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The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible A richly illustrated account of the story of the Bible written by leading scholars.

Specific Hermeneutical Proposals

Several theologians have made particular contributions to this general orientation to the study of the Bible, which further clarify the process or add new theoretical dimensions and insights.

Jorgen Schytte/Still Pictures.

One of the earliest and best-known discussions on Latin American hermeneutics came from Segundo, who elaborated the now celebrated liberationist version of the ‘hermeneutical circle’. This circle contains four elements. First, a new way of experiencing one's context from the perspective of the oppressed leads to an ideological suspicion of what has been accepted as the normal state of affairs in society. Secondly, this ideological suspicion is then applied to theology, and thus its content and history are questioned. Thirdly, from this challenging horizon there follows another way of experiencing theology in everyday life as well as a hermeneutical suspicion of the manner in which the biblical text has been interpreted. The fourth and final step is the development of a different hermeneutic, one which will be more cognizant of what is at stake in theological method and of the relationship between the Bible and social reality. This circle is to be dynamic, constantly seeking more insights for liberating praxis.

Segundo has also suggested a pedagogical approach that he calls ‘deutero-learning’, which is based on a particular kind of distinction between faith and ideology. The former, he says, are the values grounded in a transcendent world-view. For the believer, these are determined by Christian faith. By ideology he means a specific system of means and analysis for any given context. This differentiation is then applied to the interpretation of scripture, where he would encourage readers not to try necessarily to imitate the choices and actions of biblical characters (which would reflect an ideology of the past), but rather to perceive the values that are being communicated through the text (faith) and which now must be incarnated in our time in a fashion more appropriate to the modern context (an ideology for the present). For instance, that Jesus did not more actively confront the political leaders of his day should be viewed as his option for his own time and place, first-century Palestine. What continues to matter is his commitment to the poor. This faith obligation would need to be worked out in another manner within the different world that is Latin America today. In this way, Segundo attempts to move beyond debates on historicity and the possible ethical limitations of certain texts.

Croatto appeals to modern literary theory and acknowledges his debt to the philosopher P. Ricoeur. His approach stresses the autonomy and potential of the biblical text: rereadings (relecturas) and appropriations of the Bible, specifically of its foundational events (such as the Exodus), generate fresh meanings in new contexts. This series of successive rereadings for liberation constitute for Croatto part of the text's reservoir of meaning and its openness towards the future. In other words, the biblical text is not a dead letter whose significance must remain fixed by the original writer and audience. The text lives and becomes alive as it is read by people in similar circumstances of oppression. The ability to discover these new meanings, however, would especially ‘pertain to’ and ‘be pertinent for’ the oppressed and those in solidarity with them.

Clodovis Boff helpfully differentiates between three levels of theological and hermeneutical work. There is first the popular level, which would refer to those who work directly with and live among the oppressed. Here, any sort of biblical reflection must be concrete, directly relevant, and intelligible to the masses, who often have little or no formal education. Next, there is the pastoral level that involves those at a higher level of church care and governance, such as the bishops (Boff speaks as a Roman Catholic). Finally, there are the professional theologians, who have the vocation and training to be able to spend time and effort on the actual articulation of this new way of doing theology. Even though this last group at times might write for and speak to audiences other than the poor of their local communities (such as international forums, or European and North American academic institutions), they should not lose their links with the socio-economic and political reality of Latin America. All three levels share a common vision and the same commitments. Ideally, there should be a constant, mutual cross-fertilization between them through visits, publications, consultations, and congresses.

Ron Giling/Still Pictures.

This concern for the broad spectrum of liberationist theology is evident as well in Boff's discussion of the three mediations necessary for theological and biblical studies from a liberationist perspective. This approach has many affinities with Segundo's hermeneutical circle. The fundamental mediation must be socio-analytic. This aspect strives to achieve some sort of solid illumination concerning the underlying historical and structural causes of the continent's injustice. Since the ultimate goal is social transformation, any such investigation must move beyond reformist or palliative solutions. At this point, Boff indicates the insights available from a discriminating utilization of Marxist thought. The second mediation is hermeneutical. The interpreter moves to the biblical text with a certain lens illumined by the first step. The Bible now can be read alongside and for the poor. The interpreter and the community will seek out those biblical themes and passages which seem to speak most directly to their situation. Some of these would include the kingdom of God, the Exodus (the suffering of the masses under an oppressive system and the response of God to their cries), prophetic denunciations of economic injustice and religious hypocrisy, various elements of the life of Jesus in the gospels (such as his care for the disenfranchised, the confrontations with religious leaders, and his trial and death at the hands of the political authorities), and important declarations by Jesus that define the nature of his ministry and the exigencies for his followers (especially Luke 4: 16–30 and Matt. 25: 31–46 ). Boff closes with the practical mediation, as all reflection should be geared to positive action. He expands the purview of this mediation to embrace also contemplation and worship.

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