lectio difficilior

European Electronic Journal for Feminist Exegesis

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Susanne Scholz

Toward a Missing Conclusion: A Response

 

            I would like to begin by thanking the panelists for agreeing to review my book, as well as the section chairs and their committee members for organizing this panel. I truly appreciate your willingness to focus on my book that reflects my thinking on biblical studies and feminist Hebrew Bible studies since I first came on the scholarly scene twenty years ago. Perhaps you picked up in my introduction of Artifact that the idea for this volume was not my own. I owe it to a young enthusiastic acquisition editor who asked me to meet with him over coffee at our regional Southwest SBL and AAR meeting in Irving, Texas. Since he hailed from what I would classify as a Christian-right publishing house, I was surprised that he had contacted me, but since I always love talking to acquisition editors, I accepted his invitation for coffee. When it turned out that his senior publishing board did not want to publish a feminist biblical book, I had a proposal but no publisher. I was delighted when Fortress Press contracted the volume and published Artifact. I thank all of you, as well as the acquisition editor from a few years back. Two parts structure my response. It begins with replies to the panelists and then discusses three “golden threads” that hold together the fourteen essays of Artifact.

            First, Toddie (Rebecca Todd Peters), you are absolutely right: we are forged from the same metal although we have pursued our feminist intellectual and activist work in different fields. But then I think the segregation of academic fields is part of kyriarchal practices and theories, and I would find it impossible to study biblical texts without interdisciplinary conversation partners in mind and in the flesh. I trust you find the same is true for you as an ethicist. Moreover, I do have a degree in Christian ethics and, as you remember, I did hang out with the feminist ethical crowd at Union Theological Seminary and your doctoral advisor, Beverly W. Harrison. Those were the days! I feel well understood in your discussion of the “three insights” articulated in Artifact. Indeed, I am convinced that biblical scholarship needs to shift its methodological focus from “what the texts meant and who were the authors of those texts” to, first, the ethical-political genealogies of biblical interpretation; second, an examination of biblical interpretations on ethical issues; and third, the development of biblical readings with “ordinary readers,” including women, to offer a transgressive hermeneutic of empowerment. Since we spent the month of July together at the Coolidge Fellowship sponsored by CrossCurrents at Auburn Seminary, working on reproductive justice, I have much to say on the contribution of biblical scholarship to discussions on abortion, although the topic of abortion is, of course, too narrow to address the issue of reproductive justice. Suffice it to say that Artifact engages the issue of reproductive justice in terms of sexual violence because lots of my work has dealt with this pervasive issue in our world. I also would like to indicate that I often find Christian ethical references to the Bible too narrowly focused on conventional biblical approaches. My hope is that our scholarly collaboration might include the nurturing of a two-way street.

            Second, I would like to thank Santiago Slabodsky for his perceptive review, with special attention to the essay on “Barbaric Bibles: The Scandal of Inclusive Translations.” I always love your phrases. “Disciplinary decadence”! This phrase articulates so well what is going on in much of biblical scholarship: as if there were no need for cross-disciplinary conversation beyond historical, archaeological, or linguistic conventions. What decadence much of biblical research is in our era of impending ecological devastation! You call my proposal a “barbaric proposal.” This phrase is another great one, especially since the last sentence in Artifact has been my favorite sentence of the book all along. The sentence proposes: “Barbarian (feminist) Bible translators and exegetes unite!” You observe a “low barbaric” political maneuver in my argumentation, namely that we barbarians of various geopolitical origins (and I want to add our various gender, racial, ethnic, religious, and ideological stances) “take over the accusation of barbarism” and give it positive meaning to explore “how alternative worlds can be created from the underside of history.” Yes, this is how I define my project in feminist biblical studies: creating alternative visions of the world and exploring why it has been so bad for so many people living on the underside of history.

            You also affirm my sense about German barbarians as not being recognized by global South barbarians. I did not intend the meaning of “recognition” in terms of status and authority but rather in terms of being in solidarity with. You seem to think of “recognition” as a more or less formal process related to status and authority, whereas I wonder more generally why some global South barbarians talk about the North and the West as if within the empire there had not also lived and struggled many barbarians. I think class analysis might be helpful in this regard. Perhaps a better verb for “recognize” would be “identify,” “see,” “discern,” or “perceive.” I would translate the verb “to recognize” in German “(als Gleichgesinnte) anerkennen” or “wahrnehmen” in the sense of recognizing someone as a fellow struggler for justice, peace, and liberation.

            But perhaps it makes sense that people from the barbarian global South are suspicious of those who speak, dress, and look like the oppressors although they do not talk like them. Are we trying to trick you from the global South into believing we are all in the same boat? I can understand the suspicion, although at this point I believe all of us have experienced neoliberal feminists, neoliberal black preachers, neoliberal womanists, or neoliberal barbarians in general who pose as the oppressed and gain status, authority, and power within the structures of empire and domination. I know colleagues, who shall remain unnamed, posing as global South identified barbarians while they advance personal, institutional, or even intellectual neoliberal agendas. The so-called Rahabs exist in abundance everywhere, inside former and present colonies and empires. It is complicated out there. Still, we cannot give up. Thus, I repeat my favorite last sentence of Artifact again: “Barbarian (feminist) Bible translators and exegetes unite!”

            Third, thanks to Carol Dempsey for her enthusiastic, thoughtful, and detailed comments on Artifact. When I first read your sentence, “Give us more Scholz,” I was laughing out loud. May every author find a colleague who articulates and teaches so well what one hopes to communicate! On top of that, you relate my concerns so directly and unapologetically to your own Catholic social location and inner-Catholic politics. Never before did I enjoy the appreciation of a colleague like you have generously expressed it for my work. So, I am not crazy after all! Thank you. You are also correct in uplifting three major areas of concern as they appear in Artifact: the curricular design, the issue with historical criticism, and the global problem of sexual violence and rape. These are three areas of huge significance in my research of the past twenty years. I am delighted to have you join those of us in biblical studies who do so much more than produce narrowly defined linguistic, historicized, and text-fetishized biblical retellings. Let’s indeed step up to the plate and engage in our scholarly work and teaching the serious problems so blatantly apparent in the early twenty-first century. In sum, it is wonderful to be with all of you, and it is my sincere honor and privilege to call you my colleagues and friends.

            Following is the second part of my response. In a review of Artifact in the journal Horizon, Carol mentioned that she misses a conclusion pulling “together the golden threads of each chapter while pointing us to where the field still needs to go.”[1] It had never crossed my mind to add a conclusion to the book, but I wish it had. It is a great idea, and so the following offers three “golden threads”—to use Carol’s phrase—that hold the fourteen essays of Artifact together.

            The first “golden thread” pertains to my conviction that exegetes need to address their hermeneutical and epistemological assumptions openly and explicitly in their work. All of us who live on the so-called margins of the field have insisted on this point for decades. During the past twenty years, I have disclosed my hermeneutical and epistemological assumptions in the scholarly discourse on biblical sexual violence and rape. My scholarly contributions began with Genesis 34 and the observation that biblical scholars do not critically interrogate their historical and linguistic explanations and claims of objectivity, universality, and value neutrality when they assert that it is anachronistic to interpret Dinah’s story as a rape story.[2] Many factors, such as employment conditions, tenure review pressures, or even journal requirements, complicate scholarly work. The fact is that the hegemonic discourse of biblical studies rewards the betrayal of rape victim-survivors whether they appear behind, within, or in front of the text. The betrayal does not only pertain to scholarship but also to academic institutions, even when they are guided by Title IX legislation, especially since the latter are currently morphing into legalistic practices that protect institutions rather than sexually violated or harassed people. To come to the point: hermeneutical and epistemological consciousness-raising is still much needed in our field, and several essays in Artifact illustrate this need.[3]

            The second “golden thread” relates to my interest in critically analyzing biblical interpretation histories in geopolitically specific, intersectionally sophisticated, and intellectually comprehensive and interdisciplinary ways. I charge in several essays that the retellings of biblical texts are insufficient because they disguise inherent exegetical assumptions and socio-political convictions. Such retellings also feed into popular fundamentalist-literalist belief systems, whether they are religious or secular. In my work I have tried to join those who expose the historical, cultural, and political context-specificity of any biblical interpretation, not only when marginalized voices read the Bible, but also when the inventors and nurturers of hegemonic historical criticism do so, including the white, male, German, mid-twentieth century Old Testament exegete Gerhard von Rad,[4] or the US-Christian right interpreters adapting the Eve and Adam story to contemporary socio-political sensibilities.[5] This is also the case when feminist scholars interpret biblical texts since the 1970s,[6] or when African film maker Cheick Oumar Sissoko presents Dinah’s story in a Mali-African setting.[7] Every interpreter reads within a particular social location that needs to be critically analyzed because we do not need more laundry lists but critical analyses of biblical interpretations. Again, opportunities abound in moving the field of biblical studies into this wide open, creatively inspiring, and exegetically eye-opening area of research, going far beyond microscopic elaborations of this or that biblical half verse or chapter. It is difficult to understand why not every single Bible scholar would want to engage in this kind of research project.

            The third “golden thread” relates to my work as a teacher of the Bible. This thread focuses on pedagogy and raises questions about teaching “the Bible” to undergraduate and graduate students living in the twenty-first century. In my view, we need to redesign the curriculum in biblical studies. The task is certainly burdensome in light of the overall diminished societal investment in the study of the humanities, religion, and sacred texts, such as the Bible, at neoliberally oriented colleges and university. Still, burdensomeness should not get the final word, and so several essays in Artifact encourage us to move the teaching of biblical studies “from curricular apathy to a radical-democratic practice that educates students toward an understanding of the complexities and challenges in our world and toward an increase of ‘knowledge, values and skills that will prepare them for active and effective participation in society’” (p. 26). The essay on “Redesigning the Biblical Studies Curriculum” (pp. 3–27) outlines the enormity of the task. Countless courses and textbooks in biblical studies follow the Schleiermacher design, still dominating the conventional Bible curriculum at many universities and colleges, if such institutions have not yet abandoned the academic Bible curriculum altogether, as is often the case with both Christian right schools and secular religious studies departments—though certainly for entirely opposite reasons.

            Yet the difficulties of successfully developing a redesigned curriculum is not only grounded in inner-disciplinary teaching and research habits. The difficulties must also be related to the socio-political and economic conditions of neoliberal precarity structuring daily teaching conditions at institutions of higher education.[8] Since little money is being made with a redesigned curriculum of the Bible, little investment is made in developing one. Nowadays, money is made in analyzing data of people’s online searches, purchases, activities, or Facebook likes. In contrast, biblical studies do not promise sufficient ROI (Return of Investment) in this unstable “second modernity,” a phrase coined by Shoshana Zuboff.[9] She uses it to characterize the current moment with its “distinct commercial logic” (p. 29) that is focused on “accumulation” (p. 14). This is the era of “surveillance capitalism,” “rogue capitalism” (p. 17), or “information capitalism (p. 13) in which people are the raw materials of “capital” (p. 16) in “a digital-age production process aimed at a new business customer” (p. 500). We have become like “Nature” which has already been exploited to the breaking point of ecological collapse (pp. 11-12). Thus, if somebody invented how to make money off the academic study of the Bible, we would see an explosion of curricular innovation in biblical studies. Yet this kind of curricular innovation would certainly not be the kind of curricular design based on the three learning goals I mention in Artifact. The three key goals I suggest aim to develop in students “intellectual-religious maturity,” “historical-cultural understanding,” and “literary-ethical engagement.”[10]

            Until then, the teaching and exegesis of biblical texts is in the process of accommodating to neoliberal-authoritarian powers, requirements, and expectations. Said differently, an intellectual alignment to neoliberal-authoritarian structures is currently taking place in biblical teaching and research. This is not news, as Stephen D. Moore and Yvonne Sherwood explain in their book, The Invention of the Biblical Scholar,[11] in which they describe the emergence of the academic study of the Bible as part of the construction of the nation state, Western colonialism, and institutionalized Christianity in Europe during the nineteenth century. Nowadays, such a process is occurring under the varied conditions of surveillance capitalism. In my view, we need to develop a curriculum that resists surveillance capitalism. Students need to learn how biblical meanings have adapted to hegemonic power politics in the past and present so that they become equipped to develop alternative visions of resistance to socio-political, economic, and cultural injustices and oppression.

In conclusion, I would like to mention another point that is dear to my heart.

In October 2019, a New York Times article reported that a Lloyd taco truck served lunch to ICE workers outside of an immigration detention center in upstate New York.[12] The truck and the

company found themselves soon embattled by critics who challenged the company for serving

Mexican food to ICE workers while Central and Latin American people were detained inside

the ICE center. Immigration advocates and left-leaning residents accused the company of

“collaborating with ICE.”[13] After the Lloyd-company owners apologized for agreeing to station themselves outside the detention center, they apologized again later for offending law enforcement

after a Republican state senator complained: “In what world does a company feel the need to

apologize for serving food to federal law enforcement officers who work in dangerous conditions?”

The taco company owners defended themselves by asserting: “We serve all communities, we go to all neighborhood, we are not political…..” They also asked: “How can any business choose sides in our politically divided country and ever hope to succeed?” And then came the punch line:

“We make tacos—not war.” This is a great line, but the executive director of Justice for Migrant Families of Western New York, Jennifer Connor, offered the key ethical insight, saying:

“There is no aspect of immigration detention that can survive without for-profit businesses…. 

I think businesses have to decide what their values are and what kinds of stands they are going to take. There is no not-political stance.”

            “There is no not-political stance.” The worst one could become is a bystander, a Mitläufer. This truth also applies to the Bible. Yet many Bible scholars around the world still defend the possibility of biblical scholarship as a non-political activity. I regard my work as a researcher and teacher of the Hebrew Bible as a counterargument to this pervasive position. Artifact thus aims to contribute to the body of scholarship that demonstrates the impossibility of producing apolitical interpretations. We must expose this delusional position for what it is: an intellectually colonizing, indefensible, and destructive stance that has contributed to suffering, injustice, and oppression in the world. It is high time to expose this assumption and to offer alternative exegetical approaches. Since the Bible is a political artifact, we must elaborate on our epistemological and hermeneutical assumptions, critically analyze the multitude of interpretation histories, and redesign the biblical-studies curriculum so that students understand who they are, where they are coming from, and where they want to go to change the world toward justice and peace.[14] This is an urgent task in light of the threats of ecological and nuclear devastation and annihilation, and the academic study of the Bible ought to have a place in this urgent task.



[1] Carol Dempsey, “Review of The Bible as Political Artifact: On the Feminist Study of the Hebrew Bible,” Horizon 46.1 (June 2019): 199.

[2] See, e.g., Ellen J. van Wolde, “Does ʻinnâ denote rape? A Semantic Analysis of a Controversial Word,” Vetus Testamentum 52.4 (2002): 528544; Alison L. Joseph, “Understanding Genesis 34:2: ‘innâ,” Vetus Testamentum 66.4 (2016): 663668. 

[3] See the Artifact essays “Back Then It Was Legal” (pp. 93121), “Was It Really Rape in Genesis 34” (pp. 223238), “How to Read Biblical Rape Texts with Contemporary Title IX Debates in Mind” (pp. 259278).

[4] See the Artifact essay “Lederhosen Hermeneutics: Toward a Feminist Sociology of German White Male Old Testament Interpretations,” 123142.

[5] See the Artifact essay, The Forbidden Fruit for the New Eve: The Christian Right’s Adaptation to the (Post)modern World,” 143166.

[6] See the Artifact essay “Discovering a Largely Unknown Past for a Vibrant Present: Feminist Hebrew Bible Studies in North America,” 193222.

[7] See the Artifact essay “‘Belonging to All Humanity’: The Dinah Story (Genesis 34) in the Film La Genèse (1999) by Cheick Oumar Sissoko,” 239258.

[8] See the Artifact essay “Occupy Academic Bible Teaching: The Architecture of Educational Power and the Biblical Studies Curriculum,” 2948.

[9] Shoshana Zuboff, Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, 2019).

[10] See the Artifact essay “Redesigning the Biblical Studies Curriculum: ‘Radical-Democractic’ Teaching Model,” 327.

[11] Stephen D. Moore and Yvonne Sherwood, The Invention of the Biblical Scholar: A Critical Manifesto (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2011).

[12] Christian Goldbaum, “A Taco Truck in Buffalo Served Lunch to ICE Workers. Then Came the Backlash,” New York Times (October 28, 2019): https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/28/nyregion/lloyd-taco-truck-controversy.html.

[13] Ibid.

[14] See the Artifact essay “Tell Me How You Read This Story and I Will Tell You Who You Are: Post-Postmodernity, Radicant Exegesis, and a Feminist Sociology of Biblical Hermeneutics,” 167190.

 


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Susanne Scholz, Ph.D., is Professor of Old Testament at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, USA. She is author and editor of fifteen books. In 2017, she published The Bible as Political Artifact: On the Feminist Study of the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis (Fortress Press, 2017) and the second revised and expanded edition of Introducing the Women’s Hebrew Bible: Feminism, Gender Justice, and the Study of the Old Testament (T&T Clark Bloomsbury, 2017). Most recently, she edited The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Approaches to the Hebrew Bible (Oxford, 2021), and co-edited The New Diaspora and the Global Prophetic (Lexington/Fortress Academic, 2021). She is the series editor of Feminist Studies and Sacred Texts, published by Lexington Books, and co-series editor for Dispatches from the New Diaspora, published by Lexington Books/Fortress Academic. She can be contacted at susanne-scholz.com.


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© Susanne Scholz, 2021, lectio@theol.unibe.ch, ISSN 1661-3317

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[ Inhaltsverzeichnis ] [ Contents ] [ Table des matières ]