Since before Copernicus we Westerners have had the tendency to think we're at the center of the universe. And when we say "we" we often mean "me" at the center of it all. We know the culture around us has this tendency, but how much of it is within our own hearts? And what are the implications for reading scripture with "me-centered" lenses?
All cultures have different things they consider virtues & vices. These ideas are so deep we just assume there's only one way of looking at an issue. Sometimes those things align with scripture, sometimes not. When we wear our cultural lenses while reading the Bible, we can easily misunderstand virtues, ignore vices, or add to scriptures without even noticing.
Hard-edged rules are a pillar of Western society. We like to know when we're right and when we're wrong (and where others stand). How, then, do we process the fact that rules in other cultures, the Bible included, aren't as clear cut as we would like them to be? Can a valid rule have valid exceptions? Shouldn't rules always be the same (especially rules in the Bible)?
Of all differences between cultures, you'd think that the ONE thing that ought to be consistent across all cultures is Time. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, right? How can a culture think of time differently? How did biblical cultures and writers see time and the importance of chronology?
What does it take for you to notice you've done something wrong? To those of us in the Western world, Jiminy Cricket tells us, "Let your conscience be your guide!" - but is a "conscience" a universal concept? How is the Honor/Shame culture of the Bible different - and how does it change what we read?
Language is complex and difficult enough when you're only dealing with one. Throw ancient foreign languages in the mix, and it can feel insurmountable. Translation is always tricky, and this complexity is compounded by the assumptions Westerners tend to make about language. In order to better understand scripture as the original recipients would have, we'll try to identify the culture-specific language pitfalls and talk about how to avoid them.
Humans have held prejudices against "others" in some form since the beginning. But, in our culture, we're taught (rightly so) that differences in ethnicity or where someone is from shouldn't make a difference in how someone is treated. Because of this, we tend to miss times in scripture when ethnicity or some other prejudice may play a part in the meaning of a passage.
Book list from the end of class:
- "NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible"
- "The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority”
- "Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible”
- "Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes”
- "Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels"
- "The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament”
- "The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament”