Sunday, December 02, 2012

A Christmas Story

"Mary, quite big in her last month of pregnancy  was accompanied by over a dozen aunts and female cousins.  Joseph walked alone in front, followed by all of these women  who were chatting and giggling merrily about babies and 'motherly' things.

Nativity scene
A few minutes later the noisy entourage arrived in Bethlehem and were directed to the "sheep pen," crowded with sheep. Soon Mary started labor. Joseph paced nervously back and forth in front of the stable, while the women, several of them midwives, crowded around Mary to help deliver the baby. A short labor ensued, and soon the women all gave a high shrill vibrating cry—the typical Ethiopian joy cry that announces the birth of every child in Ethiopia. The spectators cheered, and the women in the crowd joined in the joy cry with the actors. Hearing the cry, Joseph ran into the sheep pen to see the newborn baby. Later, of course, the familiar shepherds came, followed by the wise men."

Sound familiar, sort of?

The above is part of a story about how one Ethiopian church presented a Christmas pageant not long ago. The not-totally-familiar Christmas pageant story appears in a textbook (Grasping God's Word) we are using at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM).  

You may be wondering about all the extra women.  They aren't in the Christmas story, are they?  No....they are not mentioned in the Biblical text.  But that does not mean they were NOT there.

The point of telling the story in this textbook is to help us understand what WE bring to the Biblical text.  For example all of us come with some "cultural lenses" whenever we read the Bible.  

The Ethiopian culture suggests that of course there are other women along with Mary on the trip to Bethlehem.  After all, who could expect a young first time father to help successfully deliver a baby?  And who among women would not ululate with joy at the birth of a child?

Those of us who have seen many American Christmas pageants come to the Biblical text with the cultural understanding that it was just Joseph, Mary and the donkey on the road to Bethlehem.  But just as there are no extra women in the Biblical text, there is also no donkey.  

The image illustrating this post contributes to faulty understanding of the text.  In this case, "Mary" has a typically European face, wears clothing more typical of a few hundred years ago, there is a cow, and so forth.

The reality is that probably neither the Ethiopian nor the American perspective is totally accurate, but I wonder if those Ethiopian believers may have been closer to the mark.

We all bring our "stuff" along with us when we read the Bible.  Duvall and Hays suggest four influences we bring as we read:

  • pre-understandings that come from experiences, hymns, art, literature, etc. that make us think we already understand the text
  • pre-forumulated theological agendas that make us look at the text merely to fill in the details of what we already believe 
  • familiarity that comes from reading the Bible often -- and makes us think we already understand the passages we read
  • culture is almost transparent to us as water is to a fish -- the fish doesn't notice it, and neither do we notice how our culture is projected into the reading process.

I was both dismayed and delighted to study this.  I was dismayed because I realized that I have been guilty of all four of the above flaws in my own Bible reading.   But I was also delighted because knowing these reading traps can help any of us read the Bible without falling into them.  

How about you?  What does reading this do to your thinking about how you read the Bible?  You can post a reply below.

No comments:

Post a Comment