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

Ronald A. Simkins and Stephen L. Cook, eds., The Social World of the Hebrew Bible: Twenty-Five Years of the Social Sciences in the Academy (Semeia, 87; Atlanta: The Society of Biblical Literature, 1999), Pp. 265. Paper. ISBN 0095571X. $ 19.95.
This volume was put together as part of a celebration of twenty-five years of investigating social science methods in Biblical Studies through meetings at the Society of Biblical Literature. Most of the participants who have contributed articles were active at one time or other with the "Consultation on the Social World of Ancient Israel," although there were, and are, many other groups dedicated to "social science" based investigations.

The Contents include: James Flanagan, "Ancient Perceptions of Space/Perceptions of Ancient Space" (pp. 15-44); Paula McNutt, "In the Shadow of Cain" (pp. 45-64); Victor Matthews, "The Unwanted Gift: Implications of Obligatory Gift Giving in Ancient Israel"  (pp. 91-104); Marvin Chaney, "Whose Sour Grapes? The Addressees of Isaiah 5:1-7 in the Light of Political Economy" (pp. 105-122); Ronald Simkins, "Patronage and the Political Economy of Monarchic Israel" (pp. 123-144); Stephen Cook, "The Lineage Roots of Hosea's Yahwism" (pp. 145-162); Susan Brayford, "To Shame or Not to Shame: Sexuality in the Mediterranean Diaspora" (pp. 163-176); Gale Yee, "Gender, Class, and the Social Scientific Study of Genesis 2-3" (pp. 177-192); Jacques Berlinerblau, "Ideology, Pierre Bourdieu's Doxa, and the Hebrew Bible" (pp. 193-214); Heather McKay, "Confronting Redundancy as Middle Manager and Wife" (pp. 215-232); Frank Frick, "Reconstructing Ancient Israel's Social World" (pp. 233-254); and Norman Gottwald, "Twenty-Five Years and Counting" (pp. 255-265).

As is always the case with collections of essays like this, a reviewer is faced with the difficult task of choosing a few of the articles to comment on. However, I should state at the outset that I found this volume uniformly interesting, and every article worth a careful read, and I apologize to the writers of those fine essays that I have chosen not to comment on below.

James Flanagan's opening article ends up raising some fascinating questions about how the very technology of publication and media has had an impact on the field of Biblical Studies. The ease of modern production has produced a widening of the field, and largely opened new spaces for nontraditional approaches to Biblical analysis. The way this article "book-ends" with Norman Gottwald's final comments in this book is interesting -- Gottwald comments on how the "sociology" of Biblical Studies professors themselves has rarely been the subject of analysis in relation to the kind of scholarship produced (although such questions have been raised, as Gottwald acknowledges, in the context of culturally diverse analyses of biblical themes).

Among the other essays that I found particularly worthwhile were Paula McNutt's work, which continues her very interesting analysis of the social role of metal workers in developing and traditional societies -- reflections that have obvious interest for the possible make-up of ancient Israelite conceptions of marginality and technology production. Although McNutt's reflections were on Genesis material, her analysis would also be particularly interesting if applied to Enoch studies, where certain technologies are, of course, associated with "fallen angels." Dr. McNutt's work is surely one of the most stellar examples of the success of biblical scholars reading thoughtfully in the area of anthropology and social history.

Marvin Chaney's article is the first in this series to suggest that class analysis within sociological and political analysis also has a significant contribution to make to biblical analysis, and helpfully applies an economic and political analysis to Isaiah 5 in the context of evidence for the centralization of cash crop production in the period of the Divided Monarchy.

Gale Yee's characteristically provocative essay suggests that the Adam and Eve tradition may reflect Monarchical social interests in its focus on what we moderns call the "nuclear family" against the values of lifestyle of the extended family, and how this serves well the interests of growing centralization of power in a hierarchical state, particularly given the apparent reality of an early Monarchies' rivalries with the traditional clan leadership of local power.

Jacques Berlinerblau approaches a very important problem with "ideological analysis" of the Bible when he questions whether the producers of texts generally held to reflect an "ideological perspective" were intentionally written with a conscious agenda, as many scholars have suggested. He is surely correct to suggest that "ideology" can also be understood to be the general mindset, the cultural assumptions, that are often not the conscious invention of a writer, but quite significantly the world they live in and thus the unconscious assumptions that they (and we) often work with.

Finally, the reviewer's work is made easier by the fact that a quite detailed review of the essays is provided within the book itself, with Frank Frick's detailed article reviewing much of the material that preceded it. Clearly, the very nature of sociological analysis suggests this kind of dialogue.

Daniel L. Smith-Christopher
Loyola Marymount University