Divine Sovereignty and Human Bodies in the Hebrew Bible
Studies in Religion, Theology, and Disability
Imprint: Baylor University Press
Sales Date: 2022-09-15
145 Pages, 5.50 x 8.50 x 0.68 in
- Published: October 2022
At first glance it may seem that the Hebrew prophets offer little resolution on contemporary concerns of inclusivity and defense for persons deemed "other." Bound by their time and culture, the prophets' message seems obscure and irrelevant. However, on closer look, we see that the prophets offer a call to justice for those who are wrongly oppressed and marginalized, those on the fringes of society—the downcast and the disabled.
In Prophetic Disability, Sarah Melcher opens our eyes to the prophetic corpus' ongoing theological relevance in the first book-length treatment of disability in the Bible's prophetic literature. Melcher takes a deep exegetical dive into Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve, analyzing passages that mention disability explicitly and those that offer complementary relevance. With careful and detailed exegetical work, she shows us the profound relationship between disability and the sovereignty of God, the latter being the dominant theme shaping all other motifs in the prophets. Influenced by the prominent work in disability studies by Tom Shakespeare's critical realism, she sets forth her own method in conversation with rhetorical and literary criticism. Melcher's engagement with these ancient texts is informed throughout by a respect for the context and circumstances that generated the texts relevant to disability, as well as a sensitivity to the lived experiences of people with disabilities.
To that end, Prophetic Disability maintains the central theme from Shakespeare: that labels describe, but do not "constitute," disease. Who we are is a reality beyond our distinct experience with disability and impairment. What emerges from Melcher's analysis are ways in which the theological implications arising from the prophetic corpus might guide us toward more ethical practice in our encounters with disabilities.
Introduction: Disability and Divine Sovereignty in the Hebrew Prophets
1 "The Hands of All Will Go Limp": The Book of Isaiah
2 "Their Ears Are Closed": The Book of Jeremiah
3 "I Will Cleanse You from All Your Uncleanness": The Book of Ezekiel
4 "Assemble the Lame and Outcast": The Book of the Twelve
Conclusion: Prophetic Disability and Theological Ethics
Most of us academics ‘stay in our lane’ as we do our research. We are familiar with our field and stay there. It is ambitious and daring for an academic to ‘cross lanes’ and consider other agenda. Sarah Melcher has taken on just such a hazardous task. She is well-grounded in scripture study. But she has read widely and thought deeply about disability studies. In her discerning line-by-line analysis of the prophetic texts, Melcher traces out the way that bodily existence (including disabled bodies) is lived out in the presence of divine sovereignty and providence. She has brought off this daring venture in a way that will serve well both scripture studies and disability studies. She shows that the prophetic tradition has in purview disabled persons. This book is a significant contribution to our belated attention to disability studies. It is well-done, and attention must be paid.~Walter Brueggemann, author of Money and Possessions
This book demonstrates why Sarah Melcher is a recognized authority on theological interpretations of disability in the Hebrew Bible. She has an excellent command of the latest critical biblical scholarship on disability, and her ethical and theological insights are well-grounded in her close and sensitive readings of the text. Built on two decades of careful study and reflection on disability and the Bible, Prophetic Disability is Melcher at her best.~Jeremy Schipper, Professor in the Departments for the Study of Religion and Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto
Sarah J. Melcher’s book Prophetic Disability gathers into one place the abundance and variety of prophetic images of the human body, often beaten and deformed. Melcher is particularly concerned with images of disabled and broken bodies in relation to questions of divine sovereignty. What do the prophets posit as the divine role in breaking and restoring human bodies, and what are the consequences of such theological perspectives? This book will open discussions about ancient and modern attitudes toward disabled bodies and provide material for future research.~Kathleen M. O’Connor, William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament, Emerita, Columbia Theological Seminary
In this wise text, Sarah Melcher, who has been at the center of scholarly conversations about the Bible and disability for decades, carefully considers how disability is featured—both productively and problematically—in prophetic literature. With attention to the texts' literary and social-historical contexts and theological convictions, Melcher argues that for the prophets, themes of disability and divine sovereignty are deeply related.~Christian Century