Elizabeth Michael BOYLE and Carol J. DEMPSEY, The Bible and Literature, Orbis Books, 2015, pp. xvi, 216. $30, pb. ISBN 978-1-62698. Reviewed by Christopher RUPERT S.J., LaStorta Jesuit Residence, 2320 Liverpool Rd., Pickering, ON L1X 1V4.
The Bible and Literature is a remarkable book. As part of the Orbis Series, Theology in Dialogue, it demonstrates how fruitful theology combined with another discipline can be “to seek effective solutions to contemporary problems.” It does this in spades. It also demonstrates what experts in different fields may achieve through elucidating each other. Throughout this book, Boyle and Dempsey take what is out there in time and space and bring it to us and the world we inhabit. The Bible, its inspiration to storytellers, and their mindsets are clearly, succinctly, and engagingly set forth. The result: the many strands of modern theology engage the theologian that dwells within each of us. The value of various literary devices such as irony, hyperbole, magic realism, and fictive history are noted. This brilliantly confronts fundamentalists without pillorying them. Bravo!!!
Both novice readers and professionals will profit from Boyle and Dempsey as they present ways the Bible calls us to faith and inspires writers to employ its modes of presentation (myth, parable, poetry for example.) It may also assist writers to challenge, entertain, and draw audiences to better understand themselves, the world, history, and God. The second part treats the reader to perennially hot issues: finding God; love; conflict as found in war and peace; and liberation.
Each chapter in the book has five subsections. A biblical way to communicate a truth or express a theme; a writer or two who has used it to ‘play in the fountain’ of human life set against that writer’s own life and warts; and then to draw out ‘the various theological points the texts embody.’ Fourthly, questions and exercises follow to let the reader grapple with the foregoing. Finally, the reader is invited to use to some other discipline in the place of literature to enrich the biblical reading.
Dempsey’s familiarity with social science runs through the entire book both unobtrusively and powerfully. So too does Boyle’s grasp of literature and mass media. This book could serve as a template for another about ‘cinematography and theology.’
Controversy is not avoided. For example: in Chapter 9 on liberation, they note that Cardinal Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) reprimanded liberation theologians for “what he perceived as their endorsement of political divisiveness, class warfare, and anarchy, [because it] caused great suffering among the very people they sought to rescue.”(p. 181) “On the other hand,” Boyle and Dempsey comment, “ liberation from injustice is a divine mandate proclaimed by poets and prophets down though the ages . . . as potent today as on the day it was first proclaimed … or composed on parchment for future generations.” (p. 185), They present all this without polemic! Charity, justice, and mercy in action!This book and its tone augment my ministry and my effectiveness. It is, as one reviewer on the book jacket states “a remarkable curriculum aid for academics as well as a marvelous companion for single readers.” And, as another reviewer before it states, “this book will deepen your appreciation for all kinds of stories … and in the process enrich your relationship with God’s creative word. This book is a ‘must read.’