— Share ways in which you have noticed the content, questions or insights from the previous Module showing up in your lives.
Yesterday evening* during a Sunday School class I was leading, one participant put forward a reading that was incompatible with the one I had put forward. The specifics are immaterial to us here (I believe), but I’ll mention them so as not to burden my story with too much abstraction. I read the second half of Genesis 25 aloud and had Esau sounding quite gruff and demanding when he asked his brother to feed him some of the red red stuff. My aunt, however, suggested that Esau truly was famished (as the narrative voice says in the preceding verse) and that Esau was not being obnoxious or insensitive (as I had him sounding)—but that he really was at death’s door. I responded to my aunt with skepticism and referenced a translator of this passage who has remarked that the word for ‘feed’ is only ever used to refer to animals being fed—and never to humans reclining at mealtime.
After class, I realized that my “argument” wasn’t all that strong; I had merely cobbled together some factoids from Robert Alter and Brown Driver Briggs and then presented them in close proximity to a “conclusion” that wasn’t actually an entailment. As far as this Hebrew dilettante can say, the peculiarities of the trilateral root l-‘-T don’t preclude my aunt’s reading. Perhaps conjuring the imagery of a domesticated animal in need of sustenance was precisely how Esau chose to express the extremely dire straits his hunger was guiding him toward, i.e. Esau’s looming death from malnutrition was making him more instinctual and animalistic than human—and Esau knew it! If this were the case, Esau is using the most appropriate word. I don’t know enough Hebrew use vocabulary to choose between my aunt’s reading and mine, and I shouldn’t have made it sound AS IF I DID during the class. I told this to my aunt immediately afterwards and plan to make it a topic of discussion during our next class.
If I insist on winning an argument over two incompatible readings of a passage, then I risk transforming the text into a tool by which to undermine an opponent. If I dismiss her reading out right, without a sound argument to do so, then I’m no longer reading the text—I attempting to wield the text for some aggressive purpose. If I were to dominate the role of interpreter and force-feed my position to listeners (who should ‘only speak’ when they confirm my position), one might start to wonder why the class needs to be there at all!
In short, I can’t read scripture by myself. When I pretend that I can, I’m no longer reading scripture.
*I wrote the first draft of this about a month ago, that’s why “yesterday evening” was a Sunday. The next week, my aunt was off listening to her granddaughter play the cello, and no one else in the class even remembered our exchange concerning Esau’s state of nutrition. I tried to refresh the discussion, but people’s eyes were glazing over. It’s difficult enough to present an audience with a position that is incompatible with their own in a non-threatening manner so that the tension is not felt as a danger; it’s nearly impossible to present the tension between two incompatible positions as palpable when the audience doesn’t really give a hoot one way or the other. So, unfortunately, I don’t think I managed to hit home the full force of what it means to say “I can’t read scripture by myself” for my Sunday School class. Hopefully it fares better in this discussion forum.