“Columbus, Q, and You-Know-Who”

Leif E. Vaage

March 24, 2011

Leif Vaage shared with students and colleagues of the Institute for Signifying Scriptures his latest project—a collection of essays that tie together two lines of research that he hopes will contribute to the discourse on scripturalizing.  Half of the essays deal with the topic of Q, a hypothetical text thought to be a source used in composing both Matthew and Luke and therefore explains the common material found in both gospels, and the other half of the essays are on the cultural history of the Bible in Latin America.  Vaage states that what joins these two lines of inquiry together is the peculiarity of both phenomena.  Both Q and the introduction of the Bible into Latin America are “two promising moments for de-centering standard habits of thought regarding scriptural texts.”  The purpose of the essays on Q is to “attract attention to the fact that Q should seem to us to be a whole lot more peculiar than it appears to have seemed to most people writing on Q.”  Vaage states that Q is an “unexpected result of the normative tradition of biblical scholarship” and that biblical scholars have worked very hard to try to normalize Q.  He argues that the Q project affords us an opportunity to question the standard operating assumptions that biblical scholarship rests upon.  He claims that the Q project represents a particular kind of problem in the history of biblical scholarship and hopes that we can learn something from what the Q project has failed to do.  

Vaage shared that the project was born from his personal and scholarly experiences.  Shortly after completing his doctorate degree he took a job teaching in Lima, Peru.  At the time Peru was engaged in a civil war, and he began to question how his scholarly training correlated with what was occurring in the country.  He began to question what the Bible was “doing” in Latin America, which led him to question what exactly the academy is “doing” when they talk about phenomena such as Q or the political history of a particular place.

Vaage states that Latin America affords a somewhat unique opportunity for study since the first point of contact can be ascertained.  In other words, we know the exact historical moment in which the Bible was introduced into most Latin American countries.  He argues that the physical text of the Bible was probably not introduced until the 19th century when the first Protestants starting arriving.  Yet, he observes that even prior to the introduction of the physical text of the Bible into Latin America, scripturalizing is already occurring with the arrivals of the Conquistadors.  Vaage’s project is an attempt to track the use of the Bible in Latin America—from it being viewed as an alien text to its employment and deployment by individuals for a number of ends.  He has assembled a number of case studies in Latin America, specifically those that deal with how the biblical text and the political process is interwoven, which he hopes will be a starting place for further research. 

Questions for consideration:
1)    What type of “scriptures” did the indigenes invest authority in prior to the arrival of the Protestants and their texts?
2)    Are there instances where indigenes signified upon their own “scriptures” in an attempt to defend against their colonizers?
3)    To what ends did the indigenous population signify upon the “scriptures” of their colonizers?
4)    Did scripturalizing practices change in any way once the physical text of the Bible was introduced into Latin America?  If so how?

Submitted by: Melissa Reid
Research Assistant
The Institute for Signifying Scriptures


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