A Few Beginning Observations/Suggestions
Initially prepared for MCUSA (Mennonite Church US) Women in Leadership Committee – June 2012
(Possible ideas for a working committee so not fully prepared for publishing.)
Although women around Elizabeth Cady Stanton (late 1800s, The Woman’s Bible) and scholars of the 1920s like Katherine C. Bushnell (God’s Word to Women) and Lee Anna Starr (The Bible Status of Woman) interpreted scripture, resources since the ‘second and third waves’ of feminism (1960s and 1990s) are more prolific. As more professionally trained women engage the text, insights limited by patriarchy through the centuries are countered. Although Jewish and Christian texts reflect experience as seen and written by men, women were present. Leonard Swidler’s Women in Judaism The Status of Women in Formative Judaism offers important information about ancient women in the cult and society. The task continues to explore and discover biblical woman’s marginal experience, to ask new questions, to confront and correct traditions that continue to perpetuate views of women as inferior.
In order to present in fairness Divine openness to all people, we need to reconstruct what has been distorted through translation, writing, and sermons. We, as ever, need to find meaning for our day. Our task is to learn from writers and teachers like the following and to be disciplined students of the text, if possible enhanced by study of Hebrew and Greek languages. Within the following list, some writers explain interpreting; others practice with specific texts. Several books include only a chapter or two on biblical content. Phyllis Trible encourages us to retell hurtful accounts like Hagar’s rejection, Tamar’s rape, or the inhuman sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter in their memory. Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza is persuaded that since gospel and early church texts include women, despite patriarchy, many more women were active and influential then. The notes that follow reflect something of what I have garnered from this sampling of mentors expressed as counsel or suggestions, combined with occasional reference to scriptures.
Clifford, Anne M. Introducing Femnist Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2001.
Diamant, Anita. The Red Tent A novel. NY: Picador USA, 1997.
Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler. Bread Not Stone The Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation. Boston: Beacon Pr., 1984.
Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler. But She Said Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation. Boston: Beacon Pr., 1992.
Fiorenza Elisabeth Schussler. In Memory of Her A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins. NY: Crossroad, 1983.
Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler, ed. Searching the Scriptures A Feminist Introduction. Vol. 1, NY: Crossroad, 1993; Vol. 2 1994.
Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schussler. Wisdom Ways Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2001.
Isherwood, Lisa. Introducing Feminist Christologies. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Pr., 2002.
Jeansonne, Sharon Pace. The Women of Genesis From Sarah to Potiphar’s Wife. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990.
Johnson, Elizabeth A. She Who Is The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. NY: Crossroad, 1993.
Kwok, Pui-lan. Discovering the Bible in the Non-Biblical World. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Pub.s, 1995.
Newsom, Carol A. and Sharon H. Ringe, eds. The Women’s Bible Commentary. Louisville, KY: Westminster /John Knox Pr., 1992.
Russell, Letty M., ed. Feminist Interpretation of the Bible. Phila.: Westminster Pr., 1985.
Russell, Letty M., ed. The Liberating Word A Guide to Nonsexist Interpretation of the Bible. Phila: Westminster Pr., 1976.
Schneiders, Sandra M. The Revelatory Text Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Pr., 1999.
Tamez, Elsa. Bible of the Oppressed. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1982.
Teubal, Savina J. Hagar the Egyptian The Lost Tradition of the Matriarchs. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990.
Tiffany, Frederick C. & Sharon H. Ringe. Biblical Interpretation A Road Map. Nashville: Abingdon1996.
Trible, Phyllis. God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. Phila.: Fortress Pr., 1978.
Trible, Phyllis. Texts of Terror Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives. Phila.: Fortress Pr., 1984.
Women Engage and Interpret the Bible—reflecting responsibility, feminist thought, and conviction.
Rather than complete this working task with the same format, I now highlight several points and quotes related to interpreting by writers, rather than develop themes.
From Tiffany & Ringe Biblical Interpretation – Meaning is intended by the writer and received by the reader. It occurs in the interaction between text and reader. . . Perception is filtered through interpreter’s perspective. Diversity is a problem for those who think that their context is universal, who fail to recognize or refuse to deal with the fact of diversity. In patriarchy, men prescribe how women are to behave. When looking at a text, ask Who is excluded or silenced and by whom? Ask what is going on?. . . Admit what you expect to find, why you might be uneasy. . . Read – feel (imagine how others might read it or perceive life) – question – react. Identify your own assumptions, questions, and problems with a text. Attend to structure, patterns, and key words. “Close reading” involves a process of dialogue: of question and answer, of hypothesis and test, of suggestion and correction. . . Examine resources with varied perspectives, from different historical times and races, by both women and men. . . Utilize conversation partners.
From Schussler Fiorenza In Memory of Her — “Our words reflect the nature of reality as we see it.” Four models of biblical interpretation: doctrinal; factual objective historical exegesis; dialogical hermeneutics (intent to establish meaning); liberation theology (All theology is either for or against the oppressed.) Early Christian women, as women, were part of a submerged group; as Christians they were part of an emergent group not recognized by the dominant society and culture. “Ideas of men about women do not reflect women’s historical reality.” (85) Patriarchal inferiority/oppression is rooted in the patriarchal household, in the relationship of marriage with woman seen as property, not in biology. Both women and men deserve to be defined by discipleship, to be empowered by the Spirit. Gal. 3:28 suggests that within Christian community, there are to be no structures of domination. (213)
From Pui-lan –Discovering the Bible in the Non-biblical World. A problem for Christians in the ‘non-Christian’ world is to hear God speak in a different voice: Hebrew, Greek, German, English. . . Terms like “sin, atonement, salvation, Trinity, Godhead, incarnation suggest the superstitious or speculation for the average Chinese person.” (11) . . . The idea of divine revelation is culturally conditioned (western), not known to Hinduism or Confucianism. . . “People of other faiths deserve to be known as dialogue partners in the ongoing search for truth,” not targets for conversion. (12) . . . Stories from different cultural contexts are as “sacred” as biblical stories. . . In Islam, recitation of the Qur’an (in sacred Arabic) is far more significant than the study of the written text. . . In popular Buddhism, scripture sometimes has a magical character as with relics; at other times, a deep suspicion of texts and words can exist. The suggestion of three different worlds in a written text—behind, of, before—overlooks the predominant oral nature of Jesus’ stories within community. Kwok suggests a new image for the process of biblical interpretation—“dialogical imagination.”
From Schussler Fiorenza, ed. Searching the Scriptures. . . Attend to ways that women have read or used the bible through the centuries. While the Bible is written in androcentric language, within a patriarchal culture that perpetuates patriarchal values, it also inspires and authorizes women and other non-persons in their struggle against patriarchal oppression. The ethos of feminist critical interpretation: inclusion, ecumenism, multiculturalism. In scripture it looks for hidden meaning, lost voices, and vision that authorizes.
From Clifford Introducing Feminist Theology — African American women read the Bible via social location shaped by their history of slavery and experience of racism. . . “Womanist” – names the African American woman’s resistance to oppression plus their self-affirmation and will to survive with human dignity (79)
“Mujerista” – theology done by Hispanic women in the U.S. . . The bible is peripheral to daily life for many Hispanic women. (81) For Elsa Tamez, the bible, such as Hagar’s story, becomes a source of hope and courage. . . The starting point for Mujerista theology is woman’s struggle for survival, for which she turns to popular religious devotion as to God, Mary, and saints. . . For them, the “Word of God” suggests the belief that God is with them in the daily struggle.
From Schneiders. The Revelatory Text – “Every act of knowledge is achieved through interpretation. . . Interpretation is ‘the road to meaning.’ Meaning is what is understood, what expands our human being. Therefore, interpretation is a primary object of inquiry.” 18 . . . “Interpretation is both process and product: textual meaning. . . No single meaning alone corresponds to or constitutes the meaning of the text.” (164) . . . “Valid interpretation: 1. accounts for the text as it stands; 2. is consistent with itself; 3. explains anomalies; 4. is compatible with what is known from other sources; 5. uses responsibly all appropriate methods.” (165-6)