A Quick Review: "They were all togeth in one place: Toward Minority Biblical Criticism" by Bailey, Liew, and Segovia

As a biblical interpretation PhD I was introduced and forced to learn dozens of methods of interpreting Scripture. However, one method was never introduced Minority Biblical Criticism. As a US minority, I handle and read scripture in a different light and so do most minority pastors. We often read texts, concerning minorities, and include ourselves into the narrative. However, only in recent have scholars labled this interpretation method or begun trying to formalize it. This work was the Society of Biblical Literature’s first foray into the formalizing process.

Image result for they were all together in one placeBasic Summary of the Book
This collection, the culmination of the two-year seminar, Reading and Teaching the Bible as Black, Asian American, and Latino/a Scholars in the U.S., advocates the increased use of comparative ethnic studies approaches in the field of biblical criticism. In summary this work “explore[s] how racial-ethnic minority scholars of the Bible within the United States may cross the ‘color line’ to form a coalition or an alliance to transform the discipline of biblical studies” (p. 4). While MBC can be considered a sub-criticism method within Social Science Criticism, the goal is more specific, for the aim is to grasp the minority in the text and to yield a “self-aware, self-reflection” for minorities of today. (31) Further differentiating MBC  requires more specific knowledge: ethnic-racial, post-colonial, and classical biblical studies.(35)

The essays are divided into two sections. The first section investigates the methodologies of biblical criticism from four angles. “Puncturing Objectivity and Universality,” “Expanding the Field,” “Problematizing Criticism,” “Taking an Interdisciplinary Turn.” The second, shorter section presents commentaries on the preceding essays by three seminar participants from outside biblical studies—theology, religious education, and ethnic studies.

As an Terp (biblical interpretation PhD so named by our professors) and minority, I truly appreciate this work. Minority criticism as espoused in this work affirmation of cultural identity, cultural autonomy, cultural diversity and helps to make public historic minority interpretations of the text. I also appreciate that “minority” in this text is not ethnic, but rather a power definition. Such a terming frees one to utilize MBC in any country, so long as they are a power minority in the situation. Furthermore, the often utilized texts for minority interpretation are often best understood in power differences and not ethnic. I find the work as a whole to be encouraging and inspiring for minority biblical scholars who often feel isolated, and told that minority interpretations are invalid. Furthermore, the work calls for minority scholars to work in the field and to unite in the task.

As interesting as these essays are, the volume is directed more toward biblical studies scholars than toward ethnic studies scholars. The work seems more of an apologetic to introduce the non-minority scholars to the point minority handling of the text. While this aim is commendable, it would have been much better as a methodological work than an apologetic. To that end, the work lacks any methodology let alone a consistent one in all the papers. Below in my personal response, I will propose a four-step method.

Another major concern is the differentiation between MBC and Anthropological Interpretation. As one trained in Anthropological Interpretation I found most of these articles to primarily fit within that interpretation method and need not be termed as a “minority” paper. The results of the anthropological method is seen in the polarized Asian section where the papers are actually “Japanese American,” “Chinese American,” and “Korean American.” While I agree that there are differences between these cultures and others, the varied interpretations yield the necessity for the user of a MBC to know these cultures first. What needs to be proposed is an interpretation method which begins with the text, but permits varied applications into all minority cultures. Another Con within the proposed minorities is the tendency to unite all minorities as one, thus the method should be the same. Yet, each work is specific to an ethnic populace. As an Evangelical, I shuttered at the Feminist and Gay interpretations which were included into this work. While we should be aware of these movements, the inclusion of these concepts has moved this work out of consideration within interpretation courses at most conservative schools.

My final Con observation is the lack of Native American representation. The authors inserted a footnote that delimited Native Americans because they are not “minorities.” A followup reason for the lack of involvement is the extreme shortage of Native American scholars in biblical studies. (It should be noted another work called Voices From the Margin edited by Sugirtharajah suffers from the same lack.)

Personal Reflections
As mentioned above, I am appreciative fo this work, but have a few hesitations. First We need a work like this directed to the articulation of a MBC, and demonstrations of the method being applied. However, one must determine and published steps to accomplish a minority-biblical criticism. I propose the following four-step process:
1.      Conduct a historical cultural analysis of the minority in the text.
2.      Examine the minority tension in the passage.
3.      Handle the narrator’s reflection of the minority in the passage.
4.      Make application to contemporary ministry.

Overall I recommend this work, with the noted hesitations. I cannot articulate how appreciative I am of someone giving validity to a minority biblical interpretation. Yet the work needs to be furthered and solidified so that the method can be codified and added to more general interpretation manuals.

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