Cultural Interpretation: Reorienting New Testament Criticism

Article excerpt

Cultural Interpretation: Reorienting New Testament Criticism, by Brian K Blount. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1995. 222 pp. n.p. (paper). ISBN 0-8006-2859-4.

THIS BOOK PRESENTS AN APOLOGY for political interpretation of the Bible by marginalized and revolutionary groups, a program for improving the quality of that interpretation, and a suggestion that mainline exegetes learn from the work of marginalized groups. The theoretical basis for Blount's analysis is the sociolinguistic theory of M. A. KC Halliday, who argues that the meaning of language is determined by the social situation in which it occurs. All texts, Blount argues, contain not one meaning but a range of potential meanings that are only discovered in particular social locations. Thus we can only hear the full meaning of a text by listening to the interpretations of those in other social contexts. In part one, Blount analyzes the biblical interpretations of Bultmann, Sandinista peasants of Solentiname, African-American spirituals and sermons, and relates each interpretation to its particular social situation. In part two, he provides a history of twentieth-century interpretation of the trial scene in Mark, arguing that the interpretations of both academicians and political activists are determined by their situation. Academicians attempt to avoid reading their social situation into the text, but Blount maintains that the development of academic methodology is socially determined. He argues that both mainline and marginalized interpreters can gain from listening to each other. Marginalized interpreters can learn to be more careful in their reading of the text while mainline interpreters can expand their understanding of the text's potential for meaning. …