Monday 18 May 2009

Johnny Cash on scripture and commentaries

Did you know that Johnny Cash wrote a novel about the conversion of the apostle Paul? I hadn’t even heard of it until I was given a copy last week: the title is (of course) Man in White.

I haven’t read the novel yet – but there’s some great stuff in Cash’s introduction. He talks about the excitement of research (when June’s father died, he left his religious-historical library to Johnny); the impossibly difficult process of writing; the long years in which he lugged the manuscript around with him on tour; the way his writing ability was stifled during periods of drug dependence (“time after time I wrote dozens of pages while under the influence, but when I read them afterward with a clear mind, I burned them”); the way Billy Graham gently prodded him to keep writing; and finally, the way a vision of his deceased father (a vision of brilliant light streaming across an unbreachable gulf between them) inspired his description of Paul’s conversion experience.

Anyways, my favourite part of this introduction is Cash’s remark about commentaries on Paul (p. xvi): “I started reading books about Paul…. Then I got into the commentaries on Paul by Lange, Farrar, Barnes, Fleetwood, and others. I started making notes and writing my own thoughts on Paul when I saw so many different opinions in so many areas. Tons of material has been written …, but I discovered that the Bible can shed a lot of light on commentaries.”

This is a humorous observation, but I think it would actually be excellent advice for all those of us who study theology and the Bible: scripture can shed a lot of light on commentaries!


Fat said...

Spot on.

roger flyer said...

A reminder to all F & T devotees:

In a high vaulted, narrow, gothic chamber, Faust is discovered at his desk.

"Philosophy have I digested,
The whole of Law and Medicine,
From each its secrets I have wrested,
Theology, alas, thrown in.
Poor fool, with all this sweated lore,
I stand no wiser than I was before.
Master and Doctor are my titles;
For ten years now, without repose
I've held my erudite recitals
And led my pupils by the nose.
And round we go, on crooked ways or straight,
And well I know that ignorance is our fate,
And this I hate.
I have, I grant, outdistanced all the others
Doctors, pedants, clergy and lay-brothers;
All plague of doubts and scruples I can quell,
and have no fear of devil or of hell,
And in return am destitute of pleasure
Knowing that knowledge tricks us beyond measure,
That man's conversion is beyond my reach
knowing the emptiness of what I teach..."


Erin said...

Cash sang a pretty mean paraphrase of Goethe;

you might run on for a long time
run on, dunkin' and dodgin'
run on, children, for a long time
let me tell you God Almighty gonna cut you down

Christopher said...

Hey Ben, thanks for this post. You've reminded me that I've been meaning to read this book for about 4 years now. I'm curious to hear more about it from you.

As a side note, if you're interested, I wrote an article on Cash a few years back that might give you some context for your reading. It's not the best piece I've ever written, but it attempts to deal with what I think was the pivotal event in Cash's life...his attempted suicide.

Jacques said...

"The Bible can shed a lot of light on the commentaries."

This statement assumes a logocentric worldview where there is such a thing as a difference between text and the commentary.

For me there is no difference between them. Only differance within an infinite system of signs and signifiers. The commentary is what brings the text into existence, as the text - like God - is always "becoming" and never "being."

Bob said...

Ok...I have now offically commented on Jacques' sub-metaphysical "i know not what" so it can exits.

You're welcome Jacques.

Anonymous said...

The music of Johnny Cash has always reflected his core beliefs. He humbly acknowledges that his wisdom is limited, and that there are things he must simply accept. This sense of resignation to the higher of things is reflected in the song, I Guess Things Happen that Way, as covered here by yours truly,

I Guess Things Happen that Way
cover of Johnny Cash song

A. Bookbinder said...

Hilarious post, Jacques. Just the laugh I needed today.

One of Freedom said...

One of my profs liked to say that if you want to understand the commentaries, read the Bible.

Now my interest is peaked in this book, let us know what you think when you get to reading it.

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