Feminist Scholarship on the New Testament
- LAST REVIEWED: 21 September 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0072
- LAST REVIEWED: 21 September 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0072
In terms of feminist interpretation of the New Testament and early Christianity, this entry largely details the scholarship indebted to “second wave” feminism (that feminism of the 1960s and early 1970s). To be sure, there were predecessors, going back well into the 1800s, and one cannot draw a hard and fast line between periods. That said, the shifting social and political structures of the 1960s through the 1980s created a context for a significant shift in traditional scholarly historical-critical interpretation of early Christian literature and history, an enterprise that was largely a male-dominated one up until that point. Within ecclesial contexts, feminists were arguing for radical reform across a range of differing denominations and traditions. Certainly, women’s ordination was one of the key facets of engagement, but there were many other issues too (e.g., attention to female reproductive rights). As a result, more women entered the academy, both secular and theological, and in the process there was an increasing emphasis on reading texts against the “male-centered” grain. A feminist hermeneutical lens focuses both on the relativistic nature of epistemology and the social location of the interpreter, including the relationship of the two. Feminists, drawing on the changes taking place elsewhere in academic discourses of the time (e.g., the “linguistic turn” and post-structuralism), including a strong indebtedness to liberation theology (which was coterminous in its development), asserted that interpretation was to be contextualized within particular institutional and personal locations. There was no “value-free” or “objective” standpoint. Thus, one had the ethical obligation to engage the political and social structures that shaped interpretation itself. In this case, feminist scholars of the Bible were particularly invested in challenging male-dominated, androcentric interpretative frameworks. Essential to feminist interpretation of the New Testament, then, is its unapologetically political character. The organization of this entry seeks to elucidate both the genealogy of feminist interpretation and the growth and development of diverse strands as they are reflected in specific aims of interpretation (e.g., reconstructive, theological) and the broadening of application beyond nonwhite/Western social locations (e.g., womanist, mujerista, African, and Asian feminist interpretations). One also has to bear in mind that, on the current scene, we find increasingly multi- and interdisciplinary/intersectional interpretative approaches that integrate traditional feminist concerns with a variety of other modes of analysis (e.g., postcolonial, queer). Thus, in the 1980s and especially the 1990s, there emerged a multiplicity of hermeneutical stances adopted by interpreters, many of whom claim a strong feminist positionality for their interpretative work. The current entry intentionally delineates the feminist work that best fits within the earlier framework. For a comprehensive treatment of the latter approaches, the reader needs to consult the Oxford Bibliographies article Women, Gender, and Sexuality in the New Testament and Early Christianity, which traces the feminist themes in their more recent configurations.
Introductory works in feminist studies of the New Testament and early Christianity tend to develop in several directions and represent different entry points for the beginning interpreter. One, represented by Cheney 1996, focuses on women as feminist readers of scripture. Schottroff, et al. 1998 and Schüssler Fiorenza 2001 provide methodological introductions to their respective hermeneutical projects. Kraemer and D’Angelo 1999 is an essay collection that takes texts, contexts, and histories of interpretation into account from feminist angles. Tamez 1982 appraises church attitudes toward women and proposes liberationist alternatives, while Amador 1998, Vander Stichele and Penner 2005, and Lopez and Penner 2014 provide critical overviews of the field as a whole for those who might be interested in the politics and implications of scholarship, broadly conceived.
Amador, J. D. H. “Feminist Biblical Hermeneutics: A Failure of Theoretical Nerve.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 66.1 (1998): 39–57.
A critical appraisal of American feminist biblical hermeneutics. In addition to providing a typology of approaches, this essay proposes rhetorical analysis as an important but overlooked resource for the deepening of feminist interpretation vis-à-vis power analysis.
Cheney, Emily. She Can Read: Feminist Reading Strategies for Biblical Narrative. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity, 1996.
Cheney argues that women can read as women, in contrast to claims that women can speak and read only as men. She develops three reading strategies for group or individual study of biblical narrative.
Kraemer, Ross Shephard, and Mary Rose D’Angelo, eds. Women and Christian Origins. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Contains critical review essays intended for introductory purposes. Areas covered include women’s roles in ancient Mediterranean Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures, analysis of the Gospels and Pauline texts, and the use of early Christian texts from the Gnostic gospels to 4th-century apostolic constitutions and disciplinary canons.
Lopez, Davina C., and Todd Penner. “Historical-Critical Approaches.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Gender Studies. Edited by Julia O’Brien, 327–336. Oxford Encyclopedias of the Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
Provides an overview of the methodological intersections between historical-critical biblical scholarship and feminist concerns. Includes a bibliography.
Schottroff, Luise, Silvia Schroer, and Marie-Theres Wacker. Feminist Interpretation: The Bible in Women’s Perspective. Translated by Martin Rumscheidt and Barbara Rumscheidt. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998.
A systematic introductory effort to describe the story and history of women across biblical testaments, to appraise methodological tendencies not supportive of women’s concerns, and to illuminate biblical traditions of interpretation that empower women.
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth. Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2001.
Intended to introduce the general reader to the procedures and implications of feminist theological hermeneutics, by one of its leading developers and practitioners.
Tamez, Elsa. Bible of the Oppressed. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1982.
An introductory-level volume on the relationship between concepts and practices associated with Latin American liberation theology and contemporary biblical hermeneutics.
Vander Stichele, Caroline, and Todd Penner, eds. Her Master’s Tools? Feminist and Postcolonial Engagements of Historical-Critical Discourse. Global Perspectives on Biblical Scholarship 9. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005.
International essay collection exploring the legacies of historical criticism in feminist biblical hermeneutics, opening new avenues for future research. Contributors emphasize the ongoing need to engage methodological issues in the discipline.
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