Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Jesus and the Politics of Interpretation

Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth. Jesus and the Politics of Interpretation. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001.

The author is writing a book that deals largely with how a person ought to do interpretation and on the interpretation of the historical Jesus and early Jesus movement. She approaches the task from a feminist perspective which I, as someone that does not read a lot of feminist work, found refreshing. She critiques any method that does not reflect on its own basic theological, political and social interests. According to Schüssler Fiorenza, without a full recognition of one’s own participation in the oppressive and self-interested structures of society, one is unable to do anything but unselfconsciously project one’s own image and thoughts onto the object of study. Her focus is research on the historical Jesus but her point extends to all fields of study.

She concludes that interpreters are doing themselves a disservice when they attempt to arrive at knowledge of the "real" Jesus because, according to her, such knowledge is impossible. Right interpretation should instead be determined by its results: there are interpretive methods that "foster exploitation and oppression" and methods that "contribute to a vision of praxis and liberation." In the end, then, one should not try to find a historical and factual interpretation, but instead a possible interpretation that serves the cause of liberation.

Some warnings. This book is probably for those already at least somewhat familiar with historical Jesus research. The tone is often caustic, especially in her dealings with other feminist commentators, so those interested in an entirely positive dialogue will undoubtedly be disappointed. The most amusing example of the highly critical nature of the book is in her criticism of a fellow feminist commentator: "Does Corley point out the speck in her feminist colleagues’ eyes in order not to see the beam in that of her brother teachers and colleagues?" The reference to Jesus' parable about being introspective rather than critical is both entirely hilarious and an enormous trap (as to criticize its use puts one in a very similar position). Finally many of the chapters in the book were created using several independent articles as a base and as a result some of the information is repetitive and in some instances sentences and paragraphs from one chapter are repeated verbatim in another.


Anonymous said...

Nothing historically serious about the above.

For serious historical, see

Scott said...

That's sort of her whole point though. She thinks that we ought to be concerned less with getting at the "real" historical meaning of the text and instead focus on the possible meanings of the text that serve to liberate groups that are and have been oppressed. I myself don't agree with that position entirely, but I also don't think it's fair to dismiss her work in one sentence.

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