Stephen D. Campbell, Richard G. Rohlfing, Jr., and Richard S. Briggs are the editors of A New Song: Biblical Hebrew Poetry as Jewish and Christian Scripture. A New Song brings together a diverse roster of Jewish and Christian scholars to explore biblical Hebrew poetic texts within the context—and for the benefit—of communities of faith. A New Song includes nine essays on the hidden intricacies of poetry in the Hebrew Bible, ten poems in dialogue with biblical poetry, and three reflective responses.
In our interview below, editors Campbell, Rohlfing, Jr., and Briggs share how this volume started and how “taking a step back to reflect on poetry as an art form that exceeds our ability to pin it down” made A New Song’s contributed pieces enjoyable to curate.
Lexham Press: What is the story behind A New Song and what is this book’s basic thesis?
Campbell: The genesis of this volume is the beautiful medieval market town of Durham, England. The Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University is well-known for its long history of excellent biblical scholarship, but in recent decades that reputation has been closely connected to the development and promotion of an approach to engaging with the Bible called Theological Interpretation of Scripture.
It was within this context of deliberately faithful engagement with the Bible that the ideas for this volume began to grow, first into a conference organized by several PhD students, especially Stephen Campbell and Richard Rohlfing among others.
During my studies, I often reflected on how to read Old Testament narratives and legal texts as Christian Scripture, and I ultimately realized a hole in my biblical understanding, namely poetic texts. So, I went to the most poetic person I knew, fellow PhD student Richard Rohlfing.
Richard was almost immediately interested in brainstorming, and ultimately planning, a conference on the topic. Our goal was to “shoot for the moon” and invite the best scholars we could find to gather in Durham, enjoy each other’s company for several days, and talk about biblical poetry as Scripture. Everyone was excited to participate.
Ultimately, as the plans for the conference were coming together, the organizers became convinced that something special was happening and we decided to pursue publication.
LP: What contribution do you hope to make with A New Song?
Rohlfing, Jr.: By bringing together worked examples from contemporary Jewish and Christian scholars who engage the poetry of the Hebrew Bible with rigorous creativity our hope is twofold. First, we seek to furnish readers with tools for renewed reading and prayerful grappling with these profound (and sometimes profoundly difficult) texts. Second, and related to this, we want to encourage a fresh and contextually sensitive engagement with biblical poetry in communities of faith. This might be through visual or dramatic arts, the crafting of liturgy or poetry, or by translating this poetry into other languages or via new mediums. Our prayer is that this volume might spark reverential reflection and help awaken wonder as we continue to read and discuss the riches of biblical Hebrew poetry.
LP: Describe a particularly surprising or enjoyable aspect of writing A New Song.
Briggs: The dialogue between poets and scholars of Hebrew poetry was wonderful – taking a step back to reflect on poetry as an art form that exceeds our ability to pin it down. A really refreshing conference and set of papers!
LP: Share with us something surprising about yourself that only your friends would know.
Campbell: Like my father before me, those who know me well might tell you that I am obsessed with starting new hobbies. This is, in fact, a point of great humor and interest for my family and friends. From biking to fly fishing and baking to pasta making, I am a fan of starting and becoming an advanced novice at many activities. Perhaps it flows from a general eagerness about life, but it certainly fits my personality of being a generalist who knows very little about a great many things. My latest interest is wild mushroom photography here in Germany where I now live.
Rohlfing, Jr.: I was once slated to be on this gameshow, American Bible Challenge, with Jeff Foxworthy. Some of their crew came to Jessup University, where I was teaching Hebrew and Bible at the time. So, just for fun, I signed my wife and a friend up and we got the call back that we’d be on the show. My wife was furious with me for signing her up without asking her. I think the Lord ruled in her favor on this one, because about a week later, the show’s producers found out I was a Bible prof and they were no longer interested in having our team on the show. ha!
Briggs: I have myself published a book of poetry (Not of This Worldview with Sacristy Press), written when I was recovering from a major illness. It was a way of recovering my ability to speak about the world around us.
A New Song contributors include Jason Byassee, Ellen Davis, June Dickie, David Firth, Susan Gillingham, John Goldingay, C.T.R. Hayward, Katie M. Heffelfinger, Rabbi Shai Held, Micheal O’Siadhail, Benjamin D. Sommer, and Yisca Zimran. Features poems by Maria Apichella, Kilby Austin, Edward Clarke, Jacqueline Osherow, Micheal O’Siadhail, Richard G. Rohlfing Jr., and Jock Stein. A New Song: Biblical Hebrew Poetry as Jewish and Christian Scripture is out now! Read it today!