Friday, July 17, 2009

on panning a book

Over at Review of Biblical Literature Anthony Thiselton has written a rather ambivalent review of Richard Horsley's recent book, Wisdom and Spiritual Transcendence at Corinth: Studies in First Corinthians. Both of these are very careful and admirable scholars, but the tone and tenor of Thiselton's review caught my interest. I may be reading too much between the lines and seeing things that aren't there, but I got the distinct impression that Thiselton had even more to say in critique of the book. But he contented himself to commend the book "as a classic of earlier exegesis" whose "greatest disappointment lies in the bibliography and the failure to acknowledge the progress of recent scholars." I suspect the back of Thiselton's hand still stings from complementing Horsley.

I point out this rather interesting example of the genre critical book review in order to provide some guidance, to be heeded appropriately rather than head-long, to my students who are trying to learn how to critically and appreciatively review a book they did not enjoy reading.

[update: I am reminded of a similarly negative review, this one not nearly so ambivalent, which provides a helpful model for reviewing a disappointing book. See John Kloppenborg's review of Beth McCabe's, An Examination of the Isis Cult with Preliminary Exploration into New Testament Studies (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2008). If a book needs to be panned it needs to be panned; but exposing and commenting upon the weaknesses of an argument takes significantly more effort than hurling epithets at its author.]

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