Monday, December 10, 2012

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by Richards & O'Brien

book cover
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes:
Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible
by E. Randolph Richards
and Brandon J. O'Brien

ISBN-13: 9780830837823
Trade Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: IVP Books
Released: November 5, 2012

Source: Bought through Amazon.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
What was clear to the original readers of Scripture is not always clear to us. Because of the cultural distance between the biblical world and our contemporary setting, we often bring modern Western biases to the text.

For example: When Western readers hear Paul exhorting women to "dress modestly," we automatically think in terms of sexual modesty. But most women in that culture would never wear racy clothing. The context suggests that Paul is likely more concerned about economic modesty--that Christian women not flaunt their wealth through expensive clothes, braided hair and gold jewelry.

Biblical scholars Brandon O'Brien and Randy Richards shed light on the ways that Western readers often misunderstand the cultural dynamics of the Bible. Drawing on their own crosscultural experience in global mission, O'Brien and Richards show how better self-awareness and understanding of cultural differences in language, time and social mores allow us to see the Bible in fresh and unexpected ways.

My Review:
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes is a book about some cultural differences between the "East" and "West" and how this might help us to better understand the true social dynamics going on in the Bible.

They covered topics such as "bad" words, sexual taboos, how money is viewed, what things are eaten as food, ones view of people from different parts of the world or with different skin color, how Hebrew and Greek don't always easily translate into English, the use of idioms, a focus on efficiency versus focus on the human element, the individual making decisions based first on his own desires versus based on the advice of the extended family or village, honor and shame compared to right versus wrong, views of time, that rules should always apply versus rules are good guidelines but have exceptions, patron and client relationships, what a culture values as a virtue or calls a vice, and applying "Bible promises" outside of the original context.

The authors avoided going through the Bible to identify all the major instances of the idea they were talking about. Instead, they hoped the reader would understand the concept and be able to recognize and apply it as they found it in their Bible reading. I've heard many of these concepts in other books, but none of those books went very in-depth.

In this book, the authors did an awesome job of clarifying some concepts that I'd read about before. For example, they did a great job explaining the patron-client relationship. Occasionally, though, I wasn't sure that the authors' take on a verse was correct, but I also wasn't always sure that I fully understood the idea they were trying to apply. Or I could see how it applied in the examples that they gave, but I didn't feel like I could accurately identify or apply the concept while reading other passages in the Bible. I plan to re-read the book and see if that helps solidify some of these ideas.

Overall, I'm glad I read this book. It did bring out some good points about cultural blind spots. But I think I'd only recommend it to people who are fairly familiar with the whole Bible and have already done some study of the Bible-times cultures. The authors tended to refer to Bible events--from both Old and New Testaments--as if the reader was fully familiar with the story as told in the Bible, and it was also easier to understand the point the authors were making if you could think of some other examples that their point might apply to in the Bible.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

No comments: