Saturday, April 01, 2006

My Amazon Review of George H. Guthrie's _The Structure of Hebrews_

Guthrie begins his discussion on the text of Hebrews
by reviewing past scholarly attempts to discern the
structure of the Christian epistle. He convincingly
demonstrates that scholars have found it rather
difficult to ascertain the precise textual structure
of Hebrews. It is no wonder that he humbly approaches
his task.

Since Patristic times, attempts have been made to
discern the structure and the recurring theme (i.e.
the leitmotiv) of the letter to the Hebrews.
Currently, text-linguists are also endeavoring to apply
their knowledge of discourse principles to this Bible
book. Guthrie's work shows that these efforts can
produce valuable fruitage.

After examining the numerous theories posited
vis-a'-vis the form or structure of Hebrews, Guthrie
proceeds to explain his own approach to structuring
it. Highlighting the author's use of INCLUSIO and
"hook-words," Guthrie provides an enlightening study
on the rhetorical devices employed in Hebrews and the
main point the writer is attempting to make. He concludes
the book on a very somber and humble note, observing that
"the problems caused by the complex stucture of
Hebrews are not easily answered; they may never be
answered with a consensus of New Testament
scholarship" (146). He reasons, nevertheless: "I enjoy
the music of Mozart. I do not read a note of music and
certainly do not understand how the great composer
brings all the various themes together in such
powerful performances; but I do not have to in order
to recognize them as powerful. I can be moved even in
my ignorance" (147).

Comparing the writer of Hebrews to a highly skilled
virtuoso, Guthrie elevatingly states that while he
does not understand or comprehensively fathom all of the
rhetorical devices the writer of Hebrews utilizes in
his discourse to the first century Christians living
in Jerusalem and Judea, that fact notwithstanding, Guthrie
argues that he can still appreciate the hortatory or
expository messages loftily conveyed in the book
written by a "Mozart" of oratory (147). What
insightful remarks!

In closing, I would say that Guthrie is a pleasure to
read: I thoroughly enjoyed his book. After one peruses
_The Structure of Hebrews_, he or she not only comes
away with an increased knowledge of this beautifully
written Bible book--one also comes away with an
increased literary education. Guthrie's thorough
knowledge of discourse analysis, rhetoric, and
rabbinic practices are truly astounding. Furthermore,
his approach to the whole problem of the arrangement
of Hebrews is both balanced and reasonable.

He employs charts to help the novice understand
difficult concepts and his explanation of cohesion
shifts and hook-words are simultaneously lucid and
instructive. Guthrie remains focused on the task at
hand and very seldom diverges to make theological
points. His goal is grasping the structure of Hebrews:
from that goal he will not be deterred.

The only drawback to this book is that it is primarily
written for specialists who have a working knowledge
of Greek and rhetoric, as well as some knowledge of
Hebrew and the rabbinic writings. The neophyte could
quickly find himself or herself lost in the sea of
technical terminology employed by Guthrie. If you like
struggling with difficult subjects, however, then the
book will be worth the read.

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