Friday, April 01, 2005

a book review

This from one of my seminary's periodicals:

Review: Queer Commentary

Ken Stone, editor, Queer Commentary and the Hebrew Bible, The Pilgrim Press, 2001, paperback, ISBN 0829814477, $28.00.

Reviewed by Alicia Brooks

Queer Commentary and the Hebrew Bible, a collection edited by Ken Stone, is a welcome addition to scholarship on sexuality and scripture. in this volume, Stone and his contributors forego the weel-worn question of whether or not the Bible permits homosexuality. Instead, they unapologetically explore hte possibilities of queer theory as a tool for scriptural interpretation.

In this excellent introduction, Stone concisely surveys the history adn definistion(s) of "queer theory," highlighting foundational works as well as key debates within the field. He also addresses the history and politics of biblical commentaries and recent developments in the field of biblical studies. Stone does a thorough job of addressing potential knowledge gaps in his two main audiences: students of the Bible and students of queer theory. Both receive an accessible but sophisticated introduction to the less familiar field. Stone concludes his introduction by raising question about what it means to interpret scripture through the lens of queer theory, which the contributors take up in detail in their essays.

Seven essays, differing widely in style and subject matter, make up the body of the collection. Each delivers on the book's promise to be unapologetic, displaying boldness in both form and content. These authhors are not dabbling in queer theory; they dive in wholeheartedly.

Even the most "traditional" scholarly essays here exhibit the experimentation with form characteristic of queer theory. For example, several authors come out as queer within their essays, revealing personal experiences and / or motivations, which drew them to their subject matter. Many essays have provocative titles, such as Lori Rowlett's "Violent Femmes and S/M: Queering Samson and Delilah." Roland Boer and Timothy Koch make the farthest leaps in style and theme. Boer writes his essay as an imaginary (and racy) dialogue on the topic of sadomasochism, which takes place between YHWH, Moses, and secular thinkers such as Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan on top of Mount Sinai. Koch hilariously satirizes apologetic approaches to the Bible used to combat homophobia, such as "the 'Jesus is Love' Trump Card," before proposing his own "cruising" methodology for approaching scripture.

These essays feature many eyebrow-raising themes. One is the sexualiity of YHWH. In my favorite essay, Theodore Jennings explores the homoeroticism of YHWH's relationships with Saul and David, by drawing on Greek and Japanese texts about homosexual love between warriors. Another theme is the authority (or lack thereof) of scripture. In vastly different styles, Koch, Michael Cardin, and Mona West all argue for the authority of queer readers to make demands of scripture, adapting it to fit their experiences. Sadomasochism is a persistent theme, taken up in varying depths by Jennings, Boer, Rowlett, and Koch.

At times, the reader wonders whether these authors are pushing the envelope too far. Stone takes a step to answer this critique by concluding the book with three different responses to the book itself, a commentary within a commentary. Like Stone's introduction, these responses are as interesting as the essays themselves, and their inclusion gives the collection a moderating balance. Tat-Siong Bennew Liew discusses the give-and-take between Bilical studies and queer theory, observing that Biblical scholars use queer theory to pose questions to the bible, but seem reluctant to use the bible to pose questions to queer theory. Daniel Spencer analyzes the essays as examples of a liberationist hermeneutic, evaluating their potential impact on social justice struggles. Laurel Schneider raises insightful questions regarding gender issues within texts, debates about scriptural authority, and the role that the authors' desire for an affirming deity plays in their scriptural interpretations. In her response Scneider writes, "queer biblical theology... is an odd place of formation." Schneider's comment captures a sense that is evident throughout Queer Commentary and the Hebrew Bible that queer theory approaches to the Bible are in an early stage of development. Like an adolescent, these essays are at turns both tentative and reckless. The contributors are consciously experimenting, and they inevitably make mistakes. these mistakes may turn off some readers, particularly those who are already skeptical about queer theory as an approach to biblical interpretation. This is unfortunate. Even if one questions some of the interpretive moves in these essays, the book still raises important and interesting questions about interpretation itself. Despite its flaws, this collection proves that there is much fruitful work to be done by bringing queer theory into conversation with biblical studies. I hope that it will inspire future scholars to pursue that work.


VIckie said...


I think you should make a point of clarification for all your bloggers. The publication comes from our "divinity school" and not our "seminary." I say this for two reasons. First, we can hope and pray that one of our seminaries would not waste the ink for such a thing. Second, if this is what the Div. school is publishing, which at times can be more orthodox than our seminary, then God knows what we are capable of publishing.

Anonymous said...

See, the whole idea of posting something like that without comment to essentially show how nutty and wrong it is doesn't work well when you've got a crazy commie pinko like me reading your blog. I'm actually thinking about reading that book now.

Pax Christi,


Anonymous said...

Hi Will,

I didn't even know the bookstore published anything. I thought they tried to rip us off by offering special memberships. Thank God YHWH is a capitalist, he created to ensure brutal competition in the marketplace.

BTW, I wish I was at St. Patrick's in NYC. Almost called you and Heath, and maybe even Rennier to go. Have to work on pastoral paper instead. :(