Reading Bibles, Writing Bodies: Identity and the Book

Reading Bibles, Writing Bodies: Identity and the Book

Reading Bibles, Writing Bodies: Identity and the Book

Reading Bibles, Writing Bodies: Identity and the Book

Synopsis

The Bible is often said to be one of the foundation texts of Western culture. The present volume shows that it goes far beyond being a religious text. The essays explore how religious, political and cultural identities, including ethnicity and gender, are embodied in biblical discourse. Following the authors, we read the Bible with new eyes: as a critic of gender, ideology, politics and culture. We ask ourselves new questions: about God's body, about women's role, about racial prejudices and about the politics of the written word. Reading Bibles, Writing Bodies crosses boundaries. It questions our most fundamental assumptions about the Bible. It shows how biblical studies can benefit from the mainstream of Western intellectual discourse, throwing up entirely new questions and offering surprising answers. Accessible, engaging and moving easily between theory and the reading of specific texts, this volume is an exciting contribution to contemporary biblical and cultural studies.

Excerpt

Biblical studies exists in a ghetto. Isolated within the academy, the main body of biblical scholarship is not an active conversational partner within mainstream intellectual discourse. This was not always the case. There was a time when biblical scholars actively engaged other disciplines—classics and philosophy, for example. With the emergence of a positivist historical consciousness in nineteenth-century scholarship, however, biblical studies grew dissociated from the wider intellectual discourse as practitioners pursued ever more singlemindedly the mechanics of their new program. Ironically, with the freedom to read the Bible in a radically fresh way—as a text like any other—came the gradual imposition of new disciplinary limits, as the “historical-critical method” became the measure of legitimate thinking about the text and scholars pressed on toward completing the scientific (wissenschaftlich) understanding of the Bible. The outcome today is an insular guild, clinging to the bequest of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scholars, reluctant to acknowledge the deep problems confronting the positivist historical-critical enterprise, and inclined to view biblical research as a matter of refining method and filling in gaps.

Yet such a story, while compelling, is hardly the only one that could be told. Particular critics and critical phases in modern biblical studies have periodically disturbed the move to isolation. Hermann Gunkel, for example, brought folklore studies and biblical texts into creative play in the early decades of this century. The last twenty years in particular have seen dramatic changes. Some biblical scholars have been adopting models from neighboring fields, especially literary criticism, sociology, anthropology, and feminist thought. Some scholars in cognate fields, notably in English and comparative literature (see, for example, the Indiana Studies in Biblical Literature series) have been making contributions to biblical studies. The extent of the changes being wrought within the guild can be seen in a nut-shell in the program of the annual professional meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Along with the emerging variety of program units and session topics is, strikingly, and not unconnected, the growing participation of previously excluded voices, most prominently to date those of women and

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