- Methods for Exodus
The array of methodologies used in biblical studies in the twenty-first century can be daunting to serious students of the Hebrew Bible. The problem of diverse approaches is especially acute for Exodus, for it is among the most intensely examined biblical books. Dozeman's edited volume, part of a series intended to make the main interpretive strategies comprehensible to clergy, seminarians, and students as well as scholars, is thus a welcome addition to the vast literature on Exodus. As Dozeman explains in the introduction, Methods in Exodus (like the other books in this series on Methods in Biblical Interpretation) provides an accessible introduction to a select group of six methodologies. Although each of the book's six chapters focuses on one approach, the interplay of methods and the frequent need for multiple approaches is acknowledged and demonstrated. The methodologies examined in Chapters 1-3 focus on the production of biblical texts, whereas Chapters 4-6 focus on the reception of texts and the understanding that a reader's social location and life experience inevitably affect how a text is interpreted.
Until well into the twentieth century, historical-critical approaches seeking to establish the authorship and context of biblical passages and books dominated biblical scholarship. Only one of the chapters in this volume, Suzanne Boorer's "Source and Redaction Criticism" (Chapter 3), deals explicitly with those traditional methods. Boorer traces the development of these approaches since their origin in the seventeenth century and also considers their current iterations. Identifying the literary features of biblical texts figures prominently in Boorer's chapter and also in the methodologies described in the book's first two chapters. Dennis T. Olson's study of "Literary and Rhetorical Criticism" (Chapter 1) forms a useful starting point for examining the six methodologies and also for understanding Exodus. Olson reviews the history of literary and rhetorical criticism and then indicates how three text-centered approaches—constructive, deconstructive, and dialogical and rhetorical—are used to examine a text's literary characteristics in order to discover how they convey meaning. In the next chapter, on "Genre Criticism" (Chapter 2), Kenton L. Sparks explains how attention to genre, which developed from and improves the insights of form criticism, probes the nature, meaning, and significance of a text by comparing it to similar texts or traditions. Sparks also provide a summary of the insights of this approach for understanding each of the three main parts of Exodus: Chapters 1-18, 19-24, and 25-40. [End Page 218]
The experience of oppression informs "Liberation Criticism" (Chapter 4) according to Jorge Pixley, who traces the roots and current vitality of this approach to South American liberation theology. Pixley shows how current practitioners appropriate biblical texts that can give hope to marginalized groups, including women, and encourage them to resist oppressive regimes or policies. Reading the Bible from the perspective of women, who respond to the sexism of the text and its interpreters, is the focus of Naomi Steinberg's "Feminist Criticism" (Chapter 5). Steinberg highlights four of the many versions of this methodology in relation to their different social and political settings. The relation of "Postcolonial Criticism" (Chapter 6), which examines the many ways in which the unequal relations between colonizers and the colonized are manifest, to postcolonial theory is explained by Gale A. Yee. Postcolonial biblical studies are especially valuable, Yee suggests, in evaluating canon formation within the colonial context of Yehud.
In addition to describing a methodology, each contributor analyzes two passages—Exodus 1-2 and Exodus 19-20—to illustrate how the methodology functions. The results of these examples are too extensive and complex to be considered here, and a brief comment about each author's analysis of one of the passages must suffice. Olson's step-by-step rhetorical analysis of Exodus 1-2 identifies three narratives within those chapters and shows how a close literary reading can open up a myriad of interpretive possibilities. Sparks's consideration of the genres found in the covenant and theophany themes of...