Dialogue and Drama: Elements of Greek Tragedy in the Fourth Gospel. By Jo-Ann A. Brant. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers. 2004. Pp. xvi + 304. $19.95.
John’s Gospel has been analyzed historically, theologically, structurally and narratively, yielding rich insights. John has been valued as a spiritual Gospel, foundational to early church Christology, seminal for trinitarian theology, witness to historical traditions independent of the synoptic Gospels, a theological account of Jesus’ ministry, influenced by Greek philosophy, a mystical treatise, an artistic narrative with irony and chiasm, a drama for storytelling and more.
Jo-Ann Brant, professor and chair of Bible and religion at Goshen College, proposes a fresh, provocative approach: that John’s narrative resembles Greek tragedies and conforms to theatrical text-conventions. Many exegetical enigmas, especially in the discourses, are explained by viewing the narrative as text for stage. She compares John to Greek tragedies, and Shakespeare, to show similarity.
Brant knows theater well, ancient and modern; this reviewer does not. So the simultaneous shock and appreciation in reading this book was predictable. Reading the first chapters of the book in which Brant shows the plausibility of the Gospel’s theatric conventions, one may wonder, “How is this possible, given Judaism’s struggle against Greco-Roman culture, especially the Roman theater as subversive to faith? Who in early Jewish Christianity would write such a Gospel and for what purpose'” I bracketed these questions, however, to keep an open mind, and found much intriguing insight.
Several features are striking. The manner in which characters appear and speak in John, together with the shifting of scenes, accords well with on-stage roles. Further, these characters carry forward the narrative plot, culminating in the stage-type “inside” and “outside” appearance of Pilate during the trial. Irony plays a major role, which though studied widely by John scholars, gains greater force on stage. The interplay between signs and discourses enlivens performance, with mounting hostility from the religious leaders as the plot unfolds. Not only does Brant lace her presentation of John with parallel features in Greek tragedy, but she also shows how John’s reporting of events differs significantly from Matthew’s and Luke’s (only rarely does she compare John with Mark; see below on this). Structurally, John’s Gospel fits the form of stage-tragedy.
Her lengthy chapter 2, “Speech as Action,” is impressive. John uses deictic language, words that point toward, such as “come” and “go”; and that signify, such as “that [one] ekeinos” and “this [one] houtos”; and he makes frequent use of intensives: I (ego); we (hymeis) and you (sy, hymin). Deictic language invites the listener/reader into the subjectivity of the characters. It emphasizes time, space and modality. Of the dozen “speech-action” features Brant discusses, the most fascinating is her analysis of “flyting,” characteristic of discourses in both Greek tragedies and John. Flyting is a form of argument in which opponents duel, besting the other’s position and reasoning. The discourses in John 5, 6, 8 and 10 consist of “flyting” between Jesus and “the Jews.” These discourses gain in clarity. Further, she notes that in Greek tragedy the winner in the linguistic flyt-duel often ends up losing the battle, since the opponent(s) resort(s) to mortal violence-exactly what happens in John. Brant builds on this insight to understand Jesus’ excoriation of “the Jews.” In the performance a person, perhaps representing a group, plays the antagonist role in order to create the plot-dynamic of the theatric production. Characters present the text; roles in real life differ significantly from that depicted in the text. Thus, Jesus’ harsh words to “the Jews” and their sharp criticism of Jesus do not necessarily reflect life relations. She notes that Jesus, his disciples and the loved Bethany family were all Jews. John as theater does not provide warrant for Christian animosity toward Jews as a people, or vice versa. The oft-lamented Johannine vilification of “the Jews” is resolved partly at least by respecting the genre of the literature; to read John otherwise does violence to both the genre and the people. Brant’s treatment of John 6 in which “the Jews”-or his disciples for that matter-cannot understand Jesus’ invitation to “eat” (literally chew, trogein) his flesh (cannibalism’) should be understood as irony, not sacramental theology. Debates over the doctrinal nature of the Lord’s Supper could have been avoided.
The third chapter zeroes in on Jesus self-consciousness and omniscience, his persona. Brant notes that Jesus’ speech is often ambiguous; double meaning confounds his hearers (e.g., “born again”/anothen; “above” and “below”; “lifted up”). The result of this cascading misunderstanding alienates Jesus from everyone, except perhaps the Samaritan woman and the man born blind. Even the disciples in the Upper Room discourse do not understand what Jesus means, as Philip’s questions indicate. After the resurrection this changes. Jesus speaks clearly, unites with his disciples and forms community. Now being “lifted up” becomes clear: the cross is resurrection-glorification. Brant compares Jesus’ death to the hero in Greek tragedy, describing it as a “beautiful” death, fulfilling his Father’s will, caring for his mother, giving his life for others and reuniting with his followers. These features are wonderful theatrical staging.
Her last chapter is more theological, in which she fuses John’s distinctive theology with theatric conventions. Wedding and death images are intertwined, and clarified in the culmination of the plot, for Jesus is the bridegroom who dies, and lives again. Again, Greek tragedies show parallel features. But the punch comes when Brant says finally that John subverts the tragedy genre. For Jesus’ resurrection means union of humans with God. Pain yields to joy-“that your joy might be full!” Thus, John uses tragedy genre, but explodes it by showing that Jesus, his mission and work vindicated by resurrection, subverts the tragedy genre.
Like Philip, I ask, “How can these things be'” Who in early Christianity would have known and utilized Greco-Roman theater conventions so well? And for what purpose? Brant does not propose that John was staged in the tradition of a Greek tragedy in the Roman theater, though the tragedy genre she claims for the Gospel would lend itself to such use. Perhaps it was used in church assemblies on the occasion of Passover Festivals (since such form the structure the book). While Brant does not answer the “use” question clearly, she does suggest that the “audience takes a role in the performance . . . as a congregation to engage in a corporate act of remembrance” (260-261). How did it happen that the early church canonized such a Gospel? Did Irenaeus, Tertullian and Athanasius recognize this rich theatrical resource? Or was this oral dimension of the Gospel lost as the text became authoritative Scripture? These historical and canonical questions beg for answers.
Other questions arise also. First, certainly the Gospel of Mark also has dramatic features as Whitney Shiner’s Proclaiming the Gospel: First-Century Performance of Mark (Trinity Press International, 2003) persuasively argues. But does oral performance mean conformity to theatric conventions? What is the relation between recognizing that the Gospels circulated orally before-and alongside their written form-and Brant’s thesis? Second, while Brant’s analysis regards Jesus’ “I AM” declarations as mystifying and “alienating,” how is it that precisely these images have functioned to empower a spirituality of intimacy and union between Jesus and his followers? Third, would a theatric rendering of the Gospel have lessened or exacerbated the early church’s separation from and hostility toward the synagogue? Might the Holocaust have been avoided if the church had realized that “the Jews” were simply a theatrical text role? Is her view that “being put out of the synagogue” (three times in John) means not separation of two peoples for reasons of differing beliefs (and should not mean that today either), but rather a loss of friendship by losing community?
Brant’s book is scholarly, well-written, engaging and remarkably persuasive. But viewing John’s Gospel thus, while perhaps muting doctrinal debates, raises historical questions not easily resolved.
Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary WILLARD M. SWARTLEY
Inheriting Wisdom: Readings for Today from Ancient Christian Writers. Edited by Everett Ferguson. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers. 2004. Pp. 319. $16.95.
Although the sixteenth-century Anabaptists often thought of themselves as successors of the early Christians, contemporary Mennonites often know very little about early Christianity. Everett Ferguson’s Inheriting Wisdom is a wonderful resource to remedy that deficiency.
Ferguson is one of America’s foremost patristic scholars; he also is a member of the Church of Christ, and as such has contributed learned papers to the Believers Church conferences. In this book he offers the fruits of his five decades of immersion in the writings of the early Christians. Inheriting Wisdom contains hundreds of quotations, expertly selected, from the Christians of the first seven centuries. Ferguson organizes these according to five topics: Social Existence; Good and Bad; Conversion and Salvation; Life-Nourishing Doctrines; and Christian Living. Under each of these Ferguson provides a satisfying mixture of doctrine and practice. One can learn a great deal from the book about how the early Christians thought and approached practical issues-there is, for example, an excellent conspectus of early Christian statements about enemy-loving.
Ferguson’s selection of materials is fascinating. They range from the early (the Didache) to the late (John of Damascus). Virtually all the significant early Christian writers are represented, but there are interesting bulges-Ferguson provides many quotes from the desert fathers. His approach is unusual. Conventional treatments of early Christian writings often seem to start mentally with the doctrines, institutions and practices of Christendom, and then read these backward into the early centuries, perhaps with the comment that “the early Christians did not agree about thus and so.” Ferguson, on the other hand, begins with the New Testament and reads forward. During the first four centuries he finds considerable unanimity; and although he then quotes later fathers, he does so, it appears, when they agree with what the earlier Christians had written. So he is able to write, of human freedom of choice: “there is no subject on which Christian writers of the first four centuries speak with more unanimity than free will” (109). Although he quotes Augustine of Hippo on other issues, Augustine is notably silent on this one! Indeed, it is remarkable to find a collection of early Christian writings that has 105 quotes from Clement of Alexandria and only 16 from Augustine. One must conclude that Ferguson has lovingly collected those early Christian writings that he himself has found nourishing.
Lovingly, indeed, is the proper adverb to describe how Ferguson has approached this task. As one of America’s premier classicists, he has lovingly retranslated the vast majority of the texts that he includes, even though many are available in other, often inferior, translations. This is an arduous as well as loving labor! It is also a beautiful book. Hendrickson has produced it elegantly, and the typefaces are a pleasure to behold. Ferguson’s editorial comments are not extensive, but they are useful.
I greet this book enthusiastically, and recommend that scholars and pastors in the Anabaptist tradition buy it and learn to know a body of writings that can speak to us and our times with profundity and eloquence.
Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary ALAN KREIDER
Martin Bucer: A Reformer and His Times. By Martin Greschat. Translated by Stephen E. Buckwalter. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press. 2004. Pp. 334. $34.95.
This is the English translation of Martin Bucer: Ein Reformator und seine Zeit, originally published in 1990 (Munich: C.H. Beck). Martin Greschat’s biography was the first full-length study of Bucer’s life since Hastings Eells’s Martin Bucer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1931; reprinted New York: Russell and Russell, 1971), and was followed by a spate of works on Bucer throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium.
In the first two chapters of the biography, Greschat describes Bucer’s early life in the Alsatian town of Slestat, his entry into the Observant branch of the Dominican order in 1507, the more advanced stages of his education at Heidelberg, his encounter with Luther, and his various activities between his flight from the Dominican convent and his arrival in Strasbourg as an impoverished refugee in May 1523. Four lengthy central chapters deal with Bucer’s activities in Strasbourg and his rise to prominence within the Protestant movement. Each of these chapters has both a topical and a chronological focus, giving a clear overview of the major stages of Bucer’s career: the early years in Strasbourg up to the abolition of the Mass in 1529; the five key years (1529-1534) from the abolition of the Mass to the publication of the Strasbourg church ordinance in the wake of the synod of 1533; Bucer’s struggle for Protestant unity and church discipline in the later 1530s; and his involvement in the religious colloquies of the early 1540s. Greschat movingly describes the disappointments of the late 1540s in his seventh chapter, which tells the story both of the broader Protestant defeat by the imperial troops in the Schmalkaldic War and of Bucer’s final failure to implement his ideas of reform in Strasbourg. Chapter 8 describes Bucer’s flight to England and his last years there (1549-1551) as professor of theology at Cambridge. In a very brief conclusion, Greschat summarizes what he believes to be Bucer’s ongoing importance, describing him as a “theologian of dialogue” (252) who held conflicting emphases in tension and worked toward a model of Christian society that “presupposed a fully new ecclesiology based on the individual responsibility of every single Christian” (253).
The tenth chapter, of particular interest to Bucer specialists, is new to this edition and responds to the rich developments in Bucer scholarship since the original publication of the biography. The bibliography of this edition has been expanded to include not only the works mentioned in the new chapter but also other relevant recent scholarship. Furthermore, it helpfully lists the individual volumes of the critical edition of Bucer’s works, as well as the two most accessible and important English translations of writings by Bucer.
Greschat tells the story of Bucer’s life in a straightforward and balanced fashion, weaving together a vivid narrative of events, descriptions of the geographic, political and cultural background, and a summary of Bucer’s major theological works that places them in the context of his other activities. Both the German and English editions contain maps of the various cities and regions where Bucer lived and worked (Slestat, Wissembourg, Strasbourg, Hesse, Kln, Cambridge), and readers not familiar with the period will gain valuable insights into sixteenth-century society.
Readers of this journal will be particularly interested in the discussion of Bucer’s interactions with Anabaptists and other radicals in chapters 3 and 4 (see especially pp. 67-70 and 118-127; also 153-156 in chapter 5, describing Bucer’s dealings with the Anabaptists in Hesse). The Strasbourg synod of 1533, in particular, brought to an end Strasbourg’s years of tolerance for radical activity, and Bucer played the dominant role in this turn toward repression. At the same time, Bucer repeatedly attempted to establish offices and structures that would allow for more rigorous discipline within the Strasbourg church (see 143-151). At the very end of his career in Strasbourg, he sought to establish “Christian fellowships” of devout people who would voluntarily choose to submit to strict pastoral oversight and admonition (211-217). Greschat notes that Bucer saw lax discipline in the state church as one of the things that drove people to the Anabaptists (120), but he does not emphasize the connection between Bucer’s encounters with radicals and his concern for discipline.
Greschat’s published articles on Bucer focus on the reformer’s early years and the influences that shaped his theological training, and his account of Bucer’s education in this biography is the clearest existing survey of a rather murky subject. As in his other published work on Bucer, Greschat argues that Bucer was deeply influenced by the theology of Thomas Aquinas, and that this, together with his admiration for Erasmus, formed the grid through which he interpreted Luther (26-29). In chapter 10, Greschat backs away from the claim that Bucer “misunderstood” Luther, but stands by his basic thesis about Bucer’s use of Thomas and Erasmus. Clearly Bucer studied the theology of Aquinas as a Dominican, and his early admiration for Erasmus is evident. But with regard to Aquinas in particular, Greschat overstates the case, arguing that Bucer’s view of love of neighbor as a law implanted in creation by God is “Thomistic” (56-57). In fact, Bucer rejects the Thomistic (and generally medieval) view of the “ordo caritatis,” instead defining goodness in terms of total devotion to the other. While Bucer uses Thomistic categories, the content of what he is arguing is quite un-Thomistic.
The translation of secondary sources is a thankless but important task, and Stephen Buckwalter has carried it out with distinction. The English text has occasional awkward moments reminding the reader that it is a translation, but this is almost unavoidable in translating German scholarly prose. There are also occasional points at which one could challenge Buckwalter’s choice of wording, but these are usually debatable points of nuance where a fully accurate rendition is extremely difficult. For instance, in discussing the breach between Bucer and the Swiss following his rapprochement with Luther, Buckwalter’s translation states that Bullinger sought “to distance himself from the Strasbourg reformer in the rudest way possible” (195). Greschat’s German reads, “sich so schroff als mglich von ihm zu distanzieren” (203). “Schroff” is probably better translated here as “abrupt” rather than “rude.” Bullinger was not trying to insult Bucer personally, but to distinguish his position from Bucer’s accommodating policies. Of course, the fact that a reviewer is reduced to making such minute criticisms serves to demonstrate the quality of Buckwalter’s translation.
This biography gives to English-speaking readers the finest existing study of the life of a too little-known reformer. Readers unfamiliar with Bucer will find a readable account with rich historical background. Those interested in Anabaptist history now have an invaluable resource for understanding one of the greatest opponents of the Radical Reformation, and for evaluating the way in which the early Anabaptists left their mark even on their enemies. Specialists in the Reformation have at their disposal an excellent summary of current research on Bucer (in the additional chapter) and a fine bibliography for further study. With this translation, Buckwalter has done outstanding service to both Reformation scholarship and the broader community of readers.
Chatham, N.J. EDWIN WOODRUFF TAIT
Hans-Jrgen Goertz, Das schwierige Erbe der Mennoniten: Aufstze und Reden. Ed. by Marion Kobelt-Groch and Christoph Wiebe. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt. 2002. Pp. 215.
Hans-Jrgen Goertz needs no introduction in the pages of MQR. Though he is perhaps best known for his Thomas Mntzer studies, and his focus on Reformation-era anticlericalism, his purview, colored by sociological and theological perspectives, extends as well to many an Anabaptist movement and tradition, and also to historical continuity of early Anabaptism in the ongoing story of the Mennonites through the centuries.
The volume at hand (“The Difficult Legacy of the Mennonites: Articles and Addresses”) consists of thirteen interpretive essays, two of which are published here for the first time, and eleven others, published over a period of thirty years. Goertz reworked elements of these earlier articles both stylistically and, at times, substantively, and this updating created a volume presenting his views as of 2002. Editors Marion Kobelt-Groch and Christoph Wiebe, in their foreword, present these various essays as a single unit that reveals Goertz’s captivating interest-his critical yet loving engagement with questions about Mennonite existence throughout history, a theme that he could never let go. Goertz, they say, has remained Mennonite, loyal to the faith of his spiritual ancestors, albeit in his own manner, as a sort of maverick.
The previously unpublished pieces are “Menno Simons: Eine biographische Skizze” and “Ein mennonitisches Haus der Geschichte.” The first sets Menno within the larger social and theological context of the Reformation, and also contrasts Menno’s approach with that of the Swiss Brethren. The second is an address given in 1998 at the dedication of the new building housing the Mennonitische Forschungsstelle.
How are we to interpret the Goertz of 2002? This volume provides many clues, including his choice of entries, edited and at times changed in substance from the original. Here, then, is a self-interpretation of a leading German Anabaptist scholar with a consciously Mennonite faith and outlook. The examples that follow illustrate Goertz’s thought from the broadly general to specifics that seem most significant to him.
Variety of Anabaptist Movements. Goertz underscores the great variety of Anabaptist traditions, holding in common believers’ baptism, yet building the remainder of their theologies upon exceedingly different faith foundations. The word “Anabaptism,” in many cases, needs to be replaced with “the Anabaptists” (59-60, 73), and, if used at all, needs to retain the heterogeneity of the various individual groups. Goertz also notes, for those less acquainted with Anabaptist research, the need to be aware that “whoever observes Anabaptism more exactly will also discern the polygenetic characteristics of the individual movements, and refuse to condemn the Anabaptists across the board. They have no genetic connection with medieval heretical movements, but processed the experiences of their time religiously, in their own manner” (25).
Contrasting the Zurich Reformers and the Zurich Anabaptists. According to Goertz, the reformers wanted to postpone a renewal of ecclesiastical precepts (Ordnungen), so as not to burden the consciences of the old believers (Catholics), and not to nettle them unduly into opposing the newly discovered Gospel. The radicals saw the situation differently. They could not bear to expect those to wait who had just come into faith, and who were directed to supporting biblical precepts in order to establish themselves as followers of Christ. Reading and discussing Holy Scripture in the circle of the brethren became the germ cell of a new understanding of church. Goertz also notes that Grebel was not the founder of Anabaptism, as Harold S. Bender had thought. Others participated in the founding of Anabaptism (“Andere waren an der Grndung des Tufertums ebenfalls beteiligt”). Nor was Grebel the one to set the tone, and certainly not the one who created the catchwords (28, 30, 34).
Thoughts on Menno Simons. According to Goertz, there is no doubt that Menno established the Anabaptist tenets of believers’ baptism and the ban, and the refusing to take the oath and to participate in warfare, to such a degree that they “were steeped deeply into the consciousness of those who came after him” (113). Goertz then goes on to summarize effectively the gradual transformation-socially, culturally and theologically-of this Low Country Mennonite tradition through the centuries.
Contrasting Menno Simons and the Swiss Brethren. For Goertz, Menno’s Anabaptism in certain ways was reminiscent of that of the Swiss Brethren, but there were characteristics that testified to a different spirit (25). Grebel stood at the beginning of a movement; Menno happened into a movement already established. There is nothing in Menno comparable to the Swiss Anabaptist vision, “which for a time could be kindled into a flaming spark from the sources of Swiss Anabaptism” (48).
The Swiss Brethren Legacy among North American Mennonites. Of special significance for North American Mennonites is Goertz’s view that a significant portion of the Swiss Anabaptist legacy is embedded within the character of North American Mennonite congregations, including the self-understanding of the historic peace churches. He sees that the pacifist impulses of the Swiss Anabaptists were stronger than those of Dutch-North-German-Russian Mennonitism. The Mennonite Central Committee, too, shows signs of the strong impulses of the Swiss tradition, resulting in a worldwide program of reconciliation “in the Name of Jesus Christ” (77).
German Mennonites and the Third Reich. Interpreting the socioreligious changes within German Mennonitism over several generations, Goertz notes that the German Mennonites gradually lost the nonconformist edge of the early Swiss Brethren and of Menno Simons, who had welded religion and life into a unified piece. Under the influence of the Third Reich, German Mennonites split this Anabaptist unity, and in so doing, lost their critical vigor, as was so tragically evidenced during the era of National Socialism (1933-1945). Without a genuine understanding of the original spirit of Anabaptism, these Mennonites lost their rootedness (54, 141-143). Goertz analyzes this dark chapter, and draws three observations. First, when a person no longer knows who he or she is, such a person is in crisis. Not knowing results in an individual without attributes, and a denomination without distinctiveness. Second, one may take refuge in, and call to account, one’s denominational origin, out of which may come strength for one’s unique path or for new impulses. Third, in times of crisis we need to pay conscious attention to the beguiling charm of the political, cultural and social environment that wields a powerful influence upon small faith fellowships such as the Mennonites (186-187). Goertz also analyzes in some detail the urban phenomenon of many Mennonite groups, and the transforming negative pressures this places on maintaining continuity with that heritage (188-191).
Goertz’s Vision. Goertz centers his vision-which he also understands to be the central vision of the early Swiss Anabaptists-on the life and spirit of Jesus and the early church. What follows summarizes some of Goertz’s insights.
The Anabaptists centered themselves in history, squarely in the life of Jesus and the Apostolic Church. They stepped in the footprints of Jesus and took the cross upon themselves (169-170). They separated holy history (Heilsgeschichte) from world history (a separation that is no longer true today). Their intention to restore the Apostolic Church arose from their self-understanding, based on their love of a church that accepts those of faith who encourage and admonish one another in filial discipline to remain steadfast in faith and follow their Lord Jesus Christ obediently. Unfortunately, within Mennonite history this approach at times led to less-than-redemptive disciplining (209-210).
As for how one is to interpret Jesus, Goertz notes that although his words might be misunderstood at times, his deeds cannot be misunderstood. He ate and drank with sinners, the dispossessed and outlawed, and he died on the cross – not inadvertently, but for the sake of justice. The consequences for him were human, temporal, physical. Whoever advocates in this manner for justice creates peace. Both revolutionaries and pacifists battle injustice, and both work for the future: those who are not Christians, for a more just society in the future; and those who are Christian, for the in-breaking of God’s kingdom of peace (182-183).
The early Anabaptists defied governments acting contrary to God, whose magistrates coerced their subjects into participating in the killing of the enemy, even though Jesus had preached love of enemy – as the Swiss Brethren and Menno Simons clearly emphasized (184).
Churches find themselves in a paradoxical situation. They search for an identity that does not fully exist within the conditions of temporal existence. For this reason they are fellowships that live with an eye toward utopia: trusting in a Spirit that will “lead them in all truth.” Only within this Truth can each church come into its own. Although the vision of such a fellowship is utopian, it is a necessary utopia (196).
Goertz asks the question of whether the ideas and thoughts of the Anabaptists and Mennonites can be helpful in weighing our current situation and experiences, and in considering what are our next steps that we must take. He answers by noting the paradox that the backward look impels us forward (173).
Goertz’s Views of Church. Going into further detail on the nature of the church, Goertz breaks down his description into several points: The church is no hierarchically structured association of those who lord it over others. There are no lay members, but each member is a priest. Church is a fellowship of brothers and sisters who gather around the Lord of the Church, placing themselves at his disposal, each, in light of his or her abilities and talents. They place themselves at the disposal of a Lord who came not “to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28) (211).
Furthermore, church is different from any model of a political constitution, whether that of a monarchy or democracy (211). The church and its members remain neutral vis–vis civic politics, not becoming involved in the political scene, but maintaining the bond that ties the church to the freedom-working Word of God-in biblical terms, the “freedom of the children of God.” Such freedom cannot exist where doctrinal and institutional coercion reigns (207-209).
Goertz emphasizes that the church is not where the Word of God is preached in all purity, but rather, where two or three are gathered in His name. This fellowship is also the Sitz im Leben for theological reflection-the hermeneutical process of the theology of the gathered congregation (Theologie der Gemeinde) (212). Yet church is not without form and image. It is a fellowship that serves, is seen and heard. It is a fellowship of the Holy Spirit: provisional, and open to Spirit-worked change (213).
Dialogue with our Past. The sixteenth-century Anabaptist experiences, according to Goertz, are not to be repeated today by way of imitation; nor should we merely mimic the theological expressions of that time. They were honed in response to a specific situation and time. Thus we can with good conscience wrestle with the demands of today, working all this from a religious perspective without the fear of running into conflict with our origins. Yet those very Anabaptist impulses that were so vital in the sixteenth century can impel us today, opening up to us convincing prospects and opportunities that also bear upon our tackling the tasks of our day (194).
Interpreting Hans-Jrgen Goertz. We are at a point in Anabaptist research where a new perspective is again coming into its own, a position that is not afraid to acknowledge the essentialness of questions of faith as being vital and needed elements in historical interpretation. Andrea Strbind (Eifriger als Zwingli), Abraham Friesen (Erasmus, the Anabaptists, and the Great Commission) and Hans-Jrgen Goertz (in the volume at hand), as well as others, are leading the way. It has to do with what we feel in our bones (Goertz), and for all three scholars, a careful inductive reading of the Swiss Brethren reaffirms many of the insights of Harold S. Bender and John Howard Yoder. This is a side of Goertz that heretofore has not always been transparent: a deep concern and love for the church.
At the end of his essay, “Why I am a Mennonite,” Goertz pens the following:
Along with Hans Denck I am a religious individualist; with Conrad Grebel, an uncompromising biblicist; with Johannes Brtli, a believing revolutionary; with Michael Sattler, a devout pacifist; with Jacob Hutter, a radical communitarian; with Menno Simons, a concerned evangelist; with David Joris, an anarchistic aesthete. These are variants of Christian existence. As long as they cause me to think, and do not jealously forbid me to listen and accept what others believe, think and say – above all, however, to hear the voice of the one who is the Truth and Life – I shall hold faithfully to this “faith” of my forebears. This is my attempt ecumenically to come to terms with my confessional affiliation (18).
Out of this broad array, however, Goertz seems to align himself personally most closely with the Swiss Anabaptist vision, as described by Bender in 1943. Other Anabaptist traditions have these components in some form, but Goertz’s affirmation of a Theologie der Gemeinde (212) suggests his personal alignment and vision to be most closely attuned to the Swiss Brethren vision, rather than that of the somewhat authoritative Menno Simons (notwithstanding Goertz’s explicit critique [171, 191] of Bender’s failure in his general assessment of Anabaptism). Swiss themes surface repeatedly in this volume: Nachfolge (e.g., 169, 209); “reading and discussing the Holy Scripture in the circle of brothers and sisters [becoming] the germ cell of a new understanding of church” (30), “where two or three are gathered in his name” (211); and of pacifism (e.g., 77, 182-183); and capping all this, Goertz’s affirmation of a congregational hermeneutic in which theology arises from the gathered disciples themselves (212).
In reading Goertz’s Das schwierige Erbe der Mennoniten, we can rediscover many roots of our own traditions, reworked for our time. Goertz indeed believes one is able to trace specific Anabaptist traditions down through history and into contemporary Europe and North America-what we feel in our bones-a certain continuity of historical consciousness. Understanding differences between the Swiss Brethren and Dutch Anabaptists in this regard is essential for engaging in realistic cooperation among the various strands that currently make up the many Mennonite groups, worldwide.
Goshen, Ind. LEONARD GROSS
An Amish Patchwork: Indiana’s Old Orders in the Modern World. By Thomas J. Meyers and Steven M. Nolt. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press/Quarry Books. 2005. Pp. 208. $19.95, paper; $40, hardcover.
An Amish Patchwork describes Indiana’s nineteen Amish settlements, comprising 239 church districts as of 2002. The magnitude of the task Meyers and Nolt set for themselves cannot be overstated. The book is based on fieldwork they conducted in every Old Order settlement in Indiana, including Elkhart and LaGrange counties, the third-largest Amish settlement in the world. The book also includes two Old Order Mennonite communities in Indiana.
Meyers and Nolt provide an excellent summary of the key components of Amish society for general readers. They review Amish history and describe the key beliefs, traditions and social organization of Amish society in general, while at the same time emphasizing the distinctiveness of Amish life in Indiana. Their summary includes descriptions of community and family life, education, interactions of the Amish with the non-Amish, tourism and health care. The nature and impact of the transition from farming to wage labor (which varies greatly between settlements) are discussed thoroughly. Consistent with Meyers’ position in earlier publications, they argue that although some districts have very high levels of contact with non-Amish, there is no evidence of a negative impact on those Amish beliefs that are central to maintaining the integrity of their culture. The text also provides a detailed contrast of Amish society with that of Old Order Mennonites.
The general description of Amish society provided by Meyers and Nolt is excellent, and is consistent with other general texts about the Amish. An Amish Patchwork, however, differs from more generalized texts in the extent to which the authors detail the variability among Amish settlements in Indiana and, even more important, provide at least a partial explanation for this variability. Therein lies the greatest value of this book and one that makes this a truly significant scholarly contribution to the literature on the Amish.
Scholars have long emphasized that although there are many commonalities among Amish church districts and settlements, particularly in those outward symbols that are the focus of so many casual observers, there is also considerable variability. Some of this variability clearly involves the operation of historical forces unique to specific districts and settlements. Perhaps the most widely accepted explanation is that those settlements most stressed by the rising cost of land and a growing population are more likely to accept an increased participation in wage labor occupations, along with the changes associated with that transformation. A corollary holds that one cause of out-migration from these settlements is a desire to purchase affordable farm land, in conjunction (in at least some cases) with a desire to reject the social changes associated with the economic transition to wage labor. Meyers and Nolt add an additional explanation, which applies at least to Indiana but may be relevant to other settlements. They suggest that some of the variability between settlements is simply based on the different migration streams of Amish into Indiana, with each group bringing with it a somewhat different cultural heritage. This hypothesis should not surprise anyone but, to our knowledge, Meyers and Nolt are the first to provide specific data to support this argument.
The first Amish began migrating into Elkhart County in northeast Indiana in the early 1840s. The initial migrants were from southwest Pennsylvania, and were soon followed by migrants from Holmes and Tuscarawas counties in Ohio. The descendants of these migrants grew into the Elkhart-LaGrange, Nappanee and Kokomo settlements, which, along with their daughter settlements, account for about 60 percent of the Amish in Indiana. These districts, which are all affiliated, are referred to as Pennsylvania Dutch Amish to signify their common heritage as migrants from Amish settlements with a long history of residence in the United States.
The second major group of Amish within Indiana consists of the descendants of Amish who migrated directly from Europe (primarily Switzerland) to Indiana during the second major Amish migration between about 1815 and 1860. These migrants settled initially in Allen and Adams counties in northeast Indiana and are referred to as Swiss Amish.
These two groups, which represent most Amish in Indiana, differ in many ways. For example, the Swiss Amish tend to be more conservative, invest more authority in the bishop and exhibit much greater uniformity in Ordnung. The Swiss Amish districts in Allen and Adams counties, in fact, insist on total uniformity in Ordnung, such that any deviation results in a schism. As a result, these districts are not all in fellowship. The Elkhart-LaGrange, Nappanee and Kokomo settlements, in contrast, allow more diversity among affiliated districts than is generally found elsewhere. The two groups speak sufficiently different dialects that they generally switch to English when they need to communicate with one another. Not surprisingly, there is little interaction between these groups. Marriages between the Pennsylvania Dutch and Swiss Amish are rare, for example.
In addition to the migrations leading to the formation of these two primary groups within Indiana, there have been more recent migrations, some of which resulted in the establishment of three additional small affiliations: Swartzentruber Amish, Paoli Old Order Amish and New Order Amish. (Although not everyone would agree, the authors argue that the New Order Amish should be classified as a subgroup of Old Order Amish.) The Swartzentrubers and New Order Amish are found elsewhere and are reasonably well-known, but the Paoli Old Order Amish affiliation, which was established in 1957, is unique to Indiana. The Paoli Amish are interesting in that they are as conservative about technology and the acceptability of wage labor jobs as their Swartzentruber neighbors, but are sufficiently reform-minded in other areas that they cannot be in fellowship with any other districts.
Meyers and Nolt provide many specific examples of the differences between districts and settlements, two of which we think are particularly notable and, at least based on our experiences, somewhat surprising. First, Amish “suburbs” (neighborhoods laid out in grids, although with larger lot sizes to accommodate barns and pasture for horses, and without sidewalks or streetlights) have emerged near Shipshewana in the Elkhart-LaGrange settlement. Second, one Amish school in Allen County consists of a two-story building with five teachers and 150 students, making it the largest Amish school in Indiana, and probably in any Amish settlement. Such a large school is possible because of an unusual local arrangement whereby the public school district buses Amish children to their parochial schools.
Those interested in the Old Order Amish, and particularly in obtaining a better understanding of Amish cultural variability, will find An Amish Patchwork to be an invaluable resource. We strongly recommend it.
Case Western Reserve University LAWRENCE P. GREKSA & JILL E. KORBIN
First Nations and First Settlers in the Fraser Valley (1890-1960). Edited by Harvey Neufeldt, Ruth Derksen Siemens and Robert Martens. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press. 2004. Pp. 287. $25.50, U.S.; $30, Can.
British Columbia’s Fraser Valley has been a destination for a wide variety of immigrant groups throughout its history. Readers of this journal are, of course, familiar with the significant population of Mennonites from Russia who settled in that area, but it also is home to large numbers of Sikhs, Japanese and British, to name but a few of the many cultural groups represented there. And for centuries before any of them arrived, the area was home to various First Nation settlements.
In June 2003 the Yarrow Research Committee and the University College of the Fraser Valley jointly sponsored a conference on “First Nations and First Settlers in the Fraser Valley.” The papers presented at this conference attempted to document the ways in which different cultural groups had come to claim the Fraser Valley as home and to shape the qualities of the region. These papers, together with several others written later, were brought together in a book bearing the same title.
That title suggests a wide-ranging and ambitious project, and a quick glance at the table of contents seems to confirm that reality. Whether the book achieves that broad scope and balance, however, is debatable.
The book begins with a transcription of the conference’s opening address by Albert (Sonny) McHalsie, the acting executive director of the Aboriginal Rights and Title Department at the St:lo Nation. McHalsie provides a fascinating description of the oral traditions through which the St:lo Nation describes its origins in the Fraser Valley region. Unfortunately, this is the last time that the topic of First Nations is addressed exclusively in the book. While there is one more chapter on the Saint Mary’s Indian Residential School, it deals as much with the work of the French-Canadian Catholic missionaries who established the school as it does with the First Nations students who attended there. For a book that includes the words “First Nations” so prominently in its title, relatively little such content follows. It seems that the book should have included at least one chapter devoted to historical or anthropological research on the First Nations in the Fraser Valley.
Rather than spending more time with the people who have lived in the region longer than any others, the book moves quickly to the reclamation and agricultural development projects that made European settlement in the Fraser Valley feasible. Bob Smith points out that while it was the Fraser River that made the valley a desirable location, that same river had the potential to destroy any such settlements through seasonal flooding. Smith describes the way in which the historical Sumas Lake bed had been “reclaimed” for agricultural and residential development by the 1920s.
The next two chapters, by Anne Dor and Baljeet Dhaliwal, deal respectively with the Japanese and Sikh settlers who arrived in the Fraser Valley during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Both Dor and Dhaliwal describe the ways in which these groups struggled to find their place within a society dominated by Europeans. Because the focus of this book ends at 1960, there is no treatment of the large influx of Sikh immigrants into the Abbotsford area during recent years. Today the Sikhs compose one of the largest and most visible cultural groups in that community, and it is unfortunate that this story was not included.
Catherine Marcellus’s chapter on “Settlement of the North Shore” stands apart. Rather than considering a single cultural group, it focuses on the various groups who settled north of the Fraser River. Marcellus suggests that the community of Mission and its surrounding area was from the beginning characterized by a multicultural settlement pattern unlike that which developed in some communities in the Fraser Valley.
Beginning with Part II, the focus and balance of the book shift markedly. Nine of the remaining eleven chapters focus exclusively or predominantly on the Mennonites of Fraser Valley. In total, nine of the book’s sixteen chapters are Mennonite-focused. Whereas the other groups are given rather general and even cursory treatment, the Mennonite story is told in great detail. Articles exploring Mennonite agriculture, women’s studies, literature, education, urbanization and secularization provide nuance that is completely missing from the treatment of other cultural groups. This is not to criticize those other authors. They simply had far less room in which to work. While this “Menno-centric” focus may be welcome to those primarily interested in Mennonite studies, it suggests once again that the book’s title promises much more than it offers.
Having said all that, the Mennonite chapters do present a valuable study of that group’s development in the Fraser Valley. The village of Yarrow is addressed in particular detail, with five chapters largely devoted to that small but significant settlement. Given that the original conference was sponsored by Yarrow Research Committee, this is hardly surprising. Two additional chapters explore the important role of education (both through Bible schools and high schools) in the Fraser Valley Mennonite community. The article on Mennonite high schools by Harvey Neufeldt is particularly valuable in showing how those schools helped Fraser Valley Mennonites negotiate the acculturation process during the mid-twentieth century. Finally, the book turns to economic issues with articles on Mennonites and the hop industry, and an analysis of urbanization and secularization by John Redekop.
For readers wanting detailed information about the Mennonites of the Fraser Valley, this book makes an important and valuable contribution. For those seeking a study of “First Nations” and “First Settlers” defined more broadly, it likely will be less satisfying.
Fresno Pacific University KEVIN ENNS-REMPEL
An Introduction to the Russian Mennonites. By Wally Kroeker. Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books. 2005. Pp. 122. $7.95.
Wally Kroeker, a longtime reporter and editor for a variety of newspapers and magazines in business and religion, and now editor of The Marketplace and director of publications for Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), has written an accessible, lively and succinct introduction to the historical experiences of Russian Mennonites. Kroeker skillfully distilled a mass of material to produce an introductory history of Russian Mennonites that takes into account culture and religious faith. Divided into nine chapters, the book moves chronologically from the sixteenth-century European Reformation through major Mennonite migrations to Prussia, Russia and North America. Along the way, Kroeker describes the relations of Mennonites with their host countries, and introduces some major historical events to provide a context for understanding Mennonite experiences. Once in North America, Kroeker devotes a chapter to urbanization, “The Rural-Urban Split” (chapter 6), which is followed by chapters describing several Mennonite denominations in North America, and assimilation to North American culture. The book ends with “Where Are They Today'” (chapter 9), which briefly describes the Russian Mennonite legacy in Mexico, Paraguay, Ukraine, Germany and North America.
The book is intended for the uninitiated general reader and Kroeker succeeds in this. He states his intentions clearly: “This is their story. It is, first of all, a story of faith, of Anabaptist faith that could not be suppressed. It is also a human story, with cultural and economic dimensions that make the Russian Mennonites unique” (3). To these ends, the complexity and multifaceted nature of migrations are hinted at where religion is but one of several factors. Additionally, Kroeker summarizes such complex episodes as the purpose and problems of the Selbstschutz (46), and he uses a range of source material, including cookbooks and architecture, to enliven and deepen his description of their culture (16, 18-20). Other examples of drawing on diverse experiences to inform the narrative include linking clocks to Russian Mennonite identity (34-38) and using “girls’ homes” to bring to the surface issues of modernity, urbanization, gender expectations and cultural assimilation (73-74). Kroeker does leave the reader with some important historical questions. For example, he highlights the apparent contradiction of migrating from Russia to Kansas on the pretense of resisting government pressures to conformity, though the U.S. government made no commitment to military exemption (51-52).
Though Kroeker’s history is distinct from the “confessional” histories of previous generations of Mennonite scholars and writers, it does have a triumphal quality to it. In his treatment of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, Anabaptists are described as a “new breed of Christians” (6), though their ambitions were to faithfully express what they considered authentic Christianity, in a time of much religious upheaval. Kroeker describes sixteenth-century baptism where Anabaptist baptism was “a voluntary step for adult Christians, not something to be forced upon a helpless infant” (6). While perhaps an accurate statement on the surface, infant baptism developed precisely because infants were considered “helpless,” born in Original Sin that baptism removed. Even in a brief introductory history, the good-versus-bad story can be more nuanced. Kroeker ends his book on a triumphal note with some Mennonites receiving the Order of Canada, a reminder that Russian Mennonites have “touched” upon virtually every aspect of society and culture, and an epilogue that reflects on their identity as a “remarkable people” (112, 114).
There are a few cases of using names and concepts without explanation or context. When Jacob Hoeppner and Johann Bartsch visited Russia in 1786, for example, Kroeker likens it to Joshua in the Old Testament (10); but was this how the participants in the story understood their role? Other examples include: a lack of definition for “spiritual decay” in the context of the 1860 split (30)-though Kroeker does note that the main church was not empty of spiritual vitality (31); Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitic (48); and Mennonite Central Committee’s ability to bring diverse Mennonite groups together (86). These are all significant events, concepts or developments, and brief explanations would assist the reader being introduced to Russian Mennonites.
Finally, an introductory book such as this could include fuller descriptions of Russian Mennonites in Central and South America as well as the North American far west. On the North American front, despite the numerical and economic significance of Russian Mennonites in the Pacific region, California and British Columbia are mentioned only in passing. Despite some noticeable absences in the suggested reading list, the book provides a helpful starting place.
Canadian Mennonite University BRIAN FROESE
Walker in the Fog: On Mennonite Writing. By Jeff Gundy. Telford, Pa.: Cascadia Publishing House. 2005. Pp. 296. $22.95.
This collection of essays by the Bluffton poet and critic Jeff Gundy is the fifth book in the C. Henry Smith series edited by J. Denny Weaver. In it, Gundy ranges widely over the unusually eclectic sources of creativity that have inspired his own particular brand of the Mennonite literary imagination. He writes appreciatively and perceptively of a number of other Mennonite poets, principally Julia Kasdorf and Patrick Friesen, as well as Jeanne Janzen and Keith Ratzlaff, and he seeks in several of the essays to come to terms with an older generation of intellectuals such as Harold Bender and John Ruth who represent for Gundy both an aura of church authority to be distrusted but also the necessary ground from which younger poets and writers could spring.
However, these careful reflections on the myriad cultural genealogies to be traced through Mennonite church conferences and colleges are not what give the book its edge. Rather, Gundy’s negotiation of trails outside familiar Mennonite country provides the reader with a cogent picture of what it means to be a Mennonite writer and poet at the present time, and raises the most interesting questions by far. In chapter 13, “‘What Is It I Know”: Notes Toward an Embodied Gnosis,” and the afterword, “Heresy and the Individual Talent,” Gundy serves notice that the Mennonite poet henceforth will move with unimpeded freedom into realms of thought, doctrine and expression that would certainly give John Ruth pause if not a severe headache. Gundy says in the book’s introductory remarks that his essay on heresy, an appeal for the “possibility of an Anabaptist Surrealism-or perhaps a Surrealist Anabaptism” (21), was written as “a quasi-serious manifesto.” He asks his readers to “forgive its extravagance” (21). These phrases, meant to lighten the touch of a Writer to Be Taken Seriously, also suggest that Gundy isn’t just fooling around: he’s asking his readers to leave the comfort zone of lyrically treated shoofly pie and to go with him into the deep dark woods of dangerous ideas. Mennonite poetry will not be consigned to a place of honor on the doily beside the mint dish; Mennonite poetry will not merely warm its hearers’ hearts; it will also painfully tear at them. If John Ruth, as Gundy quotes him as saying, argued that “writing ought to serve the community rather than attack it” (226), Gundy is quite willing to enlarge the categories of meaning subsumed under that favorite Anabaptist usage, “serve.”
All jokes aside, though, Gundy is striking out for a new territory, and the title of his book, Walker in the Fog, befits the questing material of the final two chapters.
Readers who arrive at the end of the book will recognize the contours of a modernist sensibility-to wit, a relationship between artist and audience that shows awareness of the stresses and strains that a truly avant-garde poetry is likely to put on its hearers. But Gundy, at least on the surface of things, expresses discontent with the model of the alienated modern artist at various points throughout the book. In chapter 3, an essay on the poet Patrick Friesen, he suggests that the “dualism in Mennonite literature between authoritarian community and rebellious individualism” is especially visible in Canadian Mennonite writing “for a variety of historical reasons” (65), and, following John Ruth, he suggests “that for Mennonites the third option should be the aspiration to a redemptive, nurturing, supportive community” (65). This would suggest a closing of the gap between artist and audience, and it should not be surprising that Gundy is more drawn to the work and style of the late modernist William Stafford-whose public readings were usually marked with a strong patina of shamanic priestliness-than to more typical modernist voices who howled their alienation. In dismissing the Mennonite genre of “kiss-it-goodbye novels” (51), Gundy expresses his impatience with the anti-authoritarian bent of much Mennonite art and with modernism itself.
So what gives with Gundy’s invocation of an “Anabaptist Surrealism”? If this bow to Andre Breton is not a modernist gesture, then what is it? First delivered at the Mennonite/s Writing conference at Goshen College in fall 2002, the paper delighted its hearers with its playful wit and demand that Mennonite writers take license to pursue free-associative fishing expeditions in the uncharted waters of heterodoxy. (It is worth remembering that the Surrealist manifesto of January 27, 1925, clearly insisted: “We are determined to make a Revolution”).
In one of the funniest passages that lists his “harbingers” and “forerunners” (266), Gundy invokes as muses
. . . Leonard Cohen, Leonard Nimoy, Leonard Gross, everybody’s Gross-daddies and mommies but especially mine, Mother Jones, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Dylan Thomas, Thomas Hardy, the Hardy Boys, Boy George, George Harrison, Jorge Luis Borges, Harrison Ford, not Henry Ford, Franz Kafka, Franz Fanon, Rudy Wiebe, Dallas Wiebe, Armin Wiebe, Katie Funk Wiebe and her beautiful lost daughter Christine. Et al. (267)
The overall effect of such a list (and this excerpt provides only a small sampling of the total) is to wrap the reader in the warm, generous embrace of the poetic imagination: the cumulative impact situates Gundy less as a Surrealist than as a son of Walt Whitman (One can practically imagine the drawling voice intone: “I am Gundy, a Kosmos, I contain multitudes”). It is when he overtly celebrates heresy as the true calling of a Mennonite poet that we understand Gundy might actually want to upset some people, and not merely serve as their amusement:
I mean here to celebrate such violations of the received order in pursuit of the truth, to testify for a personal tradition strangely filled with contrarians, loyal rebels, and iconoclasts, one that I will argue is only appropriate for writers in the Anabaptist tradition. Like the Anabaptist martyrs who sang as their flesh burned, the most earnest and rigorous seekers after truth have often been branded as heretics by the mediocre and the corrupt who continue to rule our world and our institutions (262).
How much outrage Gundy wants to provoke is open to question. We might recall that in his Second Manifesto of Surrealism, Andre Breton’s most notorious utterance was direct and to the point: “The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down into the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd.” If Gundy is working in Breton’s spirit, give him credit for firing a little more deliberately and not completely blind; he seems intent on finding specific targets. For instance, Gundy lists several “popular ideas” that he thinks are actual heresies. Among these are notions such as “God has a special love for Americans and the United States of America,” and “God hates fags” (263). (I would venture to say that these are fairly safe heresies to repeat for a progressive Anabaptist crowd that will appropriately boo and hiss at the right moments; on the latter point, however, Gundy could have drawn more blood by suggesting that often the most influential haters of gay people are not the foaming-at-the-mouth Jimmy Swaggarts but rather the wisely nodding moderates in the pew. Beware not the Tygers of Wrath, but the Horses of Instruction, Blake might say.)
Especially problematic is the penultimate essay, “‘What Is It I Know”: Notes Toward an Embodied Gnosis.” It is pretty evident by the end of this exploration that Gundy is less interested in following gnosticism where it will lead than he is in domesticating it for his own Anabaptist-progressive purposes. It does not seem especially useful, for instance, to analogize Quakers, Mennonites and Gnostics; as much is lost in such careless comparisons as is gained; and when Gundy suggests gnosticism (“small-g gnosis”) might become useful to the faith “as another resource” (256), one can imagine the Sunday school insert with the nifty graphics and helpful bullet points. I suspect any self-respecting gnostic would find this appropriation of gnostic beliefs slightly patronizing.
Still, this collection of writings by Gundy is to be commended for its overall clarity of thinking, generous spirit of humor and understanding, and most of all, willingness to think boldly about the many directions that the Mennonite imagination can take in the future. One expects, and one hopes, that Gundy’s manifesto will get a wide hearing.
A final note: One wishes the production values of the book measured up to the first-rate quality of Gundy’s overall writing and thinking. In terms of the book’s contents, better copy-editing seems to be in order at Cascadia Publishing House: a number of names were misspelled, including Jacques Lacan (151) and Edgar Allan Poe (157), and the cut-out quality of the C. Henry Smith photograph in the book’s front matter was vaguely reminiscent of a high school yearbook. Gundy deserves better. Perhaps more troubling-dare I say dreadful’-is the quality of the cover illustration. The figure that emerges out of a swirl of airbrushed blue ink (ostensibly, the fog of the book’s title) seems one part Creature from the Black Lagoon, one part Mennonite male seminary student. Now that is surreal-though probably not intentionally so.
The Great Books Foundation DANIEL BORN
The Complete Tante Tina: Mennonite Blues and Recipes. By David Waltner-Toews. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press. 2004. Pp. 129. $14.50, U.S.; $17, Can.
David Waltner-Toews is, along with Patrick Friesen and Di Brandt, one of the most recognized poets of Mennonite background in Canada, often writing about material from his Russian-Mennonite past. Waltner-Toews has what he calls a “day job as a veterinary epidemiologist and ecosystem health specialist” at the University of Guelph in Ontario, distinguishing him from most contemporary poets, who tend to be English professors. In a 2002 interview Waltner-Toews said this about his poetic vocation:
When, in the face of reality’s onslaught in Calcutta, in 1967, at nineteen, the hedged world of my strict Mennonite Brethren upbringing fell into chaos, the deep spiritual roots which were also part of that heritage found new ways to survive in . . . a particular kind of public, non-academic poetry, some combination of Pablo Neruda and Mary Oliver.
Waltner-Toews is deadly serious, of course, about his “day job,” and about his poetry too, but his sense of humor is more apparent than influences like Neruda and Oliver might suggest. The volume under review here lures us in with a strong comic voice, but resonates with a meditation on the larger meaning of the poet’s history and place.
The Complete Tante Tina is a collection of poems largely written in the voice of the eponymous character Tina, who has appeared repeatedly in Waltner-Toews’s work since 1979. The poems alternate with traditional Russian Mennonite recipes for foods such as fruit soup, cabbage rolls and New Year’s fritters. You could say this is a greatest hits volume, since the bulk of the material has appeared before, but that would trivialize Waltner-Toews’s achievement. Besides, this repackaging will likely make the work accessible to a new group of readers. Previous collections by Waltner-Toews that feature Tante Tina include Good Housekeeping (1983), Endangered Species (1988) and, most substantially, The Impossible Uprooting (1995).
Tina’s English syntax is warped by Germanic inversions, and she free-associates in a poetic fashion. For example, in “Tante Tina and Little Haenschen Revisit History in the Old Folks Home or: How Rudy Wiebe Saved the Communists”:
This is just like in the Mennonite Martyrs book
Felix Manz or someone.
We have soup from Felix the cat made
after the Revolution. But that is a different story. (76)
This passage is marred by a footnote that explains how exactly the poem confuses Felix Manz with Dirk Willems, something that Waltner-Toews does deliberately in the voice of his character. This and a few other footnotes are odd given that the publisher includes amusing made-up book blurbs on the back cover.
The Tante Tina poem titles themselves are consistently funny, such as “Tante Tina Tells How God Is Once Alberta Visiting” or “A Request from Tante Tina to the Mennonite Women’s Missionary Society to Put Salman Rushdie on the Prayer List.” The latter poem shows Waltner-Toews slyly using Tina to articulate his own vision for the spiritual importance of art:
As the grain from the leaky pail to the chickens
falls, so God through Mr. Rushdie
into the world comes.
And if we the leaky pails are making silent,
Then who among us will the Lord’s voice be? (55)
Waltner-Toews uses a variety of poetic and prose forms in this book: free verse, epistolary poems, ballads, recipes with little side-glancing jokes and the adoption of various personae. Much contemporary poetry is interiorized and involved with its own language, and so his broad humor is refreshing and may well account for his popular audience. Anyone who has heard Waltner-Toews read the Tante Tina poems will have some appreciation for the sheer theatrical vitality of these poems.
The Complete Tante Tina opens with a wonderful poem that deals with the ambiguities of the past. “Roots” makes use of the iconic Mennonite novelist Rudy Wiebe as a character: “He has roots on the brain./ He is looking for his roots” (11). The Wiebe persona is “digging a hole near Winnipeg,” a metaphorical one but also literal. When his spade strikes a bone, and he later turns into a child whose mother takes the bone and makes soup with it, we are into the territory of magic realism: “Rudy pulls a nest of potatoes/ out from behind his ear” (12). He concludes that “Maybe my roots are in Russia” after he fails to find any roots in the Manitoba potato field. The sensual experience of eating the potato soup (like they did “in Russia”) with the seemingly mundane bone is, in the end, a more profound experience than any intellectual epiphany that Wiebe might have found in his “roots.” This is not so much a satire on Wiebe (or people’s perceptions of Wiebe) as a cunning statement about the nature of culture and history.
“Tante Tina’s Lament” demonstrates Waltner-Toews’s deep understanding of the connection between language and culture, in this case the connection between the earthiness of Low German and the cultural experience of the Mennonites who spoke it. “On her lips she has red grease gesmeared,” Tina says about her son’s girlfriend, even while her son insists that “Low German is a pile of manure” (18). “I will piles of it to you be speaking,” promises Tina, insisting on the poetic and comic truth of this unwritten peasant language.
“My Map of the Promised Land” gives us Tina as poet again, this time painting a brilliant comic picture of she and her husband having sex:
So we have been our night clothes back
on putting and he has his rubber thing
put on and into me slipped, so slippery
I am surprised, like the clay road
to the post box
when the snow melts. (98)
The most ambitious piece in the book is “Little Haenschen’s Vision,” which appeared under the title “A Word in the Nest” in Waltner-Toews’s 1995 collection, The Impossible Uprooting. This thirteen-page poem gets a little didactic at times (“there is no just claim on righteousness”), but builds to an impressive, moving crescendo. Because it speaks more directly in the poet’s own voice, this “vision” stands out from the rest of the book.
Having the Tante Tina poems complete in one volume is a service to readers, and perhaps will also remind us that a writer can be funny and serious too. In “Tante Tina Puts the 1991 Gulf War into Perspective” she talks about “the unsettling to Canada” (73). Waltner-Toews has devoted his poetic career to reminding us of the “unsettling” and “impossible” spiritual complacency that North Americans live in. Long live Tante Tina, for her moral clarity and her recipes!
Winnipeg, Manitoba MAURICE MIERAU
One Foot in Heaven. By David Waltner-Toews. Regina, Sask.: Coteau Books. 2005. Pp. 257. $18.95, Can.; $16.95, U.S.
One Foot in Heaven, David Waltner-Toews’s first published collection of fiction, is ostensibly a cycle of fourteen stories, tracing the life of Prom, a Ukrainian immigrant who moves to Alberta; Prom’s children and their friends; and Prom’s neighbors and acquaintances. Yet One Foot in Heaven is far more than a compilation of finely crafted narratives. As with Waltner-Toews’s other published work-both his half-dozen poetry collections and his nonfiction work on the environment-One Foot in Heaven reflects a keen sense of the relationship between the material and the spiritual. Just as Waltner-Toews’s 1992 book on food poisoning (Food, Sex, and Salmonella) reminds us how intermeshed we are with the physical world (even, perhaps, when we would rather not be), his newest collection suggests our most spiritual selves will always be grounded by human longing and fallenness, despite our best intentions. The book’s title implies this theme, a theme that resonates clearly through the fourteen stories: we are compelled to straddle two worlds, the material and spiritual, earth and heaven, so long as we live.
Waltner-Toews’s short story cycle begins and ends with Prom Koslowski, a Mennonite who reveals in the opening story, “Wild Geese,” the difficulty of his immigration to Canada. His history echoes the painful journey taken by many Mennonite immigrants: deprivation, loss of family, a rootless blurring of personal history and culture as one begins life in a new land. Yet because Prom is so skillfully drawn, his character escapes any cloying Mennonite-as-immigrant stereotypes. Instead, as with the other characters in the collection, Prom seems fully human, flawed in his own way, driven by complicated and often competing desires.
The stories that frame the collection are written in first person, a narrative strategy allowing readers certain intimacy with the protagonist, Prom. For, even in those selections where Prom does not appear, he still seems present, tying together the lives and stories of the book’s other characters. Prom’s presence is felt most fiercely in the stories featuring his children, Sarah and Thomas, who mature with the collection’s progression, buffeted through their journey to maturity by complexities: a mother who dies during immigration and childbirth; a single father navigating the shoals of his new world; a disquieting term with Mennonite Central Committee; an unhappy marriage; a vocational dream lost, and then fulfilled.
While other stories feature different protagonists-Thomas’s friend Ab Dueck plays a prominent role, for example-One Foot in Heaven seems to be most about Prom, about what his life has sown and reaped, about his own longing to be “pulled loose” and “unstuck from earth” (241), an escape from every pain of the corporal. If the image of wild geese in flight hints at this theme in the opening story, the collection’s denouement, “A Sunny Day in Canada,” suggests Prom’s desire may be imminently fulfilled. “A Sunny Day in Canada,” perhaps the strongest story in the cycle, provides a heartbreaking-and in its own way beautiful-conclusion to Waltner-Toews’s exploration of the ways we are bounded by our physical selves, even when our spiritual selves long for something different, something more.
When the stories’ focus shifts from the Koslowski family, from Prom and his children, the conflict between the material and the spiritual remains. Most notably in the stories about Ab Dueck, Waltner-Toews tenderly and humorously explores the struggle most Mennonite young people experience: namely, that when the spirit is most willing, the flesh remains appallingly weak. (As Ab’s tales imply, the flesh might be most frail at Mennonite church camp.) In “The Desires of the Spirit,” for example, Waltner-Toews cleverly uses the vehicle of Ab’s baptism to examine the two kingdom dichotomy that has long stymied Mennonite youth caught between the carnal yearning of young hormones and the longing for God’s kingdom: “It was all or nothing,” Ab believes. “It was the desires of the flesh or the desires of the spirit, and the desires of the flesh were really only a displaced desire for God, and therefore, if he wanted God, had to be suppressed” (77). Having decided at his baptism to renounce all lust for taut young girls, Ab climbs from the font, purified, and sits next to the object of his desire, who has likewise been baptized. There, he feels the girl’s “firm thigh” pressed against his leg. Even in our most sanctified moments, Waltner-Toews reminds us, our flesh keeps us grounded.
As the collection moves towards its conclusion, the scattered lives of Prom, his children and their friends are woven together; in the final stories, Waltner-Toews provides closure to the many narrative threads he has sewn, allowing readers a sense of where the characters’ journeys have taken them. This inclination to create closure initially seems forced, most notably in the collection’s penultimate story, “Animal Doctor,” in which Waltner-Toews finally consummates the decades-old unrequited relationship between Prom’s daughter, Sarah, and Ab Dueck. Yet because of an unanticipated narrative turn taken in “Animal Doctor,” the fate of Sarah and Ab begins to feel far less artificial. Instead, Waltner-Toews once again leaves readers with the complexities wrought by our most human urges, our longing to be loved and to love, and the “what if” that lingers when we make one decision, rather than another (238).
In many ways, then, Waltner-Toews’s protagonist(s) appear(s) to both question and reinforce the Mennonite two kingdoms belief. The characters are told, by Scripture and church authority, to long for membership in that other kingdom, the kingdom of God; yet their fallenness betrays them, and they remain trapped in the world by their own bodies’ machinations. Thus One Foot in Heaven incisively explores a potential emotional byproduct of the two kingdom theology, and the ways that the movement between spiritual and material, emblematized in Ab Dueck’s “touching himself and touching God,” might well become “emotionally symmetrical experiences, linked in never-ending cycles by ropes of guilt and despair” (79).
Although the final story provides some narrative closure to Prom’s journey, and to that of his children, Waltner-Toews offers no easy resolution to the collection’s thematic conundrum. At its heart, therefore, Waltner-Toews’s collection may well challenge readers to question whether we can wholly live in the world, without being of it. No polemic, this: instead, One Foot in Heaven delivers its challenge through delightful verisimilitude, and through likable characters who might well be our parents, our friends, our selves. And, clearly, if Waltner-Toews’s stories suggest that our struggle toward spiritual wholeness persists in both our basest and our holiest moments, the collection’s ending also offers certain hope. Like Prom Koslowski, we might someday escape our aching, yearning selves and be drawn upward, as a floating kite, toward that other kingdom for which we ofttimes long.
George Fox University MELANIE SPRINGER MOCK
Loving Without Giving In: Christian Responses to Terrorism and Tyranny. By Ron Mock. Telford, Pa.: Cascadia Publishing House. 2004. Pp. 274. $22.95, U.S.; $35.95, Can.
How should we respond to terrorism? Former U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield notes in his foreword to this volume that “with little time to imagine or prepare for new approaches, our leaders quickly turned to familiar ideas and methods-war” (10). Ron Mock, an associate professor of political science and peace studies at George Fox University, seeks to provide new and creative ways to respond. Mock argues that nonviolent strategies are not only consistent with the teachings of Jesus, but also more likely to be effective at rooting out terrorism. Further, Mock argues that “better anti-terrorism” needs to be the objective of Christians and the church (198) and that there are concrete actions that can be taken to that end.
The first two chapters provide a helpful conceptual discussion of terrorism that accurately points out the ambiguity of the term. Further, his discussion and examples are taken from all over the world, pointing to a complex phenomenon that extends well beyond Osama bin Laden and the attacks of September 11. In chapter 3, Mock argues that social and political structures that bring oppression, corruption and tyranny often lead to terrorism. Chapter 4 provides a brief overview of what Mock terms “Christian war ethics”-holy war, pacifism and the just war tradition.
Chapter 5 considers needs and goals that often drive behavior, both generally and specifically referring to terrorism. Tying terrorism to real grievances allows Mock to suggest effective nonviolent solutions to the root causes of terrorism, even while condemning terrorism as among the world’s “grossest evils” (117). Chapters 6 through 9 provide exhaustive examples of how Christians, individually or corporately through the church or other nongovernmental organizations, and through the state, can effectively and nonviolently respond to terrorism. Each chapter concludes with a summary list of potential responses.
Mock’s final chapter (10) is also his strongest. There he succinctly makes the case that “perhaps even the central part” of the most effective responses to terrorism will come not from states (though they have a role), but from “churches, individuals, and nongovernmental organizations” (250). He calls for increased involvement by the church in development, peacemaking and reconciliation work worldwide, arguing that only these active, nonviolent approaches can undermine the causes of terrorism. He is well aware of the costs of such ventures: he notes that this effort will require millions if not billions of dollars and “tens or even hundreds of thousands of volunteers” annually (250). He further suggests that we include peacemakers, development workers and mediators in our mission endeavors and argues that we must be prepared to partner across national and denominational lines to do so.
This book is not without its shortcomings. Academic specialists will find little new here. Those seeking a detailed discussion of Christian responses to terrorism from nonpacifist traditions, particularly the just war tradition, will likewise need to look elsewhere.
While Mock’s most helpful contribution is his list of practical suggestions for Christians and for the church, his lists are not categorized or prioritized and his discussion is not always easy to follow. The sheer number of recommendations, 106, is overwhelming. Further, the recommendations range from personal spiritual disciplines (no. 1-“consider our own souls and whether we are nursing any grievances”) to corporate responses (no. 31, expanding short-term mission and development work) to recommendations for the state (indicting and trying Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, nos. 105-106). It is often hard to see how we get from one to the other. For instance, it is not clear how we get from no. 83, “treat personal wealth as being on loan from God, and transform our sense of ownership to one of stewardship,” to no. 87, “make democracy and human rights the touchstones of foreign policy.”
Finally, the relationship between individual Christians and the church and the state remains underspecified. While Mock argues that Christians can “create political space” for a more just foreign policy by “applying Christlikeness to their expectations of their nation’s foreign policy” (178), it is never clear how this is to be accomplished or what this would look like. It is not clear how the church should seek to influence the state (or even if it is possible) and what the limits are of church involvement with state initiatives to stop terrorism.
These faults notwithstanding, this work will be a helpful introduction to the Anabaptist tradition and for those who wonder if pacifists have more to say than simply “no war.” This work promises to be most helpful for individuals and churches considering how best to respond to tyranny and terror nonviolently. Mock’s critique of what he terms “the myth of effective violence” reminds us that the call of the church is to do more than stop bad behavior. Our call is nothing less than to build shalom. Violent responses to terrorism can at best do the former (and Mock casts doubt on that). Violence cannot hope to bring shalom.
Indeed, Mock’s suggestion that we make development and peacemaking central to missionary endeavors would transform mission work in the United States. His call to hear and meet the needs of the oppressed, especially in places where terrorism is rampant, would transform our churches and, I suspect, most of us.
Baylor University VICTOR J. HINOJOSA
Development to a Different Drummer: Anabaptist/Mennonite Experiences and Perspectives. By Richard A. Yoder, Calvin W. Redekop and Vernon E Jantzi. Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books. 2004. Pp. 362. $8.95.
About two years ago, after several false starts, Mennonite Central Committee, the institution for which this reviewer works, began the mammoth task of redesigning all its planning and reporting methods. The new system sought to give program directors a better idea of what was actually being achieved through the activities being carried out. Some people within the organization liked the new methods; some chafed at them, protesting, “If M.C.C. adopts this way of doing things, we will be just like everyone else.”
Describing just how development work carried out from an Anabaptist faith tradition is unique is the goal of the three writers of Development to a Different Drummer. In the fall of 1998 Eastern Mennonite University invited twenty-four academics and development practitioners to reflect on doing development in a conference called Anabaptist/Mennonite Experiences in International Development. Presenters were prompted to reflect on their development experience with questions such as, “Why have you chosen this occupational path'” “What has been your experience'” “Have you made a difference'” and “What would you have done differently'” The presentations of nine of the speakers are published here and, together with the other talks, form the raw material of this book.
The authors state their purpose to be to (a) examine the themes and patterns of Anabaptists doing development work to see if there is a common set of values guiding what they think and do, regardless of their organizational affiliation; (b) explore and articulate an Anabaptist ethic of development, and compare it with classical Anabaptist ethics and theology; and (c) explore some of the tensions, dilemmas and opportunities experienced by Anabaptists doing development work.
An overview of development trends since the 1950s and a short history of North American Anabaptist work outside of their home continent sets Anabaptists’ efforts into broader context. Missionaries first left North America for India in 1899, establishing a Mennonite church and doing medical and educational work. But attention quickly shifts to M.C.C., formed two decades later to deliver aid to needy Mennonites in Russia, and to Mennonite Economic Development Association, which began in 1953 out of an effort to give business assistance to recent Mennonite immigrants to Paraguay.
While M.C.C. was not involved in the publication of Development to a Different Drummer, as the most prominent Anabaptist development organization it looms large as a backdrop for the book. All three of the authors and five of the other seven contributors worked for M.C.C. at some point in their careers. Although none of them were directly employed by M.C.C. at the time of the conference, two were serving on M.C.C. boards.
How Anabaptist development work fits into its historical milieu is examined in chapters 2 and 3. Chapter 2 surveys various streams of twentieth-century development efforts. Chapter 3 then chronicles the history of Anabaptist work in development, and demonstrates that Anabaptist activities have followed broader development trends rather closely.
Development work of the 1950s and 1960s was characterized by a theoretical framework of modernization for economic growth. Mennonite Economic Development Associates formed during this period. M.C.C. moved from carrying out primarily relief projects to working toward modernization through a beginning agricultural program and a large education effort with the Teachers Abroad Program. When in the 1970s the development world was focusing on growth with equity, including efforts to involve beneficiaries in planning and implementing programs and adopting appropriate technology, M.C.C. began articulating that development needed to be “culturally appropriate by placing the focus on people in the local context as the ‘engine’ for development.”
If Anabaptist work fits into the mold of the times, where is the unique Anabaptist contribution to development? To answer that the authors examine essays of the presenters at the development conference. Articles are divided into three sections: Grassroots Perspectives, Middle Ground Perspectives and Large Scale Public Policy Perspectives. The authors then look for the commonalities in the essays and set them against an Anabaptist theological framework. Development work is fraught with angst. Sincere development workers want so very much to improve the lives of the people they are working with, but their work rarely gives the satisfaction of seeing concrete results. Most of the contributors to this book answered the question of whether or not they have made a difference with an ambivalent, “I hope so, I think so, but I can’t really tell.” More than one questions whether this is even the right question to ask.
All writers point to relationships they made either with satisfaction or with a wish that they had put more emphasis on building them. One contributor wrote, “Nurturing relationships with committed persons is the heart of the faith/business/development nexus. It is not only where we have the best shot at making a difference, but I believe it is truly the point where God enters our work.” Another said, “Relationships . . . form the basis for any contribution or difference that I have made.”
The importance of relationships figures high in the list of core values that the authors draw out of their examination of the papers presented at the development conference. People-centeredness is first on the list, followed by service, integrity, mutuality, authenticity, humility, justice and peace. It would be hard to come up with a better list to prescribe how to build a genuine relationship. From this reader’s experience the list accurately describes the values that Anabaptist development workers strive to make the underlying support for their work.
Still, it is hard to believe that these values are unique to Anabaptist-Mennonite development workers. Many people engaged in development work who are not from the Anabaptist faith tradition or who do not work for one of the Anabaptist church-related agencies would also espouse them. Unfortunately, identifying underlying values in the broader development world for purposes of comparison is beyond the scope of this work. Anabaptist development workers can be grateful for this first attempt at identifying common values among them, but for now the question of whether or not they are really marching to a different drummer remains hanging.
If one could imagine a spectrum with grassroots relationships at one end and pure policy work at the other, the presenters included here often express a wistful desire to have worked more at the pole opposite the one to which they devoted their career. “I wish I had concentrated on systems earlier . . . the linking of micro and macro,” says one grassroots development worker. “I would drink more tea with my national hosts, particularly at the grassroots,” writes one who has spent most of his life working at large-scale policy development. The section entitled “Raising Goats or Changing Systems? Bridging the Gap” concludes that both types of work are needed: “Grassroots and public policy work represent two sides of the same coin . . . each needs the other.”
The latter chapters of the book assume that Anabaptist agencies and development practitioners tend to work at the grassroots level, and accompany the assumption with a clear hope to steer Anabaptist development work more toward the policy end of the spectrum. “People with an ‘MCC perspective’-grassroots understandings, peace and justice oriented, people centered commitment-need to be inside the powers writing the rules,” the authors note at one point. This is a valid point; policy workers are more effective if they are steeped in an “MCC perspective,” if, in fact, there is such a thing.
But rather than prescribe more policy work to Anabaptists, this reader would have appreciated a full embrace of the grassroots relationships so important to Anabaptists in their international development work. It’s what they are good at. The day-to-day rhythm of working and living alongside other community members drums the beat that Anabaptists listen to. Policy work must be included in international development work. But the unique Anabaptist contribution to the development work equation will derive from their willingness to live in the villages, to draw water from the same well everyone uses morning after morning, to share a glass of juice on the porch with the neighbor next door.
There is more in the book-an overview of Anabaptist theology, with a concise history of Anabaptism included in the appendix; a look at the implications of the two-kingdom theology on development work; a discussion of power; an exploration of globalization-enough that, at times, one wishes for more focus. The book does not lack, though, in grist for thought.
“When one is in the middle of day-to-day tasks it is often difficult to spend enough time thinking carefully,” says one writer. Development to a Different Drummer gives an opportunity for Anabaptists and others to reflect on development work in general and on one particular way of carrying it out. It is a must read for all Anabaptists interested in international development work.
Mennonite Central Committee DARYL YODER-BONTRAGER
De Bibel, Plautdietsch-The Bible in Plautdietsch (Low German). Winnipeg, Man.: Kindred Productions; and Miami: United Bible Societies. 2003. Pp. 1,266, including a glossary (Butajeweenelje Wieed) and maps. $35.99, Can.
A copy of the new Bible in Plautdietsch (Russian Mennonite Low German) arrived just before I was to read the Song of Solomon for an upcoming Sunday school lesson. So “Daut Scheenste Leet toopjestalt von Salomo” (“The Most Beautiful Song as composed by Solomon”) was the starting point for reading the Scripture in what is truly my first language. My curiosity aroused by this new translation, I continued with other more familiar passages. What an experience to read these accounts for the first time in Plautdietsch many decades after I had learned this language at my mother’s knees! (Russian Mennonite Plautdietsch is essentially an oral language only, although Arnold Dyck, Reuben Epp, Jack Thiessen and others have written in this language.) I sensed something of the excitement of a new literate reading Scripture in his or her own tongue for the first time.
Many of my age peers who spoke mainly Plautdietsch at one time but have subsequently almost forgotten it, tend to think of it essentially as a language for telling insider anecdotes. This translation surely demonstrates that it is a mature language that, indeed, fulfills the complex range of communication needs for a large number of Mennonites now living in different parts of Latin America, Canada and the United States. For many of these Mennonites, especially those who live or have lived in Latin America, Plautdietsch is the only language in which they communicate with ease.
Ed Zacharias worked full-time at this translation from 1998 to 2003, attempting to guarantee an authentic Plautdietsch while remaining true to the original intent of the Old and New Testaments. Many of the translations are his own, an undertaking he began while working among the Old Colony Mennonites in Mexico; others are revisions of earlier translations by Johan J. Neufeld, and some sections are by Isaak Doerksen, a carefully screened speaker of Plautdietsch from Menno Colony, Paraguay, whose mastery of Plautdietsch has not been influenced by another primary language.
For the most part, Luther’s German Bible served as the basis for the translation, but Zacharias also frequently consulted the Bible in Today’s English Version. To help in questionable contexts Zacharias studied Greek and Hebrew on his own, so that he might check with the original. To further ensure a faithful translation he collaborated with United Bible Society experts and theologians, using a “back-reading” method to check for accuracy of meaning.
Some small variations exist in Plautdietsch among its Russian Mennonite speakers, such as differences in pronunciation, in verb conjugations and in vocabulary. These differences, however, should not prove a serious impediment to understanding this text. Spelling in this language is not codified and the editors have not adhered consistently to either of the two most important Plautdietsch dictionaries, those by Jack Thiessen and Hermann Rempel. Orthography inclines more toward Rempel, however, and greatly favors the German speaker over the English speaker in helping with pronunciation.
Remembering that there are no standardized reference works for Plautdietsch, the consistency found in spelling and capitalization in a work of this dimension is truly praiseworthy, thanks, in part surely, to modern technology. One exception is the arbitrariness in compounding nouns, so that on the same page the reader finds Kjennichs Sn (son of a king) and Kjennichsdochta (daughter of a king) (46). This is not a major problem, of course, and could be easily improved in a subsequent edition.
The number of Plautdietsch speakers in the Western Hemisphere alone-which, according to one source, may be as high as 250,000-suggests that there could be a large potential readership. However, because Plautdietsch is essentially an oral language only, this may not be the case. (Note: Of an original edition of 5,000 copies printed in 2003, less than 2,400 were sold by the middle of 2004.) Many Plautdietsch speakers do not read well in any language and will likely become “literate” in either English or Spanish before they are ready to read De Bibel in their mother tongue.
To encourage the use of this Bible, sessions introducing it have already been held in some churches, including Old Colony Mennonites who have returned to Canada from Mexico. To make this Bible more accessible, Zacharias is interested in producing a Fibel or primer, which would introduce Plautdietsch speakers not accustomed to much reading to the benefits of this translation.
Even though this Bible may enjoy a limited readership, it is a most significant achievement not only as it animates the spiritual lives of those who read it, but also as it serves as a linguistic monument that will never lose its value for those interested in Plautdietsch research. De Bibel clearly deserves a place in Mennonitica collections, inasmuch as the Plautdietsch of the Russian Mennonites is a deserving branch of Mennonite studies. Those who collaborated on this translation, foremost among them Zacharias, are to be lauded for their work that resulted in this attractive and readable volume, a first complete Bible in Plautdietsch.
Goshen College GERHARD REIMER
MQR subscription rates:
Regular $ 35 $ 45
Minister 30 40
Student 20 30
3-yr. subscriptions 90 120
Single copy 9 12 (postage paid)
THE MENNONITE QUARTERLY REVIEW (ISSN 0025-9373) is published quarterly for $35.00 per year for U.S. subscribers, $45.00 for non-U.S. (includes membership in the Mennonite Historical Society), by the Mennonite Quarterly Review Publication Committee, Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana 46526. Second-class postage paid at Goshen, Indiana, and additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Send address changes to THE MENNONITE QUARTERLY REVIEW, Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana 46526.
Prof. Lee Roy Berry Jr., Dept. of History, Goshen College, Goshen, Ind., 46526. E-mail: email@example.com
J. Daryl Byler, MCC Washington Office, 920 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, D.C., 20003. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
J. Robert Charles, 904 College Ave., Goshen, Ind., 46526. E-mail: email@example.com
Prof. Keith Graber Miller, Dept. of Bible, Religion and Philosophy, Goshen College, Goshen, Ind., 46526. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Ted Grimsrud, Dept. of Bible and Religion, Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Road, Harrisonburg, Va., 22802. E-mail: email@example.com
Robert Kreider, 2825 N Main, North Newton, Kan., 67117. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
John Lapp, 13 Knollwood Dr., Akron, Pa., 17501. E-mail: email@example.com
Prof. Theron F. Schlabach, 1503 Kentfield Way, Goshen, Ind., 46526. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
David A. Shank, 1553 Redbud Court, Goshen, Ind., 46526. E-mail: email@example.com
Karl Stutzman, 825 S. 8th St., Goshen, Ind., 46526. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
. Jack Thiessen, Mennonite Low German Dictionary-Mennonitisch-Plattdeutsches Wrterbuch (Madison, Wis.: Max Kade Instituzte, 2003), and Hermann Rempel, Kjenn jie noch Plautdietsch? (Rosenort, Man.: Prairie View Press, 1995).
Return to Text
. See, e.g., www.ethnologue.com; other estimates vary from 100,000 to 400,000 worldwide, but that may include some speakers of a Plautdietsch that is different from that of the Russian Mennonites.
The Mennonite Quarterly Review