By Bread Alone

By Bread Alone: The Bible through the Eyes of the Hungry

Sheila E. McGinn
Lai Ling Elizabeth Ngan
Ahida Calderón Pilarski
Copyright Date: 2014
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    By Bread Alone
    Book Description:

    Important ecclesiastical documents have stressed the urgency of world hunger and put in the foreground its natural and historical causes, from famine to global austerity measures and welfare. These concerns have not always affected the way the biblical texts themselves have been read, however. Here, inspired by calls, from Dorothee Sölle and Kathleen O Connor, biblical scholars apply a "hermeneutics of hunger" to the Bible, taking readings of texts from the Old and New Testaments alike on the premise that human hunger and want are urgent concerns that rightly shape the work of interpretation. Too often, however, as the authors show, biblical texts—like Jesus' well-known words that humans do not live "by bread alone"—have been used to marginalize such concerns within religious communities. Their essays here explore the dynamics of hunger and its causation in ancient Israel and the Greco-Roman world and challenge readers to take seriously the centrality of hunger concerns in the Bible.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-7244-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Christine Vladimiroff

    I recall from my childhood a part of my Russian heritage, a ceremonial blessing exchanged by host and guest: “Bread, that this house may never know hunger, salt, that life may always have savor.” The reader of this book will be the recipient of another rich blessing with both the substance and flavor of the hermeneutic of hunger.

    You are both host and guest in a communal exegesis on hunger. A host because this book is a call to be a coparticipant in uncovering the revelatory content of Scripture, and a guest, as it is also an invitation to sit...

  5. Introduction: The Bible through the Eyes of the Hungry
    (pp. 1-16)
    Lai Ling Elizabeth Ngan, Ahida Calderón Pilarski and Sheila E. McGinn

    One of Jesus’ more famous sayings appears in the scene of his temptation in the desert (Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). After fasting for “forty days and forty nights” (v. 2), Satan tempts Jesus to “turn these stones into bread” (v. 3). Jesus retorts that the human person lives “not by bread alone … but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (v. 4).

    This pious sentiment, when combined with a phrase from Jesus’ defense of the woman who anointed him (“the poor you will always have with you”; Mark 14:7 and parallels), has led to disastrous consequences...

  6. 1 Let All the Peoples Praise You: Biblical Studies and a Hermeneutics of Hunger
    (pp. 17-34)
    Kathleen M. O’Connor

    If all the peoples are to praise God, surely the praise must be in their own speech, their own culture, their own specific place in the world. And if the field of biblical studies is to contribute to this global chorus of praise, it requires a hermeneutic of hunger.¹ I borrow the phrase “hermeneutics of hunger” from Dorothee Sölle, the late German theologian, who said that theology was in need of more than a hermeneutic of suspicion, more than an interpretive mode that critiqued the text to reveal its oppressive powers. To that I add, more than a historical-critical analysis...

  7. 2 Feeding the Poor in Isaiah 58:1-9a: A Call to Justice, Mercy, and True Worship
    (pp. 35-50)
    J. L. Manzo

    Hunger and famine were powerful images to the people of the ancient Near East. In Palestine, an abundant harvest depended on an adequate water surplus. On a land that experienced frequent droughts, hunger and famine meant suffering and loss of life. According to the biblical text, hunger stalked Abraham (Gen. 12:10), Isaac (26:1), Joseph (41:27, 54), David (2 Sam. 21:1), Elijah (1 Kgs. 18:2), and Elisha (2 Kgs. 4:38; 8:1). We also learned that Israel experienced physical hunger in the wilderness (Exod. 16:3) and that hunger was a prominent image in Hebrew poetry (Ps. 107:5, 9, 26; Neh. 9:1). This...

  8. 3 From Drought to Starvation (Jeremiah 14:1-9): A National Experience, a Global Reality
    (pp. 51-66)
    Carol J. Dempsey

    Repeatedly, the prophets proclaim the foreboding message that people, animals, and the land will be made to suffer by God because of the iniquities committed by some members within the human community. One of the divine chastisements to be suffered is drought, which will inevitably lead to hunger and starvation for all communities of life, most of whom will suffer the direct consequences of a few who have misused and abused their power and have violated right relationship. This essay explores Jeremiah 14:1-9, “The Great Drought,” in its own context and then in the context of contemporary times, where the...

  9. 4 War, Famine, and Baby Stew: A Recipe for Disaster in the Book of Lamentations
    (pp. 67-88)
    Lauress L. Wilkins

    The Israelite prophets frequently use the paired metaphors of “famine and the sword” to describe weapons wielded by the Divine Warrior to punish sinful nations.¹ These prophetic references function either to motivate the Israelites to repent in order to avert YHWH’s judgment, or to justify a disaster that had occurred and is interpreted by the prophets as divine retribution. Metaphorical references to war and hunger, however, play a very different role in the book of Lamentations. The poems’ references to war-related hunger evoke sympathy for the city’s population, especially women and children, and call into question the appropriateness of God’s...

  10. 5 Social and Theological Aspects of Hunger in Sirach
    (pp. 89-110)
    Bradley C. Gregory

    Ben Sira was a scribe who lived and worked in Jerusalem in the late third and early second centuries bce, when Judea was under the rule first of the Ptolemies and then the Seleucids. While his primary mode of instruction was oral, near the end of his life, perhaps around 180 bce, he set his teachings into written form.¹ Ben Sira’s work is characteristic of “traditional wisdom” and he was deeply influenced by the book of Proverbs in both form and content. While the focus here will be on the role of hunger in Ben Sira’s thought, it will be...

  11. 6 “You Give Them Something to Eat” (Mark 6:37): Beyond a Hermeneutic of Hunger
    (pp. 111-128)
    Mary Ann Beavis

    In her 2009 presidential address to the Catholic Biblical Association, Kathleen O’Connor called for a “hermeneutics of hunger.”¹ The phrase is borrowed from the German feminist theologian Dorothee Sölle, who argued that theology needed to move beyond a hermeneutic of suspicion to an “interpretive religious stance that engages the religious content of Christian traditions and feeds the world’s physical and spiritual hungers.”² O’Connor recognizes the utility of historical-critical biblical studies in that they “remind us that interpretation of ancient texts is a cross-cultural conversation, that the text is ‘a stranger,’ foreign to us, whose meaning is hidden by distances of...

  12. 7 The Friend at Midnight (Luke 11:1-10)
    (pp. 129-134)
    Linda Maloney

    The most common reading of the parable of the Friend at Midnight (Luke 11:1-10) holds that it is about generosity, the requirement to give to those who ask, and the trust that God will supply one’s own needs. Social-science commentary, as exemplified by Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, adds the further dimensions of patronage and hospitality in the context of honor and shame: “Thus the petitioner threatens to expose the potential shamelessness of the sleeper. By morning the entire village would know of his refusal to provide hospitality. He thus gives in to avoid public exposure as a shameless person.”¹...

  13. 8 An Empty Jar and a Starving Woman: Gospel of Thomas Logion 97 and a Hermeneutics of Hunger
    (pp. 135-158)
    Susan M. (Elli) Elliott

    A woman returns from a long journey to discover that the jar of meal she had walked so far to obtain is empty. Surely this parable cries out for a feminist hermeneutics of hunger. The parable draws us to look into an empty food jar with a hungry woman. What will we see? The first task is deceptively simple. The first task is to look. To join this woman and look into her empty jar, however, appears to be a difficult task for interpreters. To look into the empty jar is to approach the text with a hermeneutic of hunger....

  14. 9 Including the Hungry Adelphoi: Exploring Pauline Points of View in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
    (pp. 159-184)
    Ma. Marilou S. Ibita

    The first Millennium Development Goal is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.¹ In 2006, the former head of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Jacques Diouf, said, “We are confident that the race against hunger can still be won, but only if the necessary resources, political will and correct policies are forthcoming.”² I agree with his optimism, but as a lay teacher of the Bible from the Philippines, where hunger is a crucial issue,³ it is challenging that he did not mention the potential contribution of faith communities as a resource to help combat hunger. Recently,...

  15. 10 2 Thessalonians vs. the Ataktoi: A Pauline Critique of “White-Collar Welfare”
    (pp. 185-208)
    Sheila E. McGinn and Megan T. Wilson-Reitz

    The remarks in Second Thessalonians about theataktoi, in particular 2 Thess. 3:10 (“anyone unwilling to work should not eat”), have received great attention from those who use the Bible to promote particular political and economic perspectives. In the United States, verse 10 has been quoted in support of a surprisingly diverse array of political and economic viewpoints, including the Populist platform of 1892, socialist John Spargo, and laissez-faire capitalist William Graham Sumner.¹ Max Weber argued that this passage is at the heart of the Protestant work ethic, which he saw as a necessary condition for the rise of American...

  16. Contributors
    (pp. 209-216)
  17. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 217-242)
  18. Index of Names
    (pp. 243-246)
  19. Index of Biblical and Ancient Literature References
    (pp. 247-257)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 258-258)