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Faithful Reading: Poststructuralism and the Sacred

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image of Biblical Interpretation

In its subversive interrogations of universal values, objective criteria for meaning, canonicity and other hallmarks which distinguish the Literary, poststructuralism appears to confront all that is "sacred" in the privileged texts of Western culture. Particularly in biblical criticism, insofar as the sanctity of the text and the inviolability of its truth claims are held to be unquestionable, poststructuralism is often denounced as anathema, or at least inappropriate, to exegesis. It is argued that if determinate meaning is inaccessible through language, and universal truth a chimera, then according to poststructuralist tenets the Bible is, like all literature, "Just another text." This paper entertains another possibility: that poststructuralism in fact places the Bible in a position of singular significance. If claims for the "sacredness" of certain texts are precisely where poststructuralist critics direct their efforts, then biblical texts, whose claims for sacredness are more insistent and dogmatic than most, should provide poststructuralism's most contentious (and therefore most important) field of operation. Interrogating the sacred, far from being an iconoclastic pursuit, is an inevitable consequence of the reception of sacred texts-indeed, of language-in culture. By way of illustrating this point, I offer a reading of the Garden of Eden story (Gen. 2:4b-3:24) which incorporates insights offered by Jacques Derrida's critique of logocentrism. What poststructuralism demands, in the final analysis, is not the abandonment of meaning but its reconfiguration: notions of faithful reading and respect for the text which embrace difference, ambiguity and an understanding of the sacred as the site not of uncontestable command, but of enquiry and interpretation.


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