From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew
A review of Robert Chisolm's, "From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew," by Dr. M. Daniel Carroll R.
Robert B. Chisolm, Jr. From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998. 304 pp. $19.99 pb. ISBN 0-8010-2171-5.
The author states in his opening chapter that this work is ‘designed to be a textbook for a second-year seminary course’ (p. 9). Its contents are organized and presented for the express purpose of helping the reader develop a method for studying the Hebrew text in order to better communicate its message in the classroom and in the pulpit.
After the first chapter, which helpfully lays out the format of the book, there are nine other chapters, which I would divide into four categories. To begin with, chapter two offers the reader a discussion and what amounts to an annotated bibliography on the tools for exegesis (analytical helps, lexicons, grammars, and computer programs). This information provides an orientation to the concrete and pragmatic initial steps for doing exegesis.
Chapters three through six then move on to establishing a necessary framework for textual work, dealing (in order) with text criticism, word studies, and syntax. The discussion in each of these chapters is replete with illustrative material from a variety of genres. For example, after explaining the basic criteria for doing text criticism (chapter three, pp. 20-21), Chisolm walks the reader through eight extended examples. His explanation of how to approach lexical issues (chapter 4) presents theoretical discussions on foundational issues (such as the nature of meaning, referents, semantic fields, synonyms, word plays), along with both brief and longer illustrations and an exercise drawn from Genesis 6:5-13 in an appendix. The longest chapter (five) covers very adequately the broad range of syntactical issues, again injecting many examples. Chapter six explains what are the basic elements of the structures of Hebrew narrative and poetry. Each of these four chapters closes with a bibliography.
Chapter seven considers biblical narrative and poetry from a literary perspective. Now the concern reaches beyond a concentration on the bits and pieces, as it were, to an appreciation of larger wholes and of the ebbs and flows within these units. Chisolm discusses forms and style and other literary features, such as setting, characterization, and point of view in narrative.
The last three chapters are an attempt to bring together a method for moving from the Old Testament text to the modern world. Chapter eight outlines his method of moving from the translation of a passage to developing its main literary and theological points. Chisolm then applies this approach to three passages from different parts of the Old Testament. Chapter nine deals with managing the step from a synthetic understanding of a text’s exegetical details and main themes to application, and as always the author gives ample illustrations. The closing chapter, aptly entitled ‘Why Not Give It a Try’, gives the reader the opportunity to work through five passages in a guided fashion as exercises in Chisolm’s method.
All in all, this is a solid textbook and reference tool, which offers the reader a valuable mine of information and orientation for the process of trying to utilize a biblical language in an effective manner. The many examples also are a great asset for actually seeing how Chislom’s observations and procedure are put into to practice; in other words, this work is not simply a book on theory, but rather is an attempt to provide a hands-on manual for the exposition of the Hebrew text. The author obviously has drawn on his many years of teaching Hebrew at Dallas Theological Seminary. The reader must be forewarned, however, that this is not the type of book one sits down and lightly peruses looking for a few helpful pointers. To glean the most benefit from From Exegesis to Exposition requires patience and perseverance, but the resulting long-term benefits of a more accurate understanding and sharing of the riches of the Bible will prove to be a bountiful reward for the effort.
My criticisms must be taken with this appreciative note in mind. Although Chisolm’s work is to be greatly commended, I do have some observations to make. The first concerns the make-up of the some of the chapters. In my mind, pedagogically it might have been more helpful to the reader to have had the examples in chapter nine (which expounds on going from the textual study to contemporary application) match those of chapter eight. That is to say, one could follow the whole process from start to finish: from the exegetical examples that illustrate Chisolm’s method (chapter eight) to their modern relevance (chapter nine). The multiplication of examples in this case can make the reading of this book more tedious. In the same vein, is it reasonable to hope that someone involved in a full-time ministry would have the time to translate large portions of the text? This concern can rear its head most clearly in longer narrative sections. Interestingly, one of his examples in chapter nine entails Genesis 25-35. How long would these hundreds of verses take to translate, analyze, and organize into a teaching/preaching format! Has his presentation of the means to study narrative been as realistic as it could be?
My other comments are grounded in my different take on Old Testament studies and (biblical) literature itself. Chapter seven begins by decrying those critical methods that do not show the same respect for the Old Testament as the Word of God and thus can deny the same degree of historicity and authenticity often defended by evangelicals. Here I felt that the dichotomy between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ methods was too neat (pp. 149-51). Paradoxically, much of what Chisolm will later present regarding biblical forms and literary readings of the present form of the text is grounded in these critical disciplines which he decries. Perhaps his treatment of these other approaches could have been more constructive.
Another philosophical disagreement that I have with the author is the impression that is given regarding the reading of texts. Chisolm eschews reader-oriented approaches, as they reflect, he says, ‘more about the psychological profile, sociological context, and personal biases of the interpreter than the intent of the divine Author’ (p. 150). Again, is the reality of the reading of a text so neutral and value-free so as to exclude a healthy appreciation and acknowledgement of the situatedness of any reading of any text? I think not, but some evangelicals have defended objective readings in their hermeneutics, although such a posture is in fact an impossibility. To hold to a balanced reader-response approach does not necessarily result in a rejection of the inspiration of the Bible or in a free-for-all pluralism without proper controls.
Lastly, from an appreciation of the literary nature of poetic texts, I would have liked for Chisolm to have shown a greater awareness of the manner in which the features he mentions regarding narrative also can be applied to other genres. I have in mind, for instance, the value of utilizing plot, characterization, and the like for prophetic texts. These elements are also evident in sustained poetic texts and oracles, as some literary approaches are increasingly sensitive to. In other words, his literary approach could be that much richer with a fuller grasp of the nature of literature itself. This comment is perhaps unfair to the author and maybe is linked to the book’s size limitations. The reader, though, could benefit from a consciousness of the broader applicability of these literary characteristics of biblical texts.
In sum, Chisolm has offered a very good textbook for anyone interested in maintaining and improving Hebrew skills after seminary. I know of nothing comparable on the market. I will recommend it to my students and begin to use it myself in some of my classes.
M. Daniel Carroll R.
Professor of Old Testament