Saturday, February 15, 2014

Update on Bunyan Research

I have finished writing the sections on Bunyan's life, his overall view and use of the parables, and an analysis of his lengthy interpretation of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (A Few Sighs from Hell, which I am tempted to rename, A Few Thousand Sighs from Hell). This is for Chapter 3 (out of 5 chapters).

I am a New Testament scholar, trained in historical-critical, literary, and social-scientific approaches to the NT, primarily the Gospels and Acts. As such, my almost exclusive focus has been on the history and literature of the first century. It is only in the last few years that I have become fascinated with reception history. Thus of Bunyan's works, I had only previously read Pilgrim's Progress. Now I have read his autobiography, Grace Abounding, as well as his A Few Sighs from Hell, A Barren Fig Tree, and The Pharisee and the Publicane. I also have read a few secondary works, such as Richard Greave's brilliant 2002 biography of Bunyan, Glimpses of Glory. Michael Mullett's John Bunyan in Context has been exceptionally helpful as well.

The dilemma I face with Bunyan is the same I have faced everywhere in writing this book: there is simply too much great material to fit into the number of words I have to cover them. Note to James Ernest (my esteemed editor): If you are reading this post, you can stop here!

Once again, I have already exceeded my allotted word count for this section long before I have finished. The biographical sketch, overview of Bunyan's use of parables, and my treatment of his A Few Sighs from Hell far exceeded the length I wanted. Yet A Few Sighs from Hell is essential for understanding Bunyan and the parables (e.g., parables signify "wonderful realities"). It also includes, since it is early in his career (1658, when he was 30 years of age), a more significant socio-economic critique of the clergy and the wealthy (in addition to the "normal" sins he always rails against--the ones he left behind after his conversion) than do his later works.

So when I began to write on the other two texts (A Barren Fig Tree and The Pharisee and the Publicane),  I thought I would just write a paragraph summarizing the importance of them. When I started writing about A Barren Fig Tree, however, I realized more fully that there are critically important elements of Bunyan's view and treatment of the parables (including how he uses other parts of the Bible in general and other parables in particular to explain that parable). I expect the same to be true for The Pharisee and the Publicane. So, the question is: Do I include shortened treatments of all three or a lengthy treatment of one and shortened versions of the others? TBA, after I work through the last two works more carefully. 

I face the same issue for all of the chapters I have written so far. I have completed the first two chapters, and they both are over 10,000 words over the word count I need. This is after I have gone back over them once each and deleted as much "chaff" as I could find. The next time I go over them, I will use an even more critical eye. I also intend to write drafts of all five chapters before making the key decision about how to proceed with the editing (I always write long--which helps me think through the issues--and then go back and trim/cut/machete to form what I hope is a more cohesive argument and text).

The main decision for each chapter will be this one: Do I shorten substantially every section on each person/item I cover or will I also need to delete one or more whole sections? For example, in chapter 2 I had intended to cover John Gower, Geoffrey Chaucer, and William Langland (Piers Plowman). After I wrote the sections on Gower and Chaucer, though, I decided only to mention Langland in passing. But since I have a wide range of others I need to cover, do I really need both Gower and Chaucer in the chapter? They were contemporaries (and friends; Chaucer called him "moral Gower"), so there is not a huge amount of diversity there. If I cut one of them, I suppose that deleted section would make the foundation for an article I could publish elsewhere. I also have an upcoming lecture/paper at the University of Oxford in June, so I could expand upon it for that as well.

At the heart of all this deliberations, though, are what things would be the most beneficial for the intended audience of this book.

Next week, I will return to Clement of Alexandria's treatment of some specific parables.


  1. You could always spin out some articles from the material that doesn't make it into the book.

  2. Yes, that is a good option. I might have to delete the whole section on John Gower, for example, and publish an expanded version of it it as an article. Readers of the book, though, will lose a key (and often forgotten) voice if I do that. But there are other ways to use the deleted material as well, such as culling out voices on one particular parable. Thanks for the comment, Brian.
    P.S. Did you study with Mikeal Parsons at Baylor? Great scholar, especially of Luke and Acts.

    1. Yes, I did. He was my advisor for my dissertation.


What are They saying about the Parables? (Chapter 4 , part 5): More contributions from Ruben Zimmermann

Zimmermann’s single-authored book, Puzzling the Parables of Jesus , introduces his “integrative method” to English-speaking audiences in ord...