Bible Readers’ Inventories

Many factors influence how we read any document, including — perhaps, especially — the Bible. Spending some time exploring factors that influence our own reading is an important and useful exercise. The complex, multi-faith territory of #ExploringBabylon is just one area in which a good grasp of one’s own filters can be clarifying.

Here are some resources to help in that effort.

1) Social Location

Over twenty years ago, Fortress Press, a Christian-oriented press in Minneapolis since 1962, published two volumes on “Social Location” and Bible hermeneutics:

Are some readings of the Bible more objective than others? More privileged? More true? How does one’s own life situation shape one’s reading of the text? What will acknowledgment of the validity of a variety of perspectives mean for historical-critical methods of interpretation?

The first volume included a “self-inventory” developed by faculty and students of Christian seminaries.

Gottwald, N.K. “Framing Biblical Interpretation at New York Theological Seminary: A Student Self-Inventory on Biblical Hermeneutics.” Reading from This Place, Vol. 1: Social Location and Biblical Interpretation in the United States. F. F. Segovia and Mary Ann Tolbert, eds. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995. 256-261. (On-line source here.)

Of particular note for the purposes of this blog and #ExploringBabylon:

What is my view of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity? To what extent is my view informed by direct experience of Jews or Jewish communities? How does my view affect my understanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments and my understanding of the religious identity of Jesus, Paul, and other central figures in the New Testament.

2) Diversity and Social Location

Decades later, the same press issued The Peoples’ Companion to the Bible, designed to help readers both “formulate their own social location as a key to understanding the Bible and its import for them” and “reclaim the Bible as a multicultural, dialogical, and living tradition.” As part of the latter effort, the book includes a self-inventory, updated but quite similar to the previous one, also intended for Christians, primarily students.

“A Self-Inventory for Bible Readers.” Peoples’ Companion to the Bible. DeYoung, Gafney, etal., eds. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010, xxix-xxxii. (Related resources and link to download “Introduction,” which includes the self-inventory, at Peoples’ Companion page.)

In the 2010 version, the question on Judaism is gone, and this one has been added:

Your religious community. If you identify yourself now with a particular religious community, how would you describe the way the Bible is understood and read (if it is) in that community? What is the cultural or racial makeup of your religious community? Is a diversity of people an important value in your religious community? Does this affect the way the Bible is understood?

3) A Different Location

The self-inventories cited above are powerful and useful tools. They are designed explicitly for Christians, however.

On the face of it, Jews and Christians share some sacred text. Our approaches to that text, and the overall context in which we read, differs enormously, however. In addition, Jewish and Christian religious communities are organized differently, so Bible-reading influences will reflect different sets of dynamics.

This blog failed to find a parallel instrument for Jewish readers of the Bible. If anyone knows of such a source, PLEASE share it! Meanwhile, here is a draft effort, “Jews’ Self-Inventory for Bible Readers DRAFT.”

The “Customary Exposure” question, for example, has been adapted for Jewish readers:

How do you usually encounter the Bible, if at all, today?

Through the Torah and Haftarah [weekly prophetic] readings, and any related commentary, during services? Through weekly commentaries/dvrei torah [words of Torah]? Group study, in- or outside of religious services, on the weekly Torah and Haftarah?

Do you recite or study psalms through the prayerbook? outside the prayerbook? Do you study from other Writings or the Prophets?…

Here is Self-Inventory DRAFT in PDF. It is also posted on for sharing in that forum.

Comments and suggestions from those willing to test-drive this inventory are most welcome.

The Hebrew Bible (Greenspan)

The Hebrew Bible: New Insights and Scholarship. Jewish Studies in the Twenty-First Century. Greenspan, Frederick E., ed. (NY: NYU Press, 2008)

“There has been a veritable revolution, and possibly more than one, in biblical studies over the past generation….questions have led to a dramatic reexamination of the very nature of the biblical account, including both its literary quality and the ideas expressed in it.

“These challenges did not emerge in a vacuum. The concerns they raise reflect issues that plague our society as a whole….

“Meanwhile the fact that the Bible plays a significant role in several quite different communities forces those studying it (at least to the extent that they interact) to think about how it is treated in each tradition. And so the Bible’s role within religious communities has itself become a topic of inquiry as much for those within such communities as for those outside them.

“The goal of this book is to share these conversations, which have been going on in academic circles for decades, with a larger audience.”
— from the preface

Extra Note: The volume I’m reading comes from the library of Max Ticktin, z”l, and includes some of his pencil notes — which create a bit of on-going, if cryptic, counsel. I am grateful to Max (1922-2016), who retired from teaching Yiddish and Hebrew literature in 2014, for all he taught so many of us in- and outside the university. I miss him every day that I struggle through this project.