A Lesson on Cultural Perspectives in “Misreading Scripture through Western Eyes”

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Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible, written by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien drew my attention while I was searching for books on Audible. Since I hold an M.A. in English and undergrad minors in religion and anthropology, this book drew my attention more than most non-fiction books ever do. The cover summary talked about how Joseph would have chosen the very end of Mary’s pregnancy to travel for his census because that would be when all his extended family were making the journey together. The birth of Jesus would have been attended by many more people than just livestock, but rather everyone in Joseph’s and Mary’s two families. The blurb mentions two other specific misconceptions we from the West often hold. First, when Paul commands women to dress modestly, our minds tend to jump to sexual modesty, but Paul would have been concerned about not flaunting one’s wealth to take advantage of the poorer members of the church body. Finally, readers may recall that Aaron and Miriam complained that Moses had married a Cushite who thus would have been black. In today’s Western world, we tend to conclude that they are unhappy that Moses married beneath him, but in his era, the Hebrews were the slaves, the lowest class of society. Thus Moses married above himself, not beneath.

I had expected more discussions of Bible stories and how the world in which they were written would tend to view the story, in opposition to the way contemporary Western audiences would read them. However, the book behaved more as a form of a lectures on cultural dichotomies, such as focus on time vs. focus on events, or honor-based societies. These events connect to certain Bible stories, but I would have preferred much more use of similar stories to illustrate the point more effectively. If I want to understand how other cultures think, I’ll pick up an anthropology text.

This book had admirable cultural lessons we all can learn, for example the way students in Indonesia left their answers blank in a multiple choice exam because if they had guessed, they might have inadvertently gotten the answer correct and thus lied that they knew more than they did. Another lesson comes from the church that was reluctant to accept as members a married couple who had been worshipping with them for ten years for having committed a grievous sin that drove them out of their hometown. What sin? They eloped, thus breaking the fifth commandment’s telling children to honor their parents.

Many of the lessons of this book relate to cultural thought patterns and worldview. It addresses concerns over honor and shame and other types of cultural differences among the human race.

Allen Robertson reads the narration of this book. His pronunciations of names and places in the Bible do not match any I have heard used before. It might be possible that he is using a purer pronunciation based upon the Hebrew or Greek, but I somehow doubt that and instead think that he is reading words unfamiliar to him despite their being familiar to those who been schooled in the Bible all their lives. If this is the case, then the publisher needs to do a better job of vetting its readers to make sure they already know how to pronounce words common enough in biblical scholarship.

I personally would have liked a lot more material on how people of Jesus’ day would have interpreted what he said it how Paul’s letters would have been received by the Gentle community to which he was minister. For those who want to learn more about different ways that people of different cultures see things, I highly recommend Ministering Cross-Culturally by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers. Because of my disappointment in the promoted content opposed to the actual content, I felt cheated but this book. If the publisher were to repackage the book to more accurately describe its actual content, I would consider the book to be more effective. As it stands, I give it three stars.

To purchase this book for yourself, click here on Amazon.

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