Reframing religious diversity through the stories of Cain, Ishmael, and Esau
The way we read the Bible matters for the way we engage the pluralistic world around us. For instance, if we understand the book of Genesis as narrowly focused on primary characters like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, we’ll miss the larger story and end up with the impression that God only cares about those who are “chosen.” In fact, the narratives of marginalized biblical characters reveal that God protects and provides for them also. What might this mean for Christians living in a world of religious difference today?
In Father Abraham’s Many Children, Tyler Mayfield reflects on the stories of three of the most significant “other brothers” in the Bible—namely, on God’s continued engagement with Cain after he murders Abel, Ishmael’s circumcision as a sign of God’s covenant, and Esau’s reconciliation with Jacob. From these stories, Mayfield draws out a more generous theology of religious diversity, so that Christians might be better equipped to authentically love their neighbors of multiple faith traditions—as God loves, and has always loved, all humanity.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Eboo Patel Introduction 1. Religious Diversity and Our Bibles: Retelling the Ancient Stories 2. Chosenness and Genesis’s Fuller Story: Reading Expansively 3. God Asks Good Questions: The Story of Cain 4. God Was with the Boy: The Story of Ishmael 5. Only One Blessing, Father? The Story of Esau Conclusion
Tyler D. Mayfield is the A. B. Rhodes Professor of Old Testament and director of the Grawemeyer Award in Religion at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. His other books include A Guide to Bible Basics and Unto Us a Child Is Born: Isaiah, Advent, and Our Jewish Neighbors.
Interpretation “This easy-to-read book lends itself well to communities and readers who have a vested interest in religious pluralism and want to engage in a thoughtful reappraisal of . . . well-known biblical stories.”
“I love Tyler D. Mayfield’s book because he illuminates parallel parts of the Bible. In beautiful clear prose, he shows how the call and command of Christian scripture helps people connect being both faithful to the Bible and contributing citizens in a diverse nation and world.” — Eboo Patel from the foreword
“Through his rich and deep reading of the biblical stories of Cain, Ishmael, and Esau, Tyler Mayfield helps us see God, the Bible, our neighbors, and our neighbors’ religions differently. In today’s world, that’s a wonderful and needed accomplishment!” — Brian D. McLaren author of Faith after Doubt
“Religious pluralism is increasingly an unavoidable reality today, not only in how we see the world but also in how we experience our neighborhoods. As Christians are wrestling with these realities, many have assumed the ancient texts comprising their Bible have little to offer. Tyler Mayfield’s Father Abraham’s Many Children steps into this void with an accessible and creative approach that literally goes back to the beginning, to the book of Genesis, to uncover neglected stories of diversity that have been right in front of us all along. This readable book from a respected biblical scholar helps Christians re-engage one of the oldest moral questions from Scripture: ‘Where is your brother?’ And it invites us to reply, generously and affirmatively, that we are our siblings’ keepers.” — Robert P. Jones award-winning author and CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute
“Mayfield brings stunning biblical scholarship to our most urgent work: to become Christian pluralists who love difference, as God surely does. By exploring the complexity of biblical narrative through marginalized figures we come to fresh awareness of those whom we have judged ‘less than’ and pushed to the margins today. Be prepared to be challenged and changed through ‘more light shed’ in service of building the world where all belong. This book makes me fall in love with the Bible all over again!” — Katharine Rhodes Henderson president of Auburn Seminary
“In this lucid, innovative, and expansive rereading of Genesis narratives, Tyler Mayfield uses the stories of three sets of brothers—Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, and Esau and Jacob—to illustrate how the prejudices of the authors of Genesis and our own preconceived notions have distorted the way we look at these characters. I do not know of any other volume that so skillfully does justice to the neglected brothers and draws out the implications of rereading these narratives to religious pluralism and interfaith relations. Here is an excellent example of placing excellence in scholarship at the service of building community. It is an invaluable resource to those looking for a biblical basis for a new approach to religious pluralism.” — S. Wesley Ariarajah former director of the interfaith dialogue program of the World Council of Churches
“In a world in which incendiary antagonism toward other faiths is all too common, this book will foster lively dialogue about Scriptural hermeneutics and interreligious understanding. Mayfield invites Christians to engage religious pluralism with empathy and intelligence. The pastoral tone and searching discussion questions make this slim volume well-suited for those eager to examine inherited biases of Christianity and move toward a more audacious love of neighbor.” — Carolyn J. Sharp author of Wrestling the Word: The Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Believer
“In a world fraught with hate, fear of ‘the other,’ and laced with the violent commingling of Christian nationalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy, Tyler Mayfield’s book provides a much-needed lens for which to better understand ourselves, our faith, and our universal call to love. Father Abraham’s Many Children helps us decolonize theologies and mindsets that harm rather than free and is a must-read for anyone interested in collective liberation.” — Amanda Hambrick Ashcraft Executive Minister for Justice, Education, and Movement Building at Middle Collegiate Church, New York City
“Father Abraham’s Many Children is an important and bold contribution to understanding that the biblical vision is intrinsically diverse and centered on complexity. This important way of reading Scripture embraces God’s self-revelation through ‘many-ness’ and resists any simplistic us-versus-them presentations of God’s people. This book sets an agenda for ongoing explorations of inclusive encounters and interpretations which welcome difference, distinction, and diversity within the wide and generous compass of God’s saving grace. In a context of political divisiveness, the wonder of celebrating ‘many children’ is compelling and freeing. A must-read to melt the burden of corrosive identity politics.” — Chris Ferguson former general secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches
Sally Dyck in The Christian Century “This book isn’t what it seems. I approached it expecting to find a description of different religions, specifically the Abrahamic faiths, with a strong encouragement to appreciate their unique aspects as well as the commonalities. I’ve read many such books and even taught them. But when I opened Father Abraham’s Many Children, I knew within a few pages that I’d found something better. . . . [Mayfield’s] bold premise is that the way we translate and view the forsaken brother in each duo, the one who is invisible and discounted in most interpretations, affects our ability to live in a religiously plural world, nation, and community and even our relationships at our own family tables.”
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