Genre

Genre is a fluid concept.[1]  Descriptions of genre rely on comparing a text to other, similar texts, to highlight common traits, and deviations from that norm.  Genre classification is done on a spectrum ranging from very broad to very narrow.  Broadly, Jeremiah could be simply classified as a “writing”, which distinguishes it from things like the moon or a dog, but may put it in the same category as things like a business memo, a food label, and a comic book, (which is sufficient when teaching young children to recognize letters on a page).  On the other end, it can be seen as so unique as to be classed as a genre unto itself (the “Book of Jeremiah” genre, which may be helpful if comparing translations of the Bible).  So, the question of genre is best addressed in the context of what it will be helpful to compare it to.

It’s kind of like a game of “What doesn’t belong?”  It’s like saying “all of these things are of the same genre except for one.  Which is it?”

Image result for Book of JeremiahImage result for dog Image result for manga messiah

Genre is a game of comparisons.  If I have three pictures like the ones above (the book of Jeremiah, a puppy, and Manga Messiah), the one that doesn’t belong depends entirely on what I’m trying to do.  The answer depends on my purpose.

At first glance, I would say “puppy”, because it has little to do with the Bible (other than being an example of God’s creation), and my mind is currently oriented towards Biblical studies.  But I could say the book of Jeremiah is the unique one, as it is Holy Scripture, whereas the others are not (even if the Manga is inspired by Scripture).  Or I could say the book of Jeremiah is unique because the image is blurry, while the others are sharp and clear.  I could say the puppy doesn’t belong, because it is not a written document.  I could say the Manga doesn’t belong, since it is an illustration, while the others are photos.  Or maybe the puppy doesn’t belong because there’s no letter ‘e’ in the spelling.  I could probably come up with various reasons and play this game all day.  They could even be all grouped together in the genre of “images in a blog post”.

If I had a bunch of puppies (the very phrase is a genre classification), I could compare them to describe the unique features.  “one has brown fur, one is looking to the left, etc”.  But I wouldn’t bother mentioning that they all have noses. That is obvious when you think “puppy”.  I might compare the colors of the noses, but just saying they have noses is not helpful, since it is not a unique feature.

Image result for puppies

So if you classify the book of Jeremiah in a genre such as “prophet”, this is for the purpose of comparing it with other books that have been labelled “prophet”, such as Isaiah or Hosea or Ezekiel.  Once it is in the same category of other, similar objects, then you can compare them to talk about the differences in a helpful way.  The differences you are interested in exploring is what determines the sort of genre classification you give it (and how narrowly to define your genre/sub-genre!).  For example, by comparing prophets, you can point out that Jeremiah was preaching in a different time period than Isaiah.  Or you can point out that Jeremiah and Ezekiel were contemporaries, but writing from different locations (Jeremiah was in Jerusalem, Ezekiel was already in exile in Babylon).  But you wouldn’t have to say “the books all have a person/character who is a  “prophet” in them”.  That is obvious.  You could compare those men, but the genre classification gave you a pile of basic information already, helping you get past the non-helpful observations.  Once I know what things have in common, I can then describe the differences in a meaningful way.

My daughter asked me recently about a mystery movie I was talking about with my wife.  (Father Brown, based on stories by G.K. Chesterton)

She asked if it showed who did it right at the beginning.  This is because she didn’t understand the genre of a mystery, and what was normal.  She asked because she is familiar with Columbo, and was using it as a measuring rod for the genre.

In Columbo, the movies always start by showing exactly who did it and how.  The entertainment is in watching to see how Lt. Columbo figures it out.  What detail did the criminal miss?  This is unusual, and is, in my opinion, the major thing that makes Columbo unique.  But without knowing other mysteries (Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, etc), you don’t realize that it is the unique feature.  Normally, a mystery story starts not knowing who did it, and the reader gets to try to figure it out with the detective.

So what is unique about a Biblical genre you are studying?  For example, if Revelation is “apocalyptic literature”, then are you familiar with other apocalypses to be able to pick out the unique features?  How is Revelation different than Enoch?  Are you noticing what you’re supposed to notice?  How much is just convention for that genre and how much is a unique twist?

Commentators say that what makes Jeremiah unique is the increased presence of individual prayers and biographical material.[2]

[1] Tremper Longman, Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation, Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation 3 (Grand Rapids, Mich: Academie Books, 1987), 78.

[2] J. Andrew Dearman, Jeremiah and Lamentations, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 23.

Thesis update: August 22nd, 2017

Last week was fairly busy, with company over, etc.  I didn’t get as much done as I thought I might.  I read Jeremiah 29 and 30, and I managed to draft a section on the rhetorical situation of the book of Jeremiah, and another section on authorship.  They aren’t perfect, but I at least have something to work with and tweak, now.  I didn’t work through any new research sources.

Chapter 2 of my thesis is due in 3 and half weeks (Sep 15th).  Chapter 2 is supposed to be 10-15 pages on the structure and rhetoric of Jeremiah, in preparation for chapter 3, which will delve into Jer 32-38 in more detail.

Goals for this week:

  • Read Jeremiah 31 in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic
  • Finish a rough draft of chapter 2 (sections on audience, genre and my own structural proposal)
  • Research another source

If I get that done, then next week I can slow down on the Bible reading as I hit Jer 32 and delve in deeply in preparation for chapter 3, (while going into revision mode on chapter 2).

Current thesis statement:

Jeremiah chapters 32-38 (as laid out in the Masoretic Text) comprise a continuous, non-chronological narrative sequence, with the rhetorical purpose of aiding the exilic reader to interpret the fall of Jerusalem in chapters 39-40.

Thesis update: Chapter 1 approved!

Chapters 4, 5 and 6 in Louis Stulman’s You Are My People: An Introduction to Prophetic Literature are about the book of Jeremiah.  I noticed this book in the footnotes of something else I was researching and was able to track it down this past week.

In these chapters, Stulman contends that the book of Jeremiah is divided into two parts: chapters 1-25 predicts the dismantling of Israel’s institutions (temple, dynasty, etc).  The second half (26-52) depicts the dismantling.  The book of Jeremiah seeks to give meaning to the suffering and gives hope.  This hope is complex, and is only possible by telling the truth about the suffering, and letting go of the old world.

Last week I touched up chapter 1 and resubmitted.  It was approved by my first reader.  I sent it on to my second reader, who also gave me the green light.  Hooray!

After getting the approvals, I started cobbling together chapter 2.  Chapter 2 of my thesis is on the overall structure and rhetoric of the Book of Jeremiah.  I’m supposed to keep this short (10-15 pages), since the real meat-and-potatoes of the thesis will be chapter 3.  Chapter 2 will cover topics such as author, audience, rhetorical situation, genre, and differing views about the structure and rhetoric of the book of Jeremiah.  This will lay the groundwork for chapter 3.  I discovered I had already discussed parts of this for one of my critical methodologies essays, as well as my original thesis proposal.  So after tossing those together, I already have 8 pages.  There’s still plenty to cover, so I’m not concerned about not having enough material.

Also last week, I worked through Jeremiah 27 and 28 in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic.

Goals for this week:

  • Work through Jeremiah 29 and 30 in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic
  • Track down and work through another source on my research to-do list
  • Continue writing chapter 2 of the thesis (paragraphs on author, audience, rhetorical situation, and genre)

 

Timeline: Chapter 2 due by September 15th (5 weeks)

Thesis update: August 7th, 2017

Thoughts from last week:

Jeremiah 25 is where the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT) and the Greek Septuagint (LXX) part ways for a while.  (The Aramaic Targum follows the Hebrew version).  The first 13 verses are the same.

Jer 25:12 ‘Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the Lord, ‘for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation. 13 I will bring upon that land all My words which I have pronounced against it, all that is written in this book which Jeremiah has prophesied against all the nations.

At this point, the Septuagint then has the “oracles against the nations” (which we find in the Hebrew text in chapters 46-51), while the MT continues with verse 14.  Verse 14 doesn’t exist in the LXX.

The LXX does come back in verse 15, however.  But now the LXX is at chapter 32:1 while the MT is still at 25:15.  From here on out, it gets trickier to compare the two, since the the chapter numbers don’t match anymore.  25.15-38 in the MT is 32:1-24 in LXX.  Chapters 26-45 in the MT are chapters 33-51 in the LXX.

I decided to adjust my thesis statement to clarify that I’m using the MT chapter numbers:

Jeremiah chapters 32-38 (as laid out in the Masoretic Text) comprise a continuous, non-chronological narrative sequence, with the rhetorical purpose of aiding the exilic reader to interpret the fall of Jerusalem in chapters 39-40.

Meanwhile, last week I acquainted myself with Mark Roncace’s Jeremiah, Zedekiah, and the Fall of Jerusalem.  In this study, Roncace proposes that Jeremiah 37-44 are two parallel sets of 10 episodes each.  He narrows in on the first set of ten, from 37:1 to 40:6, and explores the “prophet and king” theme.  He then uses intertextual links to compare Jeremiah and Zedekiah to other prophet-king stories in the Bible.  I’ll want to come back to this one in more detail when I’m working through chapters 37 and 38 in my thesis.

Lastly, I also received feedback on chapter 1 of my thesis.  I made a few changes and clarifications as per my reader’s suggestions and resubmitted.

Goals for this week:

  • Outline and begin drafting chapter 2
  • Read through Jeremiah 27 and 28 in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic
  • Would be nice: do more new research

Pourquoi L’Église? par Alfred Kuen

Christ n’a pas dit : là où se trouvera un chrétien, je serai présent, mais “là où deux ou trois sont assemblés en mon nom, je suis au milieu d’eux.”

Translation: Christ didn’t say: For where ever a Christian is found, I am present, but “for where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of them”

Pourquoi L’Église? by Alfred Kuen is a short book on the doctrine of the church (Title translated: Why the Church?).   91 pages, soft cover.

Synopsis

Too many Christians don’t actually attend church services on a regular basis.  This book seeks to arm church leaders with helpful information for explaining the importance of church attendance, using Scripture to present a Biblical basis.

A few reasons that some people give for not attending are surveyed (indifference, imperfections in the church, etc) and addressed.  The author then lays out reasons for church attendance:

  • Jesus Christ himself instituted the Church
  • The Holy Spirit builds up the church
  • The apostles were members of local churches
  • The apostles established local churches
  • The Christians in the first centuries lived in local churches
  • We need a local church to grow
  • The local church needs us

The church has a threefold purpose:

  1. The church is for God.  Church services worship God.  (The concept of corporate worship is explored)
  2. The church is for the believers.  Several chapters are spent dwelling on the elements of Acts 2:42- where the church devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, fellowship, breaking of bread (which he interprets as the sacrament of communion) and prayer.  Each of these items are better in community.
  3. The church is for the world.  The church (i.e. the Christian community) represents Christ to the world.  Evangelism concepts are briefly discussed.

But that’s not all!  The final goal of the church is to be the bride of Christ.

Overall Impressions

I liked the reasons given.  One especially helpful thought for me was connecting the “bride of Christ” concept to the reasons for church attendance.  I also especially liked the introduction, which started with the “ideal” solitary monk from medieval times.

I’m not sure how this book would do in the hands of a random Christian who wasn’t going to church.  There are several references to Greek words, along with some citations from the Church fathers.  I imagine the big idea still gets across (he mostly uses Scripture to prove his point), but you’d have to be educated in Christianity to get everything he says.  I maybe wouldn’t give the book to a new convert, but would use the insights from the book to teach a new convert personally.

The reasons given were good.  Alfred Kuen is a solid evangelical scholar in the French world.  This book has been added to our church library.

I’m claiming this as “A book in French” for my 2017 reading goals.

The Iliad- by Homer

“…there is little respite in war.”

I finished reading The Iliad by Homer (translated by Martin Hammond), published by Penguin Classics.  The edition I had included critical notes at the beginning, and an index of names at the end.  The translation itself was written in prose form (like a story, as opposed to keeping poetic line breaks).  There are 24 chapters (or books).  450 pages, soft cover.  I’ve been wanting to read this for years, and I finally made it happen.

I couldn’t find the exact edition on Amazon, so the link above doesn’t match the actual book I read.  The one I had looked something like this:

Synopsis:

Wow!  The book was so complex, it is hard to know where to begin!

Setting:

The story takes place during the battle of Troy.  Everything happens either in Troy, on the battle field just outside the city, or in the Achaian (Greek) camp, which is at the shore of a river by their ships. The reader learns the Achaians have been at war with the Trojans for 9 years.  But the story isn’t just about the war.  The war isn’t even over when the book ends.

What started the war was a Trojan named Paris kidnapped Helen, the wife of the Achaian, Menelaos.  Menelaos and his brother, Agamemnon, raised an army to get Helen back.

The book is more so about Achilles, a hero fighting on the Achaian side.

Characters:

There’s three active groups of characters in the story: the Trojans, the Achaians, and the Greek pantheon of gods.

The king of Troy is an old man named Priam.  Paris is one of his sons.  Even though Paris started the whole mess, he plays more of a minor role in the epic.  Instead, his brother, Hektor, gets more stage time.  The Trojans have been joined by several allies.

The Achaian army, led by King Agamemnon, is an alliance of many groups, led by various heros.  Menelaos is there of course.  We also have Achilles, Odysseus, Aias, Idomeneus, Nestor, Diomedes, and many others.

In fact, there were so many characters, the index at the back is 50 pages long.

Members of the Greek pantheon were actively involved in the story, sometimes drastically changing the course of events.  Especially active were Zeus, Apollo, Hera, and Athena; with appearances from Thetis, Aphrodite, Hermes, Poseidon, Hephaistos, Artemis, Iris, Ares, and other spirits/divine beings.  Also, there are many demi-gods on the battle field, on both the Trojan side and the Achaian side.  For example, Achilles’ mother is Thetis (as sea-goddess.  Daughter of Poseidon, I think?), while Zeus has a son on the Trojan side, Sarpedon.

Plot:

The First Day (chapters 1-7)

The story opens in the Achaian camp, where Achilles and Agamemnon have a disagreement (Agamemnon stole his war bride).  Achilles prays to his mother Thetis, and Thetis convinces Achilles to stay out of the fighting as a form of protest.  Thetis then goes to Zeus and asks that the Trojans be given great success so that Agamemnon will see his folly and make things right with Achilles.  Zeus doesn’t tell the other gods what he is up to.

After chapter 1,  the reader begins to see the disastrous results of the prayer.  The two armies muster and march out to the battle field.  Achilles and the group he commands stay in their camp. Before the clash of battle, Paris and Menelaos agree to settle their differences with a duel.  The two fight, and Paris is quickly overpowered.  Before Menelaos can kill him, however, Aphrodite enters the scene, kidnaps Paris, and brings him back to his bedroom in Troy.

The armies then fight, spurred on by gods like Athena (helping the Achaians) and Ares (helping the Trojans).  Athena encourages Diomedes to attack Aphrodite and Ares directly.  After this, the gods withdraw from the battle, leaving it to mortals (not worth getting hurt!).  Zeus tells the other gods to back off and not get involved.  The Achaians are winning for the most part.

Hektor goes back to Troy, and finds Paris.  He encourages him to get back out and fight.  Near the end of the first day of battle, the armies settle down for another duel.  Hektor fights Aias.  Aias is winning, but it gets dark, so they stop fighting.

The Second Day (chapters 8-10)

The second day, the Trojans push back.  When darkness comes, the Trojans camp on the plain instead of going back to the city.  The Achaians are in despair at the end of the day, and King Agamemnon tries to make amends with Achilles.  Achilles holds on to his simmering anger, however, and refuses to be reconciled.  Chapter 10 takes place at night, with Odysseus and Diomedes spying on the Trojan camp, even killing the leader of one of their allies.

The Third Day (chapters 11-18)

The fighting on the third day is intense.  Achaian leaders are being wounded- Agamemnon, Diomedes and Odysseus have to withdraw from the battle.  The Trojans push the Achaians all the way back to their camp’s defensive walls.  Sarpedon (son of Zeus) breaches the wall, and the Trojans start pouring in.  During the battle, a son of Ares is killed, along with several Trojan heroes.

Meanwhile, the gods Hera and Poseidon want to help the Achaians, so Hera seductively distracts Zeus while Poseidon helps the army.  The Achaians are able to drive the Trojans out.  Zeus eventually gets back on the job and turns the battle around again.  The Trojans fight all the way to the Achaian ships, and even set one on fire. Achilles is at the opposite end of the row of ships, and is still determined not to fight unless the battle actually reaches his own ships.

Achilles’ friend, Patrokolos, is tired of waiting around not fighting, and convinces Achilles to let him go out, commanding their troops and wearing Achilles’ armor.  Achilles agrees.

Patrokolos marches out with his fresh troops, and they drive the Trojans out of the camp.  There is a battle between Patrokolos and Sarpedon, and Sarpedon is killed.  Patrokolos then faces off against Hektor, but Hektor wins, and Patrokolos is killed.

News reaches Achilles that his friend was killed, and this spurs him to act.  He is grieved, and his mother Thetis comes to him.  But he has no armor, so he simply stands nearby and yells at the Trojans.  They are scared of him, and withdraw as the sun sets.

The Fourth Day (chapters 19-22)

Thetis brings Achilles some new armor, forged by the god Hephaistos.  Achilles finally reconciles with Agamemnon.  Now that Achilles is back in action, Zeus permits the other gods to be involved once again.  Achilles goes on a rampage (aided by Athena), culminating in the death of Hektor.

Wrapping it up (chapters 23 and 24)

Achilles holds a funeral for Patrokolos, including funeral games (chariot races, archery, etc).  They mistreat Hektor’s body.  Eventually King Priam comes and ransoms the body back and the Trojans are then able to properly mourn Hektor, the protector of the city. The two sides agree to hold off on fighting for a couple of weeks while they go about their mourning.

Then the story abruptly ends!  There had been much forshadowing that Troy would be sacked, and that Achilles would be killed, but these events are left to take place after the narrative ends.

Overall Impressions

I’ve had so many thoughts while reading this book, it is challenging to summarize my main impressions!

Background knowledge

The story assumes the readers are familiar with the stories of Perseus and Hercules.  Several references are made to them, and some of Hercules’ descendants are on the battlefield.  (But the story is still understandable without knowing those legends).

Greek Theology

An important feature in the book is the interaction between the immortal and the mortal.  Positive things happen to both the Trojans and the Achaians, and it is attributed to various gods helping both sides.  If the gods are not in agreement, it helps explain the chaos mankind sees around them.  I think this observations helps me to understand this worldview a little better.

Everybody is Somebody

The battles were not described in the movements of battalions and groups as I’ve seen in some books.  Instead, the battles were told as series of short episodes between individuals: so-and-so the Achaian fought so-and-so the Trojan.  So-and-so won by stabbing him in such-and-such a location, and the loser crashed to the ground, his armor clattering about him.  Every single combatant was named and had a back story.  (As I mentioned above, the index of characters was 50 pages long!) Even if the character was only just introduced and died a moment later, a few details about him were given.  Where was he from? What was his life like before he came to war? What was his mother’s name?, etc.  The cumulative effect of reading this sort of thing page after page, chapter after chapter, is the thought that “everybody is somebody”.

As tragic as it was for Achilles to lose his friend Patrokolos, or for Priam to lose Hektor, that tragedy and emotional anguish was true for every single death that happened on that battle field- on both sides of the conflict.  This is refreshing, given some of the violence on TV or video games these days- filled with the deaths of anonymous, nameless bad guys.  War is terrible.  For everyone.

Manhood

I read this book as part of my 2017 reading challenge: a book from the Essential Man’s library.  As such, I should ask myself questions about how this book interacts with the idea of what it means to be a man.

One thing I detested in the book was the treatment of women.  Women were carried off as war brides.  Women were awarded as prizes in contests, or as part of ransoms in payments.  Women are people too, not property or the spoils of war!

The armies encouraged each other to “be men”, and qualified that with attributes like strength and courage. This doesn’t surprise me, but I’m not sure my ability to fight others should be the sole indicator of my manhood.

A more interesting idea that came up a few times was that various men were measured on two abilities: “A doer of deeds and a speaker of words”.  Some characters were said to be strong in one or the other.  High praise was given to characters who were strong in both.  That seems an ideal a little more worth emulating- someone who can get something done, and is skilled in saying the right sorts of things.

Final word: In general, I’d recommend it as a worthwhile read.  Some of the descriptions of death may be a little too much for some readers.

Thesis update: July 31st, 2017

Last week I went through the library books that had arrived and worked through Jeremiah 23-24.  Still haven’t heard back on chapter 1.  Since Chapter 1 was on methodology, I’m reluctant to write more (i.e. ch 2) until I’ve got the green light on methods.  Hopefully I’ll hear back this week.

In other news, I’ve been reading through The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  The author recommends making weekly goals (instead of daily to-do lists, etc).  I feel I stumbled on that concept myself through trial and error, but it is nice to see experts advising it.  (Hooray!  I’m being effective!)

Goals for this week:

  • Work through Jeremiah chapters 25 and 26 in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic
  • Research: go through at least one more source (I’ve got a list of over a dozen things to look into)
  • If I get feedback on chapter 1, then go through and update chapter 1 as required.
  • Return library books

 

Timeline: Chapter 2 due by September 15th (7 weeks)