The Politics of Interpretation: Reading the Bible in the Palestinian Countryside

This paper investigates the connection between the Bible and the peasant culture of the Middle East. American missionary and New Testament scholar Kenneth E. Bailey (1930-2016) popularized, what he called, an ‘oriental exegesis’ as a method of studying the Bible as a culturally conditioned text. Focussing in particular on how life and culture of contemporary Palestinian villagers and peasants have been used as a tool for Biblical exegesis, this paper explores the relevance of such an approach for the local Palestinian Christian community in the West Bank. Reflecting on Bailey’s scriptural interpretation and drawing on twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork, the paper argues that local narratives around this Biblical parallelism are informed by Palestinian nationalist symbolisms of the peasant’s rootedness in the land, and in the recent context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, acts as a theological and cultural resistance to (Christian) Zionism and Israeli politics.