Sunday, July 4, 2010

Book Review: The Faith of the Outsider

One of my colleagues, Frank Spina, wrote this book and I got a copy free by attending a workshop a week ago. I only had to read the first two chapters, but I kept going, because what I found was original analysis that brought new light to old stories, with a common theme: how many times in the Bible God brings an "outsider" in and an "insider" out. The outsiders are Esau, Tamar, Rahab, the sailors and the Assyrians (in Jonah), Naaman, Ruth, and the woman at the well. In each instance I learned something new and illuminating, especially when I thought I already knew the story. This is what scholarship is for -- and what a Sabbath is for, in fact, this kind of accessible study that subverts some of the things you thought you knew, and in the end, supports the important things.

The treatment of Rahab in particular, when contrasted with the insider Achan, helps the whole book of Joshua to make sense to me. It's all too easy to caricature Joshua as a military, genocidal book, when the focus on Rahab and Achan shows that Israel isn't about race or ethnicity. Spina brought Joshua back to me. (By the way, his Weter Lecture from a few years back is an excellent and absorbing treatment of "the war of the concubine" at the end of Judges. Most people don't even know about that story because it's one of the darkest in the canon. But Spina shows what that story does in his talk.)

I'm genuinely surprised to see some bad reviews for this book out there, like on the Publisher's Weekly blurb. It is so obviously a good book to me that all I can say is, those reviewers must've had some bone to pick. Most of the reviews are good, and most of the reviews are right.

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