La Biblia y su Tradición The Bible and Its Tradition

Género y Escritura

Dra. Renata Furst, Oblate School of Theology

La Biblia y su Tradición,
2 de octubre 2021

Gender and Scripture

Dr. Renata Furst, Oblate School of Theology

The Bible and Its Tradition,
October 2, 2021

Jesus sits, he listens, and he walks with many people in the gospel texts: He sits with Mary his friend in her home; he reflects theologically with Martha on the road to her brother’s tomb; he listens to the concerns of the Samaritan woman at the well; he reluctantly attends to the Syro-Phoenician or Canaanite women who calls out asking him to heal his daughter and he notices his mother standing with other women at the foot of the cross. He had an eye for women. These are only a few examples of his personal interactions with women portrayed in the gospels.

How did other women fare in other biblical texts? How are they portrayed and treated in OT texts?

Women are portrayed in a variety of ways in the OT. Some are heroines, (such as Rahab, Ruth, Judith), others are obstacles turned into bearers of God’s promises to his people (for example Sarah and Hannah). Without a doubt, laws based on the concepts of what is pure and impure limit women’s activities in the biblical world. Violence directed specifically at women also appears in biblical texts. So there is a woman dismembered by an enraged husband in the book of Judges. There are cities portrayed as wives and daughters who are pillaged and raped in prophetic texts, to name a few.

So the portrayal of women and their roles in society and worship in the text are major issues, but traditions created by the interpretation of sacred texts are equally important.

For example, what implications do the NT texts have for women’s ministry in the church?1

Another example: the portrayal of the creation of woman from the side of Adam in Genesis 2, has been interpreted as a sign of her inferiority throughout history.

Nevertheless, the church has begun to re-think and reject this interpretation: In the description found in Gen 2:1 8-25, the woman is created by God "from the rib" of the man and is placed at his side as another "I", as the companion of the man, who is alone in the surrounding world of living creatures and who finds in none of them a "helper" suitable for himself…The biblical text provides sufficient bases for recognizing the essential equality of man and woman from the point of view of their humanity. From the very beginning, both are persons, unlike the other living beings in the world about them. The woman is another "I" in a common humanity.2

Significantly, the scholarship that underlies this apostolic letter was the work of female Italian biblical scholar Bruna Costacurta.3

For the past 50 years, or so, feminist scholars have read the bible through the lens of a “hermeneutics of suspicion” in order to ask questions such as: “Where are the women in this picture?” “What role and voice do women have in the biblical text? How has this subsequently influenced the role and voice of women in Christian communities?

Sharon Ringe, who is not Catholic but is a feminist scholar, speaks of the hermeneutics of suspicion in this way:

The different ways women have experienced the power of the Bible individually and as members of different religious, social and ethnic communities have led to a variety of approaches to the task of interpretation. Those approaches range along a continuum from affirmation that the entire Bible, as the Word of God, positively informs faith and practice to, at the other extreme outright rejection of the Bible as hopelessly and irredeemably misogynistic.4

More recently, female scholars working to understand the cultural background of biblical texts have warned against the issue of “presentism,” the practice of interpreting biblical data through the categories of our present world view.5

Biblical scholarship in general in the Catholic Church has slowly become familiar with feminist approaches. The last time it was mentioned in an official document was in the 1994 document on the interpretation of scripture in the church, in which feminism was acknowledged as a viable way of looking at the text. But there were several cautions with it.

Biblical scholarship in general, but especially in the Catholic church is barely scratching the surface in relation to LGBTQ issues. I would like to give you examples of how scholars are creatively re-reading the OT. This is a re-interpretation of the story of Ehud and Jael in Judges 3-5:

From a stance of hetero-suspicion and with a theoretical view to intertextuality and queer survivance, I will argue that, like Beck, Ehud and Jael subvert oppressive power structures through gender-bending performances and the embodiment of ambivalent, and even comedic, identity markers. Taking such similarities into consideration, I will then suggest that Ehud’s and Jael’s queer-comic consciousness becomes another thematic trope within the book of Judges as a whole. Yet instead of focusing on the repetition of the Israelites’ self-fulfilling demise, this trope spotlights the creative ways in which the Judges narrative becomes one of survival and reflects an ancient culture’s will to resist, persist, and indeed, live.6

This leaves us with an ever-evolving and challenging question: How can women, LGBTQ persons and their faith communities continue to interpret the Biblical text in way that is healthy for themselves, their faith, and their families?

If you would like more information about this way of viewing the text, see the Society of Biblical Literature’s “Horizons of LGBTQ Hermeneutics.”7 This is not an approach that the Catholic Church has embraced wholeheartedly, I think primarily because it is new. It is something that has happened in the last five to ten years. We’re on the cusp of something new that is happening in the church.

I would like to leave you with a question. Read the MACC RESPECT / RESPETO guidelines (link) and think about which of these do I find most difficult when I am listening to sexism and gender issues? How would you receive a feminist or LBGTQ reading of your favorite biblical text?

1 Women Also Journeyed With Him: Feminist Perspectives on the Bible by Aldina Da Silva, Marc Girard, Olivette Genest, Gerald Caron (Editor), Elisabeth J. Lacelle, Michel Gourgues, Jean-Jacques Lavoie, Andre Myre, Jean-Francois Racine, Michel Gourges (Michael Glazier, 2000). Translation of Des femmes aussi faisaient route avec Lui : perspectives féminines sur la Bible, Collection Sciences bibliques, Médiaspaul, 1995.

2 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Milieris Dignitatem: On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, Section III Image and Likeness of God., accessed 9/19/2021.

3 Bruna Costacurta, doctor in Biblical Sciences, is full professor of Old Testament Exegesis at the Faculty of Theology of the Pontifical Gregorian University and supports teaching with an activity of dissemination and study of Sacred Scripture in Italy and abroad. Former member of the Presidency Council of the Italian Biblical Association, she is part of the National Coordination Group of the Biblical Apostolate Sector of the CEI. In addition to various articles in the field of biblical research, she has published (translated from Italian): Life Threatened. The theme of fear in the Hebrew Bible (Rome 1988); With the Zither and with the Sling. David's Rise to the Throne (Bologna 2003); The Broken Snare. Study of Psalm 124 (Bologna 2002); The Scepter and the Sword. David becomes king (2Sam 2-12) (Bologna 2006).

4 Sharon H. Ringe, “When Women Interpret the Bible” in Women’s Bible Commentary with Apocrypha, edited by Carol A. Newson and Sharon H. Ringe, Louisville, Westminster John Knox, 1998, 4.

5 Carol Meyers, “Gender and Society: Reconstructing Relationships, Rethinking Systems,” Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context, 198. Based on archeological and anthropological categories, Meyers proposes “heterarchy” as a better model for ancient Israel, than “patriarchy” or male domination that has become entrenched in feminist biblical interpretations.

6 Sarah Emanuel, “Letting judges breathe: Queer survivance in the book of Judges and Gad Beck’s An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin” 1JSOT, January 2020, 394-95.