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feminist theology and the historical Jesus


Ready or not, here they come!



These are actually "scratch notes," and I had to cut the presentation down. You get the real version. There is a ton of stuff in Schottroth's book that I did not get in here because I knew it would be far too much. I only have five minutes to do the portion from the beginning up to the critiques. The critiques may or may not get done in class--our time seems to be rather lop-sided. I could discuss this for a long, long time--and considering the fact that I dreaded the assignment, I consider this an accomplishment of mammoth proportions this semester.




Sandra Schneiders defines feminism as a comprehensive ideology, rooted in women's experience of sexual oppression, which engages in a critique of patriarchy, embraces an alternative vision for humanity and the earth, and actively seeks to bring this vision to realization.



Mary Jo Weaver identified six tasks of feminist theology:



  • pointing out absence of women in a field

  • >recognizing that knowledge about women has been trivialized

  • searching out lost traditions of women

  • reading old texts in a revisionary way

  • challenging the discipline methodologically

  • working toward a truly integrated field



Feminist theology includes writings by women of many races and thus provides a rich understanding of the intersection of sexuality and , race,poverty. Women writers identify often with children and slaves because many have lived in cultures of slavery and many care for children.



Liberation theology ... "interprets the Christian gospel and the Hebrew Bible in such a way as to be politically and socially relevant for current social and economic situations." [My note: This tends to cause them to lean toward using the Scriptures to support activism rather than hoping in eschatological events.]



Luise Schottroff: "Patriarchal rulers, be they women or men, have always claimed to be acting from love and concern for those over whom they rule." (p. 8)



Feminist critiques of traditional Christian theology



  • Delores Williams: Christian theology asks women [and others who suffer] to accept their suffering as though it is sacred. [This goes against feminist and other liberation ideology.]

  • Christianity is a theology that promotes child abuse. As feminist scholars Joanne Brown and Rebecca Parker argue, "Christianity is an abusive theology that glorifies suffering. Is it any wonder that there is so much abuse in modern society when the predominant image or theology of culture is of 'divine child abuse'--God the Father demanding and carrying out the suffering and death of his own son? If Christianity is to be liberating for the oppressed it must itself be liberated from this theology"

  • Luise Schottroff: Christian theology is dominated by western understandings; distinction is not made between voluntary renunciation of possessions by the rich and oppressive poverty that is a natural situation for "the people." For Christian women and men of the Western world, the Jesus tradition is the invitation to conversion: the conversion of the rich or the conversion of the poor in a rich land. That alone is how the gospel becomes spiritual bread of life for them."



Feminist Scholarship and the Historical Jesus



General issues:



Feminist scholarship in this area addresses three points: Jesus' interactions with women, the significance of Jesus' maleness, and the theology of the cross.



Three perceptions shaping the stereotypes of feminity at the time of Jesus:



  • Woman's tasks in an affluent household

  • Biology's understanding of procreation

  • Mythology of creation



Reading the Texts



Language is important. Two significant issues are:



Androcentrism: language that excludes by gender. Women and children are invisible.



Kyriocentrism: language that excludes unpaid laborers (Noah planted a vineyard), creating the illusion that people brought poverty on themselves. Productivity of women and children is invisible.



Sheila Briggs' three types of texts:


  • Those in which the voices of the oppressed are heard

  • Those which represent the voices of "alienated social elite" (once social elite but now ostracised)

  • Ambiguous texts

  • </ul>

    Jesus' Interactions with Women



    Mary Magdalene: In the sixth century, the image of the "repentent whore" became popular. Feminist rewriting elevates Mary Magdalene to the status of "apostle to the apostles." Feminist scholars draw on the Gnostic Gospel of Mary as well as the four gospels. This text presents Jesus revealing himself secretely to Mary following the resurrection, giving her some secret knowledge to share with the disciples. After she shares it, an argument ensues among the men about whether it is true and why Jesus would have shared it secretly with her and not with them. The argument concludes with one of the disciples saying, "You know that he loved her more than any of us." This is a pretty empowering statement for women--and the argument is characteristic of the disciples, who seem awfully preoccupied with gaining special status in Jesus' eyes. (Note the argument about who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven and the many references to "the disciple whom Jesus loved" in the Gospel of John.)



    Feminist scholars feel that women do not figure prominently in the four Gospels. Feminist scholars argue that this does not necessarily mean that they were not among the followers of Jesus, but when the names of women are used, it's probably because they are important. Schottroff indicates that it is important to look beyond Mary Magdalene, to learn about women's everyday lives during the time period.



    Feminists seem to have some difficulty with the Martha and Mary narrative. They seem to appreciate the fact that Mary is being instructed as a disciple but dislike the fact that Martha is criticized for her work, which they translate as ministry.



    Luise Schottroff says, "As the Gospels in particular indicate, the central issues are illness, hunger, indebtedness, social exclusion, and (political) violence." The Gospel narratives portray Jesus as especially sensitive to situations that cause shame to individuals.



    The Maleness of Jesus



    Opinions of the significance of Jesus' maleness vary. Traditional feminist scholars feel that the image of the male Christ is harmful to humanity.



    From an article: "Over 20 years ago Mary Daly dismissed Christian fixation on the person of Jesus as "pure idolatry," and the Christian myths of sin and salvation as "products of supermale arrogance" serving to legitimate the oppression of women through blaming a woman for humankind's destruction and exalting the violent death of a unique male savior."



    "Womanist" writers construct fictional pieces depicting alternate versions of the biblical narrative, such as Gloria Naylor's Mama Day.



    This view contrasts with the traditional view, in which Jesus' maleness was in harmony with God's plan and that if the role of the presider at the Eucharist were not taken by a man, "it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ. For Christ himself was and remains a man"; and the revisionist feminist view, in which the maleness of Jesus is insignificant.



    The Cross



    The cross is seen in a number of ways:



    • child abuse

    • at-one-ment and "creative birth-giving"

    • a symbol of the guillotine-gallows (within the context of Jesus' historical life)

    • Self-giving love is problematic because it leaves room for exploitation of women in the name of "love."

    • divine co-sufferer, who empowers them in situations of oppression, precisely because "Jesus' suffering was not the suffering of a mere human, [but of] God incarnate." (Jacquelyn Grant)

    • African women find empowerment through their identification with the Christ who has taken on their condition of weakness, misery, injustice, and oppression, and identify Jesus not only as the crucified one, but also as mother, nurturer, liberator, conqueror over evil, and healer who restores health and life to individuals and communities. (Shawn Copeland)

    • Asian writers: active suffering as a consequence of taking stands for justice and human dignity. Jesus is "the suffering servant."



    In summary, the cross is "the consequence of [Jesus'] prophetic life." Women kept vigil at the execution. Jesus was not "required" to die but endured it as a consequence for liberatory actions.



    The Importance of the Feminist Perspective



    "Jesus Christ, . . . though he was rich, yet for your sakes . . . became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" ( 2 Cor. 8:9). The rich interpret this to be about spiritual and inward values, not about material poverty and wealth.



    People who are not enslaved declare that Christ's being a slave is a metaphor that expresses nothing about real women and men slaves. Those who have experienced oppression perceive in the voluntary nature of the loss of sovereignty the divinity of the slave Christ, who, in solidarity, shared the lot of all female and male slaves and, as a poor Galilean man, shared the poverty of the Jewish people. The characteristically Western distinction between "image" and "meaning" is rarely found in theologies of liberation.



    Critiques



    We humans seem to have a problem with admitting weakness, acknowledging evil, and accepting facts. Jewish society was patriarchal. Why do we have a problem with this? Why do we need to rewrite history? Furthermore, what is wrong with gender roles lived out the way that God designed them to be lived out? Much feminist theology is built on the foundation of liberation from the exploitation and abuse of women. The problem with this theology is that it de-emphasizes trust in God and emphasizes human power to overcome.



    In using feminist theology to elevate women, women must be cautious not to debase men in the process.



    Luise Schottroff: "Every action in opposition to androcentrism, kyriocentrism, and others should be guided by this primary question: Who in this history are the "last"? Jesus acted in opposition by beginning with the last and making them visible. 130 Practically speaking, this means we need to take the side of women, children, the exploited, and the aged; it means gynocentrism and Women-Church (to which I shall return). Making visible the "last" ... requires an analysis of patriarchy that makes the walls of androcentrism and kyriocentrism transparent; it requires a vision of what justice might look like, namely, that justice which no longer oppresses anyone, not even creation."



    The healing of community does not happen as one oppressed group gains power over a formerly oppressive group. It happens as the oppressive group learns to be humble and the formerly oppressed group learns to live responsibly in freedom. Having lived all of my life as a part of another group that is often oppressed--people with disabilities--I can tell you that a great part of the healing process lies in my ability as the oppressed person to allow for the possibility of change, to permit God to do a work in the other person. If I don't, then I have contributed to the wounding of the community. As both a woman and a person with a disability, these things are very important to me.



    I don't perceive Christian theology as "blaming" Eve for the downfall of humankind. In fact, it is clearly otherwise: "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive." Reading Scripture in a way that blames Eve is a misinterpretation. If we read the Genesis story literally, Eve may have committed the first physical act; but where was Adam?



    What is the significance of Jesus' maleness? Stanley Grenz puts it very nicely--and in addressing this, he bridges the gap between "feminism" and the community that needs healing. He points out that male and female were created to be complementary; but the consequence of the fall was that they became hierarchical. Jesus redeems this complementary relationship. In a patriarchal society, only a male could have served as savior. A female savior would have been dismissed, her self-sacrifice viewed as living out her social role. Jesus' maleness also mattered because he taught men to live in community as women were already doing; and he treated women with compassion uncharacteristic of men.



    Feminist views of the cross stop short of the significance of the resurrection. The resurrection is what gives meaning to the cross-event. Without it, Jesus is only a martyr for a good cause. Because of the resurrection, God, by His Holy Spirit, has raised Jesus from the dead, and Jesus is the Saviour of the world--man and woman and all creation!



    Some Suggested Readings



    Brown, Joanne Carlson and Rebecca Parker. "For God So Loved the World?" Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse: A Feminist Critique. Ed. Joanne Carlson Brown and Carole R. Bohn. New York: Pilgrim, 1989. 1-30.



    Shorto, Russell. Gospel Truth: The New Image of Jesus Emerging from Science and History, and Why It Matters. New York: Riverhead, 1997.



    Weems, Renita. Reading Her Way through the Struggle: African American Women and the Bible. Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation. Ed. Cain Hope Felder. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1991. 57-77.



    Williams, Delores. Sisters in the Wilderness. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993.



    Luise Schottroff: Lydia's Impatient Sisters



    Mary Rose D'Angelo and Ross Shepard Kraemer. Women & Christian Origins. Oxford University Press. New York. 1999./p


    Cross-posting to my other journal because I'll have reflections to write there at some point--hopefully tomorrow.

    Comments

    ( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
    orpheus42
    Feb. 28th, 2007 02:50 am (UTC)
    Just sharing thoughts as they come to me.

    One of the biggest problems with a lot of feminist theology I've read is its reliance on anachronism. It's problematic at best to read back modern ideologies into ancient texts. At the same time, though, present-day writers who call themselves "complementarians" (such as, for example, members of the Council for Biblical Manhood/Womanhood) commit grievous errors as well in not recognizing the import of the New Testament writings for women within the 1st-century Jewish/Graeco-Roman cultural matrix. I don't think it's a stretch to say that if you translate the New Testament's message within that cultural matrix to our day that it would be considered radically progressive.

    Regarding creational issues, if you like check out my review of Richard Middleton's The Liberating Image: Imago Dei in Genesis 1 and realize that a lot of what I highlight about the political analysis of creation could also be applied to the patriarchal nature of ancient mesopotamian culture - I think the patriarchy is just as much a part of the order against which Genesis argues as the royal oppression.

    That being said, though, yes the balance between activism and eschatological hope is tenuous. I believe we are called to live out the implications of our hope in advance, and that to an extent includes action that would be considered activism, but at the same time it would be awfully easy for a liberationist to start reading the Bible at Exodus, and forget that God created the world in a primal state of goodness. Ancient creation myths tended to emphasize their culture as triumphing over some state of primeval chaos, and this theme is nowhere found in the Genesis creation - quite the opposite, really.

    I think there is some merit in viewing the Resurrection as an act of cosmic civil disobedience, but that image only works if we realize Jesus came not to start a revolution, but to initiate the re-creation of the world. I have my own problems with most penal interpretations of atonement, and furthermore I don't think that's what Anselm was advocating in Cur Deus Homo. For a good comment on Anselm's atonement theology, check out Andy Baker's Jesus: The Radical?

    With regards to the "not debasing men" comment, yes I agree, though I think it's important to realize just how many aspects of male dominance have the status of "sacred oaks" that need to be cut down. It is not debasing men to emphasize the creational goodness of what some call Biblical Equality.

    And a lot of what the feminists argue against seems to me not inherent in the Biblical text but rather ideas that have developed over the largely male-dominated Western history of Christianity (especially the "blaming Eve" bit you mention).

    Some largely feminist-influenced ideas like God's radical identification with the suffering (which I think is a quintessentially Jewish idea that Jesus perfects in his person, but for the sake of argument I'll give it to the feminists for now) are right on the money and incredibly important for us to remember ESPECIALLY in this present time where a very popular image of Christianity is the (mis)perception that America should be a theocracy and that American imperial overseas military action is intrinsically related to America's so-called Christian identity.

    I think there are a lot of good ideas in feminist theology with which we should interact, and some of them may be quite more similar to New Testament Christianity than we would think at first, but every ideology-based critique has its limits and we must also recognize that. Christianity seems much more complex than any particular ideology can encapsule.
    orpheus42
    Feb. 28th, 2007 02:51 am (UTC)
    also I just realized I don't quite know how your reading software works and if it will tell you where the links are in my post above. If it doesn't let me know and I'll re-post them for you.
    ( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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