Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Case of Christian Biblical Imperialism

The other day I had some time to kill in town before my bus out to Uni and so I went browsing in bookshops, as you do. In my browsings I discovered the The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation. It's put out by Priests for Equality and appears to draw on the use of scriptures in the actual worship of LGBT people who are part of Dignity in the USA:

The project began in 1988, when Priests for Equality received permission to use inclusive language texts developed by Dignity, San Francisco. We distributed them to our constituency; their feedback spurred us to revise the texts significantly--revisions that reflected their actual use in the very settings they were being used: college campuses, parishes, chapels, houses of formation, convents, religious communities and living rooms.

Priests for Equality went on to create a two-volume set of daily lectionary readings, and again revised its three-year Sunday lectionaries, to much acclaim. But the demand for an inclusive language version of the complete New Testament began to grow, and we happily undertook the project. In all, The Inclusive New Testament took seven years and the work of many dedicated individuals to complete, and was published in 1994.

So this Bible seems to be a grassroots queer-shaped Catholic Bible and one I will add to my collection. At the same time, this Bible, no doubt well-intentioned set off alarm bells for me as I examined the Table of Contents. Instead of the usual Old Testament and New Testament demarcation it coined the term Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament. The Hebrew Scriptures were then subdivided into Torah, Prophets and Writings. In other words the Old Testament was set out according to the ordering and divisions of the Jewish Bible or TaNaKh. TaNaKh stands for the three divisions of the Jewish Bible: Torah (the 5 books of Moses), Nebiim or Prophets (which includes Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, plus the prophetic books Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve), and Kethubim or Writings which includes the rest of the Hebrew canon ordered from Psalms to Chronicles and including Ruth, Daniel and Esther (without the Greek material added to these books but included in both the Gereek and Latin bibles). Furthermore, the Inclusive Bible adds to the Writings a subsection titled Apocryphal Writings, which includes the deutero-canonical works: Tobit, Judith, 1 & 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach/Ecclesiasticus. There didn't seem to be any sign of (1) Baruch with the Letter of Jeremiah.

So what are my concerns? Most importantly, this bible has engaged in a classic case of supersessionism or Christian biblical imperialism. The Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible of Judaism is not and never has been the Old Testament of Christianity and to represent it as such, especially incorporating the deutero-canonical books as a subsection of the Writings, is no more than a pious and inclusive fraud and treats Judaism with gross disrespect. I repeat, the Tanakh has never been the Old Testament of Christianity, least of all Catholic Christianities. The Old Testament has always been structured as Torah/Pentateuch, Historical books, Wisdom books and Prophetic books (which includes Daniel). Some Roman Catholic bibles put 1 & 2 Maccabees after the Prophets, others include them in the Historical books, which is where my Orthodox Study Bible puts them. Both the King James bible and Luther's German bible restrict the Old Testament to the books of the Hebrew bible but with the Christian ordering above and locate the Roman deuterocanonical books in a separate collection called the Apocrypha ,which also includes texts from the Greek and Slavonic bibles such as 1 & 2 Esdras (4 Ezra), Psalm 151, Prayer of Manasseh (none of which are part of The Inclusive Bible's Apocrypha). So this Inclusive Bible is very much a hybrid, if not a dog's breakfast.

It is also supersessionist because it reinscribes the Bible of Judaism as the Old Testament of Christianity, the natural companion to the New Testament. However the New Testament is more companion to the Greek bible which is the canon that has shaped all Christian Old Testaments, east and west. If there is a companion volume to the Tanakh it is more likely the Mishnah. The Midrashim might also be seen as more a companion to the Tanakh than the New Testament and certainly the Zohar. No doubt the terminology and ordering deployed for the Old Testament in The Inclusive Bible were meant with the best of intentions and as a mark of respect for Judaism but it, in effect, is an act of biblical imperialism.

It is also an act of biblical imperialism vis a vis other forms of Christianity as well as an act of collective memory loss by Roman Catholic communities. The so-called Hebrew scriptures of The Inclusive Bible represent no more or less than the standard Roman Catholic Old Testament. However this terminology and ordering obscure that fact and distort the real history of the Old Testament in the Roman Church and Western Christendom as well as continuing to effectively sever the relationship with the Greek Bible which furthermore remains normative for the Eastern Churches. The Inclusive Bible, by claiming a Hebrew priority for its Old Testament, thus exists in an imperialistic relationship to the other Churches of Christendom. There is an irony, of course, here. The standard Protestant Old Testament makes the same imperialistic and supersessionist claim especially when the Apocrypha are removed leaving it to stand with just the New Testament. This has been the norm for most English (derived) Protestant bibles for over two centuries. The US is the Protestant society par excellence. That The Inclusive Bible is a product of US Roman Catholicism attests to the success of Protestant biblical imperialism, a success that has generated a new and imitative imperialism in reverse.

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