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Great Trek and Long Walk: Readings of a Biblical Symbol

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image of Biblical Interpretation

Diverse South African readings of "the exodus" offer convenient access to the complex processes of "meaning-making" which are currently under scrutiny in many disciplines. This essay investigates several diverse appropriations of the biblical text in order to read the classic journey story-particularly the moment of encountering the Canaanites-and to sort some of the methodological issues. First, a pair of opposite versions: white South African (Boer) and black South African (represented by Archbishop Desmond Tutu); second, a triad of critical approaches, but with different emphases (historical-critical, text-centered, reader-focused); and third, my own construal of Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, as yet another appropriation of liberation texts. In each case, the valuable questions to ask are how the interpreter has proceded and what has been the result, both for the understanding of texts and for the methodological discussion. The allegorical approach (Boer and Tutu) seems totally inadequate. The scholarly critical readings, with their behind-, within-, and before-the-text emphases are illuminating. But Mandela's construal, or at least my version of it, offers additional and fresh insight into the dynamics of liberation.

Affiliations: 1: Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA


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