Friday, April 27, 2012

Four Books that Changed My Life, Episode 2: Texts of Terror

I come from a pretty conservative faith background. I was raised in THE Southern Baptist Church on the south side of Detroit. I went to my share of Vacation Bible Schools (actually more than my share, but that's another story). I was active in youth group and summer missions and Baptist Student Union. So, when I got to grad school and had to read Phyllis Trible's Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narrative for a class, I was scared.

I wasn't scared by the "terror" part. I was scared by the "feminist" part. I came to grad school with a conservative world-view: theologically and politically. A "feminist" anything would make me nervous. A "feminist" biblical interpretation? Well, what could be more threatening and dangerous? Obviously, my grad school professors were trying to corrupt me...brain-wash me. They were trying to turn me into some left-wing, tree-hugging, granola-eating, liberal who denies Jesus even existed (I wish that was hyperbole. But those really were my fears.).

Fortunately, my desire for academic success and my curiousity overcame my fear, and I read the book. Then a funny thing happened. I liked it. Actually, I loved it! It wasn't scary at all. It wasn't "liberal" at all. In fact, it was carefully biblical. As I turned the pages, I actually said out loud, "Wow. I'm a feminist. I had no idea."

Trible wasn't hostile to the faith or to the text. She was incredibly respectful of the text. As someone from a denomination that claims to prioritize the biblical text, that resonated with me. I appreciated her thorough and textual perspective.

She walked the reader through four stories of women in the Old Testament whose terrible stories are too often overlooked, and she showed how those terrible, disturbing stories point to another terrible, disturbing story in the New Testament (you know...the one that led to the cross). Trible showed me how Hagar, David's daughter Tamar, Jephthah's daughter, and the Levite's concubine show a faith we later see in Christ. She showed me that close readings of the text are good things. She showed me that I needed to improve my skill reading Hebrew. She showed me that "feminist" isn't evil. In fact...sometimes..."feminist" is biblical. She showed me how I was bringing my presuppositions to my interpretation, and she helped me shed some of those.

I owe Trible a great debt. While I don't do feminist hermeneutics, she has shaped my research agenda. I strive to be thorough and textual in my own readings. I strive to be sensitive to linguistic elements in the text. I strive to not allow my cultural presuppositions to the creep into my interpretations. And I hope that I am better at not judging a book by its cover.

I also hope I write a book this good someday.