September 24, 2010
And Does It Matter Who Wrote It?
(Continuing our story of an intemperate letter)
So the writer of the letter, James Graham Jr, was actually a contemporary of Pearl’s, not a “long-term adversary” (so Spurling, p. 211), and by the time he wrote this letter in 1933 he had known her all his life. Family tradition has it that Sophie Graham, the wife of James Graham Sr, had even homeschooled Pearl Sydenstricker and the Graham children in the early days when both families were in Tsingkiangpu (Chingkiang). And later in the mountain retreat of Kuling (Lushan), where many missionaries and other Westerners migrated to escape the summer heat of the lowlands, the Graham’s and Sydenstricker’s summer cottages (both homes regularly occupied by two generations of missionaries and grandchildren) were next door to each other.
It takes no stretch of the imagination to surmise that these were close communities of missionaries, and little passed unseen between those families, at least during their summer hiatus. As another source has it, “You see, Kuliang [sic] is a little summer community, and everybody knows everybody else’s business. It is impossible to do anything without it being talked about” (Edward Bliss Jr., Beyond the Stone Arches, p. 104). Of course, by the same token, these missionaries—whatever their differences and tensions—would quite naturally defend one another against criticism from without or betrayal from within. And by 1933, Pearl Buck had clearly betrayed and offended many within that community.Continue reading "And Does It Matter Who Wrote It?"
September 21, 2010
Who Wrote This Intemperate Letter?
History is a slippery thing. So I have told myself many times. Usually the context for this thought is early Christian history, often the New Testament era. Our sources are few—or at least far fewer than we might wish—and many a fact or context eludes us. We try to fill in the gaps by historical triangulation or by trying to discern the most probable scenario given the facts we have to go on. What was going on “when Cephas came to Antioch”? Exactly who were the judaizers? What was the setting of the Letter of James? Who was the author of Hebrews and what is the setting it addresses? If we only had [blank], we could shine more light on this or that situation.
Anyone who has spent serious time in early Christian scholarship has their own list of questions. And as we burrow into the texts, their gaps and the questions they raise, we encounter another stubborn fact. We bring our own perspectives to this work, which in turn colors our conclusions. Our decision on point A might very well affect our conclusion on point F. A mistaken judgment on point B might lead us far afield by the time we reach point G. And our judgment on point A or B might easily have been corrected if we had just had some additional information. Perhaps another ancient text. Or perhaps access to oral tradition. The fields of New Testament and early Christian studies are littered with this sort of thing. (And I guess I shouldn’t complain, since this offers job security for me—it renders untold possibilities for publishing new books!)
With this theme never far from my mind, I encountered something a few weeks ago that brought it back to the surface in an interesting way. I was reading Hilary Spurling’s recently published biography, Pearl Buck in China.Continue reading "Who Wrote This Intemperate Letter?"
September 16, 2010
September 13, 2010