Difference can enrich us or tear us apart. Difference can make our lives stronger, fuller, and richer or it can destroy them. Therefore, how we engage difference matters. Conflicts between different peoples around the world, the movement of refugees from nation to nation, tensions over immigration, and growing diversity within our society bring difference to our doorstep daily. We can engage people who are different constructively and compassionately, or we can allow the fear of difference to distance us from others and to demonize them. At a time when racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious differences have created heightened tensions, we need more than ever to find our bearings. We need to re-examine what we think about difference.
Author Theodore “Ted” Hiebert re-examines the Bible’s stories explaining difference and its beginnings in the book of Genesis, exposing the inclination to interpret these stories as a negative view of difference. These stories recognize difference as God’s intention for the world, providing us with constructive resources of living with difference today. Hiebert starts with the story of “The Tower of Babel” and moves beyond it to examine how Genesis’s writers saw their unique identity and role in the world not as separate from all others but as members of the human family of which they were a part. He presents how biblical characters lived with difference and how the first Christians embraced difference. Finally, he invites the reader into new conversations about our biblical traditions that reveal a respect for difference, a generosity toward others, a desire to include rather than exclude, and a continuing interest in negotiating difference in ways that build relationships rather than destroy them.
Praise for The Beginning of Difference:
“At a time of increasing diversity in American society, polarized social and political discourse, and heightened suspicions about ‘the other,’ Theodore Hiebert provides this much-needed and accessible study of biblical notions of difference. His readings of texts from Genesis and Acts challenge long-standing interpretations that assume and perpetuate fear of difference and urge instead the recognition, negotiation, and celebration of human identities and differences as divine gifts. The result is an ancient and compelling call for openness, realism, empathy, and generosity with one another for the survival and flourishing of all.”—Christine Roy Yoder, J. McDowell Richards Professor of Biblical Interpretation, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA
“Ted Hiebert teaches a better way about diversity from the very inception of scripture. He sets forth his interpretation of Genesis and Acts extensively and compellingly. Hiebert repeatedly demonstrates that old, sectarian interpretations of Genesis are not coterminous with the book called ‘The Beginning’—a book that showcases the God-ordained and God-blessed difference that relates all of us to one another.”—Brent A. Strawn, professor of Old Testament, Duke Divinity School, Duke University, Durham, NC
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About the Author
Theodore Hiebert is Francis A. McGaw Professor of Old Testament, McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL. He was an editor and translator of the Common English Bible. A leading scholar among theological educators, he has done groundbreaking work in the study of Genesis.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The High Stakes of Difference xi
Chapter 1 Difference Begins at Babel 1
Chapter 2 Noah's Descendants: Biblical Writers Choose Their Family 37
Chapter 3 Biblical Peoples Live with Difference 73
Chapter 4 Pentecost: The First Christians Embrace Difference 109
Conclusion: New Conversations about Difference 145