Reconstructing Realities from Biblical Utopias

Alien Readers and Dystopian Potentials

In: Biblical Interpretation
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This article addresses two specific issues in reading the Hebrew Bible drawing on utopian theory: the possibility of reconstructing historical reality by reading a text as a utopia, and the variable of changing audiences throughout time and their impact on utopian readings.

Suvin’s and Roemer’s definitions of utopia are used, but it is acknowledged that no one definition of utopia is necessarily more correct than another. ­Approaching the concept of utopia as a flexible ideal type, rather than with 
a strict definition, is advocated. Utopia is seen as a specific response by the author(s) to a perceived reality; therefore it has been suggested that reading biblical texts as utopia can offer insight into social realities at the time of the text’s creation. This notion is examined critically, drawing on Holquist’s comparison of utopia to the abstraction of chess. While it is possible to make some statements about the social reality at the time of the production of the text by reading the text as a utopian representation, it must always be taken into account that each reconstruction of reality is only one possible interpretation offered by a member of a non-intended audience. A utopia’s relationship to realities is complex, and often aspects of its implied counter-piece, the dystopia, become visible when a transfer of a utopia into reality is attempted.

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