The bottom line: A difficult to navigate cross-disciplinary exposition on the state of modern hermeneutics.
Reading From This Place, Volume I and Reading From This Place, Volume II attempt to explain contemporary hermeneutics by analyzing the different traditions and forces that shape the hermeneutical terrain.
The two volumes serve to validate modern reading strategies that depart from the “standard” for Biblical studies, the historical-critical paradigm. On page four of volume one the author explains the scope of the text: “In this first part of the project, a number of participants from the broad mosaic of life in the United States were asked to reflect on the relationship between biblical interpretation and the social location of the interpreter, however defined.” Subsequently, volume two seeks to answer the same question, but from a global vantage point. Both books also attempt to address key themes in hermeneutics as it pertains to ethics and morality, society, class, philosophy, the arts, social location, gender, privilege, and literature.
These books excel for the introspective mind seeking to understand how others perceive the Scriptures and a careful analysis of these volumes will guide the reader into developing a more global interpretation. One of the most eye-opening chapters is located in Volume I: “A Student Self-Inventory on Biblical Hermeneutics.” By far (in my mind) this is the most valuable chapter in the entire series to the individual reader, and by answering the questionnaire, biblical interpreters will become much more aware of their own contextual location and how that drastically affects their hermeneutics. Brueggemann’s “The Uninflected Therefore of Hosea 4:1-3” is a notable highlight.
On a negative note, because there are different authors for each chapter, the two volumes are very uneven not only in their narrative styles, but in their practical application as well. For example, reading about a “Hermeneutics of Liberation” has a very broad reach, but a discussion that pertains specifically to the African female reading of the Bible won’t be as relevant to a general audience. Second, because each chapter essentially is about how one author perceives the Scriptures, it all simply boils down to subjective opinion that may bear little overall relevance to you. Third, these books are quite burdensome to read—the authors generally use a lot of flowery language to make a point, and often resort to verbal gymnastics to dance around a topic before making a concise conclusion. I frequently found myself skimming through innumerable paragraphs of fluff before reading the main point. I personally thought that a lot of the language and grammar choices were unnecessarily complex, making it so that a book on Biblical interpretation is ironically hard to interpret. Lastly, there so many repeated references to Gadamer’s Truth and Method, Ricoeur, and Derrida, that I wonder if the reader would simply be better off reading those authors instead.
I read these books as required by a graduate level seminary course, and less a few select chapters, I would not have read them otherwise. If you have to buy this book, go for a used version in order to avoid the $25 sticker price.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal