Editing Brueggemann: An Interview with Brent A. Strawn
What’s it like to edit Brueggmann’s work? Today, we have an interview with the Rev. Dr. Brent A. Strawn, Ph.D., who serves as chair of the Hebrew Bible Course of Study (Ph.D.) at Emory’s Graduate Division of Religion and director of the D.Min. Program and professor of Old Testament at Candler School of Theology. See his full bio here.
Strawn served as editor for the recently released From Whom No Secrets are Hid: An Introduction to the Psalms (WJK, 2014). Below, he discusses his connection to Brueggemann as well as his experience editing the volume.
Q: Do you remember your first experience with Brueggemann’s writings on the psalms?
A: I think I first heard of Brueggemann’s psalms work via a friend who was raving about The Message of the Psalms while I was still an undergraduate. I didn’t read that book myself until much later, however, and only after my reading of several of Brueggemann’s classic essays on the Psalms that were edited by Patrick D. Miller in The Psalms and the Life of Faith. I was taken with those, not just the typology essay, which was such a breakthrough, but also the essay on “The Costly Loss of Lament” and “The Formfulness of Grief.” These were mind-blowing.
Q. How did you come to be involved in this new book?
A. Brueggemann and I have been friends and cross-town colleagues for years. One day he asked me if I might consider a favor for him. This new book was the favor!
Q: What’s it like to curate and edit someone like Brueggemann?
A: I had edited things for Walter before. The first was an article for a Festschrift I coedited. Another was his book on The Theology of the Book of Jeremiah, for a series I coedit. So I had some experience with editing him before this particular book. Of course the first challenge that should be mentioned is that it is intimidating to edit a master in the field and someone of Brueggemann’s stature! Another challenge is varying certain phrases that he is particularly fond of. Those phrase are all good—to be sure!—but if they recur too often the prose can feel too repetitive to my eye/ear, and so altering the language here and there helps keep the language fresh. The hardest thing by far, however, was writing my own introduction to the book—one that tried to do at least some justice to the brilliance of the chapters that follow.
Q: Why do you think Brueggemann’s work on the psalms has been particularly engaging for so many readers?
A: For the same reason that all of his work is engaging to readers—because he is engaging! He brings the text in its fullness, its richness, its complexity, its deep problems and its profound promise all the way to our own day and age. Lots of people do that, or try to do it. I know of only a very few that can do it like Brueggemann. Still fewer that do it with his panache. And while a precious few can do this as well as Brueggemann, no one does it better.
Q: What are some of your favorite parts of this book?
A: There are two high points in the book for me. First is the essay on the psalms as a counter-world. That is worth the price of the book alone and is entirely in line with Brueggemann’s accent throughout his corpus on the Bible nourishing and evoking an alternative consciousness. The other high point is the way he weaves texts together—again, familiar from his corpus—in stunning and generative ways. His use of the feeding stories in the Gospels with reference to the Psalms was entirely new to me. And remarkable!
Q: What are a few ways Brueggemann’s scholarship has affected your broad work as a Hebrew Bible scholar?
A: Many ways, no doubt, and too many to list briefly. Lately I have been impressed again with his canonical dexterity—his full biblical fluency, you might say—and the bit about the feeding of the five thousand and the psalms in the previous answer is just one instantiation of that. Brueggemann’s control of the biblical corpus is breathtaking. I aspire to that in my own work and am quite certain I will never get there. He remains an inspirational model, regardless.