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Lisa M. Wolfe Essay

"Has the Bible been a positive or negative force throughout history?"

Clearly, it's an unanswerable question.  But it is an intriguing and important one.  I will try to access this question by approaching it in this way: "How can we use the Bible in positive rather than negative ways?"  And I will use the book of Esther as a sample for this experiment. 

What seems obvious to me as a Bible scholar is this: The Bible is both a collection of beautiful, moving, powerful, quotable, eminently popular texts about God and God's people and a collection of problematic, disturbing, trouble-inducing texts that have caused no end of suffering since they originally began to be written down more than 2500 years ago.  Of course, as with many either-or dichotomies, both descriptions contain some element of truth, and neither adequately tells the truth.  The Bible has had and will have both negative and positive implications for history, depending on who uses it, and how, and with what kind of religious authority.  Our biggest risk is always in using the Bible to justify our current positions and aspirations—even to justify violence—whether we call it self-defense or revenge.  In turn, one of the biggest opportunities the Bible presents is in challenging our powerful positions and aspirations. 

We want to read the Bible and think of ourselves as Esther—brave, heroic, clever, the savior of her people (and of course beautiful).  And those are attributes worthy of our aspiration.  But if we read the book of Esther carefully, and alongside our own history, we will rightly be challenged to think of ourselves as Haman—the conniving, rage-filled villain, disregarding the widespread effects of the actions we take to assuage our fears and supplement our power.  Perhaps in identifying with Haman we may become more careful about the ways in which we embody the villain—or at the very least, to see the ways in which others may perceive us as the villain.  When the Bible prompts that kind of self-reflection, then it may prevent wars, and promote understanding, and even rightly earn its spot on the best-selling book list.

Rev. Lisa M. Wolfe, Ph.D. Professor of Hebrew Bible, Oklahoma City University

"The Question," posed and responded, from the WVU 2015 Manfred Meitzen Outstanding Guest Theological Lecture, “Uppity Women of the Bible: Esther”