ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Barstad. BRIEF GUIDE TO THE HEBREW BIBLE (2010)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Mar• 15•11

Barstad, Hans M.  A Brief Guide to the Hebrew Bible  (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). ISBN: 978-0-664-23325-9.

This is a student-friendly introduction to the Old Testament and can be rightly hailed as ‘excellent primer.’ It is translated from the Norwegian original, Det gamle testamente. En innforung  (second edition which appeared in 2003). The author has an novel approach. A brief and simple introduction treats topics a student of the Old Testament need to know before entering into a detailed study. This section deals with topics like, the cultural history of the Bible, the academic study of the Bible, the OT and the NT, a description of the ANE, its culture and languages, canonization, transmission of the Hebrew Bible, Qumran and Biblical exegesis. Instead of presenting book by book, he introduces the theological traditions of the Old Testament and classifies the Pentateuch and Former Prophets according to “authorial groups.” So we have the tetrateuch introduced as the Priestly History and the books from Deuteronomy to Kings as the Deuteronomistic History. This is followed by an introduction of the Chronicler’s works. Two chapters offers a survey of the prophetic literature and the poetic traditions. The books of Jonah, Ruth and Esther are considered as novellas in the last chapter. The Introductions to the Hebrew Bible have been bulky since they deal with individual books separately. These book-by-book treatment is at the cost of userfriendliness. However, Barstad’s Introduction is concise and introduces the students to the corpora of the literature than to individual books. This helps the students to have a grasp of the theologies and movements that shaped the Hebrew Bible. This certainly helps in their appreciation of the individual books and their themes later in their study.

Cavanaugh. MYTH OF RELIGIOUS VIOLENCE (2009)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Feb• 15•11

Cavanaugh, William T. The Myth of Religious Violence. Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009). ISBN: 9780195385045.

The idea that religion by its very nature promotes violence is deeply rooted in modern consciousness due to a western propoganda to underwrite its own violence. In this book Cavanaugh argues that thinking in mutually exclusive terms like “religious” and “secular” or “religious” and “political” is a are western inventions. This has helped to create a religious “other” whose violence is seen as fanatical and the western violence to counter it as an attempt to peace-making. He argues that secular ideologies are as prone to violence as religious ideologies are.

The book is arranged in four chapters (besides Introduction) as (1). The Anatomy of the Myth (2). The Invention of Religion (3). The Creation Myth of the Wars of Religion (4). The Uses of the Myth.

William T. Cavanaugh is Professor in the Department of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Meynet. A NEW INTRODUCTION TO THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS (2010)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Feb• 15•11

Meynet, Roland. A New Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels (Miami, Florida: Convivium Press, 2010). ISBN: 9781934996119

This title is the English translation of the French Une nouvelle introduction aux evangiles synoptiques (2009).

This rhetorical critical study of the Synoptics is based on a notion that rhetoric is not just Greco-roman as the West understand but there is Hebrew Rhetoric which is very different from that of Greek and Roman. The New Testament follows this Hebrew Rhetoric and so this could be called Biblical Rhetoric which is akin to Akkadian, Ugaritic and other ancient texts. This Rhetoric is shared by not only Hebrew Bible or New Testament but also the Quran.

Meynet deviates from the traditional approach to the study of Synoptic Gospels where the pericopes are put in parallel columns but he insists that one should study the whole pericopes, the sequences and subsequences. He likens his approach to the study of three architectures of a building than comparing the stones of three similar buildings.

He applies this study to a number of selections from the Synoptics.

This is indeed a trail-blazer in Synoptic studies. The fact that the French original is made available in English within a year of its publication is remarkable. This means that the influence of this novel approach to the Synoptics will be farreaching in the scholarly community.

Heurtz. FRIENDSHIP AT THE MARGINS (2010)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jan• 15•11

Heurtz, Christopher L. and Christine D. Pohl. Friendship at the Margins. Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2010). pages: 159. ISBN: 9780830834549.Resources for Reconciliation Series.

This book is another in the series on Resources for Reconciliation by the Duke University School and IVP. The authors have been involved in Christian mission in different parts of the world and with Word Made Flesh (WMF) in a number of developing countries for a considerable time. This book is based on their life-long experience and reflection.

The book challenges the traditional missional practices where the missionary enters a mission field to help those who are disadvantaged. In the conventional pattern there is not much partnership with the people at the receiving end and there is seldom any relationship as equals. The Western missionaries are always at a higher pedestal than the disadvantaged that they serve.

This book, through the real experiences of its authors and the model that WMF has adopted world-wide offers an alternative. It is a call to establish long-term relationships with those whom we serve. It challenges us to consider those whom we serve as friends and to learn from them as well. It emphasizes mutuallity in mission than the unidirectional flow of knowledge and skills as in conventional model of mission. This mutuality happens when the poor and the exploited becomes partners in their own liberation. Those who serve God in this way becomes friends with them and develop a new kind of spirituality. The book ends with a chapter titled “A Spirituality Fit for the Margins” where spiritual practices fit for friendships at the margins is discussed.

The book is full of anecdotal illustrations from the life and experience of the authors and their colleagues. This title is a must for those who consider engaging with the marginalized and the poor in their own country or abroad.

Everist. DIFFICULT BUT INDISPENSIBLE CHURCH (2002)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 15•09

Everist, Norma Cook, Ed. The Difficult but Indispensable Church. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002.

The church has always been difficult. There are dissensions, power struggles, blame games and we find it very difficult to be the church. Increasing individualism tend to make us believe that being together as church is not indispensable. This book percieves the church as a community centered in Christ and argues that such a community is real and indispensable for life.

The Church has always been difficult. There are dissensions, power struggles, blame and we find it very difficult to be the church. Increasing individualism tend to make us believe that being together as church is not indispensable. This book perceives the church as a community centered in Christ and argues that such a community is real and indispensable for life.

The book looks at the indispensability of the church from four angles dividing the book in to four parts titled, “Personhood in Community: Indispensability in Christ”, “The Church’s Heart: The Indispensable Power of Christ”, “The Church of God in Motion: The Indispensability of Mission” and “The Church of all People: The Indispensable Challenge”. All the twenty-one chapters of the book written by the Faculty of Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.

The book is a very useful reading for all those who are struggling with the question if the church would survive beyond the 21st century. This will definitely challenge our notions of the nature and mission of the church.

Yong. HOSPITALITY AND THE OTHER (2008)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Oct• 15•08

Yong, Amos. Hospitality and the Other. (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2008)

Our age is characterized by encounter of religions in a number of special ways. In the first chapter of this book (Between Terrorism and Hospitality. The Encounter of Religions in the Twenty-first Century) Amos Yong presents three scenarios rather chosen arbitrarily where inter-religious encounters take place. The first of these is Sri Lanka where the conflict between the Buddhist Sinhalese and Hindu Tamils is going on for more than twenty-five years. Our age is characterized by encounter of religions in a number of special ways. In the first chapter of this book (Between Terrorism and Hospitality. The Encounter of Religions in the Twenty-first Century) Amos Yong presents three scenarios rather chosen arbitrarily where inter-religious encounters take place. The first of these is Sri Lanka where the conflict between the Buddhist Sinhalese and Hindu Tamils is going on for more than twenty-five years. Secondly, the situation in Nigeria where Muslim and Christian faiths are at loggerheads. Finally, the United States the majority Christian population is forced to engage in a discourse on the role of their own faith and that of other competing faiths in the increasingly pluralistic scenario. Each of these case studies also describes responses by Christians in each of these situations. Yong concludes from these case studies that Christians need to “articulate a multifaceted theology of religions and theology of interreligious engagement that more adequately underwrite the broad range of practices required for a complex post-9/11 world of many faiths” (p. 37).

The chapter 2 (Performing Theology. The Interrelationship between Christian Beliefs and Practices) where the author discusses the theoretical interconnections between beliefs and practices provides the background for investigating the relationship between Christian theologies of religion and Christian interreligious practices. This survey has provided a pneumatological perspective on the performance of Christian theology in a religiously pluralistic world. He argues that beliefs and experiences, doctrines and practices, theologies and performances are interrelated. The pneumatological approach means that the Christians will adopt a variety of practices and would speak a variety of languages in line with the variety of the pluralistic audiences that they witness to. Simply put his approach is “many tongues equal many practices” which he tries to test in chapter 3 and 4.

In Chapter 3 (Performing Theology of Religions. Christian Practices and the Religions) Yong three approaches to pluralism: traditional exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralistic theologies of the religions and their corresponding practices are elaborated. In the course of this, significant scholars like John Hick, Raimon Panicker, Aloysius Pieris and the like are presented and discussed.
Yong goes on to develop a pneumatological theology of hospitality as an interreligious praxis in Chapter 4 (Performing Hospitality. Towards a Pneumatological Theology of Interreligious Engagement). He presents us a very exhaustive treatment of hospitality as practiced by Jesus, the early church and ancient Israel in order to show the centrality of this approach to the stranger in the Bible. This hospitality, Yong argues can be discerned in Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, which embraced the many ancient near eastern cultures. Christianity, which he chooses to call the “religion of the Melchizedek” (inferred from the Book of Hebrews) is one of hospitality. Melchizedek offered Abraham hospitality according to Genesis.

Drawing heavily on the recent writings on hospitality Yong argues that the best interreligious approach would be to be hosts and also to be guests in a multi-religious context. Accepting hospitality (being guests) and also offering hospitality (being hosts) is a pattern that Jesus, the Apostles and the early church practiced. That is the model that the author tends to present to us.
Yong’s proposal is certainly an eye-opener. In the wake of religious violence on a global scale and has become a daily reality in countries like India where it taken the form of persecution, these thoughts demands a fresh hearing.

Rynne. GANDHI AND JESUS (2008)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 14•08

Rynne, Terrence J. Gandhi and Jesus. The Saving Power of Nonviolence (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2008) p. ix, 228. ISBN: 9781570757662.

The author begins with the assumption that though “Jesus was nonviolent to the core” as Norbert Lohfink puts it, the Christian Church hasn’t embraced the non-violent Jesus. Rynne points out three reasons for this. First of all the Christian culture believed in the redemptive violence, and secondly the spirit of retributive justice and thirdly the Christian Systematic theology has taken violence as given for humans. The Christian Soteriology is rooted in violent terms: God the father demanded the sacrifice of his son. Rynne helps us to appreciate the nonviolent Jesus better through this work.

Rynne, Terrence J. Gandhi and Jesus. The Saving Power of Nonviolence (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2008) p. ix, 228. ISBN: 9781570757662.
The author begins with the assumption that though “Jesus was nonviolent to the core” as Norbert Lohfink puts it, the Christian Church hasn’t embraced the non-violent Jesus. Rynne points out three reasons for this. First of all the Christian culture believed in the redemptive violence, and secondly the spirit of retributive justice and thirdly the Christian Systematic theology has taken violence as given for humans. The Christian Soteriology is rooted in violent terms: God the father demanded the sacrifice of his son. Rynne helps us to appreciate the nonviolent Jesus better through this work.
In this book Rynne presents us a fresh reading of Gandhi’s Satyragraha. He also presents four Christian theologians who have embraced a non-violent Jesus. Thirdly he reformulates what it means to be saved in terms of non-violent power and not in terms of violent sacrifice.
In the first chapter the takes us through the life and thought of Gandhi in order to understand Gandhi’s Hindu beliefs and also the western influences on his thought. Under these influences Gandhi gave Hindu concepts like moksha, ahimsa and tapasya fresh relevance for politics and society. Jesus influenced Gandhi’s thought through the Sermon on the Mount at a very early age. In a similar way, the works of Leo Tolstoy also influenced him deeply. The second chapter deals in details with Gandhian Satyagraha. The author studies both words that constitute the word “Satyagraha”; Satya (truth), Agraha (holding firmly) and the words associated with “Satyagraha” like Ahimsa (non-violence), Tapasya (Self-suffering), This study leads him to conclude that Satyagraha is more than pacifism. It differs from pacifism in three ways at least. While pacifism is refusal to participate in war, Satyagraha is non-cooperation with the whole system that “supports a state built on militaristic assumptions and principles”. Secondly Satyagraha fights against and overcomes the causes underlying war. Thirdly, Gandhi’s understanding of violence was different. He understood violence on a continuum, violence and nonviolence intertwine; humans have to make their own judgments regarding violence and nonviolence. Not only that Satyagraha was different from pacifism it also offered a “moral equivalent of war”. In Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia, Hitler’s persecution of Jews, Japanese invasion of Chinese and German conflict with Czechs, Gandhi proposed non-violent cooperation to check aggression. He believed that nonviolence is an alternative to war; people responding to violence with non-violence could effectively check war.
In Chapter three he presents four Christian theologians who embraced non-violence as central to Christian discipleship. The first is C. F. Andrews whom he calls a Christian Satyagrahi, the second being John Howard Yoder (1927-1997) a Mennonite theologian, Bernard Häring (1912-1998) a Redemptionist Catholic priest and Walter WInk (1935-) a professor of biblical interpretation. He concludes that all these four theologians have rejected the model of salvation, which projects the picture of a violent God.
He goes on to chapter four which explores the root causes of the theology of salvation, which promotes violence. This is Anselm’s theory of satisfaction of the wrath of God. He argues that Anselm’s model gives a misleading picture of God and promotes a theory that is not biblical. Anselm pictures God as “the lord of the manor, infinitely above us, infinitely ready to take offense, caring only about the restoration of order, Nonetheless in our day, it is a repulsive image of God” (p. 143). He finds Anselm’s satisfaction theory unbiblical since it presents God as a judge while the New Testament presents a reconciling and loving father. The satisfaction theory is fundamentally ahistorical since it cuts the link between Jesus’ life and his death. For Anselm, salvation is located in the mythical transaction and his focus is on the death of Jesus and not on his life. This model which has influenced most of Christian thinking focus also on sin from which we are saved and ignores human suffering in the present. Rynne observes that “the gospel included liberation from oppression, healing of the sick, love between equals, hope for the future for those without hope, and a call to discipleship to bring the kingdom to others” (p. 145). There remains the need to rethink Christian doctrine of salvation, and to formulate a soteriology that serves our time. This soteriology should have historical consciousness, should deal with personal and social evil, and must have a link between the life of Jesus and his death and resurrection.
The author then goes to propose a model of Christian salvation in the light of Gandhi’s Satyagraha in the last chapter. He does so by examining the main aspects of salvation theology in the light of the theologies of the four Christian theologians he mentioned earlier and Gandhi. He prefers a Christus Viator model over a Christus Victor model though some aspects of both models overlap with each other. While the Christus Victor model projects a Christ the Victor in the battle against evil, Christus Viator model that presents Christ the sojourned, the pioneer recognizes that there is much more work to be done in history and that the struggle against evil continues.
Rynne would not say that in order to understand the non-violent Jesus we need to rethink not only Christian Salvation theology but many other aspects of our beliefs. The book has immense relevance for our discussions on violence especially in the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) being observed by the WCC. It is even more relevant in the context of Iraq war, US involvement in Afghanistan, fight against terror. In all these, the popular thinking is that Christians have turned against the rest of the world. It is time that the Christians do some serious introspection and this book will be of immense help in this regard.

Domina. POETS AND THE PSALMS (2008)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Aug• 11•08

Domina, Lynn (Editor). Poets on the Psalms (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2008), pages: 304 ISBN: 1595340483.

This collection of essays by a number of contemporary English poets (mostly American) on the Book of Psalms is fascinating. For the trained theologian and church-persons this is an offer of fresh air. The Book of Psalms has been read, chanted, sung, interpreted and preached from within the four walls of the churches for two thousand years. The Jews also had considered it sacred and had their life around it for still more years. The book of Psalms which has been the monopoly of the synagogue and the Church is approached by poets who are mostly from outside the walls of the Church and the Synagogue.
In this book, poets with a wide variety of religious experience and some having no serious religious experience have brought together their understanding of the psalms. For example, Carl Philips one of the authors claims to be biracial and gay. Having no religious upbringing the author started reading the Bible as an adult. On the other end of the spectrum is Pattiann Rogers who grew up with the KJV of the bible and even learnt memory verses. The KJV had a lasting impact on her poems. In between comes poets who were Jews but lived among non-Jews, practicing Christians and so on.
The wide variety of authorship means a wide range of freshness of the views in these essays. For example, violence in the Bible, particularly in the Psalms in the form of imprecatory Psalms and a God who advocate violence has been subjects of theological discussion for so many years. However, Alicia Ostricker has a new perspective on this, which is rather non-theological. Unlike Christian theologians she don’t want to reconcile God’s cruel nature. She rather would like to be a like “the abused woman who keeps forgiving her abuser.” She has a power conclusion to her essay which sums up her views on divine violence. Reflecting on her own poems she writes, “Like the Biblical Psalms, mine seem to be love poems of God. But I cannot justify my love.” In the midst of these rather non-academic essays we find Enid Dame, “Psalm 22 and the Gospels. A Midrashic Moment and a Hope for Connection” which has more of an academic tone. The author who is from a working class Jewish background and had to share space with Christians in schools and neighbourhoods explores how a Jew finds the reading of Psalm 22 by Christians. For the Jew Psalm 22 is metaphorical, however, for the Christian the victim and the enemies of Psalms are historical.
Most of the authors prove that it is possible to write on the Psalms without the usual theological jargons. In a similar manner this collection proves that there are multiple perspectives possible on the Book of Psalms. And each perspective is informing and fresh. This is a very small sampling and one has to really go through this exceedingly enjoyable book to enjoy its freshness and vigour.

Loewen. BIBLE IN CROSS-CULTURAL PERSPECTIVE (2000)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 25•08

Jacob A. Loewen, The Bible in Cross-Cultural Perspective(Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2000)
This book has come from a veteran missionary and Bible translator who is also a trained anthropologist. His experience as translation consultant of the Bible Society in Africa and Latin America and his anthropological insights form the keel of this work. In the author’s own words, “This book is about discovering more of the message of the Bible than we see through the eyes of our own culture.” (p. 3).
This book has come from a veteran missionary and Bible translator who is also a trained anthropologist. His experience as translation consultant of the Bible Society in Africa and Latin America and his anthropological insights form the keel of this work. In the author’s own words, “This book is about discovering more of the message of the Bible than we see through the eyes of our own culture.” (p. 3). Here “our own culture” definitely means the Western culture. The book addresses three groups of people all situated in the West. First of all, Loewen, brought up as a Mennonite first of challenges the views of his own and of his communities. Secondly, he addresses the Western Christians in general and thirdly those western missionaries who serve in non-Western contexts.
The book is on the various cross-cultural perspectives on the Bible, that he has gathered through a lifetime of involvement with people of various cultural, religious and social background. It is presented in five parts: 1. The Bible in Cross-Cultural Perspectives, 2. The Universe: Physical and Metaphysical, 3. God and the Sacred, 4. The Significance of Names, 5. Some Implications of Cross Cultural Perspective. The Appendices contain a section on the various Pseudepigraphical books and another on God’s Names in European Translations besides the usual indices on authors, subject and scriptural references. The book also has a short biography of the author who turns 100 years this year (2002)!
It seems that Loewen is trying to prove a proposition in three parts. First of all, he want to assert that people hold differing worldviews; secondly, he want to correct the notion that the western world views are to be equated with Biblical worldviews, the latter are not constant, they vary. He sketches the development of biblical worldviews on a number of topics: After Life, Concept of God; Prophecies; Exorcism; Marriage etc. A third proposition is that the non-Western pre-scientific worldviews are closer to that of the Bible than the Western Christian worldviews.
The style is anecdotal and autobiographical. The author uses stories from his own experience among the Empera’s, Waunas and the Chalupis to illustrate his point. He also brings a wealth of autobiographical information. He tells us how his western, Mennonite, Missionary worldviews was in conflict with that of the people whom he served. This makes the book a insightful reading. An extensive bibliography is a definite contribution. An annotated list and bibliography of the Intertestamental literature is also wealth.

Loewen offers a diachronic perspective on a number of biblical themes. For example, he tells us how Israel’s concept of God from a tribal God to a cosmic monotheistic God developed. He traces the question of after life from the early traditions in the Old Testament through the Intertestamental period to the New Testament. He also discusses the idea of the gender of God that different cultures have and the reason for the dominant male image that the Bible holds. There are some cultures that can not conceive God as male. For him gender is only a metaphor. He also discusses (it takes a major place) the issues of spirits, demon possession and exorcism. He finds that the African worldviews on this issue is somewhere between that of the Western world views and that of the Bible but closer to the biblical side. Extensive tables that compare various aspects of these three worldviews are very valuable (see chapters 11 and 12). The last part of the book (Part V) titled “Focus on the West” is important. Here he offers a critique of the western Christian culture, which thinks it is biblical. He thinks that what the Christian West worship a tribal God (in contrast to a universal God) made up of an unholy trinity of gods of wealth, of materialism and technology. In Chapter 17, he has presented a diachronic view on marriage in the Bible and marriage customs of various groups. He also discusses the problems of forcing western Christian concept of monogamous marriage poses to various cultures particularly the Chalupis. Though he discusses the various (sometimes contradicting) views of marriage in the Bible, he does not tell us where does the monogamous marriage evolve; does it not have a biblical basis or not. He also offers a critique of western materialistic and scientific worldview that has less and less room for supernatural. God is reduced to a God of gaps so also demon possession and exorcism. He evaluates two famous models (the Wimber-White model and the Peck model) on demon possession and highlights their inadequacy. He also finds that some scientific discoveries point towards the spiritual and supernatural.
This book was not possible a century ago. Hundred years ago the missionaries went out from Europe and North America wrote about how pagan and non-Christian were the people they served among. Now, there is a drastic turn around in the missionary attitude. Missionaries are discovering that the non-Western cultures have something to contribute to the West. This book is an example of this new genre. Missionaries are more and more appreciative of non-western cultures and also discover the inadequacy of the Western cultures. This book is documentary evidence of this trend.
He suggests that we need to translate the biblical worldviews to the various cultures instead of imposing on them the Western World views, which are not Biblical, worldviews either. Just as the biblical view of a flat earth was accommodated in the Western scientific worldview, other models could be translated if we read Bible cross culturally. To quote the author: “Western Christians have long since translated the biblical categories of flat earth with firmament dome over it into a globe with atmosphere and outer space, in keeping with our modern worldview. We no longer question the fact that we do so, even though at one time this process seemed unthinkable to Christians. It is that continued process of translation that I am seeking in another domain of divine revelation.” (p. 239).
This book is full of discoveries and is an eye opener on many issues. However, you would find that the comment by Paul Hiebert (another missionary and a celebrated Anthropologist) on the blurb is right. He says, “Not all agree with Dr. Loewen’s conclusions, nor does he expects us to, but the questions he raises are ones we are increasingly forced to raise in the era of a global church.” There are a number of points where one would find it difficult to swallow what Loewen offers. Many Christian readers will find his statement that, “Having heard testimony after testimony of African communication between the living and the dead and knowing that the Bible recounts an appearance of dead Samuel to King Saul (1 Sam 28:7-14), I can no longer discount messages from the dead.” (Page 48).
Does the fact that some of the worldviews are closer to that of the Bible at some stage of its development mean that they are valid? Where is the place of superstition and are cultures free from deceptive elements.
Though the diachronic perspectives offered are useful, the philosophical presupposition behind them is objectionable. Loewen follows Biblical scholars of the 19th century who advocated a linear evolutionary schema for the development of various concepts in the Bible. Biblical scholarship does not believe that biblical theology follows such a neat linear development. Also in arguing that differing worldviews that existed at different points in time in the biblical world we should also admit that there is the principle of abrogation. That is, some worldviews came into existence by abrogating earlier ones and thus invalidated them. So they all does not become valid worldviews but testify how the worldviews were developed.
I also find the argument that the Western worldview is material, scientific and has no place for the spiritual (demons, evil spirits etc) is contrary to evidence. The belief in a spiritual world is universal and superstitious beliefs are found in every culture. Western folklore is full of such beliefs. How does one account for the occult, spiritism and other practices in the West? If the West was a purely material then how do we explain the witches? To what realm do we ascribe beliefs in trolls and fairies in Western imagination?
At the popular level there is such beliefs, and these are universal, but the West that the missionaries want to project to the rest of the world is combed clean of such things. This is not the problem of the West in general but that of the Western Christians were brought up on Christian rationalism which had no place for miracles, exorcism, evil spirits etc contrary to their own contexts. Loewen mind that operates in such bipolar categories of West and non-West is outdated.
However, this book is a valuable contribution to missiology. Anyone, particularly in the Western world who takes up an assignment overseas should read this book. It definitely will serve as a textbook in missionary anthropology and can be of also use as a tertiary source book for teaching biblical themes.

Tamez. WHEN THE HORIZONS CLOSE (2000)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 11•08

Tamez, Elsa. When the Horizons Close, Rereading Ecclesiastes. (Trans. Margaret Wilde; . Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books), 2000.

In the words of the author, this book is, “More than a classical commentary, it is a proposed way of reading the scripture for our hopeless times.” (p. vi). Thus the work under review is a rereading of the book of Ecclesiastes from a particular position regarding its date, composition, and the reader’s own particular ideological position. In the words of the author, this book is, “More than a classical commentary, it is a proposed way of reading the scripture for our hopeless times.” (p. vi). Thus the work under review is a rereading of the book of Ecclesiastes from a particular position regarding its date, composition, and the reader’s own particular ideological position. The book has an introduction and the commentary that follows is arranged in three parts in addition to a prologue and epilogue. In each section the author first comments on the whole section and each subsection by way of synthesis before making verse by verse comments. The book also contains an appendix of sayings and proverbs from Latin America that reflect the complexity of life and popular wisdom. The author says she has arranged the booked around the theme “Take it all Together.” Key to the reading the book of Ecclesiastes the way the present author does is the date of the book. Tamez dates this book around second half of third century BC against the background of the Ptolemaic empire based on Alexandria. Her reconstruction of the times of the author of the book is also important for the present reading. Tamez identifies the particular position of the biblical author by looking at “the world not narrated by Qoheleth.” The world that the Ecclesiastes describes is one of frustration, toilsome labour, etc. The biblical author denies that there is anything that is new. See, Ecclesiastes 1:9-10. Tamez discovers that behind this blatant denial is the key to the mind of the biblical author! As a reader she goes a step further and reconstructs the Ptolemaic world, its achievements, struggles and the changes it has brought in various areas. She describes the newness in the areas of military tactics, politics, agriculture, economics, etc. However, why did the biblical author refuse to admit these facts and affirm that there is no newness under the sun. Ecclesiastes questions this newness by denying it because it fails to effect human fulfilment. Tamez identifies the author with one of Palestinian aristocracy in Jerusalem. He is someone who takes a position different from that of his contemporaries who supported the “globalisation” of the Ptolemaic empire. The author of Ecclesiastes points out the futility of the “globalisation” which demands a lot of human sacrifice. He finds hard work useless if there is no enjoyment and gathering wealth meaningless while there is no security that one can keep it. The reading of this book becomes very relevant to our times if we are able to see the Ptolemaic world as Tamez has seen. She argues that the “Globalisation” of the Ptolemaic empire not only caused frustration and hopelessness in its subjects especially the group that the sage who authored Ecclesiastes represents but also this is a period when utopian hopes were crushed, and hopes of changes were not really there. Adding to the frustration is the concept of time that the Ecclesiastes holds. Tamez contrasts the world view of Ecclesiastes with that of the Apocalyptic and Prophets. Tamez suggests that the apocalyptic and prophetic literature looked at future with its horizons widening. Unlike other traditions of the Old Testament, in this book we do not see any reflection on the historical past of Israel, no eschatology as far as future is concerned and the present is considered as “meaningless.” This is why Tamez would like to call this as a vision where the horizons are closed. She observes that in Ecclesiastes view of history is in a “comatose state.” Tamez seems to assume a linear development or evolution of Israel’s theological concepts. In this linear schema she places the Book of Ecclesiastes in between the Messianism of Isaiah and the Apocalypticism. Both of them had widening horizons beyond the frustrations of present reality. In contrast, Ecclesiastes can not see anything beyond the present reality, he can not see a future with Messiah or a new age different from this present age dawning. This is why he exhorts his people to eat, drink and find enjoyment in the present. Based on this essential presuppositions Tamez offers her reading of this ancient canonical text. This makes her reading of Ecclesiastes so relevant and meaningful to her own context of Latin America particularly and the developing countries in general. Her opening remarks sums it all: “The Book of Qoheleth or Ecclesiastes has become timely again today, when horizons are closing in and the present becomes a hard master, demanding sacrifices and suppressing dreams.” (p. v). This reading thus makes sense to our days. When we are offered an utopia for our hard labour many of us would like to do hard work and sacrifice our own happiness. Creating wealth becomes of paramount importance but no one thinks of how one is going to enjoy it or whether it is secure. Many of the important aspects of life and human existence that we forget to ask is brought to focus by this biblical author and Tamez is able to relate it our times; since she sees a direct relationship between Ptolemaic empire and challenges of our own times. Tamez has not dealt with many of the critical questions that are so crucial to the particular reading. For example, the date of the book is considered to be in the Ptolemaic period, the second half of third century BC. However, though the main body of the book does not deal with such crucial questions the author is not unaware of them; she discusses them in notes. She is aware of the early Persian dating as well as the late second century dating, but concludes without any discussion that even an early Persian dating will not alter her reading of the text. But why did she chose a third century date over against the other possible dates is not explained? Does this mean that she has chosen a date that would facilitate a particular reading? If so it is sad and unfortunate. A similar lacunae is found in her conclusion that the entire work is framed by the almost identical statements found in 1:2 and 12:8. For this she has to consider that the work ends with 12:8. Though this is an important conclusion, Tamez does not seem to care to tell the reader her reasons for such a conclusion. The concluding section does offer a widened horizon, and future which is beyond the present. How did those who gave the final shape to this amazing book read reality? This is the dimension lacking from Tamez’s work. In her rereading of Ecclesiastes, Tamez takes the ideological position that the present frustrations are the result of free market economy. Unemployment, discriminations of all sorts, lack of solidarity, all these make us feel that the horizons are closed. Tamez believes that it is the ideology of capitalism that has caused the present frustration in our world. She thinks that capitalism discourage us to have hope in any other than the hope it offers. In other words, it crushes the utopian hopes. If so, does the alternative namely, socialism offer a widening horizon?. Or does frustration go away from human lives when we change our ideology? Tamez’s position would fail to answer these questions because the reason for human frustration and disappointment is elsewhere. However, this is by all means a great experiment in reading the books of the Old Testament to speak to the contemporary situations. This book is commendable not only as a new way of appropriating the message of an ancient book for our times but also as a methodological guide for our approach to Old Testament books.