|Elsa Tamez, Bible of the Oppressed|
Monday, December 21, 2015
Elsa Tamez and the Parables (part 1)
The peasants of Solentiname respond to the parables in the contexts of political and economic oppression, but parables can also be interpreted in light of other aspects of oppression. Elsa Tamez, for example, is a leading proponent of Latin American liberation theology from a feminist perspective. An Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at the Latin American Biblical University in San Jose, Costa Rica, Tamez’s analyses of biblical texts illuminate elements of oppression that often are overlooked by interpreters. Her first book, Bible of the Oppressed (1982), for example, argues that God’s self-revelation clearly indicates that “God is on the side of the subjugated,” (1–2), God seeks to liberate the oppressed, and God desires a new and just social order to be created (60–1). The principal motive for oppression is the desire to pile up wealth, Tamez says, and the reason the Bible opposes the rich and seeks the liberation of the poor is not because riches themselves are evil, but because the oppressors acquired their riches “at the expense of their neighbors” (71–3).
In Latin America, Tamez notes, many people now interpret the Bible as a “simple text that speaks of a loving, just, liberating God who accompanies the poor in their suffering and their struggle through human history” (1994: 190). In the context of oppression, hunger, unemployment, war, and other suffering, grassroots readings of the Bible give it new meaning and provide ways in which the Bible can be rediscovered when read from the perspective of the poor. Even in this context, however, women find cases in Scripture that clearly marginalize or segregate them. Such texts are used in modern patriarchal sexist societies to claim that women’s marginalization is a biblical principle. The inferiority of women is enshrined and reinforced in modern society because it is viewed as being “written [in] the word of God” (192-3).
The parables offer a distinctive interpretive problem, because male characters dominate parables, such as kings, farmers, builders, judges, stewards, bridegrooms, sons, fathers, priests, and rich and poor men. The few women featured—only nine out of 108 characters—are ten bridesmaids, a woman asking a judge for mercy, a woman looking for a lost coin, and “a handful of unspecified wives, mothers, and daughters” (Slee 1990: 41; cf. Gowler 2000: 78-84). Women are not only anonymous in the parables, but they are also almost invisible. A feminist reading can look beyond this surface invisibility to find numerous images and scenes in the parables that are “uniquely evocative of women’s lives” and therefore speak deeply to them in ways that are sometimes difficult to see, such as in domestic scenes and parables of celebration and feasting (Slee 1990: 41).
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