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TEXTS

DON'T

HAVE

IDEOLOGIES

STEPHEN

FOWL

LoyolaCollege in Maryland

Over

other

Of

the last

to become

fifteen

an

where

years "ideological

practice

criticism"

the

of the

academy

Bible

has

It has

within

grown

provided

and

wide

operating

a

school

a

Bible

ogy.

claim

observation

in-

terests.

drocentrism

has

are

recognition of the ideological nature of all interpretation has lead in-

evitably cal text. "3 3

of the bibli-

in

aimed

accepted

parties

a

site

feminists,

have

the

Marxists,

been

able

and

variety

reading

to speak in this essay

of

"ideological or a biblical

liberation

to engage

theologians in a discussion

interests

or

interested

largely

at displaying

the

of competing

of the

in both

production

be unwise

Bible.

course,

it would

of it as a movement

I would

of thought.

within

Nevertheless,

certain

like to examine

of

the

an ideol-

the

initial

scholarly

them

an-

is

a

tendency

types as if the Bible

a biblical

Rather,

produced

criticism"

had

to talk or write

The

claim

made

that

passage

text has an ideology

it usually

the

stems

biblical

social

be

said

is rarely

from

texts

the

by a scholar.

that

those

of their

own

not

who

shaped

the light

economic,

ethnic,

for

it to

people

an

following

or gender

that

the

based

It is then

of

or

it.

uncommon

of

the

in

the

text

the

racism,

the

text

neat

elitism

Hence,

who

produced

property

nicely

ideology.2

comment:

These

"The

nature

steps

summarized

growing

to the acknowledgement

of the ideological

Ihave

2

This

1

no

great

stake in this chronological scale. Clearly,

as

ideological

type

criticism

have

enterprise

of critical

Tribes

long

the types of critical

precedents.

pub-

1979).

work now regarded

Nevertheless,

lication of Norman Gottwald's

historical

interest in this

took a new step with the

Orbis,

of Yahweh (Maryknoll:

by Itumeleng

sites of

and

tendency is succinctly

texts,

"as

summarized

Mosala when he claims

social, historical, cultural bear the marks

of the Bible as the Word of God

Black Theology in South Africa[Grand

Sandra Schneiders talks

that the biblical racial and

gender

of their

conceals this

Rapids:

about

Collins,

is ideologically

products, records and

radically

aura

ideological

See also how

women"

Parameters

ideological struggles

The

indelibly

origins and history.

3

reality"

Eerdmans,

the "ideology

1991) esp.

biased

See Gerald West, "Some

(Biblical Hermeneuticsand

1989], p. 20).

in that

text"

against

easily

in The

pp. 120-21 and ch. 7, which notes that

Revelatory Text (San

(p.

181

passim).

Francisco:

Harper

"the biblical text itself

of the Hermeneutic Debate in the South

16

This

of the

range

history

that

for

I hope

ideologies,

gant,

texts

that

to

essay will take issue Bible

of conceptual

with

this approach,

an ideology fails to take

not

have

I must

that

texts

does

insists

a whole

us

Further,

to

about

how

texts

arguing

that

speaking

a whole

varied

noting

nor,

What

have

inele-

idea

the

by

(or

any

text)

as having

and

introduces

seriously

however,

confusions

interpretation.

demonstrate

reasons,

is

to

show

that

that

then

one

also

of Bible

begin,

do not have

I can neither

the

same

do

ideologies,

a text

if one

has

will

a meaning.4 as if texts

of other

the

on talking

range

think

the

to hold

positions.

awkward

texts

have

ways

and

practices

or incoherent

ideologies

about

social

dropping

one

(especially

allow

texts,

and

in

clearer

r e l a t i o n s h i p s

relationships

more

be-

might

alter

the

biblical

productive

tween

social

particular

practices

about

underwritten

by particular

texts).

Eliminating

the Ideology of the Text

Thinking

us

that

to think

texts

of ideology

have ideologies,

or that

texts

have meanings,

a text.

an author

leads

text

serts,

meanings,

or

This

or meaning

stable

element

(choose

of the

from

critic

it.5 5

your

it

is they

of meaning,

question.

as properties

into

metaphor)

which

is to

dig

of

The

in-

and

is viewed

hides

or

distill

and

these

way

agree

expedition

as a relatively

dissolves

ideologies

out,

the

task

or reader

texts

uncover

properties

of thinking/talking

on what

about

are

however,

works

arise

throwing

history

pretty

for when

well as long

they

mine

a

ques-

of any

criticism

as people

text for its meaning. Problems,

tions the very difinition into

mining

looking

thus

when

someone

object

the

As the

of literary

African Context,

only

this view, but because he is one of the most

tors on these matters. See his BiblicalHermeneutics of Liberation

Cluster

original.

Journal of Theology

in

because of the clarity with which he has related

for Southern Africa 80

(1992), p.

4, emphasis

I cite West here not

1991).

elsewhere,

theoretically sophisticated commenta-

(Pietermaritzburg:

Stout, that our critical work,

par-

confused

or What's Left over

in

Publications,

4 I have argued

our

notions of textual

after the Elimination

(eds.),

379-98.

that

ticularly

following Jeffrey

See "The Ethics

in D.J.A.

critical disagreements,

meaning.

of

would be better served by eliminating

of Interpretation,

Clines,

S.E.

Meaning,"

Fowl and S.E. Porter

1990), pp.

TheBiblein ThreeDimensions (JSOTS,

The argument in the present

essay.

is

5 It

interesting

that

many

87; Sheffield: JSOT Press,

essay is formally similar to the argument

of those who have claimed that texts have ideolo-

gies would never be as unsophisticated as to claim that the same text has a meaning.

17

has

something

text?"

happen.

lengthy,

designed

of

question

meaning

cause

is the

shown,

someone

for

like

the

all hell

On

the

one

but

to show

may begging of a text. will

point

at

decree

coming

assent,

can

texts

one

lay

This

has

author's

only

to

ask,

for

count

example,

as

points

be

the

"Why

meaning

should

of

a

things

outpouring

may

of

polemic

meaning

equally

the

be-

which

intention

to break

hand,

loose.

there

question

author's

provoke

claiming

responses

some

At

will probably

such

several

an

ultimately

that

the

well

polemic

These

presuppose

issue.

some

critics

arbitrarily

under

leave

simply

having

interests

claim

to advocate

is

to

with talking

even

so than

happy

begging,

intention

equally

that

philosophical

really

is the

a text.

impassioned

something

and

else is really begging,

will all be question

to

notion

of textual

might

meaning

institutional

exercise

that

the

town

or

change

be

the

meanings

one

producing

a similar

put

they

very

meaning,

their

authorial

of such

is, one

Alternatively,

and

Those

either

Finally,

institutional

inten-

critics

power

tion.

must

equals

control

That

crushed.

subject.

can

stop

are

no one

Ulti-

ideolo-

talking

number

interest

mately,

gy.

about

I want

 

and

recognize

that

 

can

bring

to

a text,

but

 

the

meaning

of

 

stance

towards

texts

the

cart

before

the

horse.

about

a text

having

an

though

"ideology,"

while

meaning.

That

is,

I suspect

with

a working attitudes, to a whole I have

ended

definition

open

Some

there

that

a text.6

a

of critical

can

and

This,

The

however,

problems

This

is probably

in certain

as wide

ideology

are

of

analogous.

word,

us would be relatively

as a consensual

is related

cal, and material artifacts and practices. in this definition

to get

receive greater agreement.

is true

less

collection

a slippery

most

of ideology

of beliefs,

ways

it

as

and

convictions

that

range

of social,

politi-

no great

investment

as possible

other

however,

definition

it will

in order

might

be

less

specifiable

and

have

left

an agreement

as possible.

It

is doubtful,

Those familiar with Jeffrey New Lit. Hist. 14

this formulation of the matter.

6

Stout's essay, "What Is the Meaning of a Text?,"

112, will recognize that I am indebted to him for

(1982), pp.

7 Gerald West has

nicely

articulated the two main

to the

Ideological

in which

ideology is

Joseph

of

used in biblical studies in an essay entitled "The Presence of Power in the

Story"

Biblical Literature's

indebted to Marx), ideology

plified by Mannheim,

is more

ways

(a paper presented

annual

and

Criticism Section at the

City,

1991).

Society On one view

meeting

is a form of falseconsciousness. The other view, exem-

(largely

in Kansas

similar to the view outlined above, holds that

ideology

like a conceptual framework. As will become clear from the argument

18

open

definition

fractious,

ideology,

is.

ended.

As with

a definition

the

and,

less

of textual

agreement

meaning,

there

the

be.

tighter

The

our

to adopt

about

to

the

the

more

of

of ideology,

competing

will

ultimately,

question

begging

the ideology

views

of a text

the

the

the less likely

turns

out

to be

we are

the

to agree

case,

then

on what

we really

other

ways

making

the

ought

to

talk

recourse

general

able

to reach

Such

an

between

of ideology

ideology

will become.

be pressed

In

If this

strategy

advocated

above

and

things

we

are

interested

in

"ideology."

 

For

the

sake

of this

paper,

and

tioned

above,

let

us

imagine

that

find

without

agreement

however,

us

ideologies.

find

property

this

service

that

to

over

does

some

definition

that

on

with

presses

our

not

entail

attention

even

more

over

many

one

the

focus

that

In fact,

the

of a text,

is because

talk

of

so

about

strained,

with

resulting

regard

term

men-

given

comments

It simply

we are

of ideology.

widespread

achievement,

allows

and

we will

a

the

texts

the

have ideologies.

relationships

definition

issue

of an

talk

texts

an agreed

on

the

such

being

less suitable

short,

into

ideologies8

its interpretive

varied

and

having

alternatives

an

life a text

can

potentially

conflicting

ideology

will become

similar

to those

a text

in

increasingly

out

above

I laid

to meaning.

A Case Study: Abraham

as Marker

of Belonging

Let

me

further

as

it was

explain

read

what

at various

I mean

stages

account.

account.

shape

by

looking

at

story

will

brief

and

such

notion

the

of

Abraham

means

at

ous

ings should illustrate the conceptual texts have

in history.

This

this

read

shaped

with

by

the

by no

be a comprehensive

of ways

Nevertheless

story

has been

are

difficulty

and

glimpse

the vari-

read-

that

the variety

ideological

the Abraham

which

interests

ideologies.

According

to our

tially

ment

was

within

a discrete

what

best

scholarly

ancestral

came

to

be

story

the

guess,

was

confederation

the

story

of Abraham

by

one

ini-

seg-

which

favored

of Israelite

tribes.

below, I

to make the notion of texts

do not think any further refinements in one's view of ideology are likely

having ideologies any more

Cartwright's

point

plausible.

when he notes that "not all in-

See

in the same way or to the same end."

of the Bible in the African-

8 I take it that this is Michael

Cartwright,

terpretive practices mediate ideology

M.G.

American Christian

"Ideology and the

Tradition,"

Interpretation Modern Theology 9 (1993), p. 144.

19

Allegiance

tribes

The

Isaac

intertribal

prospects

reflected

tribes.

to this

adhered

tribal

story

marked

about

one's

separation

from

other

who

to stories

of the

one

Isaac

or Jacob.

combination

and Jacob

into

initially

competing

served

banded

to help

together

melding

and

stories

cement

of Abraham,

the

Israelite

their

stories

account

as they

The

the

literary

social

argues,

confederation

As

for

and

survival.

enhanced

Normal

to enhance

various

of the

of these

union

political

various

Gottwald

The concerns and interests of the ancestor traditions

kinds:

the need

community against

am

are

primarily of two

in

defense of the

the arduous struggle to secure a

(1)

for offspring

and

outside

hardly

Gottwald

have

competent

either

let it stand

to defend

for the

phrases

ideologies

his account

here

when

What

he

is clear

talks

struggle

to secure

and

defend

viable community as expressed

repeated

productive land; and (2)

pressures to absorb

the

or destroy

it.9 9

I

or to dispute with

moment, as if texts

the

about

from

his account,

the community

Gottwald's

one

qualifi-

in this

case

and

s

however, is a concern

position. I will simply

cation :

traditions)

interests of the traditions. "

is that the

(or

"concerns

and

interest

of those

who

united

Jacob

and

ordered

their

social,

practices

in relation

to these

are

not

properties

of the

stories

when

the

concerns

and

interests

the

material,

stories

These

of Abraham,

political

and

concerns

As

of

one

Isaac

and

theological

and

might

interests

expect,

story

stores. 10

themselves.

of

readers

Abraham's

changed,

We

they

an

also

interpreted

of such

Such

social,

are

very

formed

with

the

stories

differently.

we

look

jump

and

see

that

example

of Abraham.

Philo's

change

a long

when

at

will highlight

Philo's

in-

con-

terpretation

the

cerns

of those

to

the

of the

excellent account given by David Dawson in his book, Allegorical Readers and Cultural Revision in Ancient Alexandria.

historical

fact

and

political,

different

material

from

and

interpreted

the early

ideological

and

interests

who

the concerns

interests

story. 11 I

initially

Philo

Abraham's

Nevertheless,

story

shares

In

Israelites

I will

a commitment

make

use

of Abraham.

addressing

Philo,

9 Norman K. Gottwald,

TheHebrewBible:A Socio-Literary Introduction (Philadel-
175.

producers of this story were interested in excluding

in

phia : Fortress, 1985), p.

10

It is ironic that the initial

those who were devoted to Isaac

using

jumping of Abraham was used to

support and those who remained in the land

or all three stories to unite these

11

Without

Jacob, whereas later editors were interested

divergent groups.

all the way to Philo we get some indication that the story

the

competing interests of the exiles (Isa. 51:15)

(Ezek. 33:23-24).

20

It is beyond

Philo

of the

Philo

[air. ];

the

discusses

scope

edition

of this

Abraham.

paper

The

to give an account

entry

works

of all

of the

times

index

addition,

Abraham

to reading

under

runs

works

Abraham

to nine

in the

in the

pages.

In

(On

Loeb

of Philo's

devotes

two

explicitly On the Migration

generally,

of his

Abraham's

to Abraham

of Abraham

and

[Mig. D. When

story

it comes

scripture

in particular,

Philo,

Pseudo-Aristeas,

following

his

views

Alexandrian

scripture

the

allegorical

encoded it is not

important

predecessors as an allegorical of this

depths

that

Aristobulus

composition.

and

One

that

has merely

to plumb

all wisdom

has

been

Given

Abraham

of wisdom,

to

lives

with

when

referred

this

approach,

is primarily

will

virtue

and

Sage

with

of God

allegorically,

as the

in conformity

the

read

soul

ments

knowledge

tant

as superior

ing

in

its

search

soul

of the

and

for

text

to find

therein.

surprising

for Philo

the human

character

exemplar

as an archetypal Abr.

prototypical

128)

and

piety.12

Throughout

is the

6 ; Mig.

Abraham

stoic

is

who

(6 Joo6q).

nature

He

(Abr.

(Leg.

are

All.

to

the

true

the

appearance

in harmony

3:197).13

be

seen

God"

to

Abraham's

movements, of a "virtue

they

are

the

loving

move-

from

1 -14).

sees the

to

opinion It is impor- allegorical

the

literal

read-

shaped

by

the

within

tribal

Alex-

scripture

the

appeal

David

Philo's

Hellenistic

of subordi-

responsible

as those

(Abr.

the

68);

original,

(Mig.

Philo

abandons

88).

shape

evident

account

Philo

in

from

image

that

from

to reality

no

although

means

Abr.

68,

which

those

to remember,

to the

of scripture

the

Clearly,

a reading

read

however,

literal,

(see

he by

in particular

interests

are

not

traditional

for

and,

received

but

ideological

of Abraham

of Israel.

The

generally,

of an

overall

this

is actually

on Abraham,

and

are

among

such

confederation

andrian Judaism

was

of Judaism

Dawson

allegorical

cultural

nation

is that

particular,

as part

has

ideals

focuses

strategy

Alexandrians.

of universalizing

Recently,

opinion,

to

arguing

subordinate

this

on Moses,

strategy

the

one

to non-Jewish

challenged

strategy

however,

that

designed

Rhetorically,

to scripture.l4

not

12 Philo contrasts Adam, Enoch and Noah as those who

Further

over the death of Sarah (Abr. 255).

Dawson,

yearn for virtue, yet do

Isaac and

not fully attain it with the perfectly virtuous souls of Abraham,

(Abr. 47-48).

Jacob

13

grief

14

University of California

evidence of this is seen in the moderation Abraham exhibits in his

Allegorical Readersand CulturalRevisionin AncientAlexandria (Berkeley:

Press, 1992), p. 74.

21

for

by

write

ture.

writers,

encoding

Philo,

the

the

because

is their

Pentateuch's

of these

and

allegorical

meanings.

appear

As articulated

simply

to

re-

cul-

most

moral

he

allegorical

meanings

achievements

precedes

philosophical

Moses

superior.

of Hellenistic

these

Yet,

temporally

Hellenistic

By allowing Moses to rewrite the moral and philosophical wisdom of Hellenis-

tic culture, Philo has in effect

and texts to scripture. Because Moses came before the classical authors,

rewriting paradoxically

come his weak imitators. 15

becomes original writing, and the classical writers be-

his

allegorically subordinated classical meanings

The

social

and

political

readings

economic

often

context

gives

in which

clue

Philo

as

to

deeply

offers

his

his

ideological

subver-

in-

along

lead-

a path

sive

terests.

both

ers such

between

non-Greek

benefits

munity,

society,

anti-Greek/Roman

thodox

bility.

allegorical

The

cultural

some

Alexandria

and

of Philo's

lines.

found

interests

who

and

day

Jews,

was

especially

having

stratified

community

as Philo,

themselves

Roman

to negotiate

the conflicting

Egyptians

of citizenship

which

occupied

was

also

group

Philo

who

of the Greek

the

citizens

status

The

place

Hellenized

tendencies

social

and

latter

major

of Alexandria,

and

economic

Jewish

com-

sought

the

cultural

authorities.

a relatively

between

with

at the

been

prominent

a small

in Alexandrian

elite,

a large

an

and

political

group. 16

segments

or-

sta-

of

divided

group

sought,

have

and

revolutionary

ways

same

a member

time, of this all of the

would

times

At various

in various

Alexandrian

tracts

on's

offering

simply

Alexandrian

opposition

tus

were

society

produced

which

tried

and

polis with

opposed

in Alexandria.

to undermine

history

the

Jews.

A

Typical

number

of such

claims

argued

for

of

work

anti-Jewish

was Api-

by

were

the

Such

sta-

and

tract

Jewish

which

eligible

and

to citizenship

that

the Jews

citizenship

in

benefits.

and