By Bread Alone: The Bible Through The Eyes Of The Hungry, edited by Sheila E. McGinn, Lai Ling Elizabeth Ngan, and Ahida Calderón Pilarski
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Edelweiss/Fortress Press.]
I must admit that when I started to read this book, especially its introduction, I had a great deal of concern with how the book was going to go. The authors made some notes about liberation theology, which I have some major reservations about  and the fact that the authors made a big deal about the people responsible for this project being feminist scholars of the Bible was something that I viewed with a considerable amount of concern and even alarm. Even so, although I did find a little that I disagreed with here, I was extremely impressed with the book, and the way that it managed to defend a biblical view of justice and concern for the well-being of the poor and vulnerable and “hungry,” something which I have a great deal of personal experience in and support of . This is a book written by people who take the biblical text seriously and who have a properly balanced view of the biblical concern with both private property rights as well as the duties and obligations of generosity towards those who are in need, and that is something worth celebrating.
In somewhat more than 200 pages of text the authors manage to cover a fair amount of ground concerning the Bible from the viewpoint of the hungry. Ten essays make up the text, written from a consistent set of approaches and a surprising degree of biblical understanding and an interest in the social context of the writings discussed. The book opens with an introduction and a first essay that discuss how one looks through the Bible with the eyes of hunger of either a physical or spiritual nature, or both, with a reminder that the biblical text always has more layers than is seen by any commentator who thinks that their interpretation is definitive. An essay on Isaiah 58:1-9a follows with a call for justice, mercy, and true repentance. Essays follow on Jeremiah and Lamentations and their view of famine and starvation and the question of the justice of elites as well as God’s justice in afflicting Jerusalem. A surprisingly awesome essay follows on the social and theological aspects of hunger in the book of Sirach, which is not exactly a biblical text (it is, rather, apocryphal), but as an artifact of the second temple period it is certainly a worthwhile text to examine. A couple of essays then follow on the feeding of Mark 6:37 and the friend visiting at midnight in Luke 11, both of which present Jesus as being merciful towards the needs of the hungry. Another nonbiblical essay follows on the Gospel of Thomas which nonetheless views the hungry woman in Logion 97 sympathetically before the book closes with two essays on hunger in the Pauline epistles, one of which presents a thoughtful exegesis of the Corinthian love feasts (without understanding their Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread context) and the other of which has a highly relevant discussion of the politics of patronage in 2 Thessalonians and its relevance to working and eating.
I’m not one to give a great deal of praise to works which promote themselves as presenting feminist and post-colonialist views of the Bible, but this book was fantastic. Even with its occasional non-biblical tangents and the fact that the authors appeared not to fully understand the Sabbath and its importance to God’s provision of generosity to those who are poor, this book has a lot to offer in that it manages to point to the duties and obligations that the rich have towards the poor while avoiding the sort of harsh language against those who are well-off by virtue of the accidents of birth and God’s blessings that tend to turn many readers off towards perspectives that claim to support biblical social justice. This is a book that recognizes that many readers have a strong desire to live justly and act mercifully and generously towards others and that it is best to write about justice with generous motives towards people and an understanding of the widespread nature of hunger even among those who are materially blessed in our society. If you have an interest in the biblical record and its interpretation in ways that give dignity to the poor and that show the authors of the Bible as speaking in favor of the well-being of the marginalized and vulnerable, this book is an excellent one with whose general tenor and approach I wholeheartedly support, much to my pleasant surprise.
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