Sabrina Reyes-Peters

Learning a New Dance

I remember studying "world views" in high school, as a subset of apologetics. (Fellow homeschool alum might remember a certain book by David Noebel.) I remember consulting Josh McDowell again when I took an Old Testament Survey class at the local community college, because the professor had a bunch of liberal ideas I wanted to debunk. Different, suspect methods of interpretation was one idea, and the documentary hypothesis was another. Despite wanting to fight against these ideas, I was a good student, and learned them in order to ace the essay exams. One of the methods of interpretation was feminist interpretation, and as soon as I wrote about it on the exam, I made room in my brain for other things, crowding it out. I was sticking with the dance moves I knew.

When I transferred to to Master's, I was taught to use the historical-grammatical method of interpretation, and it basically meant that anything that didn't fit within the paradigm of the school was suspect. Scripture was special because it was inerrant; it was inerrant because it was God's word. So, this combined two paradigms that Fiorenza describes in Wisdom Ways as The Doctrinal-Revelatory Paradigm, and The "Scientific"-Positivist Paradigm. Same dance moves.

When I reached seminary, I still relied on old methods, but I was introduced to the idea of context, which began to take root in my methods. Later, when context allowed me to consider that maybe 1 Timothy 2.11-15 was not a universal prescription, I thought about reinterpreting scripture in a way that freed up more women, and started to use what Fiorenza calls "Corrective Methods of Interpretation" along with "Historical Reconstructive Methods". Combined, they utilize context, textual criticism, and extra-canonical sources to reshape decades of patriarchal interpretation into a sort of feminist interpretation. Instead of acknowledging and confronting the oppression, the text is smoothed over. These methods are common among egalitarians, and I was beginning to teach myself new dance moves.

According to Fiorenza, these new moves aren't good enough. She appeals to the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, gleaning the concept of "conscientization" as applied to liberation, and it includes, "...learning to name and change oneself and one's situation" This means that

"Those who become conscientized see through the socio-cultural myth of superiority/inferiority that keeps them in in situations of oppression. When people recognize and acknowledge that they are exploited and oppressed, they are empowered to achieve liberation. They do so by becoming committed to their own liberation as well as to that of others and by transforming themselves and their oppressive situation."

Thus, "[a] critical feminist liberationist interpretation engages the bible for such conscientization." I've got to refine my dance moves, and join the dancing circle, because this hermeneutic of liberation isn't done in isolation.

I'm using the metaphor of dancing because Fiorenza uses it prolifically throughout this work. She says, "Dancing involves body and spirit, in involves feelings and emotions, and it takes us beyond our limits and creates community. Dancing confounds all hierarchical order because it moves in spirals and circles." Also, "[m]oving in sprials and circles, feminist biblical interpretation is ongoing; it cannot be done once and for all but must be repeated differently in different situations and from different perspectives." (This jives pretty well with the nonobjectivity goals of dialectical theology, I'd say.)

Fiorenza's vision for the location of feminist hermeneutics is an ekklesia of women, a forum where feminist interpretations are discussed and explored by all different types of women, and is intersectional and democratic. She argues that Divine Feminine movements and sisterhood concepts only highlight culturally held binaries around femininity/masculinity: hard/soft, mind/emotion, relational/rational, etc., so an ekkelesia as a radical democratic assembly, a reconstruction of the ancient democratic assembly which actually wasn't democratic, is a more appropriate place for the work of rhetorical-emancipatory methods of interpretation.

There's more I could go into, such as: what these interpretive methods look like in real life, the book's lengthy discussion on the kyriarchy, how I struggle with the dancing metaphors, and how the doctrine of inerrancy is problematic in honestly confronting oppressive texts, but I'm still learning, and most people just skim mediocre blog posts, so I'll save that for another time.

I would say that, if you're looking for a good place to start with feminist hermeneutics, Wisdom Ways would be it. Fiorenza has formatted it in such a way as to be very suitable for group discussion with exercises, since that is the whole premise of liberationist hermeneutics, and I can see many teachers and professors easily using this as a text in an introductory methods course. If you're at all interested in feminist hermeneutics, give Wisdom Ways a look.