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In Praise of The Evil Kings:
Latino Ethnic Identity and Biblical Scholarship





In fact, intolerance of other religions is one of the innovations that I see in the Bible relative to other Near Eastern cultures. But you will hardly ever see any biblical scholar phrase it in those terms. I suggest that the reluctance to see “the characteristic and definitional” aspects of the Bible in negative terms is part of the religionism I see permeating the field of biblical studies, and especially what is called “biblical theology.”



See Also: The New Holocaust Denialists: The Need for a Metacriticism of Biblical Scholarship

Slavery, Abolitionism and the Ethics of Biblical Scholarship: Reflections about Ethical Deflections

In Praise of Biblical Illiteracy

The End of Accreditation? Not So Fast!!

What's Not so Secular about Introductions to the Bible?



By Hector Avalos
Iowa State University
December 2013


I am not a Latino Biblical Scholar. I am a biblical scholar who happens to be Latino. I make this distinction for a number of subtle but significant reasons. While my upbringing as a Mexican-born Pentecostal Protestant influenced my focus on the Bible, my secularist stance has an even larger influence on the topics and approaches I use in biblical scholarship. In fact, I would say that my experience with a chronic illness (Granulomatosis with polyangiitis; formerly known as Wegener’s Granulomatosis) explains more of my publications as a biblical scholar than my Latino identity (Avalos, 1995, 1999, 2007a).

Here, I will concentrate on how being an openly atheist biblical scholar affects my hermeneutics. First, I certainly do not subscribe to religionist approaches to the Bible. By “religionist” I refer to any approach that sees religion as an essentially good and valuable phenomenon that should be supported and maintained in human society. Divesting myself of religionist views of the Bible means that I see most of biblical scholarship, whether practiced by openly confessional or self-described “historical-critical” scholars, as partly apologetics. Biblical scholarship is often meant to mitigate any negative views of the Bible and to maintain the cultural and ethical superiority of the Bible in modern society.

Accordingly, some of my publications have focused on deconstructing the principal hermeneutical strategies used by most biblical scholars, especially when they address ethical issues in the Bible. Here, I focus on two of these hermeneutic strategies: 1) representativism; and 2) reinterpretation. I will also demonstrate how these hermeneutic strategies are used in Latino liberatory readings of the Bible. In contrast to most Latino biblical scholars, I will argue that much of what is called Latino “liberatory” hermeneutics does not go far enough in liberating the modern world from the authority of ancient imperialistic and violent texts.

Representativism

Representativism affirms that a particular view in the Bible is “representative” while others (usually bad ones, like slavery and genocide) are unrepresentative. Walter Brueggemann (144) provides an instance when he claims that Israel’s God, “full of sovereign power and committed in solidarity to the needy, and especially to Israel in need—dominates the narrative of Israel’s liturgy and imagination (cf. Deut.10:12-22).” Brueggemann (144) tells us that “[i]t is important to accent that something like ‘God’s preferential option for the poor’ is deeply rooted in Israel’s testimony, so deeply rooted as to be characteristic and definitional for Israel’s speech about God.”

The first problem is that Brueggemann, much like almost every other biblical theologian, never establishes criteria for what is “characteristic and definitional.” Is it a statistical criterion? That is to say, is it the number of times a specific concept or term is repeated? Or is it qualitative? That is to say, is it something said to be the most important concept, regardless of how many times others are repeated? If it is qualitative, then is a representative teaching one that the biblical authors say is representative, or is it something a modern scholar is retrojecting into the biblical text?

If we appeal to statistics to find out what is “characteristic,” we soon encounter a very complex and confusing situation. Brueggemann quotes Deuteronomy 10 to support the idea that a characteristic of God is his concern for the poor. Deuteronomy 10:12-22 is part of a larger work scholars usually denominate as the Deuteronomistic History, stretching from Joshua to 2 Kings (except Ruth) in Protestant Bibles. Yet, Frank Frick’s study of the terminology of poverty in Deuteronomistic History concludes that this work is the least concerned with poverty compared to other biblical corpora. For example, Job has twenty instances of poverty terminology, while the Deuteronomistic History has eleven (Frick 84).

If we use a “qualitative” criterion, we also don’t make much progress in finding what is “characteristic and definitional” because “quality” can be very subjective and selective. In fact, we may come to a very different conclusion about what is “characteristic and definitional” by reading the text Brueggemann cites--- Deuteronomy 10:12-22:

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I command you this day for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it; yet the LORD set his heart in love upon your fathers and chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as at this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve him and cleave to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and terrible things which your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons; and now the LORD your God has made you as the stars of heaven for multitude.

True enough, the text speaks about how Yahweh cares about justice for the widow, and how he loves the stranger.

But the text also repeatedly emphasizes how Israelites should “fear” and “serve” and “love” Yahweh with all their souls. Verbs commanding obligation toward Yahweh outnumber any commandments to be kind to widows or strangers. Statistically, we could argue that this passage makes Israel’s slavery to Yahweh “characteristic and definitional.” Verse 14 speaks of how the earth belongs to Yahweh, and so Yahweh’s imperialism might be “characteristic and definitional,” not some preferential option for the poor.

And how does loving and caring for strangers coincide with the genocide of the Canaanites that is also commanded in Deuteronomy 7:1-5 and 20:17-18? Why is genocide of any stranger not favored by Yahweh “characteristic and definitional”? To explain genocide, Brueggemann lapses back into a technique well known among fundamentalists, who also pick-and-choose what to take literally and what to take figuratively. Brueggemann (497) tells us that such genocidal texts are really “a theological construct without any historical base.” This, of course, assumes that talk about “justice” is also not “a theological construct without any historical base.”

All of this illustrates that seeking the representative message of the Bible is a failure. But it is a failure not because there isn’t a core message, but because the core message is assumed to be benign (e.g., justice, love, mercy, etc.). But what if the “characteristic and definitional” message of the Bible is something we would regard as negative—namely, intolerance of other religions? Actually, intolerance of other religions can be easily supported as a consistent message in the Bible, whether in the Hebrew or Christian canons. The authors of the Bible advocated only the worship of Yahweh, and so it follows that any other religions cannot be tolerated.

Intolerance of other religions explains much more of the content and actions prescribed in biblical literature than “mercy” and “love.” Religious intolerance is enshrined in the first commandment in Exodus 20:3 (“You shall have no other gods before me”). Intolerance, not love and mercy, better explains the genocide of the Canaanites for following their religious traditions. Intolerance explains the anger of the prophets against the worship of other gods. Intolerance explains Paul’s warnings not to follow other gospels (Galatians 1:8).

In fact, intolerance of other religions is one of the innovations that I see in the Bible relative to other Near Eastern cultures. But you will hardly ever see any biblical scholar phrase it in those terms. I suggest that the reluctance to see “the characteristic and definitional” aspects of the Bible in negative terms is part of the religionism I see permeating the field of biblical studies, and especially what is called “biblical theology.”

Reinterpretation: Does Original Intent Matter?

By far, the most common strategy to explain undesirable aspects in the Bible is reinterpretation. Reinterpretation means that a modern biblical scholar allows the original meaning of the text to be erased or changed to fit a later or modern context. In a much-cited article in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Krister Stendahl (420) argued that scholars should distinguish “what it meant and what it means.”

The premise of Stendahl’s distinction is that the Bible is so alien to our culture that only reinterpretation could keep it alive. Note Stendahl’s (1970:31) own remarks,

This understanding leads to the puzzling insight that in the living religious traditions continuity is affirmed and achieved by discontinuity. Authority is affirmed and relevance asserted by reinterpretation.

Stendahl (1970, 31) claimed that reinterpretation, even when it means disregarding the “original” sense of a text, was an essential function of scriptures, as evidenced by this statement:

From a historical point of view, Paul did not mean what Augustine heard him to say...For better or worse that is how Scriptures function, and if so, we had better take note thereof in our treatment of the history of ideas.

For Stendahl, it is the nature of scripture to be reinterpreted. Stendahl echoed the ideas of Hans Georg Gadamer, who asserted that readers were always recreating meaning to the extent that it did not much matter what an author meant. In essence, Stendahl champions the legitimacy of “recontextualization” and “reappropriation,” which claims that a text can and should mean whatever a faith community needs it to mean to keep that text or the community alive.

The philosophical and ethical problems with reinterpretation are usually never addressed very thoroughly by biblical scholars. Such ethical and philosophical problems can be seen more clearly if we realize that two positions can be identified for those who believe there is even such a thing as authorial intent:

A. Authorial intent is the only one that matters;

B. Authorial intent is not the only one that matters.

If one chooses A, then reinterpretation would be as unethical as reinterpreting my words to mean something other than what I intended, at least insofar as my intentions are clearly expressed by my words. Reinterpretation really becomes a game of “let’s pretend the Bible now says something else.”

If one chooses B, then the only result is chaos and relativism that renders moot and superfluous all research into the ancient socio-historical context and philology of the Bible. Why bother finding out what a text meant if we are allowed to reinterpret it, anyway? Reinterpretation in that sense is really the rejection of an original meaning. As such, we cannot say that any reinterpretation is biblical anymore than my original intentions could be called mine if they were reinterpreted in the future.

Latino liberationist theologies

Given the previous comments about how non-religionism affects my biblical hermeneutics, my view of liberationist hermeneutics is very different from most Latino biblical scholars I know. There are now numerous liberation theologies, and their related post-colonial versions, which suit various ethnic or underempowered groups (Moore and Segovia). For our purposes, we can show that, despite their differences with traditional theologies, liberation hermeneutics are founded on traditional “representativist” and “reinterpretative” strategies.

To illustrate our point, let us consider the prevalent use of the biblical prophets as the paradigms of liberationist messages in liberation theologies (see Tamez, Croatto, Carroll R.). The use of the prophets is advertised in the titles of a number of books, such as Hispanic Women: Prophetic Voice in the Church by Ada María Isasi-Díaz and Yolanda Tarango or Prophesy Deliverance by Cornel West. We have commentaries from a liberation theology perspective, as in the case of Carol J. Dempsey’s The Prophets:A Liberation-Critical Reading (2000). Guillermo Meléndez (7-8) offers an explanation for choosing the prophets as paradigms:

We have chosen to call this church born from the people “prophetic” because this model recovers the biblical tradition of the prophets cry for justice for the downtrodden and their trust in God’s requirement that the covenant community care especially for the poor. This model of the Church is prophetic also because it looks to God’s promise of a “future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11) and the people’s call to participate in establishing God’s Reign of justice, mercy, and peace.

Similarly, Fernando Segovia (48), in his perceptive study of Hispanic American theologies, describes one Latino liberatory approach to the Bible as follows:

Such an entrée to the liberating power of the Bible calls for a specific way of reading the Bible...a prophetic reading from the perspective of the oppressed that reappropriates the basic story of the Bible, vis-à-vis a royal reading from the position of imperial authority that obfuscates and distorts the basic story.

Francisco O. Garcia-Treto is among the few Latino biblical scholars who has pointed out the problems of applying the prophets to modern liberationist readings. Garcia-Treto (84) says: “As I have suggested, a monologic reading of the Bible is neither the only nor best one possible, and the assumption that the prophetic paradigm of communication is the only one present in the biblical text is likewise flawed and limiting.”

If one inspects the stated values of most of these Hispanic theologians, one finds at least three commonalities: 1) A valuing of multi-racial/ethnic identities (De La Torre and Aponte; Guerrero);1 2) acceptance and celebration of the mixture of Christian and indigenous religious traditions; 3) claimed opposition to imperialistic hegemonies. But, upon closer inspection, one can show that the biblical prophets were opposed to all of these major features, and could be seen as agents of imperialism themselves.

In Praise of the “Evil” Kings

If one looks for biblical figures who valued multiculturalism and religious pluralism, then it was certainly not the prophets. Rather, it was the kings often labeled as “evil” or otherwise chastised for their multiculturalism (Thiel). Solomon is one example discussed in 1 Kings 11:1-6:

King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the Israelites, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods”...when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods...For Solomon followed Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.

Later, we are told how Josiah was regarded as good because he destroyed the religious pluralism that Solomon advocated:

The king [Josiah] defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, to the south of the Mount of Destruction, which King Solomon of Israel had built for Astarte the abomination of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. (2 Kings 23:13).

Similarly, Ahab, regarded as perhaps the most evil king of all ancient Israel, was famed for his ethnic and religious pluralism:

Ahab son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, he took as his wife Jezebel daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. Ahab also made a sacred pole. Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him. (1 Kings 16:30-33).

Most of the prophets were definitely against any sort of ethnic and religious pluralism. Ezekiel 44:22, for instance, says that a priest “shall not marry a widow, or a divorced woman, but only a virgin of the stock of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest.” Jeremiah 11:13 laments: “For your gods have become as many as your cities, O Judah; and as many as the streets of Jerusalem are the altars you have set up to shame, altars to make offerings to Baal.” Elijah goes so far as to slaughter the priests of the god Baal (1 Kings 18:40).

Despite such biblical examples of intolerance, we find liberation theologians who seem oblivious to how the prophetic messages promote injustice toward other ethnic groups and religions. Gustavo Gutierrez (224), a founding father of liberation theology, in fact, says: “The prophets announce a reign of peace. But peace presupposes the establishment of justice: ‘The product of justice shall be peace, and the fruit of equity, perpetual security’ (Isaiah 32:17; cf. also Psalm 85).”2

Overall, the appeal to the prophets as champions of justice rests on the most uncritical readings of these books. To understand this problem, let us consider two statements about the government response to Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans on August 29, 2005.

Statement 1:

Our priorities are clear: We will complete the evacuation as quickly and safely as possible. We will not let criminals prey on the vulnerable, and we will not allow bureaucracy to get in the way of saving lives.3

Statement 2:

We have been fighting for assistance to spur the Gulf Coast’s economy and get help to those in need. But too many in Washington have stood in the way.4

From just reading these statements, one could infer that these are critics of the government and champions of the people of New Orleans. Statement 1 promises help, and seems to be criticizing the bureaucracy. Statement 2 also speaks about efforts to assist, and speaks about many in Washington standing in the way.

Yet, both statements are by Washington insiders and bureaucrats. Statement 1 is by President George W. Bush, and Statement 2 is was issued by the office of Senator John F. Kerry (D-Massachusetts), the Democratic opponent of President Bush in the 2004 elections. If one reads enough of these political statements, one learns that each side will accuse the other of injustice, mismanagement, theft, lying, etc. That is normal political rhetoric, in which the truth of the accusation is not always so obvious.

Likewise, it is unjust to accept uncritically the accusations of the prophets against the kings. The prophets may not always be correct, and we don’t have any responses from supposedly evil kings. These prophets, if they were literate, were already probably part of the elite, and they often showed themselves to be lackeys of foreign imperialists such as Cyrus or Nebuchadnezzar. Any prophetic accusations or championing of the downtrodden cannot be taken at face value anymore than the rhetoric and characterizations that flow every day from Republicans against Democrats, and vice versa (cf. Marcus).

Although most liberation theologians see themselves as fighting against Eurocentric perspectives on the Bible, the use of the prophets as a paradigm of liberation continues a very Eurocentric tradition. Such a tradition is exemplified by Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918), the German scholar who is widely-regarded as a principal synthesizer of modern critical scholarship. Wellhausen himself observed: “It was Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah who introduced a movement against the old popular worship of the high places; in doing so they are not in the least actuated by a deep-rooted preference for the temple of Jerusalem, but by ethical motives.”5

Likewise, William G. Dever, who, as a critic of multiculturalism and defender of the “western cultural tradition,” appears to have no commonalities with Latin American liberationists, shares a bibliolatrous respect for the prophets when he exclaims (2001, 285):

But the portentous historical situation and the real life theological crises of the Assyrian and Babylonian era produced an eloquent call for reform—for social justice—that is found nowhere else in the literature of the ancient Near East. In that sense, the prophets, were indeed “inspired,” and their message remains vital today.6

And for all the proclamations against imperialism, liberation theologians seem blissfully oblivious to the brutal imperialism endorsed, accepted, or promoted by many prophets.7 Consider this example from Isaiah, the very prophet cited by Gutierrez as a promoter of liberation:

Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him and the gates shall not be closed: I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. (Isaiah 45:1-3).

Here, it is clear that Yahweh endorses the empire of Cyrus, the Persian king, who even becomes even a messianic figure (Isa. 45:1). People should be Cyrus’s vassals. The thought is not of liberation for all. Consider also this example in Jeremiah 27:6-8:

Now I have given all these lands into the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him even the wild animals of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes; then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave. But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this king, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, then I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, says the LORD, until I have completed its destruction by his hand.

Far from advocating liberation from the Babylonian empire, the prophet Jeremiah says that it is Yahweh’s will that all people be servants of Nebuchadnezzar. There is no thought of liberation here. It is just the opposite. Imperialism and servitude are part of God’s plan. Jeremiah’s is Nebuchadnezzar’s lackey, not some courageous foe of an imperialist.

But perhaps most importantly of all, these liberationist theologians miss the fact that Yahweh himself is the ultimate imperialist in the prophets. In fact, this is a feature common to all monotheistic religions because they suppose the existence of one god who created the world and, therefore, owns it. These prophets actively celebrate Yahweh’s empire, as is clear in Isaiah

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 
He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:2-4).

Liberation theologians are uncritical about the nature of “peace” envisioned by these prophets. As I have noted elsewhere, the Hebrew word, shalom, usually translated “peace,” can be viewed as a thoroughly imperialistic term (Avalos 2005, 169-70). As used in the Hebrew Bible, it really refers to a state of affairs favorable to Yahweh. Peace means no more war only insofar as Yahweh has destroyed his opponents or he has successfully beaten them into utter submission. Note this example from Isaiah:

But the LORD will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land; and aliens will join them and attach themselves to the house of Jacob. And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them in the LORD's land as male and female slaves; they will take captive those who were their captors, and rule over those who oppressed them. (Isaiah 14:1-2).

To be fair, many of these liberation theologians might argue that “prophetic” is a metaphor or that they have simply recontextualized the prophets. Yet, such recontextualization is as meaningless as using other promoters of imperialism as paradigms of the opposite. No one thinks of using the works of the Spanish conqueror, Hernan Cortéz, as a paradigm of liberation, and with good reason. And just as liberation theologians are prepared to repudiate Cortéz completely for his genocidal and imperialist thoughts, liberation theologians should be willing to repudiate completely all prophetic literature that endorses genocide and Yahwistic imperialism.

Conclusion

My Latino identity explains very little about how I approach biblical hermeneutics. My thorough secularism explains a lot more. With many Latinos, I share the goal of liberation of the oppressed, but I see the Bible as a thoroughly imperialist text. However, I cannot call myself anti-hegemonic because everyone is pursuing hegemony. As Hans Morgenthau, the famed political realist explains, everyone who works against an empire is simply trying to replace that empire with another one. Thus, even those who think of themselves as religious pluralists, will eventually seek to make religious pluralism the reigning hegemony.

So, what I am against is religious empires, including the Christian empire, and I see most biblical scholarship as an agent of that empire. Religious empires are based on divining the will of some invisible entity called “God.” Within such a system of theistic ethics, some people will claim that they are the only ones perceiving God’s communications correctly, and so that ability will not really be distributed evenly to all. It is, therefore, inherently undemocratic. Secular ethics attempts to solve real world problems with solutions and processes in which all participants have potentially equal access to the information on which they will base their destiny. That is why I oppose religionist empires, and support secular ones.

Much of biblical scholarship often seeks to retain the superior value of the Bible as a cultural authority. Accordingly, liberation, for me, means liberation from the very idea that any ancient text should be an authority in the modern world. For me, equality entails leveling the authority and influence of the Bible in the modern world to the level of the Iliad or Popol Vuh. Equality means that I don’t privilege the Bible at the expense of many other texts that are silenced because we devote so much time to the Bible. As an atheist biblical scholar who happens to be Latino, my primary act of altruism is to deconstruct the religionist and imperialist bibliolatry that lies at the core of my profession.



Notes

*Unless noted otherwise, all of my biblical quotations are those of the Revised Standard Version.

1 De La Torre and Aponte (55) state: “The Hispanic comunidad is mestizo (multiracial).” Guerrero (153), states: “All theology in order to be Christian has to be nonracist; otherwise it is not Christian theology.”

2 Gutierrez (224): “Los profetas anuncian un reino de paz. Pero la paz supone el establecimiento de la justicia; ‘El producto de la justicia será la paz, el fruto de la equidad, una seguridad perpetua (Is 32, 17; cf. tambien Sal 85).” My translation.

3 Speech by President George W. Bush on September 3, 2005 and available at http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases /2005/09/20050903.html (accessed on April 26, 2010).

4 Statement on the official site of John F. Kerry issued on August 29, 2006 on the one-year anniversary of Katrina at http://www.johnkerry.com/ news/entry/kerry_ spokesman_response_to_rnc_ attacks_ americans_paying_the_price_for_repu/ (accessed on April 26, 2010).

5 Julius Wellhausen (47). Italics mine.

6 See Dever (2006) for his recent defense of the “western cultural tradition.”

7 For similar criticisms of liberation theology, see Levenson (127-59).


Bibliography

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------, Sarah Melcher, and Jeremy Schipper, eds. 20007b. This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies. Atlanta: Scholars Press.

------2005. Fighting Words:The Origins of Religious Violence. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.

-----1999. Health Care and the Rise of Christianity. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

-----1995. Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East: The Role of the Temple in Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel. HSM 54. Atlanta: Scholars Press.

Brueggemann, Walter. 1997. Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy. Minneapolis: Fortress.

Carroll R., Mark Daniel. 1992. Contexts for Amos: Prophetic Poetics in Latin American Perspective. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.

Croatto, J. Severino. 1981. Exodus: A Hermeneutics of Freedom. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

De La Torre, Miguel A. and Edwin David Aponte. 2001. Introducing Latino/a Theologies. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.

Dempsey, Carol J. 2000. The Prophets: A Liberation-Critical Reading. Minneapolis: Fortress.

Dever, William G. 2001. What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?:What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel. Grand Rapids: MI: Eerdmans.

------ 2006. The Western Cultural Tradition is at Risk. BAR32, no. 2 (March/April):26, 76.

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Gadamer, Hans-George. 1989. Truth and Method. Translated by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall. Second revised edition; New York: Crossroad.

García-Treto, Francisco O. 1996. The Lesson of the Gibeonites: A Proposal for Dialogic Attention as a Strategy for Reading the Bible. Pages 73-85 in Hispanic/Latino Theology: Challenge and Promise. Edited by Ada María Isasi-Díaz and Fernando F. Segovia. Minneapolis; Fortress.

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Isasi-Díaz, Ada María and Yolanda Tarango. 1992. Hispanic Women: Prophetic Voice in the Church. Minneapolis: Fortress.

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------ 1962. Biblical Theology, Contemporary. Pages 418-32 of Volume 1 of The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by George A. Buttrick, et al. 4 vols. Nashville: Abingdon.

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Comments (3)


Fascinating essay...and I really enjoyed the concluding remarks.
#1 - Brian M - 12/10/2013 - 12:45



I am very English, Anglican even, though I do have contact with the Latino world through family in beautiful Panama. I agree that the problems of Biblical interpretation are the same from both points of view.
Long ago I abandoned the intention to become a member of the clergy exactly because I did not think I could preach the attitude taken towards Ahab. I still remember it was I Kings 20, not the most terrifying passage, that tipped my balance. In the end I did not become a philosophical atheist but withdrew to the pews at the back of the church.
I now think that if we attribute divine status of some kind to the scriptures we are still at liberty to believe that the purposes of God in giving inspiration to these texts is not necessarily the same - indeed can hardly be the same - as the purpose or intention of the human author in writing them. It is very true that, as you say, this does not absolve us from identifying authorial intention or point of view and noting where we cannot share it. But that does not mean that the text is not written for our learning. Literary works have greater power, the better and more poetic they are, somewhat to transcend the viewpoints and political purposes of their authors.
#2 - Martin - 12/11/2013 - 13:14



Dear Martin,
Thank you for your comments. I agree that there may still be some lessons we can learn from the Bible, but that could apply to all ancient literature. In general, I oppose elevating the Bible to such a high status that we relegate many other worthy works of antiquity to obscurity and silence.

I certainly don’t think the Bible has any more “poetic” power than a lot of other ancient works we could mention. In The End of Biblical Studies (2007) I devote an entire chapter (Chapter 5: “Literary Criticism: Aesthetics as Apologetics”) to showing how claims of the superior “poetic” power and aesthetic value of the Bible function as an apologetic strategy to retain its privileged status in the modern western world.

One egalitarian solution is to give the Bible a smaller piece of the pie in terms of modern attention, and give other works from the ancient Near East a larger share, or at least an equal share, of the pie.

As for the intended audience of biblical authors, I am not so sure that they always intended their works to be read by masses or even by others outside of their circle. Thus, Daniel 12:4 (RSV): “But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, until the time of the end.” Others seem to be manuals meant for priests or elite professionals (e.g., Leviticus), and not meant for mass modern consumption.
#3 - Dr. Hector Avalos - 12/12/2013 - 12:37






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