A Political History of the Bible in America.Publisher: Louisville : Westminster John Knox Press, 2015Copyright date: ©2015Description: 1 online resource (695 pages)Content type:
- online resource
- BR515 -- .H367 2015eb
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Intro -- Contents -- Preface -- Prologue -- Story, Identity, and Making Sense of the Bible -- PART 1 A Historical Retrospective on the Relation between the Bible and Politics in the United States -- Introduction -- The Theocratic Model of the Puritans -- The Challenge of the Prophetic-Dialectical Model -- The Revolutionary Period and the Lure of the Apocalyptic Model -- Church and State in the Founding Documents -- The Church-State Partnership of the Antebellum Years -- The Gilded Age -- Twentieth-Century Challenges -- The Twenty-First Century's Perilous Debut -- PART 2 Politics in the Bible -- Defining a Suitable Interpretive Method -- Charismatic Rule -- Monarchy -- Prophetic Politics -- The Politics of Amos -- The Politics of Hosea -- Isaiah -- Jeremiah -- Ezekiel -- Isaiah 40-55 -- Haggai and Zechariah -- The Jewish Commonwealth and a Politics of Accommodation -- Isaiah 24-27, 56-66 -- Ezekiel 38-39 -- Zechariah 9-14 -- Malachi -- Sapiential Politics in Proverbs, Sirach, Job, and Ecclesiastes -- The Apocalyptic Politics of the Book of Daniel and the Dead Sea Scrolls -- Roman Occupation and Jewish Political Responses -- The Politics of the New Testament -- The Politics of Jesus -- The Politics of the Apostle Paul -- The Church Accommodates Itself to a World Not About to End -- The Book of Revelation -- The Politics of the Four Gospels and Acts of the Apostles -- Epilogue -- What Is the Bible's Message for Today? -- Index of Scripture and Other Ancient Sources -- Index of Subjects.
From the Prologue In invoking the metaphor of story, we have begun to build the case for an under- standing of political process that reclaims the historical dimension of nation- hood and the essential role of memory in fostering a vibrant and just society while at the same time taking into full account the modern phenomenon of diversity. When national identity is understood in terms of historical ontology rather than abstract theory, the question of who we are as a people invokes the historical question, where do we come from and what are the narratives and practices that shape our sense of shared goals? When those questions evoke memories of flights from bondage to freedom and an inheritance of copious streams and fecund fields, a sense of pride infuses the national consciousness. But when deeper scrutiny discloses the expropriation of those streams and fields from their native owners, the role of memory in defining national identity tempers national pride with self-critique. To be sure, many citizens, desirous of an ebullient picture of the past, cultivate a national story that resembles fable more than fact. Patriotism becomes the pretense for bowdlerizing the textbooks teaching American history to the next generation. To pledge allegiance to the flag takes on the aura of worship that categorically erases any sense of regret or need for redress. But as we have learned from Nazi Germany, history teaches a severe lesson: if a sanitized version of the nationâ€™s story becomes official, lies trump hard truths, sanctimoniousness excludes all sense of remorse, and a climate is created in the nationâ€™s citadels of power for combative politics and belligerent foreign policy. A potentially deadly disease invades the heart of the land. Though less pernicious than the demagogical hijacking of Scripture, another dubious interpretive practice is
widespread in the United States. It involves consulting the Bible as one would a recipe book or a repair manual in search of clear answers to complex questions that deserve not facile directives but careful analysis drawing on the profound moral insights of Scripture. Flat-footed proof- texting errs by failing to recognize the subjective aspect of all interpretation. The way forward must be one that courageously and patiently seeks to honor traditions by hearing them in their own voices and then patiently and diligently strives for answers benefiting from the contributions of all participants in a diverse society. Moving forward in the case of this study has as its goal the formulation of a theopolitical hermeneutic capable of channeling the cacophony of religious beliefs and moral principles that reside in contemporary society into a rich and productive public dialogue. But before we embark on that theological task, our historicist perspective calls for two historically oriented investigations to provide essential background. Both will reflect the concrete cultural location of the author, one his US citizenship, the other his biblically based religious orientation. In part 1, we shall trace chapters of a story that over the course of several centuries has fashioned the heart of US identity and, in new chapters that continue to be written, unfolds further its open-ended plot. Because of the resiliently religious character of the American people from colonial times to the present, we shall be attentive to the role that biblical tradition has played in shaping the national story. That that role was considerable is understandable in light of a shared quality: the nationâ€™s history and biblical history are both filled with identity-building stories, stories depicting origins, adjustments to new experiences, enrichment through encounters with the
alien and the unexpected, and above all, a sense of purpose that asserts the need to make sense of the whole. In the case of ancient Israel, this implied the triumph of epic over myth in the case of the United States, it implied a dynamic notion of risk taking and growth into newness over a static model of eternal order. The legacy uncovered in part 1 will be a checkered one, ranging from rank exploitation of biblical texts on behalf of national self-interest to instances of exemplary charity and self-sacrifice that bring to light the nationâ€™s potential for promoting equality, justice, and well-being both at home and abroad. But the most ominous discovery to surface will be the arbitrariness characterizing most applications of the Bible to political issues. Repeatedly one detects neither concern for the meaning intrinsic to the scriptural texts in their own setting nor sensitivity to the delicate balance between religion and state established by the First Amendment. Part 2 in turn will present a detailed study of politics in the Bible, beginning with tribal judges and moving on to kings, priests, prophets, governors, and seers. Framed by the challenges and crises discussed in the survey of American history, its purpose is that of securing a reliable biblical-historical foundation for the constructive task that follows in the epilogue of formulating a theopolitical hermeneutic defining guidelines for the application of scriptural tradition to contemporary issues. For the sake of clarity, we shall now give a more detailed description of the pivotal position held by part 2 within the overall structure of our study. Alexander Pope penned an apt caption for that section: â€œA little learning is a dan- gerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.â€� For as noted above, our survey of the relation of Bible and politics in US history
unveiled flagrant arbitrariness in the use/abuse of Scripture from colonial times to the present. In the case of a source with such latent power in a highly religious country, â€œa little learningâ€� is not only dangerous; it is potentially lethal to many defenseless people at home and abroad. Serious learning is urgently called for to liberate the Bible from the control of opportunists and the unscrupulous and to place it in the hands of the meek and the poor and those who seek to restore the dignity and rights of all. Fair-minded people of all persuasions can unite in respecting the Bible as a classical source to be studied for the insights it can provide and to opposing the self-serving exercise of treating Scripture as a mirror to be peered into for the comfort of â€œdiscoveringâ€� in its pages oneâ€™s own ideological views and prejudices! Specifically regarding the political exploitation of the Bible, one discovery that emerges from a rigorous historical method is that the Bible does not formulate one monolithic, timeless political model ready to be cut out and pasted as a template for contemporary policy, but six distinct models, each the product of a community applying its central beliefs and values to the changing circumstances of its own time and place. Grasping and being tutored by the dynamic that enabled biblical communities to apply core beliefs and moral principles to the challenges raised by the concrete issues with which they contended emerges as the responsible alternative to the mechanistic practice of imposing subjectively formulated (though purportedly inerrant!) â€œBiblicalâ€� truths on the vastly different world of modernity. The dynamic, historically adaptable character of the Bible that emerges from disciplined research places a solemn responsibility on anyone seeking to present the relevance of Scripture for contemporary
politics in a manner both sensitive to the Bibleâ€™s historical richness and comprehensible to the modern reader. While attention to historical context and original meaning and function of biblical texts provides a necessary restraint on the temptation to exploit the Bible for ideological purposes, it runs the risk of overwhelming the reader interested in the contemporary political relevance of Scripture with an unfathomable welter of details. While arguing that the Bible is not a timeless manual providing ready- made answers to every contemporary issue, it would be a serious blunder to give the impression that it is a compendium rerum accessible exclusively to archaeologists and antiquarians. What is accordingly called for is an approach capable of re-presenting in terms comprehensible to modern readers the biblical dynamic of fidelity to core beliefs and principles as the basis for applying the Bible to an ever-changing society and world. Once again we are reminded of the relevance of the lessons we derived from our exploration of the identity-generating function of story for a historical approach to the politics of the Bible. Ancient Scriptures, our nationâ€™s history, and our contemporary personal and political existence constitute the threads from which we weave a sense of meaning and purpose. Attentiveness to those threads reveals the common ground shared between our ancestors, ourselves, and our progeny. The resulting generation-transcending experience fosters a sense of indebtedness to the stories passed on to us for our consciousness of self- hood and community-belonging in the present and of confidence that we are preserving for and handing on to our descendants a story that they will continue to compose. This sense of in medias res given to us by the metaphor of life as story saves us from the imprisonment of fossilization (we are
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