A book review

I wrote this review for a course I’ll teach this fall. The body of the review appears below the fold.

González, Justo L. 1996. Santa Biblia: The Bible Through Hispanic Eyes. Abingdon: Nashville. 123 pages.

This brief and readable book combines cultural anthropology, hermeneutics, theology, and personal reflection to explain how Hispanic Christians read the Bible. Born and raised a Methodist in pre-revolutionary Cuba (21), González became an influential voice among Hispanic-American Protestants. The present book comes out of the Hispanic Instructors Program at Perkins School of Theology (7).

González identifies five aspects of life experience that color Hispanic-Americans’ understanding of Scripture, each aspect taking up one chapter in the book: marginality, poverty, “mestizaje and mulatez,” their sense of alienness and exile, and solidarity. Mestizaje and mulatez refer to Hispanic people’s mixed race, the former referring to mestizos, people of mixed European and Native American ancestry, and latter referring to “mulattos,” people of mixed African and Native American ancestry (77). González uses the terms to refer not only to mixed race but, more importantly, to mixed culture.

In the chapters on marginality, poverty, and alienation, it becomes clear that by “Hispanic” González means Hispanic-American. The book sheds little light on how Chileans who live in Chile, or Cubans who live in Cuba, might understand the Bible. Instead, the writer describes the experience of Hispanic people who live in the United States of America: both immigrants and those the majority culture might perceive as immigrants, including people whose ancestors lived on land that became American soil only later.

González’s approach produces some useful insights into Scripture. He debunks the idea that Saul of Tarsus became Paul the Apostle at his conversion, noting that the book of Acts begins calling him Paul during the description of his Gentile mission (80-81). Further, he emphasizes Paul’s bi-cultural identity and connects it with the changing of the church from a Jewish to a universal phenomenon (84; emphasis in the original):

To me all of this is a cue that Paul can do what he does because he is a cultural mestizo; and that the entire book of Acts can be read as the progressive mestizaje of the church; and that the process and the goal of Christian mission may be interpreted as the progressive mestizaje of the church and the faith.

Similar treatments of the biblical stories of Esther (89-90) and Ruth (97-98) emphasize themes of alienness, exile, and the temptation to “sell out.”

González moves right up to the edge of controversy in certain areas of politics and biblical interpretation. Although he calls the Mexican-American war of 1846-48 “arguably the most unjustifiable, unjust, and despicable war this nation has ever waged,” and he reminds us that “the border was established by force” (86), he does not suggest what the American government ought to do now. Such reticence seems appropriate for a book on biblical interpretation, but one wonders what he really thinks.

In a similar way, González holds the stories of Israel’s conquest of Canaan at arms’ length, citing Francisco García-Treto’s argument that casts doubt on the complete accuracy of the Deuteronomic history (87-89). This approach might have offended evangelical readers if González had said it more bluntly.

This book seems suitable for upper-division courses in biblical interpretation, cross-cultural communication, and Hispanic studies. The writer makes his points clearly and sympathetically, drawing the reader in to his point of view.

Carl Bridges

Johnson University

 

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2 Responses to “A book review”

  1. Steven johnson Says:

    I get the impression of personal bias being expressed by the writer,maybe expressing his own world view of Hispanic oppression as an excuse not to see the scriptures in a pure light for what they are. Do you get any impression along those lines?

  2. cbridges6159 Says:

    Steve, I don’t get that impression of González’s approach. He tells the reader how various Bible passages look from his perspective, while acknowledging other perspectives–and acknowledging what I would call the God’s-eye view of them. He acknowledges the “pure light for what [the Scriptures] are” by using the metaphor of a scenic view. The rivers and trees and fields are what they are, but they look a bit different depending on where one stands, just as Scripture says what it says, but our different (human, fallible) viewpoints lead us to see somewhat different things.

    One point of his that I left out of the review: He says that “Hispanic eyes” see mostly the same things in Scripture that any other believing, fair-minded reader will see. The differences lie at the margins. For example, in Jesus’ story of the lost coin everyone can see the main point that the angels rejoice when anyone repents. But people living in poverty can identify more with the woman whose loss means more to her than it would mean to the affluent.

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