Reviews of Genesis: The Story We Haven't Heard
Reviews of The Way According to Luke: Hearing the Whole Story of Luke-Acts
Reviews of David, Saul, and God

Genesis: The Story We Haven't Heard

"At first glance the subtitle of Paul Borgman’s Genesis: The Story We Haven’t Heard (252 pages, including selected bibliography plus subject, author, and scripture indices) looks pretentious. After all, the analyses of Genesis over hundreds of years and the plethora of recent commentaries coming at it from a variety of scholarly and popular angles, how could we not have heard the story of this biblical book? Haven’t sensitive and astute literary critics, such as Robert Alter (Genesis: Translation and Commentary [New York: Norton, 1996]), alerted us to every nuance on several levels?

"Borgman delivers on his subtitle. The contribution of this English professor is to convincingly expose a web of narrative/literary connections that reveal dynamics of human and divine repetition and change within the context of a unified drama. Rather than viewing Genesis as a series of exegetical, literary, theological, or devotional bits and pieces, Borgman perceives under the surface of the whole book a powerful clarification of human experience that can transform hearers or readers by involving them in the narrative.

"Although Borgman’s volume could be regarded as a commentary in the sense that it systematically interprets the text of Genesis, his unwavering concern is with tracing major themes and their permutations rather than with explaining all the details. So he covers the entire primeval history (Gen 1–11) in a single chapter (ch. 1) comprising part 1, “The Prologue,” which introduces the normal human tendency to self-aggrandizement that began with wrong choices of Adam and Eve when they attempted to improve their relative position. Cain and Lamech followed the same destructive pattern. Even after God took drastic remedial action by wiping out all except Noah and his family through the massive force of the flood, the pattern of self-absorption vigorously revived in the builders of Babel. So God was back to square one. What could he do to break the cycle? Following his brief sketch of the human problem as described in the primeval prologue, Borgman devotes the remainder of his book to an alternate approach that God adopted during the patriarchal era (Gen 12–50). He patiently called, coaxed, and challenged Abraham and Sarah (part 2), Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah (part 3), Joseph and family, and Judah and Tamar (part 4) into partnership with himself to reverse the curse of selfishness by providing blessing to all families of the earth. Although the divine aim remained constant, the Lord adapted his tactics to effectively meet the individual needs of different personalities. He always respected human free choice but provided opportunities and tests to lead people toward better choices that would benefit others and not only themselves.

"Development of Abraham’s partnership with God was paradigmatic. An ordinary man, Abraham’s trust in God was undermined by fear for his own skin, to the extent that he was willing to compromise his wife’s sexual purity by telling Egyptians that she was his sister. Through a series of seven encounters with God over a number of years, he progressively learned to trust God, to let go of his fear, and to seek the well-being of others, beginning with his own family and extending to people of other nations. When he trusted God enough to relinquish his own son, God confirmed the covenant promise that all nations would be blessed through him (Gen 22; compare 12:1–3). Although Jacob was less willing to let go than Abraham was, God led him through tough circumstances to the point that he agreed to give up his beloved son, Benjamin, to the uncertainty of a trip to Egypt. Joseph began as a normal, self-centered lad, but through experiencing a series of “pits”—a dry well, slavery in Egypt, and prison—he became the culminating partner with God in the book of Genesis, providing life for his family and blessing to other nations.

"The most impressive feature of Borgman’s book is the way in which he finds narrative/literary links between various parts of Genesis and derives their meaning within the overall drama of divine-human relationships. For example, the way in which Joseph tested his brothers echoed God’s test of Abraham and also of Jacob. Borgman writes: "What the brothers learn from Joseph’s testing is the same complex and demanding lesson that their great-grandfather Abraham learned from God: letting go of the normal and parochial ways of being in the world. The Genesis God, and Joseph, are not inscrutable or capricious. . . . God and Joseph both want individual reorientation and a measure of reciprocity from those over whom they have power; each desires blessing for all peoples. Herein is a Joseph easily mistaken. Herein is a God we haven’t quite recognized. This is the story we haven’t heard." (240).

"Although he is an English professor, Borgman’s interpretations unobtrusively draw on rich knowledge of the Hebrew text and scholarly literature. While he does not attempt to provide definite answers to all the tough questions that he raises, he is prepared to parry scholarly opinion and make a plausible, balanced case for a minority conclusion. For example, while many exegetes view the way Joseph took the land of the Egyptians in exchange for grain and set up a 20 percent tax on future crops (Gen 47) from a modern perspective as ruthless machination for the benefit of Pharaoh, Borgman puts this policy in perspective: the Egyptians are grateful that Joseph has kept them alive; strong management can avert future disasters; a 20 percent flat tax is relatively light; and the text affirms Joseph’s concern for households and “little ones” of the Egyptians, just as he has sustained his father’s household, including the “little ones” (215–18). Thus, without resorting to circular reasoning, Borgman finds the character of Joseph at this point to be consistent with the larger picture of Joseph’s exemplary partnership with God.

"To point out connections in Genesis, Borgman frequently interrupts the chronological flow of his exposition, and some chapters overlap in order to examine parts of the same stories from different angles. This could be confusing, but in addition to the clarity of his non-technical language and generally simple but often profound sentences, Borgman keeps the reader on track by means of a brief transition (in italics) at the end of each chapter of his book, which succinctly wraps up the theme(s) of the chapter and looks ahead to the next chapter. His approach inevitably generates redundancy as he looks at episodes from various directions and points out narrative echoes of God’s anchor promise to Abraham throughout Genesis. However, he maintains interest by focusing on what is new and fresh by comparison with what is past and familiar.

"Some aspects of Borgman's interpretation, such as his characterization of Isaac as passive and rather incompetent or of young Joseph as “a perfectly hateful youngster . . . a tattletale and a braggart” (238) may seem slightly exaggerated and discomfort a reader who is accustomed to holding the biblical patriarchs in reverential awe. Even more disquieting are implications for our own lives as Borgman’s Genesis draws us into its story, probes the recesses of our souls, and lays bare the same kind of ancient drive to promote ourselves at the expense of others that has cursed our world since the time of Adam and Eve. Nevertheless, the accounts of the patriarchs, beset with faults and foibles as they were, engender hope that God can guide ordinary people to partnership with him for the sake of cosmic blessing."
—Roy E. Gane, Reviewed in Review of Biblical Literature

"Borgman has read widely and is well rooted in the scholarly literature. His goal, however, is to make sense of the text by asking the kinds of questions that are raised by readers who have not been tamed away from the shock and puzzlement of the text. The book will interest those who have a literary sensitivity and face a literature that is theologically thick but unfamiliar. Borgman gives easy access but does not compromise the unfamiliarity and does not 'explain' the thickness in an easy way. Readers are invited to hear as for the first time."
—Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary, author of Theology of the Old Testament

"The preface sets a certain context for Borgman's presentation of Genesis. Some biographic remarks already create a particular platform. As one of six brothers and two sisters, admittedly stories played an important role in his life. Paul Borgman is professor of English at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. The fact that he obtained a Ph.D. in the "art of stories" -- a nontheological discipline -- puts him to a certain extent in an advantaged position to appreciate some finer features of the Genesis story, which he regards as one of the "most complex literary masterpieces of the world" (7). Borgman accuses the scholarly world of a "bits-and-pieces" approach that does not allow the reader to appreciate the text on its own terms, that is, to follow the clues within the text, and as a consequence misses the theological thrust of the story (241). ...

"... Borgman is not claiming to provide an exhaustive interpretation, dealing with all the various aspects of what is involved in the interpretation of the Old Testament text of Genesis (and as such not much attention is given to the formal introductory issues such as the dating/formation and composition of the patriarchal narratives, grammatical analysis, the religion of the patriarchs, historical context, and so forth). Neither do we have the traditional verse-by-verse textual analysis. Borgman's exploration (interpretation) of the repetitions and narrative artistry and his focus on the seemingly unusual features thereof (e.g., "visitations," "wrestling," "weeping"), nevertheless enables one to appreciate the dramatic force of the story. The theological significance of a reorientation away from self-aggrandizing toward understanding and upholding the interests of others is not often heard with such clarity and indeed adds to the spiritual richness of the story. Borgman challenges the reader to be involved with the text, and as such this is a story that should be read and reread. Borgman's work can certainly be recommended as a significant contribution to our understanding of the richness of the theology of Genesis and will certainly play an important role in future discussions."
—R. De W. Oosthuizen, University of Fort Hare, Alice, South Africa

"The subtitle of Paul Borgman's book signals the nature of his achievement, namely, the ability to look closely at an ancient text that seems elusive to a modern reader. The virtues of this beautifully written book include its willingness to wrestle with the baffling aspects of Genesis, its unobtrusive but conscientious attention to scholarship on Genesis, its systematic coverage of the entire book of Genesis, its unfolding of the richness of human experience to be found in Genesis, and the fresh slant provided by a literary approach to the text. Paul Borgman has lived closely with Genesis for twenty-five years. This book is a mature and triumphant sharing of what he has discovered."
—Leland Ryken, Wheaton College, coeditor of A Complete Literary Guide to the Bible

"In a prefatory note Paul Borgman remarks that Genesis has proved to be the most difficult book with which he and his literature classes have struggled over the years. If this strikes you as anomalous, then you are the one to read this book on Genesis. Borgman is a vastly astute and massively well-read critic. I have never read a book like this—and I am deeply bothered by some of it. I don't like my suppositions haled up for remorseless scrutiny. But I do like Borgman's lucid English prose, and his assiduity as a biblical scholar."
—Thomas Howard, author of Christ the Tiger and The Novels of Charles Williams

"This book I shared right away with my rabbi, my Jewish friends and colleagues. It is at once creative, enlightening and psychologically sophisticated. Borgman's enjoyable commentary offers astonishingly compelling narrative truths to unlock the giant riddles of Genesis. No longer is God 'inscrutable,' being a 'chosen people' an entitlement of indelible righteousness, or God's 'plan' mere arbitrary triumphal tribalism. And so, it illuminates an intrinsic coherence between contemporary Christian theology and the ethical relational striving informed by precursor truths known to the historical Jew Jesus."
—Steve Nisenbaum, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

The Way According to Luke: Hearing the Whole Story of Luke-Acts

"… a volume to be numbered among the ‘musts’ of any serious Lukan library."
—Review, Journal for the Study of the New Testament

"Dr. Borgman’s book begins with the premise that modern practices of reading the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts separately—and, even worse, reading isolated pericopes—instead of hearing the two volumes read aloud as a single work, mask the true genius and significance of Luke’s project. . . . Borgman has presented a readable and accessible study of Luke-Acts. It is that accessibility and the conciseness of his book that distinguishes it from those of Borgman’s many colleagues on whose work he draws, and whose various perspectives he draws together in a single volume. . . . Despite his focus on reading (or hearing) Luke’s two books as a single narrative, Borgman’s analysis of the various constituent units (down to individual pericopes) is clear and fresh. . . . Borgman discerns a chiastic structure of the journey narrative (Luke 9:51-19:44) that demonstrates the literary and thematic integrity of that important section of Luke’s Gospel. Even if it stood alone, that section of Borgman’s book would be worth the price of the whole.
—Review, Sharon H. Ringe in Catholic Biblical Quarterly

"Borgman’s book has proved a thoughtful, insightful, readable companion, a volume to be numbered among the ‘musts’ of any serious Lukan library. . . . [It] is certainly a stimulating, and often provocative, companion for maturer students."
—Review, Journal for the Study of the New Testament

"We need more books like this, where something more substantial can be provided to the general reader in a responsible, well-thought-through, and passionate manner."
—Review, Review of Biblical Literature

"If for the ancient world Pindar characterizes the nature of oral performance — ‘aboard the Muses’ chariot I beg the eloquence that this occasion needs’ — then Paul Borgman has risen to the occasion. With his ‘echoing sequences,’ ‘spiraling repetitions,’ and ‘hinge points’ for Luke’s two volume performance, Borgman has given us ‘winged words’ to imprint Luke’s own literary genius indelibly into our memories. If narrative performance be judged today by the brilliance of its aural impact, then Borgman has generated a delightfully persuasive movement of Luke’s own ‘way’ of pronouncing the Word of God and moving his audiences to new ways of viewing the story of salvation through Israel’s Messiah. This is a command performance for professional and lay reader alike."
—David Moessner, Lord of the Banquet: The Literary and Theological Significance of the Travel Narrative

"In this exploration of Luke’s literary art, Paul Borgman displays his significant gifts as sensitive reader and trusted guide. Although fully engaged with contemporary study of Luke-Acts, he is no slave to ‘the experts’ as he demonstrates again and again how Luke’s narrative works to shape our grasp of Luke’s literary and theological agenda. Biblical studies is the richer on account of this sort of interdisciplinary work."
—Joel B. Green, The Theology of the Gospel of Luke

David, Saul, and God

"Borgman makes new sense of texts which are often viewed as ambiguous or contradictory. His reading illuminates Saul, David, and above all, the God of the Bible."
—Everett Fox, Allen M. Glick Professor of Judaic and Biblical Studies, Clark University; author, The Five Books of Moses, translation and commentary

"Borgman's scholarship opens new ways of seeing and reading."
—Walter Brueggemann

"In a literary reading of the books of Samuel Borgman makes special use of both small and large patterns of repetition to develop his view of David. He sets it over against other depictions of David, especially those presenting a dark, questionable David. His book is an excellent introduction to the complexity of the biblical portrait of David and to the contemporary study of biblical narrative."
—Peter D. Miscall, author of 1 Samuel; Reading Isaiah

Paul Borgman




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