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People of the Book

Christian Identity and Literary Culture

by David Lyle Jeffrey

POD: $37.50

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> Details

ISBN: 9780802841773

Page Count: 416

Publication Date: 8/8/1996

Trim Size: 6 x 9

> Description

This astute and challenging work by David Lyle Jeffrey seeks to characterize illustratively the historic commitment of Christianity to the literacy and literature of Western culture.

Against postmodernist tendencies to divide the historical commitment to meaning in Western art and literature as a regressive "logocentrism," Jeffrey argues that the biblical tradition — the cultural and literary identity forged among Western Christians by virtue of being a "People of the Book" — has in fact given rise to Western literacy. Jeffrey here offers a fresh and generous look at the Christian "grand narrative" as it is reflected in Western literature, making apt use of the visual arts by incorporating a series of twenty-eight black-and-white illustrations that serves to enrich and fortify the story it tells.

> Reviews - /

"Readers who have been influenced or infuriated by Bloom, Derrida, Taylor, and other contemporary critics will find this book fascinating (whether or not they agree with Jeffrey's reading of those critics), as will readers with a more general interest in the history of English literature and its relation to Christianity."
Calvin Theological Journal
"Jeffrey's book is without question a valuable contribution to hermeneutics, intellectual history, and literary theory. Its interdisciplinary outlook is combined with careful scholarship. . . An outstanding work."
"In an impressive attempt to answer literary critics who mistrust the 'logocentrism' of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, Jeffrey singles out Harold Bloom's Deconstruction and Criticism and Susan Handelman's explanation of Derrida in Slayers of Moses as typical of the criticism he opposes. . . [Jeffrey] contends that in the development of Western literature since ancient times, the word itself was not so important; rather, it mattered because it led inevitably beyond itself to God, and to the expectation that the author would speak ethically to the human condition. Therefore, concentrating on the word rather than on that to which it referred was always a form of idealism, even idolatry, that the Christian tradition never countenanced. Jeffrey offers a fascinating survey of this tradition, from the biblical writers to recent American fiction and poetry, persuasively tying together this disparate material while showing the price such critical theories as deconstruction have paid for abandoning the text, and with it the word. One need not have any personal Christian belief to learn a great deal from Jeffrey's arguments. His evident faith position leaves him with little patience for the American Puritan influence and its recent political manifestations. A number of illustrations, thorough notes, and two indexes enhance the usefulness of this book."
Church History
"Erudite and pleasantly instructive. . . There is much that is engaging and illuminating in this book, and its display of Christian history as the cultural history of reading is edifying."
First Things
"Jeffrey has written a fascinating and provocative book, one that deserves wide reading not only among Christians but also among those literary scholars and cultural historians for whom the power of the Bible is an unfortunate historical accident they would prefer to neglect or forget."
Grant Wacker (Duke University)
"David Lyle Jeffrey writes with clarity and power, and his erudition is simply awesome. His text moves deftly from Augustine to Goethe to Flannery O'Connor to Harold Bloom. Jeffrey seems to have read everything ever written about the role of the Bible in the formation of Western culture. Fortunately for us, he wears his learning lightly, as truly first-rate scholars always do. Jeffrey himself surely ranks as one of the premier Christian thinkers of the late twentieth century."
Publishers Weekly
"An elegant literary critical study in the tradition of Matthew Arnold, Geoffrey Hartman and Wayne Booth. It will be instrumental in recovering for humanistic literary studies the deep significance of reading literature from a religious perspective."
Studies in Religion
"An important contribution to the study of Christian poetics."
Theological Studies
"A convincing, deeply and widely informed reading of almost 2000 years of a book-oriented culture."
"People of the Book is something of a tour de force, not only in terms of the extraordinary range of illustrations from literature and art, all of them sensitively introduced and discussed, but also in the way the whole work is held together by the relentless working out of a single argument. Not all will necessarily agree with the argument in all its aspects, but such a masterly array of fascinating evidence, marshalled here for the first time in this readable form, will in itself ensure that literary theorists as well as theologians and students of the history of biblical interpretation, will read and enjoy it for many years to come."
"Jeffrey has written a fine volume attempting to restore an understanding of Western literary culture as having the Bible as its deepest source. In the process he offers a trenchant challenge to the moral and spiritual shortcomings of much in contemporary literary theory. Jeffrey's erudition is vast, and he takes the reader deftly from early biblical commentary to Augustine, to Flannery O'Connor and Harold Bloom with a rich clarity and vigor. A view of literature that, while embedded in tradition, is also patiently relevant to modern literary theory and practice."
Patrick Grant
— University of Victoria
"Powerfully conceived and compellingly argued across an impressive range of historical examples, this book seeks to restore Western literary culture to its most sustaining fountainhead, the Bible, and by so doing to restore depth and moral authority to literature itself. From a Christian perspective, David Lyle Jeffrey offers a weighty challenge to many fashionable trends in criticism today, but he also rises above these trends to offer a view of literature and culture at once deeply traditional and excitingly relevant to modern literary theory and practice. The result is an outstanding book, a tour de force that will captivate enquiring readers, on whatever side of the faith question they stand."
Walter J. Ong
— Saint Louis University
"Deeply informed and astute, this book works through the multiple views of literature and textuality from ancient through postmodern in order to discern and describe the cultural and literary identity of Christianity in terms of the Bible and related literature. Ultimately, Christian identity is established not simply by assimilation of words or text but by embodiment in deeds in the person of the reader after encountering the sacred writings. A remarkably far-ranging and profound study."
Michael Edwards
— University of Warwick
"A timely rejoinder to the often ill-informed dismissal of Christianity in current literary theory. This book demonstrates, with vigor and wide learning, the richness through the centuries of a Christian reflection on language and reading, and exposes the hermeneutical as well as the moral and spiritual shortcomings of much of the modern theoretical enterprise. One of its many strengths lies in bringing before the reader, at key moments, the huge sanity of Augustine."

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