Tending Scripture's Wounds: Suffering, Moral Formation, and the Bible

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2022

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Abstract

At times, scripture shocks and puzzles. How might Christians understand scripture’s aporia and its embeddedness in modes of domination? Confessional accounts often seek to reduce textual problems to misreading. Conversely, approaches that center oppression tend to find the text incorrigibly repressive. Few approaches imagine the text as both problematic and generative. This dissertation steers both the postliberal recovery of figural reading and the liberationist attention to context alike away from excessively theoretical construals of how reading ought to work, and toward biographical accounts of the skills, virtues, and pitfalls that attend struggles to read scripture well amid profound moral difficulties. Attending to three case studies of individuals reading the Bible under conditions of suffering and loss I ask: when Christians are wounded in their reading, how can scripture also form them well? In what follows I provide an account of the wounds of scripture and its readers. These include the wounds within scripture (painful passages, passages that contradict others) and the wounds that Christians inflict on others through destructive readings. Applying the language of wounds (with its full Christological connotation) to scripture permits Christians to take seriously the difficulty of the Bible alongside its endless capacity, by the Spirit, to heal and transform. I argue that scripture’s capacity to form well amid these wounds is a matter not so much of hermeneutical procedure but of embodied response. Thus, while my first chapter lays out a conceptual account of wounds in scripture and its readers, the succeeding chapters display three practical case studies of individual readers. I attend to apocalypticism through the life of Anna Jansz, a sixteenth-century Anabaptist martyr; the complex relationship between slavery and the Bible in the autobiography of the nineteenth-century emancipated preacher John Jea; and the pain of scriptural accounts of election in the writings of the contemporary Palestinian Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour. In all three cases the Spirit’s grace, manifest in biography and historical circumstance, tends to these wounds, bringing life out of death on the pattern of the wounds of Christ. This dissertation contributes to the field of scripture and ethics. Through attending to the enduring difficulty and redemptive possibility of scripture in the lives of particular readers, I hope to demonstrate that scripture’s difficulties cannot be resolved simply by hermeneutical procedure. Instead, reading scripture well requires the embodied response of a life.

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Hershberger, Nathan (2022). Tending Scripture's Wounds: Suffering, Moral Formation, and the Bible. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/25788.

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