Here are the first dozen of the twenty-four conclusions I’ve drawn after my years of biblical study. As the cartoon above indicates, what I gained from Eamonn O’Doherty at St. Columban’s Major Seminary in Milton, MA was an introduction to the historical/critical approach to the Judeo-Christian tradition. It provided a foundation that was deepened and developed by the scholars I mentioned in my last posting.in this series.
The historical/critical approach acts as a corrective to misreadings that emerge from the naive literary/confessional approach that had previously been mine. I learned that the latter is too open to ideological manipulation at the hands of the dominant culture anxious to secure divine support for a status quo favoring the rich and powerful ruling classes..
Accordingly, those more conventional approaches must be treated, I realized, with “ideological suspicion” which methodically doubts the veracity of conventional interpretations.
Such doubt made me suspect of any interpretation issuing from the United States and Europe. There analysis tended to remain largely apolitical and by that very fact ended up supporting the socio-economic status quo.
That was not the case in the underdeveloped world. (I use that term deliberately. Latin America, Africa, and South Asia, I found, have been deliberately under-developed –robbed of their resources by over-developed nations.)
Scholars in the Global South saw clearly and articulated connections between the biblical texts and imperial exploitation. The texts of both the Jewish Testament and its Christian counterpart are unique in the ancient world in that they were largely produced by victims of imperialism at the hands of Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. To ignore that fact and to interpret them apolitically is to impoverish them and rob them of their critical power vis-a-vis contemporary imperialist situations.
I’m sure such remarks make it clear how the biblical studies I’ve pursued have sensitized me to the dark realities of empires and the intolerable situations they have produced in the past and continue to produce in the present.
In any case, the twelve conclusions I share here unveil my gradual progression towards critical consciousness engendered by biblical studies. As you’ll see, they inexorably become less general and more sharply political. Judge for yourself:
- For the Christian Bible reading is extremely important. In some sense, the Bible is the word of God. However its many separate texts were produced by very human authors concerned with addressing highly politicized situations.
- But living is more important still. After all, even in the Bible itself, life and history constitute the primary vehicle of God’s revelation. In fact, it was out of reflection on these basic elements that the sacred texts themselves arose. In other words, the main purpose of the Bible is not preservation or study of tradition for its own sake, but to help believers make faith-full sense out of the lives they are actually living.
- Therefore, as important as it is, Bible reading for the believer is a secondary activity, carried on “after the sun goes down.” It illumines life’s primary activity and vocation, living itself.