McCaslin Lectures On Bible Interpretations

Presenting the first in a series of three Brace Center Faculty Fellow lectures, Chair of the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department Susan McCaslin spoke to an audience gathered on Tuesday evening in the School Room of Abbot Hall. Ms. McCaslin’s talk examined gender and cultural issues as they pertained to the Bible and how these have affected modern-day interpretations of the Scriptures. To begin her presentation, Ms. McCaslin described how two separate groups, feminists and liberationists, approached Biblical study differently. She stated, “The Bible is a product of its environment…All historical knowledge is historically conditioned. Our interpretations of the Scripture are simply that, ours.” According to Ms. McCaslin, early interpretations of the Bible focused largely on masculine roles, but with the rise of the feminist movement, people began to be curious about gender issues in the Bible. Similarly, with the rise of the liberationist movement, people began explore cultural differences in the Bible. The second portion of Ms. McCaslin’s presentation focused on gender issues in modern day interpretations of the Bible. She quoted several famous Biblical interpreters and gave their point of views on the role of women in the Bible. Drawing on excerpts from the Books of Genesis, Ruth, Mark, and Luke, Ms. McCaslin pointed out similarities and differences between the portrayal of women in the four Books. She stressed the patriarchal nature of the Bible and its concentration on men, while also discussing the similarities between the role of women in the Bible, and those of women who lived during Biblical times. Ms. McCaslin stated that women in the Bible, without in-depth examination, are viewed primarily as a means for men to have sons, adding that this was the only significant role women had during Biblical times. Ms. McCaslin then used examples from the Book of Genesis to show evidence for this assumption. She cited the story of Abraham and Sarah to convey her point; Abraham was a powerful man, and his wife Sarah, at the age of 90, bore him a son with assistance from God. Ms. McCaslin’s second example came from the Book of Ruth, as she used it to convey how books and stories can be looked at from different perspectives. She reiterated that culture and environment have a large influence on the way Biblical stories are viewed, stating, “[The Book of] Ruth displays how one can easily be dominated by a cultural point of view.” In addition to discussing perceptions of women, Ms. McCaslin also addressed the role of God in the Holy Book. She said, “The view of God in the Bible is one of two things. The first is as the all-powerful being who is out of the normal human’s reach. The second is the God that is spiritually close to humans on earth.” To conclude her lecture, Ms. McCaslin discussed the study of Bible interpretation, explaining, “The Bible contains the word of God, which is held by everyone to be true. The question is whether or not the Biblical authors accurately followed the word of God.” Ms. McCaslin went on to say that these studies were “done by Jews and Christians to gain knowledge of the Bible,” not to “undermine the Text.” According to Ms. McCaslin, she chose to focus her research on Biblical interpretation because, “the stories and text have always been an interest to [her].” She added, “I love the fact that these are old stories that can still speak to us today.” Ms. McCaslin contained the research for her Brace Center Faculty Fellowship Abbot Scholar project within the fall of 2002, and introduced the material she learned into her two religious studies classes during the winter term.