Hungers, HIV, wars and anarchy are the main issues which are frequently reported by the media when events about Africa are told. Yet ironically, the continent has a fast growing record of the Christian gospel. How can a proper biblical hermeneutic respond to the evils affecting the continent? A lot of studies have been done by Christian anthropologist and sociologists to understand issues such as witchcraft, charms and ancestor but I feel that little has been done to come up with a Biblical hermeneutic for and with the people. During my brief pastoral work with the Church and Zimbabwe Council of Churches, I experienced that a lot still needs to be done in two major areas. First, there is need to allow people to draw their own meaning from the bible in light of their social circumstances. Secondly, there is need for a theological undertaking by both theologian and ordinary people to read the Bible in a way that empowers the people to respond positively to the issues such as hunger which face them everyday. The truth of the Bible must be vigilantly sought and such truth must be accessible to the ordinary villager and experienced as relevant to their everyday life.
The research undertaken in this thesis comes from a realization that there is a real vacuum between the message of the Bible and the felt needs of the people such as hunger that has ravaged the village for centuries. The main reason which prompted this research is the lack of a Biblical hermeneutics which can articulate faithfully the Biblical message and the social realities of the people. The material of this thesis, though limited to Chikore village, is aimed to provoke and open more theological research on real issues which affect people everyday. The loud call behind this research is a call for a theology and reading of the Bible which is spiritually empowering and helpful to the ordinary villagers. It is a search for an alternative way of reading the Bible in a way which addresses the daily issues affecting the people. The aim is to harness a way of reading the Bible which is accessible and useful to the ordinary reader.
It is true that the Christian gospel has spread in Zimbabwe with a majority of the people being Christians. Despite their knowledge of the Bible, the problems which face Chikore village also continued to rise unabated. This scenario has made me to share the concern of Kwame Bediako who said that African theologians have failed to read the vernacular from the stand-point of traditional world view and in the light of its reality .1 I believe this concern is felt more now than before with escalating crisis of war, poverty and hunger.
Chikore village is among the villages besieged by hunger throughout the year. Much help comes from the non-governmental organizations who give distribute food to people in the village. While I agree that the church in Zimbabwe has done a lot in various social problems, my diagnosis of the crisis and solution to the problem is different. My problem is not with the church finding solution, but how the Church has found solutions. Is the solution permanent and driven by the people s own understanding of their reading of the word of God? Does the solution dignify the village and enhance their knowledge of God? In this research I shall argue that if the people are empowered to read and understand the truth of the Bible by themselves, such truth will be helpful to their social lives. I believe that this research shall contribute to finding solutions to the perennial problem of hunger through a way which is permanent and driven by the people s own understanding of the word of God. In this research I have encountered hunger as one of the many evils which must be eradicated from the continent. How can the reading of the Bible be a weapon to drive away a century old archenemy?
It is my submission in this research that the Bible must be functional and relevant to the ordinary readers. For this to happen, the village must approach the Bible through media channels that are part of their daily means of communication. In remote villages such as Chikore where people pass-on information through telling and listening, these channels of communication must be utilized as means of making the bible message accessible to the villagers. James Maxey says, A community that comes to consider the narratives of the scripture as somehow related to its own cultural narratives recognizes that the Bible is both a source and a product of religious tradition. 2 Giving the Bible to the villagers does not need profound theological term, rather the research shall consider giving the villagers the Bible as a story which they can listen and interact with in light of their social context. Oral telling of the Bible and reacting to its stories will equip the ordinary reader and make the Bible part of their daily interaction and reflection. What would it mean to give the feeding stories as stories to be listened to by Chikore village which faces a similar perennial problem of hunger and starvation?
There are two main methodologies which I have used as essential tools to reach this goal. The first one is social science criticism. The basic presupposition of this methodology is to understand the social world behind the gospel stories. This methodology will help me to answer the questions such as: How do we understand the New Testament stories so that their meaning correlates with the world of the reader, (indicated as listener in this research)? Bible scholars such as Halvor Moxnes, Richard L.Rohrbaugh, and Richard Horsley used the social sciences to recreate the place or space which gave birth to the genre and social set up of the gospel narratives. There has been a growing desire in New Testament studies to recreate the meaning of the text. The use of social sciences has shown that understanding the social context of the gospel stories illuminates and contributes immensely to the reading and understanding of the gospel stories. I will use insights from this methodology to understand how the social context of the Bible stories influences the way the feeding stories were told. With this understanding, I will be able to infer how our place influences the way we approach the same stories. There is an analogue of experience between the original recipients and the present readers in that, the message and place inform and influence the way people (listeners) relate to the message and to the realities around them. The way the Biblical story is told reflects the social issues which the narrator is addressing and the response of the listener to those issues.
How can we understand the same stories today in our own context and what are their function? To answer this question, I have used narrative criticism as a methodological tool. Narrative criticism explain how these stories were told and their function to the listeners. Narrative critics together with Bible scholars such as David Rhoads, Robert Fowler, Joanna Dewey and Werner Kelber agree that the gospel message was communicated as a oral stories before assuming their written status. Scholars such as Joanna Dewey and W. Kelber went further to say the stories were a recreation of the history of the listeners which was told in light of the present crisis faced by the listeners at that particular time. Therefore, telling the story was recreating the past and at the same time ideologically equipping the listeners to react boldly to the crises that besieged their community. It is from these two methodologies that I propose that reading the gospel message is listening to the story which empowers the listener as that story conscientise the listener of his or her place and identity.
My contribution in this research is in two areas: I want to find a method of approaching the Bible message which is accessible to the ordinary villager. Secondly, I want to find out how the village s understanding of the Bible can be a starting point to reflect on the issues which affect the village. It is my argument in this research that telling the story was a way of equipping the listeners to respond in a certain way to the issues around them. I have chosen to focus on the feeding stories because of their similarity in subject and experience. I am interested in seeing how the Chikore villagers are equipped if they approach the feeding stories as stories to be listened to. What resonance do these stories have if told by the Chikore village which faces the similar crisis?
By combining the context of the Biblical stories and the context of the villagers, the research tries to recreate the Biblical stories through telling and to make Bible studies relevant and functional to the village. The aim is both to re-create the meaning and to recreate the impact and their function as they were told. Hence recreation of meaning through telling also presupposes recreating the function of these stories. The process of recreation of the function and meaning of these stories is undertaken by listening to these stories under a similar context of hunger which is facing Chikore village. The need to recreate the function of the Biblical stories comes from the realization that the biblical stories were told and functioned as oral stories.
In Chapter one, I begin with a crisis of meaning and a search for a contextual meaning which satisfies both the Biblical stories and the context of the reader. In this chapter, I trace how the Bible came to Chikore village and its history of interpretation by the villagers. I start by laying the foundation and definition of what a contextual bible reading is. I do this by explaining the three tenets of a contextual Bible reading Gerald West. I also explain why understanding the Bible from and in its context is important by borrowing insights from Halvor Moxnes understanding of place and space. This chapter ends with a suggestion that the way Chikore village communicates and pass on information must taken as the starting point for communicating the Bible message to them.
In chapter two, I discuss the dilemma of how Chikore village, which is an oral aural community which is approaching a codified written text. This results in a detailed discussion on how story telling was part of the pre-canonical written gospel. By going back to the oral nature of the stories before they were written down, this chapter establishes the function of these stories as the peasants orally communicated them. This chapter also discusses possibilities of reviving the oral function of these stories if they are told by Chikore village which is also an oral culture. My main argument in this chapter is that, if these stories were meant to be heard rather than being read, then listening must be the starting point for understating the function of these stories. This corresponds to a common tradition of story telling found in the Chikore village. A lot of scholarly insight in this chapter comes from R. Horsley, Joanna Dewey, and Werner Kelber. The main questions which I discuss in this chapter are: What meaning and impact do the stories have if they are approached as stories and what social function do these stories have to the communities who remembered and told these stories?
In Chapter 3, I use story telling to understand the feeding stories. In this chapter I trace how the stories were told and how they resonated with the situation of the listeners in their social context. How does story telling help to understand the feeding stories in their Israelite social context? The aim was to underline the storytellers intention and the listeners response to the story. This chapter comes up with two insights: that these stories were told from a context of social oppression. Also that the story teller re-created Israel s tradition in light of the pressing crisis of that time to tell these stories in a way which empowers his audience out of their present social crises. Contributions from Bible scholars such as Halvor Moxnes, Richard Horsley, and Richard Rohrbaugh show that the social context of hunger, poverty and social marginalization made these stories desert oasis for hope, encouragement and social renewal. The chapter shall discuss the function of the feeding stories as morale boosters for the poor and hungry peasant. The main contribution of this chapter is to lay the foundation of how listening and story telling is a powerful way of reminding people of where they come from and where they are in history. It also lays the groundwork on how Chikore village can listen to the same stories in their social context of hunger.
In chapter four I discuss my role as a researcher in giving and introducing a new way of reading the bible. This chapter has two fold assessments: first to assess how listening gives a better, creative and accessible knowledge of the stories by understanding them in light of their own village experience. Secondly, the chapter discusses how listening to these stories gives a helpful insight in dealing with hunger and starvation in the village. I shall also report some initial contributions of this contextual Bible method from my fieldwork. These initial responses are in two forms: first, a change of attitude from donor dependence to a realization that God is in their midst helping them to build their dignity and future through these stories. Secondly, that God has provided the village with wisdom, talent and natural resource which they can organize to feed themselves. This chapter notes that the Bible stories offer paradigms of action and responds to similar contemporary situations which people face today. Hence the Bible stories are a source of hope and dignity if they are listened to.
My conclusion will recapitulate the three tenets (contextual, critical and appropriation) of contextual Bible study which are given by Gerald West which introduce this research. In my conclusion, I argue that listening as a contextual method is done by and with the people in their social context. Listening is also critical in that it allows the listeners to dialogue with the text and to draw parallel actions and responds from the Bible. Listening as a critical contextual method demands the listeners to listen to the text and open their eyes to the events around them. It seeks to be relevant to the text and to the context around the listeners. Finally, listening calls for appropriation of the truth gained through the listening process as the necessary truths for action and social engagement. The enthusiasm evoked by this method during research testifies that this method makes the Bible available to the ordinary reader.