AUSTRALIAN BIBLICAL REVIEW
BOOK REVIEW Published in Volume 57, 2009
A. F. CAMPBELL, God and Bible: Exploring Stories from Genesis to Job (New York: Paulist Press, 2008). Pp. xii + 128. Paper. $US14.95.
Much of scholarly life is devoted to conversations within the academy. In this book, coming from late in his distinguished life as interpreter of the ‘Older Testament,’ Tony Campbell speaks to a different audience. It is intended for those who wrestle daily with issues of faith and life and ask what the Bible has to say today. The book is a collection of brief articles written initially for the devotional magazine Madonna as part of a series called “Full of Surprises.” In it Campbell addresses those with little biblical training but not by talking down to them or simplifying the knotty theological issues discussed by the biblical text. He brings his wealth of experience to the task of introducing his audience to the serious world of biblical scholarship. He makes it abundantly clear that both the biblical text and the scholarly world have something to say to a world sceptical of matters of faith and full of modern scientific ways. In such a world he says it is time “to return to the delights of wide-eyed reading of Older Testament texts, untrammelled by outworn spectres from bygone days” (ix).
With a focus on biblical story, the book is divided into six major parts focusing on Genesis (Parts 1 and 2), Joshua–Judges (Part 3), David in the Books of Samuel (Part 4), the prophets (Part 5) and, in a look toward the future, sections of Ezekiel, Jonah and Job (Part 6). Each part concludes with a section headed “Reflective Moments” and a “Reflective Activity.” In the former, Campbell provides questions for further thought, not closing off difficult issues but rather opening them up for his readers to contemplate. The reflective activity provides opportunity for readers to engage in a wider range of learning and contemplative activities.
What guides Campbell’s approach is not to the fore in this book, at least in terms of theory. However, it is evident in a brief way in the postscript on “Event and Text” (125–26). In a world too easily distracted by events, Campbell stresses that what really matters is less a matter of historicity than of literary analysis. He invites “the reader to attend to the text rather than to the event” (126). In particular he is aware of, and vigorously promotes, the power of these stories to create alternative worlds for their readers.
This is truly a useful book for those wishing to engage their faith community in serious thought about the Bible and God in the modern world. In spite of its Catholic origins, it is open to all enquiring Christians. It does not close off discussion and debate in any way, but rather promotes it within the bounds of faith seeking understanding. It deserves wide commendation.
Mark A. O’Brien
St Dominic’s Priory
816 Riversdale Road
Camberwell VIC 3124