Carceral Hermeneutics: Discovering the Bible in Prison and Prison in the Bible
This essay introduces the concept of “carceral hermeneutics,” the art of interpreting Scripture from within prisons as, or alongside, incarcerated persons. Reading the Bible in prison reframes the Bible as a whole, highlighting how the original sites of textual production were frequently sites of exile, prison, confinement, and control. Drawing on the work of Lauren F. Winner, the author explores the “characteristic damages” of reading the Bible without attention to the carceral and suggests that physically re-locating the task of biblical interpretation can unmask interpretative damage and reveal alternative, life-giving readings. The essay concludes with an extended example, showing how the idea of cruciformity is a characteristically damaged reading that extracts Jesus’ execution from its carceral context. Carceral hermeneutics surfaces a Gospel counter-narrative in which Jesus flees violence and opts for his own safety. Jesus as a refugee (Matt 2), a fugitive (Matt 4:12–17), and a victim escaping violence (Luke 4:14–30) stand alongside Jesus as an executed person to offer a wider range of options for a “christoformity” in which people can image God while fleeing from violence in order to preserve their own lives and freedom.
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