Theorizing Scriptures: New Critical Orientations to a Cultural Phenomenon

Theorizing Scriptures: New Critical Orientations to a Cultural Phenomenon

Theorizing Scriptures: New Critical Orientations to a Cultural Phenomenon

Theorizing Scriptures: New Critical Orientations to a Cultural Phenomenon


In this innovative collection of essays that aims to turn the traditional bible study definition of scriptures on its head. An in-depth look at the social, cultural, and racial meanings invested in these texts.


Charles H. Long

Alberto Manguel, the distinguished Argentinean translator, editor, and novelist, tells us that as a young man he was asked by Jorge Luis Borges to read to him, the elderly Borges' sight having failed him in old age. He relates Borges' experience of hearing a text read to him rather than reading it for himself. Borges in his blindness was now “reading” the text through hearing and listening. in another part of his book, he relates the familiar story of Augustine's great surprise when on his first visit to Ambrose in Milan he found the holy man “reading silently” (see Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading [New York: Penguin, 1996]). Manguel, by introducing us to several “scenes” of reading, throughout various cultures and histories, allows us to rethink several other issues about the books, texts, exchanges, and communications.

In an analogous manner, Vincent Wimbush has invited us through the Institute for Signifying Scriptures (ISS) to undertake a similar investigation and interrogation. He makes it clear who he is and where he has begun—as an African American male scholar of a prestigious text of the Christian tradition, the New Testament. in some cases, in spite of, and, in other cases, because of who he is, he finds it necessary to raise new and different questions regarding that genre of authority that goes by the name of “scripture.” He wants to question how and why certain writings became authoritative. To be sure, we already know that some conception of power is involved, but is that power always the same? and from where does that power originate? Underlying the meaning of scripture is writing itself and its authority. As a student of religion, he is sensitive to the fact that F. Max Müller, a great nineteenth-century Sanskritist more or less invented the “Great World Religions” around what he referred to as sacred texts (scriptures)—writings of various social and institutional constellations in various cultures over time.

Scriptures as the normative expression of the “Great World Religions” all but ignored those cultural traditions that did not possess a tradition of writing. It is very clear that the Institute for Signifying Scriptures is not imputing some kind of romantic, unearned prestige to so-called oral cultures. As a matter of fact, the very process of “signifying” undercuts every binary as a valid statement of an authentic human situation. There is, however, the recognition that writing and scriptures have, especially during the modern period, been used to dominate and oppress. All too often those cultures that did not impute to writing a normative prestige were not respectfully read to; more often than not, writing took on the role of . . .

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