Sunday, December 27, 2015

In Honor of my Mother's 84th Birthday: Elsa Tamez and the Parables (part 2)

The Birthday Girl and me
on a sunny day this summer

In honor of my mother, Betty Gowler's, 84th birthday, a continuation of my post about Elsa Tamez's Jesus and Courageous Women (my mother should be added as one of those "courageous women"):

Tamez argues that even grassroot interpretations usually ignore such difficult biblical texts, soften their oppressive content, or say that the marginalization of women in the ancient world reflected in these texts is simply not relevant for the modern world (1994: 193). Tamez counters that the central message of the Bible is profoundly liberating. Interpreters must not ascribe too much importance to the patriarchal ideology that is found in some “peripheral texts,” such as Genesis 3: “the gospel’s spirit of justice and freedom . . . neutralizes antifemale texts” (194). Therefore, biblical texts that reflect patriarchy, including the inferiority of women and their submission to men, are not normative, just as texts that legitimate slavery are not normative (195).
The first step is to distance oneself from established interpretations and to come to the text almost as a first-time visitor with little or no presuppositions about what a text means. The second step is to read the text with the understanding that God is on the side of the oppressed—the “hermeneutic key” found in Scripture itself (198). The third step is to read the entire Bible (i.e., not just texts that include or involve women) from a woman’s perspective, a step that involves including other oppressed “sectors” besides the poor. In this way, interpreters come “closer” to the Bible, being able to apply these texts to their daily lives. This new way of reading the Bible should result, Tamez declares, not only in experiencing God but also in a practice of justice and caring for other human beings (Tamez 1989: 4, 150). 
Tamez demonstrates this approach in an innovative book, Jesus and Courageous Women (2001), in which she uses a fictionalized version of Lydia (Acts 16:11-15, 40) to narrate stories of courageous women who follow Jesus. Tamez hopes that such stories will motivate readers “to rethink our lives in relation to the church and to society” (vii). These testimonies of women are part of the “counter-movement” to the dominant Roman Empire that was an essential element of the Jesus movement within Palestine and the Christian movement beyond Palestine. The narration of these women’s stories and the courage reflected in them highlight the liberating force of the early Christian movement, because it also includes liberation from the oppression of patriarchy.
“Lydia” begins by noting that the active participation of women in the early church and in the stories of Jesus is “usually not taken into account” (1):

The stories I have heard about the women followers of Jesus tell me two important things: first, that Jesus has a special inclination for those people at the marginalized sectors of society, such as women, the poor and the sick, and all those who are discriminated against; and second, that we women have found in the movement of Jesus the hope and vision that things can be different for us . . . (2).
. . .
Jesus believed there must be room for all in society—women and men, the poor, the sick, and the ignorant. The Kingdom of God, the central proclamation of Jesus, is an ideal realm in which there is no war, no domination of one people over another, no hunger, no discrimination, for all people are viewed as precious, loved, and valued in God’s eyes (4).

Next: Tamez's interpretation of the parable of the Importunate Widow/Unjust Judge.

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