Relearning to Read | Sojourners

Relearning to Read

"Truth Speaks to Power: The Countercultural Nature of Scripture"

DREAMS CAN serve a powerful purpose. Jacob dreamed a ladder and was renamed Israel. Joseph dreamed the sun and moon and stars and was sold into slavery. The magi dreamed a warning and returned home by way of another road.

Years ago I had a dream. I sat, a child, on a dirt floor. Around me paced a horse, saddled, ready. In front stood an immense door, cathedral-tall and brooding. And though open, the space within was dark. I was holding a light. And in the dream, I knew we were to bring light into that darkness. And the darkness—the darkness was the church.

In Truth Speaks to Power: The Countercultural Nature of Scripture, Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, bears light to the exegetical (seminary lingo for interpretive) work and examination of the interplay between truth and power found in both familiar and less familiar narratives of Old Testament scripture. Rigorous in content, the read is nevertheless accessible to scholar and novice alike.

Brueggemann's concern with the interplay of truth and power rests on the observation that far too often truth, even biblical truth, is found colluding with and legitimizing the self-serving and self-preserving agenda of totalistic and monopolizing authorities. To use biblical imagery, truth sides with the Pharaohs and the Solomons of the world and not with those on its margins and periphery.

The first two chapters draw on Brueggemann's impressive scholarship of Old Testament text and narrative to paint a disconcerting picture where not only are the bad guys truly bad, the good guys aren't any better. Take Joseph, the Technicolor-dreamer-slave become all-powerful-vizier (think prime minister) of Egypt. It is Joseph's land acquisition scheme, strategically implemented amid drought and famine, that results in Pharaoh controlling most of Egypt's wealth. It is Joseph who creates a permanent peasant underclass—the very class that will cry out for liberation from the injustice of having to bake bricks with no straw. And Solomon—well, you know something's gone terribly amiss when your empire accumulates "six hundred sixty-six talents of gold" (1 Kings 10:14) each year. If you don't see the editorial subtext, write it out numerically. Ouch!

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