Baseline

This post concludes the series devoted to the congruence of philosophy and the West, and the implication this had had on the study of the Bible and its place in peoples’ lives

In the previous post (Consult the Book of Armaments!), we examined the difficulties of biblical interpretation. Historically, much ink was used within Christendom in defending one “school” over another, but in any event, we ended up in the 20th and 21st centuries with a tendency to use the Bible as a manual of sorts, especially as a map to the end-times.

So, what is a good place to begin in getting back to the roots, that is, the field of vision? Well, this word Christendom is a great starting point.

In his The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, the late political scientist Samuel Huntington presented a series of maps showing the influence of the West throughout history. Guess what? The maps show the influence of the West (the book was written in the 1990s) waning. Yes, by the late 1990s the influence was smaller and smaller, which was odd considering how far and wide the reach of the West has been.

After all, ever since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the West claimed ideological lineage with the ancient societies of Greece and Rome. Classical studies abounded. Archeology, the nexus between academia and a civilization’s physical historical memory, also came out of the West.

And with all this came cultural appropriation through war and colonialism (honest question — how many of the items in the British Museum were actually made in England?).

But, alas, in a more recent time, March 2003, the same historical mechanism was at work. The Fall of Baghdad to American forces led to an event that occupied, interestingly, the news cycle for several days — the looting of the Baghdad Museum, and with it, the disappearance from Mesopotamia, of the historical cultural artifacts thousands of years old. See here for a reality check.

The Scriptures, which are Semitic documents, also became a part of the Western intellectual tradition by cultural appropriation as well. It is not so much that original manuscripts disappeared — there are not many to be found! — but that the Bible came to be seen as western document. Its interpretation in the modern world (post 1500) was done primarily by Western scholars; the publication of the Bible into different languages by the West; and as Christendom approached non-Christian peoples, the Bible was always “there.”

So, a work of literature can still be stolen if it is appropriated as a cultural weapon of sorts, as if one culture or civilization claims exclusive rights to it.

So what is the solution to this? Well, we need to establish a baseline. For one, the people of the Middle East are perfectly capable of preserving their own artifacts. The second, relative to Scripture, is that we need to recognize the Bible as an ancient Near Eastern/eastern Mediterranean literature. It is not the cultural property of anyone outside the region that produced it.

The Bible ought to be restored to where it belongs, and from where it grew, the Middle East. It doesn’t belong to us. It is given to us so that we learn not to appropriate its riches. And it is a message for every culture, civilization, and peoples to walk hearing the voice of the Scriptural God. Blessed are those civilizations that come to see the Scriptures in this way.

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