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Matthew Gordley’s Teaching through Song in Antiquity, reviewed by David Seal

Chapters two through ten each address and illustrate various didactic songs selected from the following areas: Homeric and Hesiodic poetry, philosophy, praises of human rulers, the Hebrew Bible, Jewish writings from the Second Temple period to the second century, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament Epistles, the Apocalypse, the Gospels and hymns from early Christian writings. The section of the book dealing with didactic praise offered to human rulers (123-138) provides an enlightening comparison to words of praise about Jesus and his message as recounted in the New Testament (e.g., 297-298).

Gordley’s argument is especially convincing when the text under consideration contains an explicit claim of didactic intent such as in Psalm 34 (154), Deuteronomy 32 (168-172) and certain prayers contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls (235-236). Several of the passages, such as the prayers from the Dead Sea sect, have additional features that Gordley alleges indicate a didactic intent. These examples add strong support to his argument.

The final chapter looks specifically at the communities from the Greco-Roman world, the Jewish world, and from early Christian traditions exposed to instruction through song. This section serves as a summary of the entire book and highlights how hymns served as a means of community identity formation. This didactic purpose of song is illustrated by Gordley from the hymns in Revelation chapters four and five (346). Through these hymns, John’s audience came to understand they were purchased by the blood of the Lamb (Rev 5:9), have been made into a kingdom of priests who serve God (5:10) and in the future will reign on earth (5:10).

Gordley’s work is one of the most extensive treatments of this topic. It has raised awareness of the didactic purpose of ancient hymns. This is a welcome book for several reasons. First, it provides useful information for further research. Second, preachers and teachers can benefit by knowing the original intent of a passage before moving on to the text’s significance and application. In addition, knowing the function of a particular passage can also assist preachers or teachers in shaping the form of their message. Both the content and structure of their instruction will be enhanced, bringing fuller meaning to their listeners.

Reviewed by David Seal

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Category: In Depth

About the Author: David R. Seal, M.T.S. (Cornerstone University), Th.M. (Calvin Theological Seminary), is currently pursuing at Ph.D. at Regent University, Virginia Beach, VA and is adjunct faculty at Cornerstone University. He is employed at South Church Lansing, Michigan.

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