Women’s Bible disputes ‘patriarchal’ readings

11 January 2019

Feminist theologians challenge depictions of their sex as weak

iSTOCK

Illustration depicting David and Bathsheba

Illustration depicting David and Bathsheba

A GROUP of Protestant and Roman Catholic feminist theologians have published a “Women’s Bible” which, they say, counters claims that biblical texts are misogynistic, and instead can be used as a tool for women’s emancipation.

Their book focuses on a series of passages which, when examined closely in their context, contradict the impression of patriarchism or sexism propagated by traditional interpretations.

“Feminist values and reading the Bible are not incompatible,” Lauriane Savoy, from the department of theology at the University of Geneva, said. Mrs Savoy worked with her fellow Swiss theologian, Professor Elisabeth Parmentier, on the texts.

The two say that feminist claims that the Bible — and religion in general — promote a sexist view of society, often portraying women as subservient, are frequently because of a misinterpretation by elitist males. In their introduction to Une Bible des Femmes (“A Women’s Bible”), they say that their intention is to “scrutinise shifts in the Christian tradition, things that have remained concealed, tendentious translations, partial interpretations”. In particular, they sought to counter “the lingering patriarchal readings that have justified numerous restrictions and bans on women”.

Aided by 18 other woman theologians from various countries and Christian denominations, they have drawn together passages which challenge traditional interpretations of Bible scriptures that depict women as weak and submissive to men.

Professor Parmentier said: “The problem is that the Bible has been used to reinforce cultural stereotypes, whereas, when you look at the biblical text closely, they are much more varied than people think.” Theological and biblical research had moved on significantly in the past half-century, she told The Daily Telegraph. “One can no longer today use the Bible to talk about ‘Woman’ but ‘Women’ because in it there are priestesses, queens, politicians. All that is left out of public debate. Our book was to say: ‘That’s no longer possible, you need to look at the reality of the text.’”

She quotes Paul in Colossians 3.18: “Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as to the Lord”; but points out that he added, “Husbands, love your wives.” “That was pretty revolutionary for the time. But the second phrase was cut out by church leaders who wanted to reinforce the patriarchal view of a society with domesticated women.”

Mrs Savoy said that the part played by Mary Magdalene has been wrongly interpreted in a number of recent works. “She stood by Jesus, including as he was dying on the cross, when all of the male disciples were afraid. She was the first one to go to his tomb and to discover his resurrection. This is a fundamental character, but she is described as a prostitute, and even as Jesus’s lover in recent fiction.”

They said that they hoped that their work would prove useful in the age of #MeToo. “Each chapter addresses existential questions for women, questions they are still asking themselves today,” Professor Parmentier said. “While some say that you have to throw out the Bible to be a feminist, we believe the opposite.”

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