Friday, August 31, 2007

Grappling with Colossians

My daughter was three hours late. I hit rush hour traffic on the way home. So half a day at the airport lasted 10 hours! Ah well...

Andy asks why Colossians Remixed is irritating - which is a fair question. The first thing to say is that if you haven't read it, you should. It is passionate, well-informed and full of insights into the text that you won't find anywhere else.

My irritation with it is that in places it seems very laboured. This is especially the case in the targums that litter the exposition. I know what they're trying to do but I'm not sure they pull it off and I find myself skipping pages which I don't like because I fear I might miss something helpful. And I found their reconstruction of Nympha's life a tad twee - I know how hard it is to do this kind of thing convincingly because I tried something similar in the second chapter of A Rough Guide to the New Testament, a story that didn't make it into the second, enlarged edition of that book, Discovering the New Testament!

But it's also the case where the authors allow themselves to be interrupted by someone with questions. For example, the chapter on truth is cast this way (p115ff in my edition). The exchange could actually have been dealt with a well-footnoted half a page rather than a 15 page chapter. I find it distracting rather than illuminating. And I felt it repeated a load of stuff they covered in a dialogue about targums in chapter 2. Walsh makes the point about truth brilliantly with his co-author, J Richard Middleton, in the incomparable guide to to modern thinking and living, Truth is Stranger than it used to be.

It could just be me - and I'll happily be put right on this(!) - but I felt that if Walsh and Keesmaat had focused more closely on the text of Colossians and helped the reader to make the connections with the world they evoke so brilliantly in the first couple of chapters, it would have been a storming book.

Harry O Maier does this in part in his essay 'A sly civility: Colossians and Empire' in JSNT 27.3 2005. He shows how the language of empire pervades the letter to the Colossians and how the author subtly undermines and subverts it for his own ends.

That being said, I do still think Colossians Remixed is a very good and will be urging people in my church to read it.


Anonymous said...

I liked the book (I read it a while back now) and found it helpful and I enjoyed the targums a lot, they really brought the text alive. I know what you mean about the conversation partner, its a brave way to write a book and I agree they don't always pull it off.

Later on I would have like some closer engagement with the text, especially the household codes.

I would say its one of the best "commentaries" on colossians around, because its so aimed at the implications for today.

simon said...

Yeah, I agree with the last comment, Andy. I think it forces us to think about the implications of the text for our lives in today's world. And for that reason I recommend it (its minor irritations notwithstanding!)