STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 11/22/2010
Reading = Listening
Paul Borgman, Professor of English
When English professor Paul Borgman was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, he took an ancient literature class that stressed the importance of reading ancient texts in the mindset of their original audience. He was fascinated with this approach to Bible passages but couldn’t have imagined the longevity of this interest: Literary examination of biblical texts has become Dr. Borgman’s primary field of expertise and the work he finds most fulfilling.
Why is Borgman so enthralled with the academic study of biblical narrative? He believes he has a contribution to make, a missing piece to supply. Biblical texts were crafted primarily as oral literature, their authors steeped in a culture attuned to auditory patterns. “The Bible has its own rhetorical techniques,” says Borgman. “It presents itself with hearing codes—patterns of repetition—that go unrecognized by modern readers. To understand what the writers intended, he explains, we must be aware of these patterns: for example, five teaching clusters of Jesus in Matthew; a ring composition (chiasmus) in Luke 9:51–19:44; and allow them to inform the meaning of the work.
Author of three books on biblical narrative, Dr. Borgman is using his sabbatical this fall to work on a new project, Introduction to the Bible: Readings and Contexts. It will provide in-depth readings of 16 biblical texts and offer bridge chapters to fill in the gaps, offering a comprehensive guide to reading the Bible as ancient literature. This is not an esoteric exercise but rather an effort to restore to modern readers what was common understanding to ancient audiences. Dr. Borgman draws many ideas from discussions in his biblical literature classes. “My writing is totally energized and informed by my teaching, and my teaching is totally informed and energized by my writing. In that I am totally blessed.”