2011 Tipple-Vosburgh Lectures

He Qi: "Finding Moses"

Each year, the Tipple-Vosburgh Lectures feature distinguished scholars and theologians who energize the shared community of the Drew Theological School and the Graduate Division of Religion (GDR). This year’s lecture series, entitled “The Global Bible: Why People and Place Matter,” highlighted the tensive connection between two phenomenon in our present historical moment: global/universal and local/particular. In addition to scholarship, the artwork of He Qi demonstrated how we image—and imagine—the Bible’s presence in the world.

He Qi’s artwork selected for the cover page of the brochure, Finding Moses, is telling—and compelling. The Bible, like the baby Moses in the basket, has come to many different countries of the non-Western world as a foreign presence. In Asian countries such as China and Korea, those with power at their indigenous ideological center tried to burn, confiscate, and eradicate the book. But, some people drew it out (to use the word, “Moses,” etymologically)—whether from the waters of persecution or the pockets of missionaries—and started reading it. What would this foreign presence—namely, the book/Moses—do to them? Would it save them? Or, would it destroy them? They did not have the answer. The global Bible sat ambiguously on the riverbank of the non-biblical world in the history of colonization, Westernization and, more recently, globalization.

However, the image suggests that it is not only the text/Moses that is foreign to non-Western readers/Egyptian women. Having come apart from the bosom of its own mother-interpreters, the text/Moses is now surrounded by the eyes of strangers. In his plenary presentation, Dr. Kenneth Ngwa made us rethink the ethnic and cultural identity of Moses. The identity of the Bible as Western Scripture is equally complicated and is in need of careful interrogation. When it comes to engaging the global Bible, do people and place of its arrival matter? The scholars who were invited for the lectures and workshops would answer tentatively, “Yes, but not without challenges.” The global Bible is a cultural artifact that has met challenges from inside and outside its disciplinary boundaries.

Dr. Tat-Siong Benny Liew noted in the third plenary lecture: “[As] racial/ethnic minorities in the US began to emerge in the world of biblical scholarship,” they also began to recognize “various identity differences within and among each racial/ethnic minority group,” and consequently, “began to read and work across different racial/ethnic minority groups to form minority alliances.” In the first plenary lecture, Dr. Fernando Segovia also asserted that our understanding of “diversity” must be challenged through new interactions.

On the other hand, as a cultural artifact in the present age, the global (-ized) Bible begs us to ask ourselves about the role of biblical scholarship with regard to contemporary economic issues of globalization and neo-liberalism. As biblical scholars, what is our role in a landscape where fusion and fissure of cultures and identities constantly shift our practices of reading? This year’s Tipple-Vosburgh Lectures series has left us with such difficult questions, ongoing reflections, and tensions.—Dong Sung Kim, PhD student in Hebrew Bible