I’ve been using the “Bible Study Cheat Sheet” below in my Unitarian Universalist Bible study groups. I’m about to put it through another revision, and thought I’d post it here and see what kind of reaction it gets from you, dear readers….
Ask: Where are the women? Often, those who wrote the Bible tend to diminish the role of women. Yet often the women are there, if you just look for them. (And sometimes the Bible gives us the actual words women wrote or spoke or sang.) Our assumption: the Bible was not originally intended to keep women down, but later editors and commentators and churchmen have interpreted it that way.
Ask: Where are the poor and the dispossessed? Some of the stories in the bible are about kings, and queens, and rich and powerful people. But frequently Bible stories tell about ordinary people like shepherds, carpenters, and laborers. Our assumption: originally the Bible was written to be meaningful to all people, no matter what their socio-economic status, but later editors and commentators and churchmen have interpreted it differently.
Ask: How are the experts biassed? Various self-proclaimed experts have interpreted the Bible as supporting slavery in the United States, subjugation of women, ongoing racism, homophobia, etc. Such experts include: scholars who translate the Bible out of the original languages; preachers; pundits. Our assumption: any time you come across a person who claims to know something about the Bible (including Unitarian Universalist ministers; including yourself!), that person is going to have some kind of bias.
Above all, ask: What does this have to do with my life? Lots of people claim they have the exclusive right to interpret the Bible. These people will claim their interpretation is the only correct one and then try to shove it down our throats. But there’s no reason to pay any attention to those people. Great literature like the Bible does not have one simple-minded interpretation, because great literature interacts with the specifics of our individual lives. Our assumption: the Bible, like any great work of literature, is supposed to make our lives better — richer, more humane, more grounded in compassion.
Notes for Bible geeks: The first item is basic feminist theology, making the case for a feminist hermeneutic of suspicion. The second item is basic liberation theology, introducing the hermeneutical privilege of the poor to a First World audience. The third item uses tools from critical theory for a critique of domination and power in Biblical studies. The fourth item is standard Gadamerian philosophical hermeneutics. The whole cheat sheet comes out of a functionalist view of religion, and a critical theory perspective.