Bodner, Keith. After the Invasion: A Reading of Jeremiah 40-44. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. viii + 179, $90, hardback.
Keith Bodner is Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in New Brunswick, Canada. Bodner has written several books and commentaries including Elisha’s Profile in the Book of Kings: the Double Agent (Oxford, 2013), Jeroboam’s Royal Drama (Oxford, 2012), and 1 Samuel: A Narrative Commentary (Sheffield Phoenix, 2008), among other titles. Bodner’s writings have largely been within the area of narrative criticism. After the Invasion is an excellent work that will help any thoughtful student of the Bible understand the text of Jeremiah, and particularly Jeremiah 40-44, better.
After the Invasion was written “to make a contribution to the interpretation of Jer 40-44 by undertaking a reading of the text with a primary interest in the narrative poetics of the text” (p. 3). In doing this Bodner examines that text of Jeremiah 40-44 in a sequential manner and focuses on features within the narrative like characterization, geography, point of view, temporal compression, plot, intertextuality, and irony.
There are two features of this book that I would like to highlight. First, it is well-written and well researched. This work combines two things that are rare in academic books. It is well-written and easy to read. The author is exceptionally clear in the points that he is communicating while at the same time being scholarly and advancing scholarship. There are several places where this can be found within the book. One example is near the beginning of the book when Bodner is discussing plot within a story. When doing this he is interacting with academic scholarship (particularly the works of Ricoeur and Doak), but explaining the concepts in a way that the uninitiated will appreciate and understand (see pp. 3-5). This work is approachable by anyone who has a basic understanding of the outworking of narrative poetics, but will be most appreciated by those who have a stronger foundation in this area.
The second admirable feature of this work that I would like to highlight is helpfulness of Bodner’s methodology and how this leads to a strong reading of the text. One of the places where this is visible is in his discussion of Jeremiah’s “double release” in Jeremiah 39:11-14 and 40:1. Many commentators spend excessive time on extremely hypothetical theories. While Bodner understands that there is a place for such theories within biblical scholarship (there are ample footnotes referencing other scholarship in the field showing that Bodner is more than familiar with history of scholarship both in the field of narrative criticism and the book of Jeremiah) he focuses on understanding the text as we have it and how Jeremiah’s “double release” functions within the narrative. Bodner supports his interpretation by discussing how plots can rearrange, expand, contract, or even repeat. This provides a much richer reading of the text as it stands. Bodner’s interpretation, that the narrator is providing different perspectives for the same event, is an extremely clear and compelling reading of the text. This understanding of the double release then allows each of the scenes to “have their own distinctive thematic emphases” (p. 25). Even on the rare occasion where I do disagree with Bodner’s reading of the text it is evident that he has wrestled with the text and supported his view.
The only critiques that I would offer are that the organization of the work could be slightly clearer and it would have been helpful for Bodner to frame Jeremiah 40-44 more fully in the narrative space of 34-39. Bodner does draw the reader’s attention back to these previous chapters frequently, but the reader should be very familiar with Jeremiah 34-39 before starting this book. It would have also been helpful to the reader if the texts from Jeremiah being covered within the individual chapters would have been clearly marked within the chapter title or subtitle. Bodner does lay these out within the introduction and the texts being covered within each chapter are evident when reading through the book cover to cover (which is how this book is intended to be read, not like a traditional commentary), but for quicker reference and research this feature would have been helpful.
After the Invasion is a great example of how a reading of a biblical narrative should be done using narrative poetics. After the Invasion would be a great addition to the libraries of students and pastors. It is a great supplementary volume to any major commentary on Jeremiah and should be one of the first resources that is consulted when reading, preaching, or studying Jeremiah 40-44. This book should probably not be a student’s first book in the area of narrative poetics, though this book can certainly be read and appreciated without a background in this area of study. This book does provide a prime example to students of what narrative poetics looks like when practiced. Before reading this book a student who is in the beginning stages of learning about narrative would be helped by reading introductory works in the field. I would recommend starting with the chapter on narrative within most standard hermeneutics books. The chapters on narrative in Duvall and Hays’s Grasping God’s Word (Zondervan, 2012), Patterson and Köstenberger’s Invitation to Biblical Interpretation (Kregel, 2011), and Fee and Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Zondervan, 2014) are good very basic introductions to this field. After grasping the basic content of this study the student will be helped by consulting introductory works focused on narrative poetics like Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative (Basic, 2011), Ryken’s How Bible Stories Work (Weaver, 2015), or Longman’s Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation (Zondervan, 1987). There are also several advanced works in the field by Amit (Reading Biblical Narratives, Fortress, 2001), Berlin (Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative, Eisenbrauns, 1994), Bar-Efrat (Narrative Art in the Bible, T&T Clark, 2004), Sternberg (The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, Indiana University Press, 1987), and others that the advanced student would greatly benefit from.
Daniel S. Diffey
Grand Canyon University