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Other Ways of Reading: African Women and the Bible. (Book Reviews).

Other Ways of Reading: African Women and the Bible, edited by Musa W. Dube. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature and Geneva: WCC Publications, 2001. 254 pp. $24.95.

I take great delight in having the opportunity to review this collection of thirteen essays having to do with contemporary African women and their engagements of the Bible. Ably edited and introduced by Musa W. Dube, Senior Lecturer in the New Testament in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Botswana, the essays have been long awaited. They fill a tremendous need--among and beyond the women of Africa. They inform and challenge and inspire communities far beyond the circle of the discussants in the book. They make a dramatic statement about the powerful voices and sentiments and creative impulses of African women and their potential to enliven thinking about and approaches to the Bible in particular and the sacred in general. The volume is also a fine contribution to the growing phenomenon of the heightened consciousness and re-awakening among non-dominants throughout the world--different racial-ethnic minority groups, women, the poor--about the social power to be realized in the interpretation of texts and other objects and phenomena widely regarded as canonical.

As Dube's introduction makes clear, the essays address a selection of themes and issues that have been part of the conversations among the women of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians. The volume of thirteen essays is divided into six major sections--Storytelling Methods and Interpretations; Patriarchal and Colonizing Translations; Reading with and from Non-Academic Readers; Womanhood and Womanist Methods; The Divination Method of Interpretation; and In Response. In the first section Rose Teteki Abbey, Mmadipoane (Ngwana 'Mphahlele) Masenya, and Dube critically reflect upon African storytelling practices as interpretation. And Masenya and Dube provide fascinating interpretations of biblical stories (Esther and Mark 5) in terms of storytelling. In the second section Dora R. Mbuwayesango and Gomang Seratwa Ntloedibe-Kuswani critically unmask some of the practices and shine light on some of the effects of patriarchal colonialism among the Shona peoples and among devotees of Modimo in Southern Afric a. The third section is focused upon "nonacademic readers." This is a somewhat odd categorization because the essays by Musimbi R. A. Kanyoro and Gloria Kehilwe Plaatjie do not really seem to address or reflect upon a type of audience different from the other essays. The two essays included in this section do reflect a consistently heightened critical African feminist consciousness in their engagement of biblical texts. In the fourth section can be found two provocative essays demonstrating the power of womanhood/womanist interpretations. Masenya provides a "bosadi" (womanhood: from Northern Sotho word "mosadi," meaning woman) reading of Proverbs 31:10-31. And Sarojini Nadar provides an Indian womanist reading of the character development of Ruth. The fifth section, on divination as method of interpretation, includes a single essay by Dube. The essay focuses upon Ruth in terms of social relations ("international relations") and the needed "healing" offices of divination in such relations. The sixth and final section includes responses from a white North American feminist biblical scholar (Phyllis Bird), an East African theologian and churchwoman (Nyambura J. Njoroge), and a male South African theologian who defined himself as an "AfricanMordecai" (Tinyiko S. Maluleke). These responses provided rich questions and issues for ongoing work and conversations.

The collection models a number of different methods and approaches of interpretation--storytelling; postcolonialist feminist; womanhood/bosadi/womanist; and the peoples' readings. The collection does not advance a single position or stance, method or approach. It is more interesting and charged than that--its most important and powerful feature is its reflection of a coming into speech on the part of a significant group of African women who heretofore in scholarship have been silent and absent. With this book such women can for now make the claim that they speak for a significant number of (christianized) African women. As important and as persuasive as may be some arguments that are part of some essays, it is the collective arrogation of the African women essayists of their right to invade and disrupt the discursive worlds of western academic critical biblical interpretation that is most important and astounding. Mission accomplished.

The book should inform the teaching and research of all students of religion, not only biblical scholars. The excuses for not including the "others" on the course reading lists are beginning to ring hollow The book will facilitate discussion and research on a wide range of topics and issues. It is a great inspiration and challenge.
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Author:Wimbush, Vincent L.
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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