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Overview

The Global Bible Commentary invites its users to expand their horizon by reading the Bible with scholars from all over the world and from different religious persuasions. These scholars have approaches and concerns that often are poles apart. Yet they share two basic convictions: biblical interpretation always matters; and reading the Bible “with others” is highly rewarding.

Each of the short commentaries of the Global Bible Commentary is a readily accessible guide for reading a biblical book. Written for undergraduate and seminary students and their teachers, as well as for pastors, priests, and Adult Sunday School classes, it introduces the users to the main features of the biblical book and its content.

Yet each short commentary does more. It also brings us a precious gift, namely the opportunity of reading this biblical book as if for the first time. By making explicit the specific context and the concerns from which she/he reads the Bible, the scholar points out to us the significance of aspects of the biblical text that we simply took for granted or overlooked.

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If any book demonstrates the value of cultural criticism and the importance of particularity in interpretation, this is it! Scholars from diverse social locations in every continent bring their distinctive context to bear on the act of interpreting. In so doing, they shed eye-opening light on the biblical texts. The resulting critical dialogue with the Bible exposes the oppressive as well as the liberating dynamics of the texts while at the same time showing how the Bible might address the social, political, cultural, and economic dynamics of our world today. This collection can change the way you read the Bible—scholars and students, clergy and laity alike.

-David Rhoads, Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago, IL

Contributors:

Daniel Patte, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA. A French Huguenot (Église Réformée de France), he taught two years in Congo-Brazzaville, and “read the Bible with” people in France, Switzerland, South Africa, Botswana, the Philippines, as well as in the USA. His publications include books on hermeneutics and semiotics (such as Early Jewish Hermeneutics, 1975; The Religious Dimensions of Biblical Texts, 1990); on Paul and Matthew (such as Paul's Faith and the Power of the Gospel, 1983; The Gospel according to Matthew: A Structural Commentary on Matthew's Faith, 1987), as well as, most directly related to the GBC, Ethics of Biblical Interpretation (1995), The Challenge of Discipleship (1999), Reading Israel in Romans: Legitimacy and Plausibility of Divergent Interpretations (ed. with Cristina Grenholm, 2000), The Gospel of Matthew: A Contextual Introduction (with Monya Stubbs, Justin Ukpong, and Revelation Velunta, 2003).

José Severino Croatto,. Professor of Exegesis, Hebrew, and Religious Studies, at Instituto Superior Evangélico de Estudios Teológicos (ISEDET). A contributor to Revista de Interpretación Bíblica Latinoamericana (= RIBLA) and the Movement of Popular Reading of the Bible, he published 22 books, including three volumes on hermeneutics, Exodus, A Hermeneutics of Freedom (1981); Biblical Hermeneutics. Toward a Theory of Reading as the Production of Meaning (1987); Hermenéutica Práctica. Los principios de la hermenéutica bíblica en ejemplos (2002); three volumes on Génesis 1-11 (1974; 1986; 1997), the last one, Exilio y sobrevivencia. Tradiciones contraculturales en el Pentateuco; three volumes on the book of Isaiah (1988; 1994; 2001), the last one, Imaginar el futuro. Estructura retórica y querigma del Tercer Isaías (Isaías 56-66); two volumes on Religious Studies (1994; 2002), the last one, Experiencia de lo sagrado y tradiciones religiosas. Estudio de fenomenología de la religión (2002).

Rev. Dr. Nicole Wilkinson Duran, after teaching New Testament in the USA, South Africa (Zululand), in Turkey, is currently teaching part-time at Rosemont College and Villanova University, and with her husband raising twin sons in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. She has published articles on topics ranging from gender and race in Esther, to the unread Bible in Toni Morrison’s novels, to body symbolism in the story of John the Baptist’s execution, and edited (with G. Phillips) Reading Communities Reading Scripture (2002). She is an ordained Presbyterian minister and does occasional preaching and adult Christian education.

Teresa Okure, SHCJ, a graduate from the University of Ibadan, La Sorbonne, École Biblique of Jerusalem, and Fordham University (Ph.D.), is Professor of New Testament and Gender Hermeneutics at the Catholic Institute of West Africa, Port Harcourt, Nigeria. She is or has been a member of the executive committees of several associations, including EATWOT (Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians, as Executive Secretary), the International Association for Mission Studies (IAMS), and the Society for New Testament Studies (SNTS). She published more than 100 articles and six books including The Johannine Approach to Mission: a Contextual Study of John 4:1-42 (1988), ed. Evaluating the Inculturation of Christianity in Africa (1990) and ed. To Cast Fire upon the Earth: Bible and Mission. Collaborating in Today’s Multicultural Global Context (2000).

Archie Chi_Chung Lee, Professor of Hebrew Bible, Department of Cultural and Religious Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. A specialist of cross-textual hermeneutics, especially Chinese text and the post-exilic biblical tradition. He is the author of several books including A Commentary on the Book of Koheleth, (in Chinese 1990), Doing Theology with Asian Resources: Ten Years in the Formation of Living Theology in Asia (1993, ed.) and Interpretation of the Megilloth (in Chinese 2003) and numerous articles including "Genesis One and the Plagues Tradition in Ps. 105," Vetus Testamentum, 40, (1990): 257-263, "Biblical Interpretation in Asian Perspective," Asia Journal of Theology, 7, (1993): 35-39, "The Chinese Creation Myth of Nu Kua and the Biblical Narrative in Genesis 1-11," Biblical Interpretation 2 (1994): 312-324, "Cross-Textual Hermeneutics on Gospel and Culture". Asia Journal of Theology 10 (1996): 38-48 and "Biblical Interpretation of the Return in the Postcolonial Hong Kong," Biblical Interpretation, 9 (1999): 164-173.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780687064038
  • Publisher: Abingdon Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2004
  • Edition description: Paperback
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 732,326
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Patte, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, received a B.A. from the University of Grenoble, a B.D. from the Protestant Theological Seminary, Montpellier, a Th.M. from the University of Geneva and a Th.D. from Chicago Theological Seminary. After serving two terms as General Editor of Semeia: An Experimental Journal for Biblical Criticism of the Society of Biblical Literature, he is now on the editorial boards of The Bulletin of Contextual Theology in Southern Africa and Africa and of Chinese Christianity: An Experimental Journal of Bible, Theology and Culture. His twelve books, six edited volumes, and more than 80 articles reflect his overall quest for a "hermeneutics of moral responsibility in biblical interpretation." His interest in hermeneutics (Early Jewish Hermeneutics in Palestine) and in theories of communication, structuralism, and semiotics (three books on "Structural Exegesis") led him to pay special attention to The Religious Dimensions of Biblical Texts and, in particular, of Paul's letters (Paul's Faith and the Power of the Gospel) and Matthew (The Gospel according to Matthew). Daniel Patte's concern for moral responsibility in research and teaching (Ethics of Biblical Interpretation) led him to a practice of "Scriptural Criticism" that accounts for the ways in which Christian believers in diverse social and cultural contexts are affected by New Testament texts and their interpretations (The Challenge of Discipleship: A Critical Study of the Sermon on the Mount as Scripture). In the Society of Biblical Literature, he develops this approach together with an interdisciplinary international group of scholars who study Romans Through History and Cultures (a book series he edits). With Cristina Grenholm, he co-edited the first volume, Reading Israel in Romans, and co-authored the programmatic "Overture: Receptions, Critical Interpretations, and Scriptural Criticism." In his research and teaching, Daniel Patte follows an anthropological approach for which ordinary Christian believers are appropriate informants. Thus, be it at Vanderbilt, in Europe, in the Philippines, or in Africa, where he goes regularly, he begins with the "believers' interpretations" of New Testament texts, "reading with" people from diverse cultures.
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Read an Excerpt

Global Bible Commentary


By Daniel Patte

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2004 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-687-06403-8



CHAPTER 1

GENESIS

Clare Amos

Network for Inter Faith Concerns of the Anglican Communion, London, England


LIFE CONTEXT OF THE INTERPRETATION

No other book of the Bible addresses the tension between universality and particularity quite as compellingly as Genesis. It begins with a vast sweep of heaven and earth and ends with a solitary human body preserved in a casket in Egypt, a body to which the destiny of a small but chosen group of people, strangers in a foreign land, is linked. And in between are surprising choices, apparently unfair exclusions, and a God who shifts shape and name and seems to have as much to learn about relating to human creation as people do about relating to their God.

Few, if any, parts of the world have felt the tension between universality and particularity as fiercely as the Middle East. Home to Abraham (perhaps the human "hero" of Genesis) and to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the three great world faiths that name him as father, the region struggles to this day with holy privilege and horrible pain. The pain, the privilege, and the particularity belong together. How can these three monotheistic faiths all worship the same God? How can they not? Does each one's affirmation of its own finality invalidate the truth of the others? Above all, perhaps, how can a land claimed so passionately as holy by all three faiths offer liberty and space, both sacred and secular, to each?

I spent ten formative years of my life living in the Middle East, in both Jerusalem and Beirut, Lebanon. I taught Old Testament studies there and I still relate closely to the region. I am also involved in the interfaith work of my church. These two strands belong together and provide the life context for this commentary.

It is impossible to study and teach the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in the Middle East without being aware that its interpretations have directly affected, for good or for ill, the lives of the inhabitants of these lands. Among those whom I taught were several Christian Palestinian seminarians. For such students the question of biblical interpretation was notsimply an archaeological or intellectual exercise; it was all too relevant to present life and death. How can we expect such students to accept as canonical Old Testament books like Joshua? This book has undoubtedly been employed as a theological weapon to justify the dispossession of the Palestinian people, both Christian and Muslim. Or what about Genesis itself, with those apparently inalienable promises to Abraham and his descendants in chapters 15 and 17?

For me the problem was starkly posed by an experience of a friend of mine, a respectable, middle-class, Palestinian lady from Ramallah, a town on the West Bank. On a visit to Jerusalem my friend had a conversation with a Western tourist who, on discovering that she was a Christian living on the West Bank, informed her quite categorically that "she could not be a real Christian, because if she were a real Christian she would, of course, have been willing to leave her hometown, since she would know that God had given the land to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." My friend was incredulous and I was mortified for her. As the Palestinian Anglican theologian Naim Ateek writes:

In Israel-Palestine today, the Bible is being quoted to give the primary claim over the land to Jews. In the mind of many religious Jews and fundamentalist Christians the solution to the conflict lies in Palestinian recognition that God has given the Jews the land of Palestine forever. Palestinians are asked to accept this as a basic truth ... Palestinian Christians must tackle the land from a biblical perspective, not because I believe that the religious argument over the land is of the bene esse of the conflict, but because we are driven to it as a result of the religious-political abuse of biblical interpretation. (1992, 108)


This geographical and political setting in which the scandal of particularity can feel truly scandalous is the life context from which this commentary on Genesis is offered. Genesis is a keystone of the canonical scripture of two of the Abrahamic faiths, and many of its characters are venerated in the sacred Scripture of the third. How can this book, which begins with a universal message of the goodness of God's creation, be read at last as a blessing for all? This question is not only relevant to the peoples of the Middle East, for, as we are these days only too well aware, the fate of this region seems to be fundamentally entwined with the destiny of the world.


Genesis and the Relationship Between the People of God and the World

Humanity, Earth, Land, and World

The first issue posed sharply by Genesis is the relationship between the people of God and the world itself. This subject is highly appropriate for a book that begins with a story of creation that has profoundly influenced the theologies of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Yet significantly, it is not precisely a world as a self-contained entity that is created but the "heavens and the earth" (1:1), with the focus very much on the latter. Earth ('erets) is a word with a range of meanings in Genesis: our entire terrestrial planet; the dry land on which humans can live and plants can grow; a particular land, territory, or political entity, such as the land of Egypt or Canaan.

These interconnections are important: they are a verbal reminder that how human beings behave on a particular spot of land will inevitably affect the earth. This point is only too obvious in Israel/Palestine today. Its political identity and the ownership of its territory is an issue that has repercussions across our planet. No land is or can be an island unto itself: developments in one country of the Middle East impinge upon the rest of the region. Pressing environmental questions like the equitable sharing of scarce water resources in the region constitute a further issue. How human beings use or abuse the land as a resource for agriculture and other aspects of human life influences history. Human sin leads to the earth being cursed and less productive (3:17). The later "violence" initiated by the human species corrupts the earth, which does not escape the ensuing cataclysmic punishment (6:13). Genesis does not allow us to compartmentalize our understanding of the earth. It tells us that ecology and politics belong together.

Furthermore, this creation in which the earth is the linchpin is "good" (1:31). The word good echoes repeatedly throughout the first chapter of Genesis. It is also picked up in the last (50:20) as Joseph describes God's goal through the twists and turns of his family's story as being for their "good." God wants good for human beings. He desires their very physical good, in all aspects of their lives. "The Old Testament is the great interpreter of [the] coming of God to the world which leaves no area to itself, neither nature nor history, neither love nor power, neither state nor the community of the pious" (Zimmerli 1976, 149). The same criteria apply to those within the community of faith and those outside it. God is "the Judge of all the earth" (18:25), and the inhabitants of Sodom have as much right to God's justice and concern as do Abraham and his family, even if Abraham has to remind God of this.

In the second century C.E. Marcion rejected the Old Testament as Christian Scripture precisely because it affirmed so strongly the physical and material nature of God's involvement with creation. In the Middle East today, many Arab Christians are hostile to the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible because of the way it has been used by Christian and Jewish Zionism. Yet Genesis' affirmation of God's good purposes for the whole of creation needs to be spoken and heard as a challenge by those in Israel/Palestine, whose situation is currently far from "good," and by any who have contributed to this present reality. Genesis tells us that it is not what God wants. It is not the goal of creation.


God and Humanity

When one reads Genesis as the narrative it is, one sees that God is on a voyage of discovery throughout the story. God is learning how to be God. In particular, God is learning how best to relate to God's human creation. The different sections of the book present notably different modes of interaction between God and human beings. There is the incredible intimacy of the moment of mouth-to- mouth respiration in Genesis 2:7, when God coaxes the human being into life. There is the deafening sound of the rain in the flood that silences human beings, temporarily suspending the dialogue between God and humanity. There are the many occasions when God pops up unexpectedly in dealings with Abraham, the "friend of God" (Isa 41:8), who is quite prepared to take God to task on occasion. There are the struggles, both metaphorical and physical, that God has with Jacob.

But after that climactic moment in Jacob's life when he meets God by the Jabbok, God seems to retreat from direct intervention in the human story. In the tale of Joseph and his brothers. God appears largely as a providential force working behind the scenes and in the speech of the human characters. For better or for worse, this is Genesis' final statement about God's interaction with humanity, and it reflects most closely the situation we are in today. If human beings have been created to be in the "image of God" (1:27), then like governors of far-flung imperial provinces, they need to be sufficiently self-confident in their own natures to live without the constant intervention of their overlord and to coexist as people able to perceive the image of God in others. Genesis has guided us through humanity's childhood and adolescence to this state of comparative maturity.

Read against this background, some of the theologies that underpin the passions alive today in Israel/Palestine seem to be in a state of arrested development. It is notable how many of the flashpoints for trouble are linked to the story of Abraham. There is Hebron, whose Arabic name El Khalil ("the Friend") actually recalls Abraham and where, according to the tradition, he is buried. There is Jerusalem, whose temple's foundation legend is linked to the near-sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham's son. There is the area near Nablus/Shechem where a Jewish settlement has been named Alon Moreh after an altar built by Abraham. But Abraham, fascinating character though he is, is not God's final word, not even in Genesis. Humanity cannot, and is not meant to, sustain the ongoing and direct involvement of God in its affairs in the way that Abraham experienced. The history of the Middle East has been skewed by viewing God as a figure who is allowed to operate through apparently unfair divine dictates, rather than by respecting the maturity and ability of his human creation to work out for themselves the full implication of being made in the image of God. Elias Chacour, a Greek Catholic Palestinian priest from Galilee, summed up the vision of Genesis 1:26-27, which is yet far from realized:

The true icon is your neighbour, the human being who has been created in the image and with the likeness of God. How beautiful it is when our eyes are transfigured and we see that our neighbour is the icon of God, and that you, and you, and I—we are all the icons of God. How serious it is when we hate the image of God, whoever that may be, whether a Jew or a Palestinian. How serious it is when we cannot go and say, 'I am sorry about the icon of God who was hurt by my behaviour.' We all need to be transfigured so we can recognise the glory of God in one another. (2001, 46–47)


Two by Two

Numbers are important in Genesis and they often help to structure the narrative. Particularly significant are the numbers ten, seven, and two, all of which are introduced during Genesis 1. The number two dominates much of the story of Genesis; wrestling with the benefits and difficulties of duality is a constant theme. It is not only in the flood that life is organized by "two and two" (7:9). Creation itself happens through the separation of an original unity into a series of pairs: light/dark, day/night, heaven/earth, land/sea. The human being ('adam) of Genesis 2 is first paired with the ground ('adamah). Then, after the creation of woman ('ishah), the paired relationship between the woman and the man ('ish) is the focus of Genesis 2 and 3.

But with the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, the issue of brotherhood is introduced, a topic that will dominate the rest of the book. How should brothers (or "close kin," for the Hebrew word 'Ah often refers to a wider relationship than that of strictly siblings) relate to each other, particularly if one of the two appears to be unfairly favored by God or a parent? Should they interact with hostility or hospitality? The theme is revisited throughout the stories of Shem/Ham/Japheth, Abraham/Lot, Isaac/ Ishmael, Jacob/Esau, Rachel/Leah, Joseph/ his brothers, and Manasseh/Ephraim. It is not a simple question of inclusion and exclusion, for Genesis consistently makes it clear that even the less-favored brother has an important role in the schema. The interplay can be intricate, but it is evident that the ultimate well-being of the one brother/sister is linked to the fate of the other.

Genesis also draws significant connections between many of the figures in its story and national or tribal entities in the ancient Middle East (e.g., Lot is the ancestor of Moab and Ammon, Esau of the Edomites, Ishmael of the Ishmaelites, and Jacob of the Israelites). Fraternal relations—or lack of them—are a mirror through which the destinies of peoples and nations are being viewed. But it also becomes apparent that defining precisely who the people of God are is not as obvious as it might seem, not the least because the right to claim that title depends on the goodwill and cooperation of the "other." The implication of this for a reading of Genesis from the context of the Middle East today is unmistakable (see particularly the poem by Shin Shalom on p. 12).


Time and Place: In a Strange Land

The scholarly consensus regarding the date and sources of Genesis, which existed for a century after the development of the Graf-Wellhausen hypothesis, has broken down during the last twenty years. We no longer speak assuredly of J, E, D, and P sources, nor of a tenth-century Yahwist writing during the reign of David or Solomon. Detailed presentation of alternative hypotheses lies beyond the scope of this commentary, but broadly speaking, the exilic and postexilic periods have been highlighted as significant. It was during the sixth through fourth centuries B.C.E. that Genesis took its basic written shape. It therefore reflects the political and social contexts of that particular era. At that time, groups located in Mesopotamia/Persia and Egypt—perhaps even more than Palestine—were important for the ongoing life of the Jewish community. The nature of the community itself was evolving: was it a religious, a racial, or a national community? And the question of the relationship between this community and the other inhabitants of Israel/Palestine was the focus of sharp debate, with contrasting voices found on the one hand in Ezra/Nehemiah and on the other in books like Jonah or Ruth.

Genesis needs to be read with an awareness of this historical context. It is a book in which both Mesopotamia and Egypt loom large in the narrative. It is also a book that speaks of possession of the land of Canaan as a future aspiration rather than a present reality. The very last word in Genesis, for example, is Bemitsrayim ("in Egypt"). It is a book to be read in the Diaspora, as much as in Canaan itself. And it is also a book that consistently challenges a narrow nationalism that seeks to exclude non-Jews from sharing in the blessings being offered. "How do you live as strangers in a strange land?" is a question it poses, but the book's ironic ambiguity leaves it not entirely clear who the strangers are and which is the land that is strange. Perhaps those who live in the Middle East today—Jews, Christians, or Muslims—need to ask themselves a similar question.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Global Bible Commentary by Daniel Patte. Copyright © 2004 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Abbreviations,
Introduction,
Using the GBC in Bible Study Groups and Classes,
HEBREW BIBLE,
NEW TESTAMENT,

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