III. Forming a Memory: Hermeneutic

It is difficult to describe Dr. Schüssler Fiorenza’s approach to hermeneutics. For, though she states that she is laying out the guidelines of this hermeneutic, her book seems to do all but firmly lay them down. There are hints here and there and though she uses terms like “critical analysis,” one is left at a loss for finding out exactly what she means by them. Perhaps her method is simply not meant to be understood by the male mind.

Basically she works to use the HCM methods that are both historical-critical and textual-critical to promote the center on the liberation of women, since the Bible is seen as both an oppressive and an empowering document for women of our time.13

In her methodology she neither wants to totally reject nor totally accept the Biblical text, but she will analyze each of the passages for their “androcentric implications,”14 which she seems to want to do away with, since this critical reconstruction must be “based on an alternative biblical feminist vision,” as she is attempting to change the social reality of the Christian churches “in which the religious oppression of women takes its specific historical patriarchal forms.”15 In other words, any traditional biblical interpretation is to be rejected. She even affirms this clearly:

Biblical revelation and truth are given only in those texts and interpretative models that transcend critically their patriarchal frameworks and allow for a vision of Christian women as historical and theological subjects and actors.16

Now as to what exactly these texts and models that “transcend ... their patriarchal frameworks” are is not defined. It sort of becomes a fill-in-the-blank game where she can put in anything that she feels is appropriate for reaching her goals at that moment.

In connection with that she advocates that we must “reject those elements within all biblical traditions and texts that perpetuate, in the name of God, violence, alienation, and patriarchal subordination, and eradicate women from historical-theological consciousness.”17 But what are these texts and traditions that must be rejected? She does not delineate this, once more giving her opinion the upper hand as authoritative factor in the exegetical process.

Dr. Schüssler Fiorenza views the Bible in the HCM light as a document that was created over a long period of time. For that reason she believes that this “androcentric” and / or “patriarchal” view of the Bible was something that was added by later redactors. At the end of the second and throughout the third chapter of her book she goes into detail about HCM reconstructions of what people think happened in the inception of Christianity and its growth from the “Jesus-movement” to the church. It would seem then that she assumes a very late date of the New Testament corpus without laying down any arguments for it.

What is also a very important — perhaps the most important — piece of her hermeneutical method is the “tool” of imagination.

Such a feminist critical method could be likened to the work of a detective insofar as it does not rely solely on historical ‘facts’ nor invents its evidence, but is engaged in an imaginative reconstruction of historical reality.18

An “imaginative reconstruction of historical reality” that is based not only on facts, seems to be more of the stuff that is used for a historical novel rather than for the exegesis of the Word of God. Here it would seem that she is resurrecting allegorical interpretation to some extent, but clothing it in the robes of feminism and calling it “historical.” Dr. Schüssler Fiorenza even goes so far as to use imaginative creations to try to get her students to “break out” of the androcentric mindset.19 For her the “imaginative-theological” aspect is what the critical feminist theologian must use to build “theoretical frameworks” of the Bible. It does not seem that she is interested in true facts at all, since, as stated above, true objectivity results only in the interaction of the “facts” with the interpreter, which in reality ends up being totally subjective.

Because the androcentric mindset is even part of our language, the term “man” and the masculine pronoun being able to mean both the male or a mixed group, she demands that

any interpretation and translation claiming to be historically adequate to the language character of its sources must understand and translate New Testament androcentric language on the whole as inclusive of women until proven otherwise.20

In other words, we’ve got to retranslate the Bible, as some have already done, to not say merely “man,” but “woman and man.”

The model that she wants to use in her hermeneutic is one “of social interaction and religious transformation, of Christian ‘vision’ and historical realization, of struggle for equality against patriarchal domination.”21 In other words it is totally anti-everything that really makes up Christianity.

Perhaps we could summarize her methodology as a rejectionistic approach to the Bible that throws out everything it doesn’t like, and fills the gaps with imaginative constructs that have only very little bearing on reality. That sounds pretty much like everything that historical-critical “theologians” have been doing in the past and even her goal is similar to that of the original purporters and builders of the HCM: it is to change the center of authority and through it society. Dr. Schüssler Fiorenza wishes to change the church, so that women and men have equal roles in every respect, which is commendable, but not quite biblical.

  • 13. Ibid., p 35.
  • 14. Ibid., p 13.
  • 15. Ibid, pp 30-31.
  • 16. Ibid. p 30.
  • 17. Ibid. pp 32-33.
  • 18. Ibid., p 41.
  • 19. Ibid., p 61. See also the example of such an “imaginative document” on pp 61-64. It is very clear how the historical-critical and feministic presuppositions have guided the imagination of the student who wrote this “apocryphal” letter to make some assumptions which have very little to do with biblical teaching.
  • 20. Ibid., p 45.
  • 21. Ibid., p 92.