The Bible and Disability: A Commentary edited by Sarah Melcher, Mikeal Parsons, Amos Yong
I bookmarked my reading of The Bible and Disability with a Specsavers leaflet I picked up at a recent hearing check. It reinforced one of the key insights in disability studies underlined by Jaime Clark-Soles and others, that if we are not people with disabilities (PWDs) we are only temporarily able-bodied (TABs).
The Bible and Disability is a commentary along the lines of other ‘perspectivally produced commentaries,’ The Women’s Bible Commentary and True to our Native Land: an African American New Testament Commentary. This commentary is a collection of essays ‘gifted’ by scholars from a disability perspective including some powerful insights from disability studies. The claim of the Preface is surely right: ‘disability and impairment are … more intrinsic than incidental to the human condition’ (xii). That the experience of people with disabilities has been absent from the standard scriptural hermeneutic has not only been ‘to the detriment of people with disabilities’ but has also been ‘a profound loss to the church’ (vii).
The commentary tackles some difficult questions. For example, there is the association of sin and disability we find in much of scripture. In some of the healing stories in the gospels (and in the contemporary church) disability and illness are systematically removed. Candida Moss writes: ‘one cannot help but reach the conclusion that there is no room for disability in the kingdom of God and that salvation and sickness are mutually exclusive’ (284).
But then there are counter-narratives throughout scripture about brokenness, exile and weakness which shape the way in which we theologise about ability and disability. Most particularly we see this in the body of Jesus, particularly towards the end of his life and in his crucifixion. This is a collection of essays which brings us to task and helps with that theologising.
For me, most intriguing was Jennifer Koosed’s commentary on Lamentations. Not only were individual bodies wounded/disabled in the Babylonian onslaught but the whole social/political body was shattered, wounded and disabled. She points out that Lamentations does not have disabled characters, but ‘is itself disabled’ with the acrostic structure of the first four poems acting as a ‘brace’ that “wraps around and holds up the wounded body of the text itself” (201). There is a limping meter and ‘the words walk with a limp’ (201). Koosed recognises the limp in Passover (one of its meanings), and Jacob’s famous limp which gave Israel her/his identity as sign of covenant, favour and relationship.
There are so many highlights. For example, the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), so very disabled, cut off from so many opportunities, found reading of a likewise disabled suffering servant (Isaiah 53) is baptised and so receives ‘a name that will not be cut off’ (Isaiah 56:3-5).
This commentary is not intended to be ‘the final word on disability and the Bible.’ It enables further conversation in which the experience of those with disabilities finds its place. ‘This book sets a place for those whose voices are often overlooked, but whose contribution to the practice of knowing God is irreplaceable’ (Swinton, ix). It reads as that important, and it comes across as a gift.
Review by Rev’d. Canon David Herbert, Continuing Licensed Ministerial Development Advisor, Diocese of Chester
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