Sunday 9 April 2023

Sacred Witness 2: Unfinished but a few more thoughts on this book

This is the second part of a book review that I published on October 20th, 2012. Given the research that I am engaged in now, I thought that I would just publish this part as well. It has been in draft mode since November 14th, 2017. There was more that I wanted to say but I am "frying other fish" right now. However, this latest research and writing is definitely related to the problems that I have with this, and many other books. I cannot do a third reading, it would be too depressing. She has written another book called The Bible as Political Artifact: On the Feminist Study of the Hebrew Bible (2017) and article (2019) that I will take a look at over the next couple of weeks.  

Book Review:  It Means What I Say It Means - SO THERE!!

Author: Susanne Scholz
Title: Sacred Witness: Rape in the Hebrew Bible
Publisher: Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 2010
Details: 279 pages; solid notes for the most part; no bibliography but index of authors, index of bible and other ancient texts and index of subjects. Nonetheless, a bibliography of cited sources would have been helpful.

With apologies to Lewis Carroll, my main complaint with Scholz' book is like Alice's puzzlement - in this case, texts not words:

"When I use a word [read text]," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean— neither more nor less."
    "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words[read texts] mean so many different things."
    "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master that's all."
    Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. "They've a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they're the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That's what I say!"

I will begin with some of the assumptions that are a given in this book.

Assumption 1: the Bible is the sacred word of God, that is, the Bible is still being privileged

This is a facet of Assumption #2. I read this (and many other works) as trying to "save the bible" by arguing that the reader can determine what the text says and what the text means - this way, one can avoid the necessity of dealing with the god that is created in these texts and by these texts.

Assumption 2: the reader's interpretation has primacy over anything else.

Example (I had more examples but see the prologue above):
Page 112: "he [Harold C. Washington] succumbs to an empiricist-scientific epistemology as if readers were not in charge"

To say this in other words, we can carve out our own meaning whenever and however we want to, and to hell with the consequences to the text, to the reader, to the believing community, to the world at large. The ultimate historical "sitz im leben" has no relevance; theological presuppositions have no relevance. And we wonder why people no longer have any idea what is in the Bible or where it came from.

Why this dismissal of all previous research?

Why is this a problem?

Consequence 1:

Proof-texting becomes the sine qua non of biblical interpretation.

Consequence 2:

History be damned. 

Consequence 3:

If we take the "text" out of its historical structure, the destructive social system of patriarchy cannot be held accountable. Why? Because there is no historical social system that matters. If one can make the text say anything that I want it to say, then ultimately it becomes irrelevant. The story of a people's and an individual's grappling with trying to find meaning in the world is undermined to such an extent that it has little to really tell us.

Consequence 4: The biggest consequence of all is that it changes nothing.

Since the reader's interpretation takes priority over everything else, we have reached the apex of individualism.

Let me lay out a couple of things.

First: Anyone who read any part of the "My Story" sequence will have some understanding of where I am "coming from". How they interpret that is out of my control.

Second: I do not believe that the reader's interpretation of a text should hold precedence over historical/cultural/societal readings.

Third: A reader is free to do what they want with a text. However, they should be aware that there are not only consequences for themselves, but for the community of believers as well. It is now broken down into distinct entities - all of whom will - inevitably - want to argue that their understanding is correct. That, in the end, subverts the healing power of community.

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