Philip Culbertson and Elaine M. Wainwright, ed. The Bible in/and Popular Culture: A Creative Encounter. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010. 210 pp. $26.95 (USD). ISBN: 1589834933
Editor Elaine M. Wainwright introduces The Bible inland Popular Culture by explaining how the essays in the collection "give attention not only to the ways that a range of media engage biblical texts, characters, themes, and genres but also to the ways that authors begin to analyze the biblical material through the lens of selected theorists of biblical hermeneutics, popular culture, and its media modes in all their diversity" (3). Wainwright also claims that all of the chapters, exploring intersections between the Bible and popular culture, are simultaneously serious and fun (1).
The first section of the volume contains a single essay by Michael J. Gilmour who introduces an image from Salman Rushdie: "all the stories of the world as waters swirling around a vast sea, 'a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents"' (14). This notion of intertextuality provides a nice entry point into the remaining chapters, the majority of which are found in the next section. The emphasis in the second section is on music, ranging from Bob Marley to Emmylou Harris. One striking contribution is Jim Perkinson's chapter, which analyzes "the hip-hop hermeneutic of Holy Writ" (82) in the style of hip hop itself. Another chapter, by Tex Sample, narrates the country music of Kris Kristofferson back into the theology of Paul. Philip Culbertson's chapter on Mary Magdalene in music relays his own experience with "reverse hermeneutical flow" (71): many of his students resist relinquishing their popular-culture understandings of Mary, even though they contradict the Bible. Dan Clanton, Jr.'s essay is a rare exception to the musical focus: he finds two types of Jesus--"biblical/devotional" Jesus and "Jesus of the Elseworlds"--in TV shows like South Park and comics like Battle Pope. The final section provides a sole chapter by Tina Pippin, which explores the alternate understanding of apocalypse proffered in Philip Pullman's trilogy His Dark Materials.
The book ends with two responses. The first, especially, makes several apt observations about the collection as a whole. These observations also, to my mind, touch upon some of the volume's limitations. For one, neither the introduction nor any of the individual chapters really wrestles with what, precisely, "popular culture" is. …