The Demon Legion
By Obery Hendricks
An excerpt from “Guerilla Exegesis: ‘Struggle’ As A Scholarly Vocation,” Libertating Biblical Study (Cascade, 2011).
Guerrilla exegesis is transgressive. Irreverent. Asks questions: Silly Wabbit, how can the possessive demonic presence called “Legion” in Mark 5, the occupying presence tht wrought the bitter pathology of oppression in Mark’s community and sought to remain in possession of the country, not the man (v. 10), be anything but the Roman military?
Transgressive. Irreverent. Asks questions: Sister Liberation Theologian, how can Luke be the model liberation evangelist if he never critiques the oppressive social order that produced the poverty, misery, classism and marginalization tht he highlights? If he exculpates the Romans from their bloodlust? If in 23:8 he says that Herod was happy to see Jesus without explaining that Herod was happy for the opportunity to lynch yet another country boy?
Transgressive. Irreverent. Asks questions: Herr Doktor, if the Gospel of Mark’s primary intended audience is little people (Waetjen), why are its 41 occurrences of the Greek phrase kai euthus variously translated as “Forthwith, Immediately, Thereupon, Straightaway”, etc., rather than the consistent common narratorial segue of little folks: “and then… and den… and den…”? Would it sound too much like Their Eyes Were Watching God (Hurston), like Toni Morrison, like Langston Hughes, and not enough like William Shakespeare?
Transgressive. Asks questions: Professor Very Pius, if Jesus’ paradigmatic prayer (called the Lord’s Prayer) has as its paramount concerns bread for subsistence in a time of hunger, relief from debt when an unjust debt structure crushed the people underfoot, and the establishment of God’s sole sovereignty when the peoples’ misery was largely the by-product of Caesar’s imperial control, then why is the Lord’s Prayer not also called the Lord’s Paradigmatic Critique of Political Economy? The Lord’s Model of Social Analysis?
And this guerrilla exegesis. What is it? It is transgressive, a transgressive stance. Sometimes smooth quick deceptive with pin-point accuracy like Sugar Ray Robinson, sometimes bullish blunt straight-ahead like Joe Frazier. Eclectic. Sometimes ﬂoat like a butterﬂy, toe-to-toe in the center of the ring and rope-a-dope-ing all in the same round.
A bricolage thing. Using whatever means you have in hand to free the meanings struggling to be freed, even if those means reside outside the bounds of methodological conventionality, outside the bounds of the hegemonic OK. Not a methodology, guerrilla exegesis is a way of using methodologies. Not a methodology, but a consciousness. A consciousness that all methodologies are expressions of and in service to some ideology.
Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. Professor of Biblical Interpretation at NYTS is among the most widely read American biblical scholars writing in today. A life-long political activist, he is the former president of Payne Theological Seminary, the oldest African American theological institution in the United States, and author books and articles on the politics of the biblical Jesus. The Encyclopedia of Biblical Interpretation has called “Guerrilla Exegesis,” the boldest post-colonial writing ever seen in Western biblical studies.
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