Sunday, March 02, 2008

Stony the Road: A Critique of Eurocentric Hermeneutics

So, I've been absent. No justifications are necessary. I've simply been spending enormous amounts of time on assigned work. This semester I have three exegesis papers, two NT and one OT, so needless to say "free" time is the time I get to spend on my assigned reading. Yet it is all time well spent, and I'm enjoying every minute of it. However, I decided I can't keep my bloggers in waiting for too much longer, so I thought I'd post some thoughts I wrote yesterday while I was reading Stony the Road We Trod. I was reading the second chapter composed by Dr. Myers. What follows is basically my attempt to summarize his thoughts:

Myers begins his chapter with an explanation of the problem for black bible students and professors as being the pernicious subtleties of Eucrocentrism. Particularly important is Myers critique of the Eurocentric approach considering itself as normative, not acknowledging its own cultural conditioning and biases. Specifically, Myers is concerned with Eurocentric hermeneutical methodology. He discusses the various solutions that have been proposed. Perhaps most notable is James Cone’s advocacy for a contextual strategy, beginning with African American sources and historical description. On the other side, there are those that suggest a more ecumenical strategy. He recognizes the danger in Cone’s approach of setting up another imperialistic methodology, while the second strategy must avoid enslavement to Eurocentric approaches.

Very generally, if I understand Myers correctly, he critiques an approach that suggests there is one “orthodox” interpretative methodology that interprets one “final form” (cf. critique of Brevard Childs, 50-52). Typically, Eurocentric approaches have associated this one primary method with historical-criticism. Thus, another concern of Myers is the way in which Eurocentrism has locked biblical interpretation in the past (e.g. concerned with authorial intent, original meaning, etc.). As a result Scripture is stripped of its ability to speak to contemporary issues (e.g. racism, sexism, classism).

Myers proposal for how black biblical scholars might find a way out of this methodological dilemma suggests a fundamental inseparability of canon and method. He expresses concern for Child’s approach claiming that focus on the final form (i.e. the final literary form) of the canon is most often used as a means of control by Eurocentric interpreters. By declaring the final form to set the boundaries for exegesis, the propensity for oppressive methodologies is heightened because one must be determine whose final form (mine!), whose stance concerning the scripture (mine!), is normative.

In contrast, Myers finds Sanders attention to the function of the canon as more helpful for the black community. The historical-critical method focused on explaining what is going on in the text, whereas Sanders approach suggests the text explains what’s going on in the world, illuminating human life. “The books retained in the canonical tradition are those that had value for explaining the world of the present believing community.” (52)

This approach also opens up the question of how other traditions within the larger tradition have functioned as authoritative. He notes that all denominations have traditions of near canonicity that are read with authority similar to the scripture. Thus, Myers asks what traditions have acted this way for the African American community (e.g. call narrative, conversion narrative, etc.). “Traditions guard those past events which give to the community its uniqueness and they aid the community in shaping its life in accordance with those originating events.” (54)

Myers concludes by saying, “We must inquire into the history of this wider canonical perspective in our community, clearly articulating how and why it developed, how it functioned, and how the intricate dynamics and relationships between these various sources helped to give shape to each other, to our hermeneutical methodology, as well as to our self-understanding as African Americans.” (55)

Any thoughts?

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