Friday, February 8, 2013

The Bible after Babel (book review)

John Collins writes clearly about intersections between historical criticism and postmodern approach without demonizing either. He questions biblical writers' ideological dimensions within a historical context, throwing doubt on historiography. In a way, his point is that any interpreter must consider the historical context of texts from which biblical literature was produced; the question is, Whose voice is read or carried out in interpretation? For instance, Collins presents a biblical narrative of exodus story to complicate a usual interpretation of liberation hermeneutics that does not take into account the subsequent conquest narrative of Joshua in which "others" (Canaanites) are negated and conquered under the name of God. He seems to suggest that a right or healthy reading is not so much about finding the main voice of narrative as about whose voice readers attend to.

This book has six chapters all of which raise questions about the validity of historical criticism with a new set of ideological questions both to the text and readers. The six chapters are:
1. Historical Criticism and Its Postmodern Critics
2. The Crisis in Historiography
3. Exodus and Liberation in Postcolonial Perspective
4. The Impact of Feminist and Gender Studies
5. Israelite Religion: The Return of the Goddess
6. Is a Postmodern Biblical Theology Possible?

I highly recommend this book for those interested in historical criticism in a postmodern age. The question is, whose reading is it? This book tries to maintain a balance between the historical-critical approach and the postmodern approach. Ultimately, the task is not solely about the text as an object of historical investigation but about the interpreters who need to ask critical questions to the text, which involves three meaning locations: "behind the text," "within the text," and "in front of the text." That is why any readers or interpreters need to have critical dialogue not just with text but with themselves and others to be included.

For an alternative approach to biblical interpretation, see my own work (Yung Suk Kim), Biblical Interpretation: Theory, Process, and Criteria (Pickwick, 2013). See also my web page.

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