Reading Biblical Poetry

J. P. Fokkelman

Reading Biblical Poetry
Reading Biblical Poetry

Book Details

Categories: Literary Approaches

Book Information

Reading Biblical Poetry

Pages: 256
Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press
Published: 2001
ISBN-10: 0664224393
ISBN-13: 9780664224394

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5 out of 5 based on 3 user ratings
Denver Seminary Journal December 5, 2009 5 5
Lays out the basic principles for understanding and interpreting Hebrew poetic texts. [Full Review]
Reading Biblical Poetry is a companion to Jan Fokkelmans Reading Biblical Narrative (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000) and, like it, has a nonscholarly audience in mind; technical terms are carefully glossed, all texts are translated, and there are few footnotes. At the same time, like the book on narrative, it is a summation of Fokkelmans career as an unequalled close reader of biblical texts. It is a book from which the specialist as well as the student can learn and which I found constantly illuminating. His approach is best encapsulated in the following sentence: One possible way of describing reading and (after a lot of rereading) interpreting a poem is as a search for order and structure in a heap of language signs that at first sight seems impossible to penetrate (173). Fokkelmans great strength is the density and subtlety of his readings. Playfully, he links the German Dichtung, poetry, to the root dicht, dense (15); the poet is one who concentrates meanings, who explores all the nooks and crannies (ibid.) of language. Fokkelman insists that poetry cannot be accounted for by poetics (37), that the experience of reading is more important than the definition of poetry (15). [Full Review]
Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press, 2001. Pp. viii + 243, Paperback, $24.95, ISBN 0664224393. Chris Franke College of St. Catherine St Paul, MN 55105 Reading Biblical Poetry was written for those who read the Bible in translation, and cannot read Hebrew. It is the companion volume to Fokkelman’s Reading Biblical Narrative, published in 2000. The complexity of dealing with poetry as opposed to prose forced the author depart from his initial resolution to discuss poetry only in translation. He did use the original language on a number of occasions to illustrate certain ideas, especially those concerning meter. Footnotes and references to secondary literature were included to make the volume useful for college students. Fokkelman is well aware of the difficulties of reading poetry, especially poetry in translation. “Poetry is the most ingenious form of verbal expression.” Those who read poetry need “patience and stamina,” more so than when they read prose. Learning to deal with the poet’s “box of tricks” for every layer of a poem from individual sounds to verses to the whole poem is to embark on a “challenging enterprise.” These remarks by Fokkelman in the Preface (vii-viii) alert the reader to expect that this book may not be quick read. The book begins with a preliminary exercise in reading a section of a poem (Isaiah 1:16-17), and an entire poem, the lament of David over Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:19-27). Issues tackled in the discussion of the two verses in Isaiah (pp. 3-5) include typography in translation (setting lines as prose rather than arranging them stichometrically), literary verse (the poetic line) vs the biblical numbering of verses, tricola (A-, B- and C- cola), the structure of the strophe, the question of meter or the number of beats per colon, as well as grammatical and semantic observations. [Full Review]

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