Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 4 (2002-2003) - Review

Leonard J. Greenspoon and Bryan F. LeBeau, eds., Sacred Text, Secular Times: The Hebrew Bible in the Modern World (Studies in Jewish Civilization, 10; Omaha, Nebraska: Creighton University Press, 2000). ISBN 1881871320. $ 25.

This volume contains fourteen papers: nine constitute the proceedings of the tenth annual Symposium of the Philip M. and Ethel Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization, September 14 & 15, 1997; the other five were solicited from the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion in November of 1997. As the sub-title suggests, all of these papers have to do, in one way or another, with the Hebrew Bible in the modern world.

Accordingly, Leonard Greenspoon ("Does Judaism Have a Bible?"), details the problems attendant with Judaism's adoption of the term "Bible," a Christian designation that presupposes a number of categories and assumptions quite foreign to Jewish history and experience. Jewish culture would be better served, he believes, by terms and categories that stem from its own history.

Andrew Skinner ("The Influence of the Hebrew Bible on the Founders of the American Republic") provides dozens of examples of the ways in which the early European settlers appealed to motifs in the Hebrew Bible for virtually every form of social discourse (political debate, justification, satire, propaganda, parody, instruction, etc.). He demonstrates that the Hebrew Bible provided the conceptual building blocks with which they formulated their very identity, fabricated a national myth and expressed it in symbols and stories.

Doris L. Bergen ("Old Testament, New Hatreds: The Hebrew Bible and Antisemitism in Nazi Germany") shows how materials from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament were used to vilify Jews and create a case for including the murder of Jews as part of the Nazi's broader genocidal project.

J. Richard Middleton's article, "Creation Founded in Love: Breaking Rhetorical Expectations in Genesis 1:2-2:3," is, perhaps, best described as an apologetic work in which feminist and environmentalist critiques of the first creation account are shown to be unfounded.

Eugene V. Gallagher ("Not Yours, But Ours": Transformations of the Hebrew Bible in New Religious Movements") provides three case studies of key documents of recent religious movements (the Afro Athlican Constructive Church, Christian Science and the Unification Church). Each document (The Holy Piby, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures and Divine Principle, respectively) is shown to re-present, but also re-shape and re-signify, materials from the Hebrew Bible.

Lesleigh Cuching ("The Missing Missus") traces the history of presentations of Noah's wife, a nameless "appendage" of Noah in the Biblical text, but a character whose name, lineage and character are spelled out in dozens of different ways in later tradition.

Brian S. Hook and R. R. Reno ("Abraham and the Problems of Modern Heroism") discuss the nature of heroism (defined as participation in the greatness and glory of God through obedience and faith) and use the figure of Abraham in scripture and tradition as an example of how interpreters, ancient and modern, portray such heroism. A tension arises in the modern era when obedience to the divine will is substituted with obedience to conscience. This trajectory, worry the authors, can degenerate into "the banality of self-expression."

Ori Z. Soltes ("The Bible and Art at the End of the Millennium: Words, Ideas and Images"), who organized an exhibit of art in conjunction with the Klutznick symposium, argues that images, rather than texts, are the ideal medium for midrash. He then comments on the interpretative effect of 22 recent works of Jewish art (each reproduced in a black and white figure). Ironically, his article constitutes something of the reverse of his thesis, rendering back into text the notions evoked in the art.

Susanne Scholz ("Retrospecting Rape in Christian Commentaries of Genesis 34 and Forensic Medical Textbooks from Nineteenth-Century Germany") presents the thinking about rape in nineteenth-century Germany as reflected in 20 biblical commentaries (on the story of the rape of Dinah in Genesis 34) and a similar number of forensic medical textbooks on the subject of rape. She documents strategies in both corpora to "legitimize rape"--in the commentaries by marginalizing it, shifting the focus from victim to rapist, fusing rape and love, and in the forensic textbooks by reframing it as merely illegal intercourse, encouraging mistrust of the testimony of rape victims and perpetuating a facile notion of rape as libido.

Mark McEntire ("Surviving Genesis: Dangerous Worlds Both Narrative and Real") employs the literary theories of Hans Frei and Paul Ricoeur to probe modern readers' responses to the violence of the book of Genesis.

Helen Leneman ("Portrayals of Power in the Stories of Delilah and Bathsheba: Seduction in Song") describes the ways in which the Delilah and Bathsheba characters are denigrated first by biblical narrators and later by commentators (Ps.-Philo, talmudic texts, Milton, Moore, Salten, Pinski) and composers (Handel, Saint Saens, Calvi, Gilkyson, Pottle, Scarlatti, Honnegger, etc.).

Harris Lenowitz ("Shukr Kahayl II Reads the Bible") analyzes a text by Shukr Kuhayl II, a Yemenite messiah figure who marshaled an impressive collection of biblical messianic passages to substantiate his claims and move his followers.

Miguel A. DeLa Torre ("Miami and the Babylonian Captivity") details how the Cuban community in Florida finds its identity not from paradigms in the book of Exodus, but in the texts and motifs related to the Babylonian exile (e.g., Psalm 137, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and deutero-Isaiah). However, the author finds texts in these very traditions, which offer a prophetic critique of the exilic Cuban community.

Archie C. C. Lee ("Weaving a Humanistic Vision: Reading the Hebrew Bible in Asian Religio-Cultural Context") finds in the Hebrew Bible a wealth of materials, particularly in the wisdom literature, for the continued development of humanistic values in the multi-scriptural Asian context.

Readers will find the collection of articles to be thoughtful and thought provoking, both for its contents and for its methodologies: authors apply reader response, feminist, liberation, and historical critical techniques both to the biblical text and to interpretations of the biblical text. The collection also reflects well the ethnic and gender diversity of the authors.

Steve Delamarter
George Fox Evangelical Seminary