Reading the Bible Around the World, Federico Alfredo Roth, Justin Marc Smith, Kirsten Oh, Alice Yafeh-Deigh, and Kay Higuera Smith. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022.
Summary: A globally representative team of authors discuss the diverse social locations of different cultures that shape their reading of scripture, developing the student’s awareness of the importance of context in biblical interpretation.
There was a time (and I was influenced by this tradition) where we learned to study scripture with Euro-American interpretive tools often labelled the historical-critical method. It was an attempt to bring a kind of scientific precision to the study of texts that would lead to “assured” interpretations that were privileged above those of other interpreters because they arose from a supposedly rigorous process. Yet such interpretive work was done by people who often were blind to the way their worldview shaped their conclusions, including such things as a radical skepticism of the miraculous or the spiritual world. It was also blind to ways one’s position as part of a dominant, colonizing culture shaped one’s reading of the social and ethnic dimensions of the text. Most of this was also done by men who brought the prejudices of their gender to how they read passages about women and relations between the sexes.
The introduction of this work discusses the sea change that has occurred in biblical interpretation as scholars from every part of the world have engaged the biblical text, bringing the unique sensitivities of their cultural contexts. Women are joining men. Latino/a, Asian, and African scholars are joining Euro-Americans in studying the biblical text. The growing awareness of social location and how this shapes interpretation has led to rich conversations about the different ways we may read the biblical text, the different nuances or features we notice, and the particular applications we make shaped by our context.
In the following chapters, interpreters from different cultures describe and model what this looks like. Each describes particular interpretive emphases that shape study of the biblical text that arise in their cultural context. Then they demonstrate how this works out in their reading of Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the loving neighbor who happens to be a Samaritan, and their reading of an Old Testament passage of their choice.
Frederico Alfredo Roth discusses Latin American approaches, and the influence of liberationist approaches, a concern for the poor and the migrant, and for praxis have in approaching texts. Alice Yafeh-Deigh discusses colonial and post-colonial influences as well as tribalism and patriarchal concerns in reading texts from an African perspective. Justin Marc Smith discusses classic approaches of Euro-Americans, the anti-supernaturalism underlying many readings, and how the post-modern turn brought awareness of the social location of readers and growing self-awareness to Euro-American interpreters. Kirsten Oh recounts the intersection of orientalist, anglicist, and nativist readings of scripture, as well as the influence of underlying Confucianism and the current post-colonial context. Kay Higuera Smith rounds out the discussion with an exploration of the situation of diasporic peoples, often leading to creolized or hybridized readings.
It was more difficult to compare the different readings of Old Testament passages because each chose unique passages (and one did not include this). The Latin American reading of Deuteronomy 24:17-22 was especially aware of the treatment of the marginalized in this passage. The African reading of Esther emphasized the strategies both women used to subvert patriarchal dominance, an issue also wrestled with by African women. The Euro-American reading of David and Bathsheba looks at this primarily from the perspective of David and David’s sin, not seeing the incident through Bathsheba’s eyes. The Asian reading of Ruth focuses on issues of Ruth as “model minority,” combined with her invisibility at the end of the narrative, while also recognizing her distinctive character of hesed.
What was more interesting to me was the reading of Luke 10:25-37. While there were nuances of difference, particularly in application, I was struck by how similar all the readings were. All were aware of the Jew-Samaritan dynamic and drew on this in the discussion of neighboring. Yet the combined discussion offered a much richer reading of a familiar story. It suggested to me that reading with our global neighbors, when it is focused carefully on the same text leads, not to radically disparate readings, but rather fuller readings exposing aspects of the biblical text we may overlook. For example, the Latin American approach raised the question of why the unsafeness of the Jericho road was tolerated. Isn’t addressing this also a matter of loving neighbor?
The subtitle of this book is “A Student’s Guide to Global Hermeneutics.” I think this text accomplishes that task well. The overview of interpretive distinctions of different cultural contexts combined with examples, as well as reflection questions makes this a helpful text in an academic setting. It is also a helpful introduction, especially for North American Christians, to the growing global conversation about how we read scripture together. The suggestions for further reading allow one to go as far as one wants in that exploration. And what will one find? What is suggested here is a richer, deeper, and perhaps renewed engagement with scripture.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.
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