking at one issue (as a monograph does). (We could just say that ‘Chris being a contributor’ is what makes the book special—and while I agree!—it is not the only thing!)”

2) Who are the primary readers of this book; how do you see it being used?

“The original plan for How John Works was to create a textbook that students could use to understand how a narrative like the Fourth Gospel has proven so effective for almost two millennia. As Ruth and I were planning and editing the book, we kept coming back to the question “Will this help a student?” I see the book being used two ways: first, it can be used as a textbook in a NT Literature class, especially one where there is a focus on the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of the Christian texts; and second, as a general introduction to the literary design of the Gospel.”

3) With such a broad group of scholars—literally from all over the world—with different backgrounds, do the chapters come together? Or are there notable divergences?

“One goal that Ruth and I had from the beginning is that the book would not be “just a book of essays.” To that end, we worked with SBL Press and our contributors to have unique voices that fit well together. Whether this would work in practice was a conversation point between a number of us during the process—but in my humble opinion, it actually worked very well. Each contributor brings a unique perspective, of course, but the perspectives do fit together very well and bring a complementary perspective to the whole book.”

4) What is one way that your thinking about the Gospel of John changed by putting together Estes Sheridan Front Cover.inddthis How John Works?

“One way my thinking changed while working on this book is in the area of how important the literary study of this Gospel really is. As a scholar, I admit that I have always leaned more to the literary side of things than the historical (though I believe the separation between the two is often needlessly overblown). When we planned the book, as a textbook, I was thinking more that it would summarize important elements for students, and did not think about it cutting new ground. But, How John Works definitely does cut new ground. Sometimes literary approaches get knocked in scholarly circles as simplistic or limited, but editing this book reminded me how much that is not accurate—at least, when literary concerns are taken seriously, interact normally with historical concerns without artificial brackets, and address big issues in a profound way.”

5) How John Works covers fifteen ‘narrative dynamics’ found in John. Why fifteen? Are these the most important?

“This was a lengthy discussion that Ruth and I had as we were first putting the book together. There was nothing special about fifteen, though we knew that we wanted more than only a few. We also knew that it wouldn’t work to have, say, forty. So what we did was to try to pick the most important narrative dynamics, and we came out with about fifteen. Beyond that number, there were other narrative dynamics that would have been worthy of a chapter … but we wanted to be as broad as we were deep.”

6) Is there much more that can be said about the literary features of John? What is the future to this?

“Yes, there definitely is much more that can be said about the literary features of John. On the one hand, there are always details that some enterprising PhD student will discover in the process of writing their dissertation. Plus, there will also be plenty of opportunities in the future to do comparative studies of literary features with other ancient texts (which really has only begun, what with so many discoveries and recent, computerized access to them in the last century). On the other hand, there will always be a need for reevaluations and summarizations. As to the future, no, this is not the last word; I am hoping to start on a follow-up volume to this one in the near future, perhaps a Vol 2 of Storytelling in John, that will look at literary issues in John from a quite different perspective.”

Thanks to Douglas (and Ruth) for their great work on this book, and also to Douglas for answering our questions! Stay tuned because we are actually going to be giving away of copy of this book in the coming days. . . . .

Book Notice: Kelly R. Iverson, From Text to Performance (Skinner)

Iverson.BookRecently I was thrilled to receive a copy of my friend, Kelly Iverson‘s new edited volume, From Text to Performance: Narrative and Performance Criticisms in Dialogue and Debate (Biblical Performance Criticism; Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2014). This is an area in which Kelly has been working seriously for some time now. When we were in the process of editing one of our previous volumes, Mark as Story: Retrospect and Prospect, one of the conversations that guided our choices of contributors was the growing recognition among many that the next organic step after narrative criticism is performance criticism. Consequently, there’s a fairly distinct emphasis on performance in that book–something numerous reviewers have noted. (BTW, if you’re not acquainted with performance criticism, you can find a great deal of information here.) I have also recently given some attention to the burgeoning discipline of performance criticism at the end of my survey of Markan research on character.

Here’s a description from the back of the book:

For the last two centuries biblical interpretation has been guided by perspectives that have largely ignored the oral context in which the gospels took shape. Only recently have scholars begun to explore how ancient media inform the interpretive process and an understanding of the Bible. This collection of essays, by authors who recognize that the Jesus tradition was a story heard and performed, seeks to reevaluate the constituent elements of narrative, including characters, structure, narrator, time, and intertextuality. In dialogue with traditional literary approaches, these essays demonstrate that an appreciation of performance yields fresh insights distinguishable in many respects from results of literary or narrative readings of the gospels.

Contributors include David Rhoads, Joanna Dewey, Philip Ruge-Jones, Holly Hearon, Thomas Boomershine, Margaret Lee, Kathy Maxwell, and Richard Swanson.


Book Notice: Cornelis Bennema, A Theory of Character in New Testament Narrative (Skinner)

BennemaI just got an email this morning from Cor Bennema informing me that his newest book with Fortress Press has just been released. The book is entitled, A Theory of Character in New Testament Narrative and it seeks to build upon Cor’s earlier work in this area. I have had a chance to look at the pre-publication proofs and I think this book is going to be a conversation starter.

I have disagreements with Cor on some issues (and I have expressed these in print in several places), but I always find his work to be stimulating and thought-provoking. A few days ago I posted about an upcoming SBL session in which we will be discussing these issues along with Steve Hunt, James Ressegeuie, Frank Moloney, and Alicia Myers. Our recent publications in this area will serve as a foundation for much of what we will likely discuss in those sessions (see here, here, here, here).

Congratulations to Cor! I look forward to reading this book more carefully and revieiwing it here on the blog.

Narrative Criticism of the Gospels: Does Anybody Outside of North America Really Care? (Skinner)

I am presently editing a book on Markan character studies, and for that book I have just completed a lengthy survey of scholarship from Wrede (1903) up to the work of the performance critics (2013). The early portions of my survey (up to redaction criticism) included a fair amount of material in French and German as well as publications in English from scholars working in Europe. However, by the time I reached the rise of narrative critical theory in the 1980s, there was a dramatic change. At the end of my essay I note:

In the early portions of our review, references to literature produced by European scholars—both on the continent and in the United Kingdom—were ubiquitous. By contrast, our coverage of literary methods in Markan scholarship has shown the relative scarcity of such works arising from within the European academy. This observation is true not only with respect to character studies, but seemingly with the entire narrative-critical enterprise. It appears that scholars working in North America, particularly in the United States, and those working in Europe are not only asking different questions about the text but also working both from different methodologies and bibliographies.[1] Apart from the work of Susan Miller (Scotland), Ole Davidsen (Denmark), Geert van Oyen (Belgium), Camille Focant (Belgium) and Stephen D. Moore (an Irish scholar who teaches in the United States) one is hard-pressed to identify much significant research in this area undertaken by European scholars or by those teaching in a European context. Taking this observation a step further, with the exception of several fine contributions from a handful of Australian scholars,[2] most recent narratalogical works, including those related to characterization, have been generated almost exclusively by scholars working in North America or by North American students studying abroad. While the growth of narrative-critical studies has largely taken place within an American context, one can hardly doubt whether enough time has passed or enough quality material has been published to demonstrate sufficiently the value of this approach. We are therefore left wondering: Why is there such a chasm between a European academy focused largely on historical concerns and the more methodologically diverse North American scene? What is it about narrative criticism, character studies, and the panoply of methods that has captured the North American scholarly imagination while leaving the European academy virtually untouched? Most importantly, is there a way to bridge this gulf between the North American and European scenes?

I have asked around but I haven’t really gotten a good answer as to why such a gap persists. Since all of my education took place here in the United States, I am not really in a position to offer any substantive insights about this state of affairs. However, I would love to hear what you think about all of this, especially if you have studied in Europe or are currently teaching in a post outside of North America. Why does such a gap persist?

[1] On this observation I have gleaned some helpful insights from Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, both in personal correspondence and in two different essays: the first is her review of van Iersel’s reader-response commentary on Mark (Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, ‘Review of Bas M. F. Van Iersel, Mark: A Reader-Response Commentary [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998]’ in Bib 81 [2000], pp. 285-90), and the second a review of the 2011 English translation of Camille Focant’s commentary on Mark delivered at the SBL Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois (19 November 2012). In these essays she notes how both scholars—one Dutch and the other French—demonstrate a relative lack of awareness of and/or concern for narrative-critical issues and recent publications in the US, even though these two scholars are trying to move in that direction.

[2] See Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Narrative Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), idem, Mark: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004). Other Australian scholars have published significant narratological and/or narrative-oriented research on the Gospel of John, including Dorothy A. Lee (Symbolic Narratives of the Fourth Gospel: The Interplay of Form and Meaning [JSNTSup, 95; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1994]; and Flesh and Glory: Symbol, Gender and Theology in the Gospel of John [New York: Crossroad, 2002]), Mary Coloe (God Dwells with Us: Temple Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel [Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2001]), and Ruth Sheridan (Retelling Scripture: The Jews and the Scriptural Citations in John 1:19-12:15 [BIS, 110; Leiden: Brill, 2012]).