Reading the Bible in Black
By Ethan Shea
On Feb. 8 and 15, Theology and Religious Studies Professor the Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart gave the Villanova community two exciting opportunities to partake in a guided reading of the Bible with Black ways of knowing and being in mind. The first session focused on passages from the Old Testament while the second analyzed excerpts of the New Testament. This talk was especially timely, as Villanova continues to celebrate Black History Month.
An important aspect of the discussion was the decentering of Biblical narratives. The Rev. Washington-Leapheart encouraged the audience to consider how characters placed on the outskirts of stories would have been impacted. To practice such a reading, it is necessary to acknowledge the baggage readers and the Bible itself carries. Even today, the Bible is used to push specific narratives that are tied to various political ideologies. Everyone reads texts from unique perspectives, and similarly, the Bible cannot be separated from its past, which the Rev. Washington-Leapheart points out can be problematic.
In addition to decentering, placing the Bible in conversation with current issues impacting Black communities across the globe, such as police brutality, is a critical feature of reading the Bible in Black.
A specific moment of close reading that stood out to me involved Genesis 15:18-21. In these verses, the Lord gives Abram land that belongs to the Kenites, Kenizzites, and Kadmonites among many other groups. Rather than rejoicing about Abram’s acquisition, Rev. Washington-Leapheart led the crowd to consider the plight of the Kenites, Kenizzites, and Kadmonites. Would they have seen this gift from the Lord as a blessing? By reframing the way we read the Bible, the narrative that has been established through years of social and cultural immersion can be flipped.
Falvey is glad to have had the opportunity to host such an insightful conversation. Both installments of these talks will soon be available to view on both Falvey Library and Villanova University’s YouTube channels.
Part I: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2n6V-6RjU-4&list=PLfEia0djpea2PzmiTKDHzL3rftL6qwFOF&index=2
Part II: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPK1J8MrELc&list=PLfEia0djpea2PzmiTKDHzL3rftL6qwFOF&index=1
Ethan Shea is a first-year English Graduate Student at Villanova University and Graduate Assistant at Falvey Memorial Library.