Biblical Archaeology Review 42:5, September/October 2016

Biblical Views: Reading the Bible Through Ancient Eyes

By Richard L. Rohrbaugh

With the advent of multi-national corporations and widespread international travel, it has become increasingly obvious that communication between people of different cultures is difficult at best. In fact a substantial industry has developed, designed to teach diplomats, business people and assorted travelers how to communicate with people from other countries.

Why does this matter to American readers of the Bible? Because of a simple, obvious—but usually overlooked—fact: The Bible is not a Western book. It was written by, for and about people from the Mediterranean world who did not think, live or communicate like Westerners and who would be astonished at many of the things modern, Western readers “find” within its pages. Moreover, few of us are aware of the subtle ways in which we unconsciously import our American culture into the world and language of the Biblical text. The fact is that miscommunication is no less a peril in reading the works of persons from other cultures than in speaking with them face to face.

In Matthew 25:14–30 Jesus tells a story about a rich man going on a journey who entrusted large sums of money to three slave-managers. The two who received the largest sums traded up, doubling the amounts they had taken on deposit. The third slave, however, buried his master’s money to ensure that it remained intact. When the returning master learned what happened in his absence, he praised and rewarded the first two slaves and bitterly rebuked slave number three.

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