Sometimes it’s not so much that we’re wrong. It’s that we perceive too little. We can harp on simple answers when we’d benefit more from deep study, or fixate on the footnotes when we’d be better off accounting for the people living out our theories (or even living well despite them).
Unprotected Texts, one of the Christian theology books I’m reading this fall, is all about expanding readers’ sense of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures and the contexts and historical precedents that shaped the texts and the people who created them. Author Jennifer Wright Knust weaves together biblical scholarship and contemporary comments on marriage, desire, and gendered social roles in a way that allows readerss to attend more carefully to the poetry of the Song of Songs, the stories of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, the many sagas of David, and the first stories in this tradition: the stories of Genesis.
In chapter 2, Knust explains how “farming and fertility” drive Genesis’ narratives and the development of its chief characters, the patriarchs. The themes of farming and fertiility filter into the stories that the ancient Hebrews told each other, and therefore they shape the understanding that modern readers can reasonably draw from those stories.
If we only perceive the final narratives, and don’t grasp the reasons people crafted and redacted them long ago, we risk misreading them.
Situating the Genesis creation accounts within a context of ancient myth [including Babylonian epic stories] and within the demands of ancient agriculture reminds us that these are ancient stories designed to address the needs and circumstances of Israel, not twenty-first-century Christians and Jews.”
Even if these scriptures are somebody else’s mail, and weren’t crafted for us or our world, they’re still valuable. We can still learn from them, discover a cautionary tale or an inspiration, or become empowered enough to write stories worthy of being handed down generation after generation, just as the ancient Hebrews handed down theirs.
Because as powerful as our inheritance can be, our chief challenge is to build on it and create our own.