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Archive for the ‘imperial-critical’ Category

I put up the following post last year on December 15th. I reread it and felt it still adequately (perhaps fallibly) represents my musings on Christmas, God, and the nativity relevant for this season. If you didn’t get a chance to read it before, please take a moment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

As a budding biblical studies scholar, I have spent the better part of my educated life studying the biblical texts and the world in which the texts were written. To be sure, my understanding of Jesus and my faith has gone through periods of growth, stagnation, deconstruction, and reconstruction. Indeed, Christmas continues to be a very special time for me in terms of my faith and my understanding of Jesus. Around this time of year, the Christian church in the Western world traditionally underscores the importance of Jesus’ birth  in terms of salvation. That is to say, the emphasis on the importance of Jesus’ birth tends to be projected on the individual salvific plane in so far as Jesus was sent by God, born the incarnation of God, in order to save the world from their sins. After years of careful reflection, both in terms of my personal faith journey and in terms of my own theological development, there are several further issues that I would like to set forth that now resonate deeply with me during this season. While I certainly affirm, personally, the validity and importance of the traditional emphasis of Christmas, in what follows I will seek to articulate a few equally important perspectival aspects that are evoked in my own heart and mind as to the meaning of Christmas, that is, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God.

First, my study of Second Temple Judaism and the gospels, has helped me to see Jesus’ message cast forth through his disciples in the narratives we call “gospels” in a fresh and revealing light. What did the nativity of Jesus mean to those who first heard the Gospel of say Luke or Matthew? This question seems straight forward enough, often we tacitly assume that it means exactly what we have always held it to mean, namely, Jesus, God’s Son, was born to save “us” from our sins. However, it is important, I think, to take seriously the thought-world in which the story was put forth, that is, to appreciate the canvas as it were upon which the Jesus’ story was painted. Jesus’ nativity was not the only dominant or uniquely religious nativity in the first century of the Common Era. Rather, in Roman ruled Palestine, during the age of Augustus Caesar there was already a commonly heralded “gospel.” The word ευαγγελιον in Greek means “good news” and is the word we simply transliterate in order to describe the type of literature that the narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John represent, namely, the Gospel accounts of Jesus. However, with the advent of the Roman Empire as the world superpower and its transformation under Julius Caesar towards a centralized empire with an emperor, things changed significantly. Now the empire was united under a single leader—the living Ceasar. Although Julius’ life was short lived, it was not long after his death that he was deified making his son Octavian (later “Augustus”) “son of a God” (divi filius). Most importantly, the “gospel” of Augustus was the herald of his birth, with great benefit for the whole world. The well known Priene calendar inscription, dating to 9 BCE, offers us linguistic evidence for the way Augustus’ birth was championed by his devotees. Paulus Fabius Maximus came up with the idea that the local lunar calendar should be altered and thereby reckoned by the Julian calendar—a calendar beginning with the birth(day) of Caesar Augustus! In fact, Augustus’ birth is called “the beginning of all things” since gave a new look to the entire world which would have suffered utter demise had it not been graced with the birth of Caesar. Furthermore, the inscription petitions the local Greek Assembly in the province of Asia to reckon the calendar by the great “savior’s” birth. In the inscription, Augustus’ birth is heralded as the birthday of “our God” and “the beginning of good news (ευαγγελιον) for the world because of him…[and thus we should] reckon time from the date of his [Augustus’] nativity.” This is no small matter. For the Christians to proclaim the “gospel” as that of Jesus’ birth ipso facto devaluates the claims of Caesar. Thus, Christmas demarcates the birth of the Christian God, thereby challenging the political establishment, heralding a new “savior” one whose birth is joy for the world by virtue of his divine mission to usher in the “kingdom” of God over against the kingdoms of this world. What does this mean for us now? Christmas is a celebration of God’s decisive action in sending Jesus to the world, in establishing a ruler above all rulers, a kingdom above all kingdoms. Christmas is a time where the rulership of the world is called into question, where rulers and ruling regimes are challenged by God, by Jesus, and by his followers who uphold righteousness and truth.

Secondly, Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as the messiah of Israel. To the first century Yahwist, Jesus’ messiahship necessarily meant liberation from oppression and oppressive regimes who sought to marginalize and subjugate the people of God. Hence, Christmas demarcates the beginning of the end of oppression and injustice, a claim Christians believe happened, is happening, and will be fully actualized in the future. Christmas is a time to reflect on God’s power to overthrow injustice, to reconcile humanity to each other and to God.

Third, on a more theologically abstract plane, Christmas is significant for the gift given—Jesus. Christians proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God, the divine Son who was sent from heaven to become incarnate. Furthermore, Christian orthodoxy has instantiated its stand as Trinitarian. This is extremely important with respect to the incarnation. On one hand, the Son left the Father. On the other, the Father gave the Son up to death. This too is of no little significance. For it necessarily implies change in the Godhead and thus the realities of this process. While we understand, or perhaps better understand that we do not understand, there are several things implied by the incarnation, I think. The incarnation demarcates a tangible change in the Godhead according to orthodox Christian Trinitarian “orthodoxy,” which suggests that prior to the incarnation Jesus was not embodied, thus, the Godhead takes on flesh, or perhaps better nuanced a person in the Godhead takes on flesh, lives, dies, is resurrected, and exists now in a resurrected state. Perhaps through the incarnation, God himself enters time as it were and thus takes on temporal succession throughout eternity from thence forth. Yet, most significantly to the incarnation at Christmas is not necessarily the issue of God and time, but rather the significance of the Father and the Son being separated through Jesus taking on the sins of the world, if traditional atonement/soteriological understandings are correct. Then Moltmann is correct in his The Crucified God that the Father experiences and Jesus experiences genuine estrangement by virtue of Jesus taking on the sins of the world. In effect, the Father abandons the Son on the cross to complete the mission. Thus, the Father suffers and the Son suffers and therefore suffering enters the experience, tangibly, of the Godhead. Thus, Christmas is joy for the world, but pain for God. The pain of loss, estrangement, otherness all come to the fore then through the giving of the Son at Christmas. What does this mean for Christians today? I suggest it may mean the following: (a) that God suffers and thereby is our representative in suffering. God feels the pains of suffering, estrangement, loss, etc. that we feel and thereby the “captain of our salvation” has been “made perfect” and our perfect advocate with the Father. Thus, we can relate to God and God to us; (b) that Christmas is a celebration of the joy of giving and the pain of giving one’s most valuable commodity—themselves, their love, their affection, their loyalty; and (c) that Christmas is a time to place the value, joy, and worth of others above ourselves.

I do not mean to suggest that these are the only implications of Christmas, but rather that in my own reflection and journey theologically these issues are important. They are formative in my understanding of the worth of Christmas, of the meaning of Jesus’ nativity, and the reason for the season, as it were. Christmas is about the decisive action of God on behalf of humanity, at a great cost to Godself. Christmas is a challenge to the rulers of the world on behalf of God’s justice and justness exemplified towards and required of the world. Christmas is a time to celebrate togetherness because of the gift given by God of personal estrangement and loss in order that followers of God might have reconciliation with each other and with God. These things have helped me to greater appreciate the nativity of Jesus.

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Dear Friends,

Today is September 23rd. A birthday of no little significance for it can be equated with the “beginning of all things.” Note the following, well known, inscription:

Paulus Fabius Maximus came up with the notion of changing the local lunar calendar with the solar reckoning of the Julian calendar, as it was used in Rome. This idea was proposed to the Provincial Assembly, responsible for emperor worship at the provincial level. He writes:

(It is hard to tell) whether the birthday of our most divine Caesar Augustus (ἡ τοῦ θειοτάτου Καίσαρος γενέυλιος ἡμέρα) spells more of joy or benefit, this being a date that we could probably without fear of contradiction equate with the beginning of all things (τῇ τῶν πάντων ἀρχῆι) …he restored stability, when everything was collapsing and falling into disarray, and gave a new look to the entire world that would have been most happy to accept its own ruin had not the good and common fortune of all been born, Caesar Augustus. (Lines 4–9)[1]

This letter prefaced the actual reply of the Assembly which is commonly referred to as the Priene calendar inscription (ca. 9 BCE):

[30] Decree of the Greek Assembly in the province of Asia, on motion of the High Priest Apolionios, son of Menophilos, of Aizanoi- WHEREAS Providence that orders all our lives has in her display of concern and generosity in our behalf adorned our lives with the highest good: Augustus, whom she has filled with arete [virtue] for the benefit of humanity, [35] and has in her beneficence granted us and those who will come after us [a Savior (σωτῆρα)] who has made war to cease and who shall put everything [in peaceful] order; and whereas Caesar, [when he was manifest], transcended the expectations of [all who had anticipated the good news], not only by surpassing the benefits conferred by his predecessors but by leaving no expectation of surpassing him to those who would come after him, [40] with the result that the birthday of our God (τοῦ θεοῦ) signaled (ἦρξεν δὲ τῶι κὀσμωι τῶι δι᾽ αὐτὸν εὐαγγελίων ἡ γενέυλιος ἡμέρα τοῦ θεοῦ) the beginning of Good News for the world because of him; . . . [47] . . . (proconsul Paul Fabius Maximus) has discovered a way to honor Augustus that was hitherto unknown among the Greeks, namely to reckon time from the date of his nativity; therefore, with the blessings of Good Fortune and for their own welfare, [50] the Greeks in Asia Decreed that the New Year begin for all the cities on September 23, which is the birthday of Augustus; and, to ensure that the dates coincide in every city, all documents are to carry both the Roman and the Greek date, and the first month shall, in accordance with the decree, be observed as the Month of Caesar, [55] beginning with 23 September, the birthday of Caesar.[1]

Furthermore, with regard to such a significant birthday, I would also like to remind you of Augustus’ divine birth, it is said, the god Apollo in the form of a snake, came upon Atia, his mother, and divinely bore him. Therefore, Augustus was thought to be both man and god while living, this notes a significant development in Roman imperial theology (cf. Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Life of Augustus 94.1-11; Cassius Dio also records this).


[1] Here the Enlish of the inscription has been taken from Danker whereas the Greek was supplemented from Dittenberger (OGIS): IPriene 105.30-56=OGIS 458.30-56; Frederick W. Danker, Benefactor: Epigraphic Study of a Graeco-Roman and New Testament Semantic Field (St. Louis, MO.: Clayton Pub. House, 1982), 217; W. Dittenberger (ed.), Orientis Graecae Inscriptiones Selectae (2 vols., Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1903-5; repr. Hildesheim: Olms, 1960) 2.48-60. In his commentary on this inscription Danker notes the many semantic parallels between these notions with regard to Caesar and the same terms with reference to Jesus in the New Testament (i.e. “savior, gospel,” and the notion of beneficence to the whole world) (220).


[1] Graham Stanton, Jesus and Gospel (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 31

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I was quite pleased to read a salient point offered by Pat McCullough, namely, that apocalyptic scholarship is experiencing a resurgence, perhaps more than is presently felt within biblical studies. I concur wholeheartedly with such a judgment, not least of which is influenced my own passions and present study.

I would argue that without a firm grounding in Second Temple Jewish apocalypticism, a grip on the socio-political, that is, imperial (Assyrian, Babylonian, Median, Graeco-Roman) antecedents (in my view) to the rise of such apocalypticism, and an appreciation for the reality that NT writers negotiated an imperial world, often with goggles colored both by Rome and by Jewish heritage, not least of which is influenced by apocalyptic thought and sought to set Jesus within that swirling constellation, then one simply cannot probe, analyze, and make coherent the message (both linguistico-cognitively and performatively) of the NT.

P.S. Does anyone think my syntax in the above sentence reflects the cumbersome style of a German theological sentence?

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Below is my summary review of James Scott’s very influential work. I commend its reading to anyone concerned with domination and subordination. His text offers a global construct, that in my view, is imminently applicable both today and in the analysis of texts, whether biblical or otherwise.

James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 1990). Reviewed by Rob G. Reid

James C. Scott is Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology at Yale University. His work Domination and the Arts of Resistance sets forth to apply critical analysis to the task of class relations, specifically between the powerful and the powerless. Chiefly, he is interested in the modes of discourse employed both “publically” and “offstage” between groups possessing socially powerful positions of dominance and those individuals and groups who find themselves under the social, political, economic, and class domination of others. More specifically, this work takes up an investigation of “hidden transcripts,” a mode of communication in the public sphere between groups evidencing a disparity of power and privilege. His work admittedly emerges first from his sociological analysis of class relations in a Malay village.

Scott perceived unique aspects and a strong disparity between the public discourse of both the rich and the poor and the private discourse of both groups. After further consideration, he began to notice the same phenomena on a much broader scope than merely from observations of the Malay village. As a result, Scott’s undertaking seeks to probe the public and hidden discourses of the powerful and the marginalized. Something Scott finds at work universally in all human discourse relative to the power differential between individuals. Scott’s aim is to uncover the “contradictions, tensions, and imminent possibilities” afforded by the creation of “hidden transcripts” by both subordinate groups and those who dominate them (xii). By a comparison of the hidden transcripts of both groups vis-à-vis the public transcript, Scott surmises, that a “new way of understanding resistance to domination” is possible (xii). Therefore, Scott’s work may rightly be classified as a sociological project that provides the analytic tools to decode public and hidden transcripts evidenced by those on both sides of the power divide which serve to penetrate modes of resistance to domination. His work focuses primarily on examples of slavery, surfdom, and caste subordination, which offer more explicit examples from which to extrapolate (x). He presupposes, in offering something of a global theory, that “structurally similar forms of domination will bear a family resemblance to one another” and “that to the degree structures of domination can be demonstrated to operate in comparable ways, they will, other things equal, elicit reactions and patterns of resistance that are also broadly comparable” (xi). At bottom, Scott contends that the hidden transcripts of subordinate groups are often manifest in public discourse, albeit in veiled form, or by means of vehicles such as rumors, gossip, songs, gestures, theatre and others that enable a “critique of power while hiding behind anonymity or behind innocuous understandings of their conduct” (xiii).

Scott’s work is structured in eight chapters that systematically work out, by use of a variety of examples his thesis that hidden transcripts exist and can be readily discerned to the discriminating critic. In chapter one, “Behind the Official Story,” Scott grounds his basic assumptions and the trajectories of his argumentation. Scott begins by asserting that, in the context of “normal social discourse” those routinely exchanged expressions of pleasantries and smiles may well be deceptive. Indeed, discourses in these contexts may often embody a level of discourse which seeks to negotiate power differentials in mutually reinforcing ways in order to mask candor. This is what Scott identifies as a “strategic” dimension—a misrepresentation of ourselves that may engender either positive or negative reciprocal effects. Further, methodologically, this also locates Scott’s concern with “performance.” Here he helpfully identifies actual relationships in which a “public transcript” would occur: the worker to the boss, the tenant or sharecropper to the landlord, the serf to the lord, the slave to the master, the untouchable to the Brahmin, a member of a subject race to one of the dominant race, etc. A public transcript is his shorthand way of describing the “open interaction between subordinate and those who dominate” (2). This discourse, he finds, is usually constructed in order the mutually reinforce the interests of both parties. Thus, the employer’s discourse to the worker reinforces his own interest and likewise the workers public discourse reinforces his location of subordination in her or his own interest. These public transcripts are suspect by virtue of the probability that they are tactical in nature to a deeper analysis. Conversely, the hidden transcript is discourse characterized as that which “takes place ‘offstage,’ beyond direct observation by powerholders” (4). It is a derivative discourse embodied in “speeches, gestures, and practices that confirm, contradict, or inflect what appears in the public transcript” (4-5).

In fleshing these distinctions out, Scott draws on the discourse of a slave after her master had left the kitchen in which she proleptically envisions the vindication of her cause and the demise of her dominator in apocalyptic, religious terminology (5). He further notes that hidden transcripts and “masks” as it were are normative to both parties in the power differential. He proposes that all public discourse between dominator and dominated exist as a collision between the independent public transcripts of each group (13).  Scott  closes the chapter after enumerating three distinctives of hidden transcripts: (1) each is specific to a social site and a particular group of actors, (2) each contains more than merely speech acts, but a whole range of practices, and (3) the “frontier between public and the hidden transcripts is a zone of constant struggle between the dominant and subordinate…” (14).

Chapter two, “Domination, Acting, and Fantasy” suggests Scott’s means of “interpreting” and seeking to understand the political conduct of subordinate groups—namely, by considering the use of disguise, deception, and indirection “while maintaining an outward impression, in power-laden situations, of willing, even enthusiastic consent” (17).  Thus, he takes up considering how the public transcript is constructed, its maintenance, and the purposes, which it serves. Here Scott identifies four varieties of public discourse among subordinate groups: (1) a (safe and public) discourse based in maintaining or supporting the “flattering self-image of elites;” (2) the hidden transcript itself; (3) strategically located discourse between the first two characterized by disguise, anonymity and double meaning taking place in the public discourse (e.g. rumor, gossip, jokes, songs, rituals, codes, and euphemisms); and (4) a discourse rupturing the divide between hidden and public (e.g. the in-breaking of the hidden discourse in public). Of these, the main concern of Scott is the third mode, the disguised, coded, discourse (19). Scott finds that the practice of domination itself ipso facto “creates” the hidden transcript (27). The chapter provides helpful diagrams evidencing Scott’s own deep consideration and theoretical construction of the issues of public and hidden transcripts applied in social circumstances (e.g. 26). Further, he probes the necessary relation between power and language thereby opening up immense possibilities in the consideration of language and power grounded in explicit social cases (e.g. class subordination: Untouchables). Hence, language, power, and performance are bound up and expressed in cases of social, gender, and other types of subordination as a system of reinforcement of domination and subordination (31-33). Further, he finds that hidden transcripts necessarily operate in the realm of mimicry and fantasy, often at the expense of the dominant.

Chapter three explores the “public  transcript” as a performance. Here Scott supposes that “relations of domination are, at the same time, relations of resistance” (45). Here he explores the symbolization of domination through public demonstrations and the actual enactments, in social contexts, of power. He finds that euphemisms often are employed to conceal social stigmatic practices or to veil their severity by subtly endorsing them (e.g. “reeducation camps = prisons for political opponents” [53]). Further, the practice of “naming” itself is a political and power-laden act (54). The public transcript also functions to give the appearance of unanimity in order to create the aura of social solidarity among groups.

Chapter four considers the public discourse in light of conforming behavior of the less powerful. Here he identifies two dominant views “thick” and “thin,” which attempt to explain how dominant ideology achieves its ends (72). Here he offers a critique of the hegemonic view and opts to follow the trajectory, albeit developed and nuanced of the “thin” view—the dominant ideology convinces subordinate groups that their subordination is “natural and inevitable.” Eventually, Scott concludes that subordinate groups, in concrete situations, tent to clothe their resistance in “ritualisms” of subordination serving to disguise their purpose and remain ambiguous enough for “retreat” (96).  Also, groups maintaining dominance, necessarily in justifying their own social location and domination open themselves up for criticism (103). Hence, the language of the elite in this regard provides a vocabulary that can be inverted for resistance (103).

Chapter fives sketches the dynamic connection between the hidden transcript and the experience of domination. Scott employs social psychological findings, the two most significant of which are: (1) forced compliance fails to produce attitudes sustaining compliance, “but produces reaction against such attitudes” and (2) individuals individual beliefs and attitudes are likely to reinforce the dominant ideology if compliance is perceived as voluntary (109).  Scott explores how the negation of self-dignity functions social in means as important in consideration as material oppression. Further, Scott finds two other factors significant to the livelihood of the hidden transcript, namely, social locations (not necessarily physical locations) and public “surveillance from above” and “from below.” These latter two operate within social locations to restrain the expression of hidden transcripts both from the dominant group and indigenously amidst the subordinate group.

Chapter six explores the mode of articulating a politically disguised discourse. He finds this “interstitial space” (my term) between the “two poles” of complete compliance and collective defiance to the territory for a disguised discourse of resistance (136). Herein Scott helpfully enumerates forms of disguise such as anonymous expressions (demon possession, gossip, aggression through magic, rumor, anonymous letters and demonstrations [140]). He, successfully in my view, makes an exceptional case for euphemism offering in the public transcript “an allusion to profanity without full accomplishment of it; a blasphemy with its teeth pulled” (153). Also, dissonance to subordination is found to be expressed through cultural life (157). He further finds that “oral culture” itself tends toward disguise in constructing cultural narratives, perhaps elevating social status to figures of martyrdom to mastery (160). Another realm of political disguise may be found in the inversion of the symbolic world (166).

Chapter seven continues the discussion along the lines of “infrapolitics” of subordinate groups. Chiefly at issue, for Scott, is the systemic underpinnings that enable (e.g. channels of distribution, akin to “infrastructure”) of the discourse of the subordinate groups (184). The consideration takes shape around the notion of hidden transcripts being social poses as well as social practices. He provides a helpful discussion of the possibilities of the hidden transcript in materialist, status, and ideological dominance “below the line” (198). Herein much of Scott’s previous argument coalesces in a cogent, recognizable, and visually appealing form (e.g. chart). This is a vital chapter to fully grasping the significance of Scott’s argument and its tangible praxis among social classes.

Chapter eight seeks to address the issue of what occurs when the hidden transcript becomes manifest openly in the public discourse. His discussion surfaces the issues of psychological release experienced by the subordinate in the somewhat euphoric expression of “truth” in the teeth of power along with the social meaning of tearing down the wall of silence between the public and hidden discourse. Finally, he finds that the in-breaking of this hidden discourse also offers immense personal satisfaction for the subordinate on the grounds that they had previously policed their anger and aggression, often through displacement, and in the moment of breaking the silence experience such a release (213).

Overall, Scott’s project is very broad by nature, nuanced and complex, evidencing a breadth of critical social inquiry stratified across a body of divergent, yet similar social circumstances of domination and subordination. His intent was to articulate modes of discourse, especially a “hidden transcript” elicited amidst social classes operative under disparate power-bases. His argument, in my view, is exceptionally compelling and deeply insightful. However, by the nature of the inquiry, his insights provide something of a roadmap towards other scholars to apply said method to unique texts and peoples in identified social and historical circumstances, thus betraying perhaps the greatest value of the text—sociological analysis of power relations readily available for use across disciplines. Scott exemplifies cautious handling of the matter, albeit striding forward to openly construct a plausible structure to explain the discourses between dominant and subordinate groups that seem to transcend one social, political, racial, or gender-specific circumstance. His work will doubtless continue to be a tour de force in social, political, and anthropological dialogue.

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While I have had a great deal of experience and fun learning textual criticism with Dan Wallace as well as having the distinct pleasure of serving as an intern of his, I would like to direct your attention to a most valuable tool for those who actually practice textual criticism. He has created the “TC Time Saver” which fundamentally parses Gothic M for any passage in the GNT. I suggest you read more about it and add it to your collection of necessary scholarly tools. See Mike’s post on it here.

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Itumeleng J. Mosala, Biblical Hermeneutics and Black Theology in South Africa (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989). Reviewed by Rob G. Reid

Mosala sets forth articulate a historical-materialist critique of the development of biblical hermeneutics within the constellation of black theological reflection in South Africa along with proffering a corrective, generative biblical hermeneutics of black theology. A driving impetus within Mosala’s project is his assertion that “…black theology has not yet emerged as an autonomous weapon of struggle” (2). To that end, his work proceeds to articulate the general scope of black theological reflection as an emergent phenomenon eliciting a flurry of articles, theses, and monographs, which have, to his chagrin, failed to satisfy the necessity of black theology’s potential as a means of social transformation for blacks. Chiefly at issue in this failure, Mosala argues are the “class and ideological” commitments undergirding black theology’s biblical hermeneutics (3). In that regard, Mosala identifies two main issues necessitating his formulation, namely, (a) the presuppositions of black theology’s biblical-hermeneutics are founded in misunderstood or misappropriated historical-cultural moorings and (b) a “clear cut break” must occur ideologically and theoretically from dominant theological structures in order to make way for clear self-definition of black theology in contradistinction from other theologies (3-4).

Mosala identifies his project as methodologically standing with the tradition of Marxist historical-materialist method thereby appropriating the analytical tools of such a method in order to surface issues of class, cultural, racial, and gender relationships, and social structures. His work is structured in three parts. The first section (chapters one and two) set forth to identify the failings of current biblical hermeneutics in black theology foregrounding issues of ideological captivity to white theology and Western civilization along with idealist epistemology. Moreover, chapter two critiques the present trajectories on social-critical biblical hermeneutics. Mosala finds these trajectories too captive to oppressive ideological and cultural assumptions. The second section contains one chapter (chapter three), which articulates Mosala’s proposed modality of biblical hermeneutics by centering on “the black struggle for liberation” as necessarily basic to black hermeneutics. Indeed, he identifies “struggle” as his analytic tool of choice in proceeding to articulate biblical hermeneutics of black theology. Chapters four and five offer a materialist reading of Micah and then an argument for Micah’s “case,” respectively. Corresponding in structure to the previous two, chapters six and seven execute the same strategy on another text, Luke chapters one and two. This is concluded with an epilogue.

In chapter one, Mosala identifies black theology’s biblical hermeneutics as constructed upon white and Western ideological convictions as well as an idealist epistemology. He laments the present state of affairs, which his forebears in the development of black theological biblical hermeneutics have fallen prey, namely, to appropriating the means of those whom they resist in self-definition and hermeneutical praxis. He identifies the typical foundation upon which black theology has been constructed as the text as “Word of God,” which is to say a divine, sacred text—the means by which experience is analyzed. Hence, he locates Cone along this trajectory, willing to hold in tension two guiding factors in the development of his hermeneutic, text as “Word of God” and the black experience of oppression. Further, he proceeds to identify even Cornel West as falling prey to the same error, albeit granting him grace in having a more nuanced definition in which not only does the text interpret black experience, but also black experience mutually interprets the text (14). Rather, Mosala identifies that predicating divine status to the text ipso facto participates in idealist epistemological concepts and grants white and Western constructs regarding the text. Mosala asserts that a properly liberational black theological hermeneutics must grant that the texts themselves are complex matrices of oppression, subjugation, and class struggle—within the Israelite community (20-21).

Indeed, the argument goes further to instantiate that among these stratified layers are different deities representative of different class structures within Israelite society and thereby embody ideologies and concerns of said group (28). As a result of this analysis, Mosala argues for a holistic break from the assumption that the text is “Word of God” in the sense that it presents a monolithic narrative conducive to properly locating black experience of oppression and the necessity for liberation. The reader gets the sense that one should essentially elevate the place of “struggle” as liberative analytical tool along with black experience as criterion of analysis of the biblical texts. This is appropriated along with modes of “decoding” the textual power plays, in my view, something akin to Postcolonial analytic tools (hybridity, mimicry, etc., albeit with alternative labels). Here Mosala lays out, following Stuart Hall, three strategies for decoding the text relative to perceiving the hegemonic voice, a negotiated code, and an oppositional code (41-42). Thus, the text should be critically engaged from three vantage points of discourse or levels of “script” to borrow terminology from J. C. Scott. This chapter ends somewhat abruptly, without much by way of concluding analysis, however, such plays into Mosala’s inductively perceived method of constructing a cumulative project of criticism and construction.

In chapter two, Mosala directs his labors toward critiquing social-scientific criticism as a viable means to the development of black theology and black biblical hermeneutics of liberation. Herein Mosala articulates the advent of social and social-scientific criticisms within the constellation of emerging critical theories. He finds great value in the theory’s shift in focus to the text as “ideological products of social systems,” noting the works of Robert Wilson and others (45). Further, he appreciates how social-scientific criticism uncovered the appropriation by the bourgeois of the historical-critical method in legitimizing and perpetuating the class power of the elite. Next, he turns to critique social-science criticism by first setting it within the socio-temporal grid of “late monopoly capitalism” (47).  He sets forth the deficiencies and relative relationships with the social model and its inability to entirely dislodge from late monopoly capitalism and its ideology. Further, the argument is developed that sociological approaches to biblical criticism specifically, are more properly identified with literary-critical approaches in terms of their political analysis, which emerged from the economic crises in the late 1970’s (53). He finds these methods “politically deluded” citing West, which then enables him to propose an alternative (54). Furthermore, he engage the Weberian school and other modes finding them suffering from “theoretical poverty” as a result of their implicit idealist-positivist problematics among other things (61). In the final analysis, Mosala is discontent with the sociological approaches by virtue of the absence of an “ideological and political agenda” (65).

In chapter three, Mosala begins his own constructive project of attempting to “periodize” the historical and cultural struggles of black people and articulates that, namely, the struggle itself as a hermeneutical starting point. In keeping with his avowedly historical-materialist model, his primary concern is production as a sort of epistemic, historical ground for inquiry. Therefore, he draws heavily upon archeological findings in order to reconstruct three primary periods of black South African production relative to oppression and struggle. His periodization project articulates three periods: the communal mode of production, the tributary mode of production, and the capitalist mode of production. Mosala finds little by way of substantive historical evidence for the communal period as a result of the nature of the period; however, he reconstructs a situation in which property is communally owned and labor communally appropriated (69). Production during this period has a strict “use” value. Indeed, this period was characterized by morality (72). That is to say, the distribution of labor and goods occurred in light of direct needs, thereby understanding the force driving production as human need and well-being. The second period in question, the tributary mode of production, defines by the mode in which goods were transferred. During this period, various class structures arose, thereby necessitating a need “at the top” to extract goods and production in order to distribute it according to its own whims. He notes the rise of chiefs, as opposed to a “Father”-headed household as the fundamental unit. With this period is also the rise of formal conscripted military service, all factors of production analysis. Mosala views this as a progressive trajectory from households, to homesteads, toward the nation as an entity (83). It is this period, in which, Mosala argues the emergence of black resistance to ruling class ideologies took place, which would continue on into the capitalist mode period (84).

The third mode of production in his schematization is the capitalist mode. Along with capitalism enters the age of colonization, subjugation, and extreme class exploitation. He delineates factions within the class structures, which illustrate inherent contradictions in desires. He bifurcates the resistance of blacks on two levels: to the former pre-colonial chieftains and also to the colonists and their ideology (88). He views the incipient imperialism as taking root through economic and militaristic means. However, he notes a significant observation, that once the state is formalized, the British imperialists deceived the black peasants into fighting the Boers, thereby setting up an internal conflict in order to distract the peasants from the permeation of capitalist ideology (91-92). Thus, he adequately shows that the black struggle was not homogenous, but rather complex (98).  This lays the groundwork for Mosala’s subsequent readings of biblical texts vis-à-vis the black struggle.

Chapter four executes the construction of a materialist analysis of Micah, surfacing the issues of historical industrial development. He seeks to identify the primary modes of production in order to properly frame the text in terms of its materials (103). He notes especially the transition from premonarchial to monarchial times and the correlative productive forces and means of monetary extraction in order to sustain the expanding empire and the ruling class.

Chapter five provides the actual analysis, hermeneutically, of the text with black struggle as the modus operandi of his biblical criticism. Herein he engages in a project of identifying several classes of texts: A, B. C, etc. and then rearranges the text of Micah that each grouping may be read together. Then he proceeds to analyze the text in that regard by reflecting upon its usefulness or complicity with oppressive tactics and whether, in fact, blacks in the struggle could identify with or find any liberative power therein. Principally, he dismisses both texts C and B as being either overtly imperialist in the sense that evil is not named directly and finds them to be functionally operative in the furtherance of imperialist agendas, not to the benefit of the peasant, exploited class. This should be nuanced in some sense, because he finds in the B-texts an inherent ambiguity and thus as a result of their silence they are neither liberative nor can the struggle find solace in them. Mosala finds the A-texts to name the evil, to be in some sense anti-imperial in terms of concerns. However, he finds this text too, less than acceptable for the black working-class to identify with in terms of liberation (149). Continually, reference is made to glaring “absences” in the text that speak volumes to the lack of underclass concerns. Finally, he assorts a group of A-B texts, which in some subtle ways reflect in the interests of oppressed. He finds in these texts the ability, dialectically, to mutually interpret the oppressed ancients and the present black experience of struggle, thereby providing a “positive hermeneutical connection” with struggle (153).

Chapters six and seven are structured identically to the former two. Here, Mosala analyzes materially the background or rather material foreground to the texts in terms of economic and class concerns. His work is commensurate in its conclusions with most present analyses of the imperial structures and class structures of Horsley and other imperial-critical scholars. His engagement with the Lukan text is both provocative and revealing. Firstly, he discusses the significance of the opening pericope locating the book as a sort of historiographical account, underscoring the ideological moorings of such an enterprise (). Most importantly, he concludes that black hermeneutics of liberation must read the text suspiciously, perceiving overt silences relative to class and production. He proposes reading the text in a political way, in an appropriative way, and in a projective way—all means to employ the text for black liberation (180-185).

In Mosala’s epilogue, he confirms that his argument has succeeded in two primary results. First, as a result of the multifarious and complex dynamics of power, production, class, and struggle will likely produce a multiplicity of black theologies of liberation. He identifies some of these as stemming from various class locations from within the black struggle (190-191). Secondly, as a result of the diversity of class, race, and gender within South African society a necessity for a plurality of biblical hermeneutics exists; however, he constrains such a notion subsequently by identifying the proper bases for such hermeneutics as independent of non-black ideology, epistemology, and theory (192). He concludes that his approach reads the text “backwards” thereby engaging in mutual interrogation of the texts and (present) situation (192-193).

Mosala’s text is of no little significance for the development of and emergence of a distinct black biblical hermeneutics of liberation founded upon historical-materialist methods. While, in a very positive sense, Mosala pushes to the fore of the hermeneutical scope of vision the vital issues of material, production, and class, one must wonder whether other factors should be included in mutually criticizing the text—namely, power and the dynamics of how power discourses function to name only one. What is more, Mosala finds little in the text itself to explicitly identify with liberation. This is due in part to his identification of the text as cultural product and indeed product of elite-class’ (often) interest of self-legitimization. As a result, Mosala therefore focuses on the silences of the text drawing inferences relative to material conditions and then, in most cases, judges the text as insufficient to sustain a black theology of liberation. However, in several accounts, he is able to surface points of intersection, in struggle, that enable the black South African to read the text “against the grain” in order to sustain a genuinely liberating essence. Finally, the thrust of Mosala’s work presupposes the necessity of a Marxist, that is, historical-materialist method to rightly interrogating the texts in question to produce a genuinely independent meaning independent of capitalist, Western, white ideology, epistemology, and theoretical foundation.  Is that, in fact, the only rightly independent mode of criticism? Readers will have to judge for themselves.

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Special thanks to Joel here who gave me a shout out and interestingly enough provided direction to a blogger Mrs. Fether who espouses, among other ultra conservative viewpoints, the following:

I believe that Jesus is the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament, as proven by hundreds of fulfilled prophecies, his miracles, and his bodily resurrection from the dead. (Emphasis mine).

While I have no intention of creating a dispute. I would like to engage in a scholarly dialogue about whether in fact there are hundreds or any direct messianic prophecies in the “Old Testament” (ironically, such a term is pejorative on its face!). Thus, I would like anyone who holds similar beliefs to articulate exactly what was predicted and where in the Hebrew Bible and then argue for how exactly “hundreds” of these were fulfilled. I am eliciting a hermeneutical query. I have no intention on entertaining whether or not Jesus was/is the Messiah. I personally believe he was. However, that is not to say that he is found under every nook and cranny of Hebrew Bible texts.

I anxiously anticipate your responses 🙂

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