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Book review: Bible Blindspots: Dispersion and othering, edited by Jione Havea and Monica Jyotsna Melanchthon

23 June 2023

Duncan Dormor finds in Bible-based essays a welcome change

THIS is a book for those yearning for engagement with the complex and difficult dimensions of scripture, faithfully and creatively, while maintaining a commitment to the radical demands of the Kingdom for justice and reconciliation.

A product of a DARE (Discernment and Radical Engagement) forum, hosted by the Council for World Mission, this edited collection from predominantly emergent scholars comes as part of a series, Intersectionality and Theology. It privileges the themes of dispersion and othering, and draws the reader, through a careful consideration of scripture, into a variety of counter-narratives and re-readings, which speak simultaneously into current issues of injustice and displacement.

The first section, focused on dispersion and including some significant re-readings of familiar texts and interpretations, is perhaps the more striking for a British readership. The story of Babel for example, is narrated by Laura Griffin not through the lens of an anti-imperial (anti-Babylonian) stance, but, rather, by looking at the significance of dispersal as a geopolitical and colonial strategy. It is set within the context of the dispossession of the first peoples of Australia and the associated legacies.

Likewise, the Exodus and its inevitable accompaniment the conquest of Canaan is read by Darío Barolín against the backdrop of the Palestinian experience and the claim to the land of their ancestors in the face of what seem to be divinely sanctioned nationalist readings of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The focus on land and landlessness — an important issue for so many peoples globally — is restlessly present in the other chapters of the first section. While reflection on the Old Testament predominates, three chapters draw us into the New: Néstor O. Míguez considers the depiction of the Samaritans in Luke as the model of inclusion for other excluded groups; Mothy Varkey follows this with a chapter exploring the way in which Hebrews provocatively reimagines Christology as a geopolitical praxis, which foregrounds the diasporic and the hybrid against the ethnocentric politics of identity. Finally, Jin Young Choi revisits minjung theology (a “people’s” theology that emerged in Korea in the 1970s) in the context of the transpacific slave trade and the “minjung-like character” of the crowd (ochlos) in Mark.

The second half of the book focuses on othering. Given the dominant emphasis here on gender and some well-known texts (Hosea 2, Genesis 38 and 39, 1 Timothy 2.8-15), many of the themes here will be familiar. Even so, there are thought-provoking juxtapositions, including that of the experience of exclusion for many in post-exilic Judah and of minorities in contemporary India living in the shadow of Hindu nationalism (Monica Jyotsna Melanchthon). Engaging re-readings include a consideration of Genesis 39 and the character of Zuleika (Potiphar’s wife) by Sweety Helen Chuka, and of Paul’s “hybridised body” and “compromised masculinity” (Johnathan Jodamus).

For those wearied by relentless identity politics and culture wars, this edited collection is a joy as it seeks to historicise, not essentialise, and focuses on the politics not of identity, but of location.

What distinguishes this collection of excellent essays is the combination of detailed attention to the biblical text and a real freedom and creativity of interpretation, which draws the reader back to the stubbornly unjust world in which we live, and to those who have been dispossessed or marginalised by the powers that be — all too often armed with the scriptures.

The Revd Dr Duncan Dormor is the General Secretary of the USPG.


Bible Blindspots: Dispersion and othering
Jione Havea and Monica Jyotsna Melanchthon, editors
Pickwick Publications £30
Church Times Bookshop £27

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