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The Bible and Liberation: Political and Social Hermeneutics eds. Norman K. Gottwald, Richard A. Horsley

November 18, 2015

TBALThe bible looks very different when viewed from people on the margins.

Once you stop taking it literally, its narratives resonate with people’s struggles in real life today. That’s because God never changes and so stays faithful to his people today.

Seen against the backdrop of the current super-powers, the stories of the kings of Ancient Israel are no longer dry and boring.

I was particularly interesting in the way they dealt with the Mary/Martha story and how it has been used by some to silence and by others to empower women.

Laments make sense and need reinserting into current liturgical usage.


One time a nun went to give a course on the Old Testament. Halfway through she had to close down the course because no one was showing up. The people said: “Sister is destroying the Bible!” A certain priest offered an explanation of the Exodus. Many people never came back. “He is putting an end to miracles,” they complained.
Meddling with the faith of the people is very serious business. You must have deep respect and a delicate touch. You must try to feel as they would and intuit their possible reaction to what you are going to say. The people should be allowed to grow from the soil of their own faith and their own character. They should not be dragged along by our aggressive questions.

In some areas, however, practical biblical ecumenism is growing from other starting points. Roman Catholics and Protestants are meeting each other and working together in labor unions, in fights for land ownership, and in other real-life struggles. Gradually other sectarian issues are taking a back seat to practical ecumenism.

The people don’t always take things literally. They are far smarter than you would think. Our question simply will have to take more account of the way that ordinary people understand history. They are far more capable of under­standing symbols than we assume.

The common people are discovering things in the Bible that other readers don’t find. At one session we were reading the following text: “I have heard the cries of my people.” A woman who worked in a factory offered this com­mentary: “The Bible does not say that God has heard the praying of the people. It says that God has heard the cries of his people. I don’t mean that people shouldn’t pray. I mean that people should imitate God. Very often we work to get people to go to church and pray first; and only then will we pay heed to their cries.” You just won’t find that sort of interpretation in books.

Clement of Alexandria said: “God saved the Jews in a Jewish way, the barbarians in a barbarian way.” We could go on to say: “God saves Brazilians in a Brazilian way, blacks in a black way, Indians in an Indian way, Nicaraguans in a Nicaraguan way, and so on.” Each people has its own unique history. Within that history it must discover the presence of God the Liberator who journeys by its side. The scope of this particular dislocation is most important.

community is the resonance chamber; the text is a violin string. When the people pluck the string (the biblical text), it resonates in the community and cut comes the music. And that music sets the people dancing and singing. The immunity of faith is like a big pot in which Bible and community are cooked it right until they become one tasty dish.

In the great century of missionary expansion, many missionaries acted as though they alone knew what the Bible meant, believing they were closer to truth. The Gospel message was invariably interpreted as being the personal salvation of the soul from human sinfulness. This interpretation reflects an understanding of human nature and destiny steeped in western dualistic thinking. Other cultures, having a different linguistic system and thought form, may not share similar concerns. As Y. T. Wu, a Chinese theologian, notes, ‘Such terms as original sin, atonement, sal­vation, the Trinity, the Godhead, the incarnation, may have rich meanings for those who understand their origins and implications, but they are just so much superstition and speculation for the average Chinese.'”

More importantly, this simplistic version of the Gospel functions to alienate the Christians in the Third World from the struggle against material poverty and other oppressions in their society. But in the name of a ‘universal Gospel,’ this thin-sliced biblical understanding was pre-packaged and shipped all over the world. The basic problem of the so-called ‘universal Gospel’ is that it not only claims to provide the answer but defines the question too! The American historian William R. Hutchison rightly observes that American missionary ide­ologies at the turn of the century shared the belief that ‘Christianity as it existed in the West had a “right” not only to conquer the world, but to define reality for the peoples of the world.’ If other people can only define truth according to the western perspective, then Christianization really means westernization!

There is no event in which God does not inter­vene—not as exclusive cause, but as a force that inclines created causes (and hence their effects) toward the realization of the most harmonious and com­prehensive ideals possible for a particular event, given the circumstances of that event.

God, then, is the universal “instigator” of the new and better, within the spectrum of the real potentialities of each new event. In order to be this “insti­gator” in an appropriate way in a world of emerging newness, God must be perfectly aware of everything that is realized in this world.

In sum, God does nothing—if by “do” we mean God is the exclusive agent of anything. On the other hand, God does everything—if by “do” we meant that God is present in every event, prompting it to the realization of its fullest and best potential. God is the co-creator of everything new that emerges in this historical world.

God does not take action of major sig­nificance in irrational creatures—frogs, flies, and the like—because these crea­tures have too little margin for newness. If God effectuates the newness that consists in the actualization of the maximum potential of the real, then what God effectuates in a frog will be real, but severely limited. With Martin Buber, we may rather see in the plagues the activity of the prophet of God who inter­prets natural portents as God’s judgment on a king who refuses to release slaves to celebrate a religious festival it maybe that the massacre of the exodus WAS was a terrorist action—inspired by God.

A frequent theme of the stories of the Israelites in their wanderings in the wasteland is their loss of faith in the pursuit of liberation and their wish to return to Egypt. “Were there no graves in Egypt that you must lead us out to die in the wilderness? … Better to work for the Egyptians than die in the wilderness!” (Exod. 14:11-12). More than once it is said that the people cursed Moses, and wanted to return to Egypt. The text reminds us of the need for continual activity on God’s part to move a people toward a better destiny than that of servitude.

learning process, a process of learning to learn. This process is by its very def­inition the opposite of any sort of deposit, for it involves an unending process of acquiring new pieces of information that multiply the previous store of infor­mation. That being the case, the only visible guidepost is the presence or absence of the teacher outside of the pupil. At a certain point, however, the external teacher disappears from the scene; yet the internal process of learning goes on continually, based on external experience.

This seems to be the obvious import of Jesus’ promise. The Spirit of truth is not an external teacher as Jesus himself was. Or we might say instead that no external teacher after Christ will add any information to the educational process. The process will go on internally, as the pupil confronts reality with new ideologies. Jesus is saying that one stage of the process is ended, but he is also promising that the process can continue through its own proper means. And those means are nothing else but a succession of ideologies vis-à-vis the concrete problems of history. In short, after Christ history itself is entrusted with the task of carrying on the process. The Spirit of Christ, that is, the dynamic, intrinsic result of the revelatory education process, ensures a process that will lead to the full and complete truth.

it is this question which helps us to see one peculiarity of the Biblical witness: its own tendency to historicize the space of God’s intervention; thus, God judges and liberates ‘in, with and under’ historical, worldly events. Jesus relativizes his own role as thaumaturg by relating it to faith on the one hand and subordinating it to his message of the Kingdom on the other. Paul historicizes the eschatological expectation by demanding in the Christian community the reality of the eschatological reversal (no more woman and man, Jew or Greek, slave or master). Using the terms of the Marxist analysis: the Bible is not satisfied with expressing human misery, nor with otherworldly or subjective realms —it announces, narrates and demands historical events which, at least in principle and initially, overcome in reality this misery. Biblical interpretation looks for the presence of these pointers not by denying the socioeconomic matrix but by bringing it to light.

Here the contradiction is introduced. The expert has a point of view too! The expert has ideological commitments. The very selection of the passage has to be studied; the way that the background material is structured cannot help but reflect the perspective of the expert. From the beginning the expert dom­inates the course of the study. There may be no intention to manipulate on the part of the expert. The contradiction is built into the expert’s role.

The contradiction poses the dilemma which plagues many attempts at Bible study. The choice seems simple. One can do away with the expert in a burst of anti-intellectual populist enthusiasm. We know the result. The group is then dominated by the more aggressive representatives of the unofficial ideology of the group: the most pious or the most militant. What is worse, in dispensing with the expert the group dispenses with the kind of information that the expert can provide. Such an approach must, therefore, take history less than seriously. Turning one’s back on the historical reality of the world of the Bible means that the text is treated, in practice if not in theory, as a fairy tale, a once-upon­a-time kind of story. (Note that the socioeconomic environment of Goldilocks is not very relevant to the story Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The date of Goldilocks’ visit to the home of the bears is also irrelevant.) In theological terms, this denial of the relevance of history to the study of the Bible may be seen as a practical denial of the reality of the word of God.

It would be possible to examine this apparent alienation of people from the Bible in “liberal” churches from a number of perspectives. The dynamics are complex and take varied and subtle forms. At base, however, the study of the Bible has tended to become a problem of marketing biblical knowledge. The scholar produces knowledge about the Bible. The preacher is the distributor of the scholar’s product. The layperson is the consumer. Given this underlying structure to our attitude to the Bible, it is not surprising that so many attempts to deal with the problem of biblical illiteracy have the appearance of a search for a new and better package for the product. No wonder people are alienated!

Without wishing to labor the analogy, it should be clear that if we wish to speak of the liberation of the Bible, the kind of marketing of biblical knowledge which moves from producer through distributor to consumer needs to be chal­lenged. But how?

A benign god not only is in full control of the situation but is acting to liberate the people. The old myths and mystification are exposed by the birth narratives, and alternative explanations are suggested. The emperor or other ruler is not divine; tribute and taxes are not the legitimate claim of rulers and conquerors. And true peace is not tranquility and prosperity for the privileged on the basis of the people’s subjection. Moreover, the infancy nar­ratives portray the people’s difficult circumstances of life, which they would otherwise have accepted as simply “the way things are,” as caused by human agents to whom God’s action is sharply opposed. It is a powerful but mortal Caesar who decrees taxation, not God. Those who dominate and exploit the people are viewed as enemies whom God is about to overthrow. Rulers can be seen to exercise such violence against the people because they sense the ille­gitimacy and insecurity of their own domination.

Biblical history, of course, can be reconstructed for purposes of domination as well as liberation. Herod consulted the biblical scholars of his day concerning messianic prophecies to determine where he should concentrate his military action to suppress any nascent resistance to his control. In today’s more subtle reconstruction, the massacre of the innocents (or any indication of political conflict) is suppressed in order to produce a politically innocuous Christmas story for the holidays.

Bible reading and historical reconstruction are important for the cultivation of memory. Selective memory can be used in the service of domination. But unrestrained historical memory is usually threatening to oppressive or repres­sive order.16 Memory of the infancy narratives would be “dangerous” in two respects especially. These stories and songs articulate the eager hopes and longings of ordinary people for deliverance from their domination by indigenous and alien rulers—indeed, their excitement over the birth of the one who is to lead their redemption. Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon, and Anna, as well as the shepherds (and the heavenly armies), were all ecstatic that here, finally, was “the consolation/redemption of the people.” The stories also present a memory of suffering and struggle. The rulers were threatened and struck out violently; Joseph, Mary, and the child had to flee the country and, even when they returned, had to avoid recognition by the threatened and threatening rulers; and innocent children were slaughtered, and their mothers mourned. Memory of the longings and the sufferings of predecessors or forebears is subversive; it sustains the longings, mitigates the suffering, and nourishes the resolve to resist among those who remember.

In the interrelation between memory and the reconstruction of history, bib­lical criticism can help determine what shall be remembered and how or in what connection it is remembered. Is the mention of Caesar and the census simply a literary device in Luke 2, as suggested in christologically oriented interpretations? Our awareness of the imperial situation of first-century Palestine indicates that the Roman demand of tribute evoked intense resistance among the Jewish peasants and teachers and was important in biblical memory (Acts 5:37). Is the memory of the liberative deeds of Jael or Judith to be evoked in the recitation of Elizabeth’s greeting of Mary, “Blessed are you among women,” or is it too threatening?

God can raise up children to Abraham out of stones; and perhaps God is concerned as much about the Philistines and Syria as about Israel (Luke 3:7-9; Amos 9:7-8). The extension here, in broad analogy to the infancy narratives, is from the recognition that the United States can no longer pretend to be “God’s New Israel” to the realization that it has apparently become the new Rome.

Once we recognize the imperial position of the U.S. in the dynamic historical analogy, it may be possible to discern important facets of the present-day “Cae­sar’s” rule through a fresh reading of the infancy narratives, informed addi­tionally from our historical-critical reconstruction of their broader context. Thus we can discern that the equivalent of Caesar’s decree that all the world should be laid under tribute is North American economic exploitation of smaller coun­tries. And just as Caesar sent in the legions to enforce Rome’s extraction of tribute, so U.S. military power is used to protect investments, profits, and trade. One of the purposes of Rome’s economic exploitation of subject peoples was to provide the “bread and circus” necessary to keep the Roman mobs under control. Moreover, just as Rome dominated through client-rulers such as Herod, so the U.S. maintains its interests and influence through governments, often military, that it designates and supports. Pressing the analogy to greater complexity, we can see our own equivalent to the ancient Roman religious ideology of “peace” established by the imperial “savior.” “Democracy” and “development” or “progress” are the blessings of the “free world” established and dominated by U.S. military power.

The foregoing aspects of a dynamic analogy were all drawn from ancient Roman history, as represented in the infancy narratives (Caesar, tribute, peace, Herod) and applied to contemporary United States practices. The analogy could be drawn or discerned in the other direction as well. Thus, for example, the hundreds of thousands of Central American refugees in the United States might have an analogue in the flight of the Christ-child and parents to Egypt, especially considering the similar causes of their flight (repression by client-regimes threatened by nascent liberation movements).

The disciples can imagine only market scarcity in the dominant economy. Against this, Jesus keeps referring them to their own resources, challenging them to forge an alternative economics. The “abundance” envisioned in Mark’s vision of the kingdom can be realized when the disciples learn to organize and share available resources. This is the “miracle” narrated in the wilderness feedings; by it no one need “faint on the way” (8:3).

The community model of economic sharing is articulated in 10:29-31, there standing in tension with the dominant order represented by the rich landowner whose wealth “defrauds” the poor (10:19-22). The community re-creates the redistributive system: private ownership of land and houses is abandoned in favor of cooperative economics. This model is not intended to engender corporate affluence, but to provide surplus on behalf of the poor. The narrative strongly suggests that Mark’s community is in fact practicing some kind of communal model (10:28), and experiencing social opposition because of it. It was one thing for Qumran monks to practice a style of communal economics in isolation in the wilderness; it was quite another to attempt it while residing in the midst of a hostile economic system.

There may be, however, a more specific dimension to the “persecutions alluded to in 10:30. Did Jewish members of Mark’s community refuse to cooperate with their tithing or other obligations to the temple-state? There is no direct evidence of this, but certainly such a position could be extrapolated on the basis of several episodes: the civil disobedience in the grain field (2:23ff.

Jesus attack on the temple (11:15ff.), his criticism of contributions to the treasury (12:41ff.), and his prediction of the temple’s destruction (13:2). Moreover, the tribute question suggests that some form of economic resistance was a live issue for the community (12:13ff.). Mark’s narrative bias against the city further suggests that the community stood in solidarity with the plight of rural producers in the dominant system, and may have been promoting alternative model of distribution that were considered subversive by authorities such as the Pharisees.
At the heart of Mark’s political, social, and economic alternatives to the dominant order lies a radical new symbolic system based upon the primacy of human need (3:4). In place of the purity code Jesus exhorts moral imperatives concerning exploitation (7:21f.). In place of the debt code he enjoins a community practice of forgiveness (11:25). Jesus’ teaching functions to both ethicize and democratize the traditional symbolic order, undermining the legitimacy c those who mediate it—that is, priests, scribes, and Pharisees. Mark presses the bold claim that the temple is not necessary in order for Yahweh to dwell among the people.

This model of the Bible as formative prototype conceives of biblical interpretation as a site of struggle and conscientization. It raises several sets of questions which not only require a reconceptualization of historical and theological hermeneutics in rhetorical terms, but also challenge biblical scholarship in general and feminist interpretation in particular to become more sophisticated by attending to its sociopolitical locations and religious contextualization, as well as its rhetorical interests and functions in the struggle for a more just church and world.

Gottwald has recently reconstructed the specific mode of production of pre-monarchical Israel. He points among other things to the way in which an egal­itarian communal society, arranged in large extended families that were relatively self-contained socioeconomic units and political equals, took advan­tage of the recent introduction of iron implements for clearing and tilling the land and of slake lime plaster for waterproofing cisterns in order to keep reserve water during the annual dry season.

In premonarchical Israel the basic economic unit was the beth-‘av, or father’s house. The labor of the family was differentiated on the basis of age and sex to accomplish the process of producing the basic means of subsistence. Grain and fruits were grown, and limited animal husbandry was practiced if the beth­’av owned some sheep and goats and a few cattle. “The staple crops were barley and wheat, wine and olive oil, which were produced alone or in combination depending on the variable climate and soil from region to region.'” Cooperation between the beth-‘avoth, which made up the mapalta (extended families net­works: II Sam. 6:6; I Sam. 23:1; Ruth 3:2; I Kgs. 22:10), helped to disperse risk and to increase productivity, particularly in view of “the great diversity of thf agricultural environment created especially by a variegated landscape overlaid by variations in rainfall, soil and vegetation.”

Historically agrarian states depend on surpluses extracted from the agricultural base than on profits from trade.

Maintaining secure borders and participating in export/import and transit trade were decisive determinants of the extent of the burden imposed b. the monarchy upon the village-based agricultural systems. The literary and archaeological record evidences plentitudinous royal-sponsored con­struction relating to these areas of its concern. The fiscal apparatus which supported these and other activities of the monarchy, with its facilities and personnel expenses, must have required an even greater imposition of taxes. On top of taxes of agricultural produce, Chaney is right to emphasize the pernicious effect of royal enterprise on the availability of tools and labor both of which it siphoned away from possible involvement in the agricultural sector.

These added officers indicate a more thorough administration of the proper, and especially a smoother, more regular, and far more abundant ­flow of resources from the Israelite cultivators to the court and royal bureaucracy, both at Jerusalem and wherever officials were installed throughout the land.-

He has isolated two different covenant traditions represen­ting two different social, political, and ideological tendencies in the Bible: Mosaic covenant tradition, which is revolutionary, and the Davidic covenant, which is status-quo-oriented. According to him, the “Davidic tradition _ is situated among the established and secure.” Brueggemann summarizes thr tension in the biblical traditions in this way:

The David-Solomonic tradition with its roots in Abrahamic memory pro­vides an important alternative theological trajectory. We may identify two theological elements which are surely linked to this movement and which are important to the subsequent faith and literature of the Bible. First, it is generally agreed that the emergence of creation faith in Israel has its setting in Jerusalem and its context in the royal consciousness. The shift of social vision is accompanied with a shifted theological method which embraces more of the imperial myths of the ancient Near East and breaks with the scandalous historical particularity of the Moses tradition. The result is a universal and comprehensive world-view which is more inclined toward social stability than toward social transformation and lib­eration.

The central themes of this monarchical ideology are stability, grace, restoration, creation, universal peace, compassion, and salvation; they contrast radically with the ideology of pre-monarchical Israel, which would have themes such as justice, solidarity, struggle, and vigilance.

The book of Micah, therefore, is eloquent in its silence on the ideological struggle waged by the oppressed and exploited class of monarchical Israel. Apart from making available an otherwise unsuppressible body of information about the material situation of oppression, it simply luxuriates in an elaborate ideological statement of self-comfort by dwelling on issues like the Lord’s universal reign of peace (4:1ff.); the promise of return from exile (4:6ff.); God’s promise of a ruler from Bethlehem (5:2ff.); the Lord’s salvation (7:8ff.), and so forth. These are the dominant ideological themes of the book.

It is little wonder that dominant, traditional theology has found the Bible in general politically and ideologically comfortable, notwithstanding the unsup­pressible evidence of a morally distorted material situation. Micah itself, as is true of most of the Bible, offers no certain starting point for a theology of liberation. There is simply too much de-ideologization to be made before it can be hermeneutically usable in the struggle for liberation. In short, viewed as a whole and ideologically, it is a ruling-class document. However, enough con­tradictions within Micah enable eyes hermeneutically trained in the struggle for liberation…. Coote correctly warns, however, against the danger of creating the notion of an original prophet surrounded by secondary additions. This is the danger of empiricist-historicist approach, which leads to the inference that the original are truer than those of subsequent editions or recompositions. Such an approach would be inadequate because it would imply a hermeneutics of “selection ­by which certain parts of the Bible would be chosen as appropriate and simply dismissed…..Such an appropriation would seek to avoid a selectivity that amounts to an ideological avoidance tactic, and it would be an appropriate and adequate biblical hermeneutics of liberation because it would raise the question a “struggle” as a fundamental hermeneutical factor in the text, as indeed in Ire communities behind the text and those appropriating the text presently.

This imperialist theology is more suited to the interests of a formerly pow­erful class whose pride has been hurt by exile than to a previously oppressed class whose real interests lie in the building of democratic structures to guar­antee its protection and liberation. C-stage theology cannot provide inspiration to oppressed peoples because it is inherently a theology of domination and control. The practice of the oppressed cannot draw its hermeneutical weapons of struggle from this theology. On the contrary, the practice of the oppressed must engage in struggle with it for a recovery of the suppressed traditions of liberation in the Bible.

one does not “sell the needy into debt slavery for a pair of sandals”; instead one “does wrong.” There is ultimately no specific authoritative rationale for the pro-Jerusalemite stance; so the editor calls it, in effect, “good.”

texts, by virtue of their class char­acter, appeal more to their counterparts in modern society, the petite bour­geoisie, than to the working-class people—the really poor and exploited members of contemporary societies. Modern middle-class people, who are similarly differentially and unequally related to power structures, display a similar vagueness, abstractness, generality, and ambiguity as the proponents of the B-stage texts in relation to oppression and justice

In this lament, however, Micah does not simply bewail the destruction the Assyrians inflicted but, more importantly, the pain the population of Judah has been caused as a result of the practices of the powerful classes of Judah’s cities. They were the ones who were exacting tribute from the peasants and squan­dering it in luxurious lifestyles. It is they for whom the shophar has been sounded 1:11), much as it is sounded for the propertied classes and the slave masters on the day of atonement (repossession, restitution, restoration) in the jubilee year (Lev. 25:8ff.)…. from the perspective of the poor, the text lacks a vision of the future. It does not even summon the poor people to action. … Tears are a way of solidarity in pain when no other form of solidarity remains. And when one addresses numbness clearly, anger, abrasiveness, and indignation as forms of address will drive the hurt deeper, add to the imbness, and force people to behaviors not rooted in experience….more important, “grieving” under certain circumstances may constitute a ‘revolutionary practice. The funerals of black victims of police and army violence South Africa are a case in point. The revolutionary effects of the “grieving” black masses for their daughters and sons who have fallen in the struggle have forced the powers that be to impose legislative, political, and military restrictions on the freedom of blacks to lament for their dead. For as Bruegnann correctly states, Such weeping is a radical criticism, a fearful dismantling, because it means the end of all machismo; weeping is something kings rarely do without losing their thrones. Yet the loss of thrones is precisely what is called for in radical criticism.

 The prostitute has no male counterpart; male prostitution, which was homo­sexual, was a limited phenomenon and is poorly attested in our sources. There is no masculine noun corresponding to zona, which is paired with keleb “dog” in Deut.23:19.

For Hananiah the primary contradiction is between the superpower Babylon and inferior Judah, while the secondary contradiction is between salvation prophecy that promises Judah early victory over Bab­ylon (Hananiah’s prophecy) and doom prophecy that promises a lengthy Judean defeat at the hands of Babylon (Jeremiah’s prophecy). The two contradictions are smoothly aligned in Hananiah’s mind, and there is no other contradiction to consider.

For Jeremiah, the undoubted political threat of Babylon to Judah is altogether overshadowed by the primary contradiction between the power- and wealth-seeking interests of the ruling class in Judah and the well-being and survival of the whole Judean people. The associated secondary contradiction lies between salvation prophecy (serving the ruling class) and doom prophecy (serving the common people). For Jeremiah the immediate resolution of the contradictions will be for Bab­ylon to remove the oppressive Judean rulers from their positions over the Judean people, for the latter are not ultimately threatened by the Babylonians under whose ‘yoke” they will survive and be renewed.

Process of Recurrence. To the degree that reification as a general phe­nomenon is “grounded in historically recurrent circumstances of human exis­tence in society,” one can say that Hananiah operates upon the belief that God’s fidelity is simply a recurrent fact. “Recurrence” is a procedure of dem­onstration that consists in extending to all the terms of a series what is valid only for the first two terms. This is exactly what he does: he extends the events of 701 under Sennacherib to the events of 594/3 under Nebuchadnezzar without seeing those events in terms of the historical activity of Babylon and Judah. ‘What is going on in Hananiah’s mind is exactly “the autonomization of objec­tivity in unconnectedness with the human activity by which it has been produced.”

Process of Stealing. Reification occurs when certain people “steal” the praxis of others, which is the case when Hananiah “steals” (Isa. 9:4) from Isaiah and simply transfers a word said in a given situation into a quite different one. This process of “stealing” is a far-reaching one and covers many different sit­uations, as illustrated by the German peasants who saw their praxis being “sto­len” from their hands by the princes and by Luther,” or by the process in contemporary theology and church of “stealing” Marxian categories dislodged from their militant political context, or by the praxis and struggle of women today being “stolen” by males for their own advantages. So the text of Isaiah 9 becomes a “thing,” even a commodity, at the disposal of anyone at any time. Jer. 23:30 speaks pointedly against this “reification” of the words of God.

Process of Fetishism. In his 1962 spring term lectures at Gottingen, Walther Zimmerli remarked that for Hananiah the “sacred” comes first and the people come only in second position. “Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house . . .” (28:3), and the people come only after this: “I will also bring back to this place Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles of Judah who went to Babylon” (28:4). “Reification in a capitalist society is a product of the fetishism of com­modities, and it is spread through all social life by the institutions necessary to the market.” We can, I believe, transfer this to the situation of the text, even though the economy then was only a barter economy and not an industrial economy. Of principal importance are the vessels of the temple, and only sec­ondarily the people of flesh and blood. The “world” of Hananiah is a world of sacred objects viewed as prior to people. The temple is the collective that concretizes the abstract, that incarnates dead vessels, frozen things. The fetish­ism of the temple is everywhere present among the “pseudo”-prophets (cf. Jer. 7:4 and Mic. 3:11). In addition, it is worthwhile to note that Hananiah is pri­marily concerned about the ruling class deported with the king.

Process of Reification in the Religious Realm. Marx has analyzed the process of reification (commodity, man as commodity, etc.) as a process par­alleled by religious fetishism. It is clear that for Hananiah God is a product of what is seen as “given” in the representation. A fixed preconception stands opposed to what is actually present! God is a commodity or thing in the midst of other commodities and things, even if the most important and influential of them. So we meet a religious representation of reality concretized in the fet­ishism of the temple and the reification of the vessels, elevated above the peo­ple, combined in a thorough-going process of “thingification.”
“The Lord has not sent you” (28:15) can be translated: “You did not persevere in the discipline of listening,” so that the discipline, cost of dis­cipleship, means not only critical reflection but also discipline, hard work to listen to new facts, to the newly emergent.

To legitimate his rule in broader terms, David, like any winner in historical conflict, needed a general history of his subjects that would show the inevita­tillity of his success. This became the kernel of the later Torah. A large portion cf Genesis and Exodus and some of Numbers, known as J (its writer is sometimes called the Yahwist), were composed as a history of early Israel from the creation of the world and its human inhabitants through the creation of Israel. Based in the literary tradition of Mesopotamia familiar to David’s scribes, ere­’ action stories were appropriated to put Israel in a universal framework on a par with great powers like Egypt. The history was also designed to appeal for the loyalty of tribal sheikhs in the Negeb and Sinai, David’s buttress against Egypt an the south, by suggesting that Israel’s early chiefs, the patriarchs, were south­ern sheikhs like themselves rather than northern highland or presettlement sheikhs. Furthermore in the story Abram, introduced into Israel’s tradition as ancestor, must migrate from the east to facilitate a transition from Meso­potamian stories of early humanity to early Israelite history. Another new ances­tor, Isaac, is pictured at peace with the Philistines: Egypt is the common enemy, contrary to what an Israelite might have continued to believe, given Egypt’s earlier tie to Israel’s chiefs and Egypt’s support of Israel as the struggle against the Philistines developed.

David’s scribe used tribal nomenclature and copied David’s twelve-tribe structure of administration in order to foster the integration of tribes like Judah with Israel.

So Jeroboam adopted the scripture of the royal house whose throne in Israel had usurped; he also had it adapted to tell his own victory story. His revisions the J document are known as E, standing for Elohim, the designation Jeroboam used for Yahweh in order to distance himself from Solomon’s version of Yahweh.

The chief concern of E is to defend Israel’s revolution in the person of Jeroboam and his judiciary, and to legitimate the succession to power by his son. By implication, it was to establish Jeroboam’s right to revolt against the house of David. Jeroboam had been a fatherless child, and he probably had to leave one of his own sons as hostage in the court of pharaoh. At least one other son died young. Jeroboam was preoccupied with the safety of sons as heirs, and nearly every story in E takes this as its theme.

Where J defined only cultic law, E’s rulings began by defining the limits on debt slavery and went on to deal with the other categories typical of ancient Near Eastern law, thus raising royal jurisdiction to the level of that of the people’s cults. Like all privileged, Jeroboam feared himself in other men, and hence projected this fear, in the guise of cultic and judicial respect, or the “fear of God,” as public policy. This, too, is a major theme of E.

Departing from royal tradition and historical precedent, he set his kingdom’s border at the Jordan River. This boundary, in the Bible confined y to Deuteronomistic texts, so influenced the modern popular concept of territory of “Israel” that it was used to define the British mandate and hemite territory in Palestine in the 1920s and thus the Zionist state of Israel 1948, whose fixed borders (including the Occupied West Bank) are like those no kingdom or province in the biblical period and, like the borders of all industrialized states, fail to represent the extreme variability of preindustrial &minions. For Josiah, the focus of attack was to the north, into the productive lands of ancient Davidic tenure.

Under Joshua, Israel kept Josiah’s law and captured land. When Joshua died, according to Josiah’s history, they neglected the laws and started to lose land. Even the law seemed to have disappeared. According to the incorporated history of Israelite tribal ruffians, well-meaning leaders, called judges and sav­iors, accomplished sporadic victories but, ignorant of Josiah’s law, led the peo­ple to suffer one reversal after another at the hands of their enemies. The stories of the judges, in the book of Judges, represented the exploits of local and tribal strongmen of just the sort on whom Josiah strove to impose his law.

Resting on the successful prediction that Cyrus would take over Babylon, the burden of Second Isaiah was to persuade the second and third generation offspring of the deportees settled in Babylon to exile themselves from the capital of the world back to the provinces in Judah and Israel. This required a sustained effort of rhetoric unmatched in the Bible. The scribe chose to address the putative political nation, remnants of Jehoiachin’s court, as the “servant of Yahweh,” drawing on the imagery of the exodus from Egypt to evoke the notion of a new deliverance from Babylon, a deliverance few of his audience sought. The term implied that they should cry out as worshipers and suppliants to Yahweh to be saved, as the Babylonian priests cried to Marduk and were delivered. The term “servant” also suggested that like the “servants” who served as high officials in the Babylonian court, the people should be exalted to office in Yahweh’s divine court, realized in a state that, chastened by the ordeal of exile, would broadcast and practice Yahweh’s justice. This propaganda for restoring power in Jerusalem resonated with pre-exilic prophets’ divans concerning the restoration of the temple.

Scripture writing in the Babylonian era was rounded off by the major literary product of the early Persian period (538-520), prior to the rebuilding of the temple. The Aaronic priestly families laid the conceptual groundwork for a revision of the royal history of Israel in their archives. Then, as with the support of the Persians they began to eclipse the house of David as rulers of Palestine. the priests carried out this revision, turning JE into their own legitimation document. The Deuteronomistic History was not suitable for revision, as it was in the hands of Levitical interests and spoke for Levitical prerogatives. The Aaronids took up the history of the nation prior to the reconquest of its land to elaborate on the cultic laws of Moses that went back to David’s time, before Solomon’s temple, by the addition of the rules for their own rites, often goinz back far into the monarchic period. The result was the priestly revision of JE called “P.”

Changes were made throughout the JE history focusing on two issues: the complete reorganization of time and the calendar according to a novel concern developed under Babylonian influence, the seven-day unit of time (this is the origin of the week, one of few features of our secular culture that can be trace: directly to the Bible), and the traditional priestly preoccupation with disposition of blood. Every cult requires an appropriate creation story. To represent the two issues, the Aaronids produced a new account of creation to buttress the restored cult, one devoted mainly to feeding Yahweh and themselves with Inez at an elaborate tent shrine, akin to David’s and ultimately El’s tent. According to this account (Genesis 1), God made the world in six days and rested on me seventh. In the first three days God created light, the seas above and below land and plants; in the second three days he created moving lights and moving water and land creatures. These move because they have blood. To keep moving they are appointed to eat plants.

At critical times in history subsequent to creation God made three eternal covenants of increasing exclusivity. By the first, made with the sons of Noah, is, all humankind, people are allowed to eat animals as long as they do eat blood (Genesis 9). The second, made with the sons of Abraham, that descendants of Israel, Edom, Ishmael, and other peoples to the south, pre–bed the rite of circumcision that distinguished these people and limited the

to men (Genesis 17). (Circumcision was in fact far more common than this.

The third, made only with the sons of Israel, ordained the keeping of the bath, along with a set of other rules and taboos for the priestly cult dealing the disposition of blood and the formulation of laws necessary for the purity of the land (Exodus 25 — Leviticus 26; cult in Exodus 35 —Leviticus 10; taboos in Leviticus 11 — 16; laws in Leviticus 17 — 25).

In Jerusalem the Aramaic script replaced the Hebrew script during the Persian period; the script known the world over as “Hebrew” is in fact descended from this Persian Aramaic script.

Typically, scholars have explored the relationship of Israelite to other ancient Near Eastern laws. For example, Phillips’ argues that, as a result of the seri­ousness of adultery in ancient Israel (it is an offense against God), it was treated not as a civil offense but as a crime. Hence, punishment for a wife’s behavior in such circumstances was not left to a husband’s discretion but instead became a community concern and required the death penalty. Phillips views Deuter­onomic thinking on both adultery and seduction as distinct from principles of ancient Near Eastern law, and an innovation in Israelite sexual ethics, because it construes women as legal adults responsible for their actions. For example. in comparison with biblical and cuneiform law, what is original about Deut 22:22, according to Phillips, is that in a case of adultery “both of them are to die.” Phillips contends that Deuteronomic legislation on adultery and seduc­tion was designed to settle issues of paternity, and not, as is commonly argued. to protect a husband’s or father’s property, namely, his women. Concerning the emphasis on paternity, Phillips remarks, “This was of vital importance in a society which did not believe in life after death but rather that a man’s per­sonality went on in his children.” Phillips, and others who take this evolutionary approach, attempt to locate the biblical legal material on family life in the context of a developing moral consciousness that distinguished ancient Israel from her neighbor.

Promulgation of the laws in Deuteronomy 19-25 may have met with little resistance from women because women appeared to benefit from these laws; power over them is taken out of the hands of their fathers and husbands, who become subordinate to the jurisdiction of the elders. The result of such a shift, ironically, is that women are actually controlled— along with men —in the inter­est of the politics of state centralization. According to the newer legislation, women could be killed for lack of virginity (Deut 22:13-21) whereas men could not, just as in the issue of complicity of rape, women had to prove themselves in a way that men did not (22:23-27). Thus one may question whether Deu­teronomic justice is truly egalitarian in intent, as some have claimed.27 Women may have gained legal autonomy from their fathers and husbands through the legislation in Deuteronomy 19-25, but they were thrown on the defensive in ways that put them at a social disadvantage vis-à-vis men. These laws, which initially appear to relate to family status and roles, have less to do with gender as such, and more to do with political and social control of individual behavior of the entire “ruled” populace.

The “formulaic” quality of many statements t enemies proved that the poet often “assigned less value to the external is than to psychological impressions (den seelischen Eindriicken).” Even if one originally wrote a lament with quite specific enemies in mind, later usage of that psalm could blunt certain historically specific language in the psalm through slight modifications introduced by its ritualized recitation. Keel has sought to find an answer in a fresh assessment, found originally in Gunkel’s work, of how prayer can be used to express in externalized, commonplace language deeply painful psychological or pious impressions associated with suffer­ing.

This loss of information pertinent to the prehistory of the prayers in the psalms has often led later interpreters to a false view of them as expressing concern for only private fears, illnesses, or the harm done by interpersonal shaming or witchcraft. Instead, Gottwald argues that in the psalms ” ‘rich’ and `wicked’ are often spoken in the same breath” as a sign that the social dimension of the privileged has been retained even in the biblical psalms. Moreover, Gott­wald proposes that “this wealth of language about socioeconomic conflict” should be “compared with and illuminated by speeches of the prophets and proverbs of the wise.” Hence, the psalms and the prophets can be seen to express the same “world of socioeconomic oppression.”

The psalms vividly describe wicked people in the immediate society who surreptitiously abuse widows, sojourners, and orphans because they think God will not take notice of their crimes (94:4 – 7)

Though we normally think of cults as oriented toward supporting established authorities, Lewis observes that even official royal rituals “which primarily protect and hallow the existing power structure may, however, contain rebellious episodes.” Lewis observes the gen­eral rule that a single public liturgy can contain prayers both of support for the ruling elite and outrage over oppression and abuses of power by those in author­ity. For example, in the ancient Babylonian Akitu-festival, the king receives blessing and honor, but also ritually confesses his innocence, assuring the god, Marduk, that he “did not smite the cheek of the people under your [the god’s] protection.” The presiding cult functionary responds by slapping the king’s face and pulling harshly on his ears. Tears by the king are a favorable sign to the public.

For an explanation of such ritual behavior, Lewis draws on the studies of African tribal rituals by anthropologist Max Gluckman to show that “songs of hate and unedifying scenes of ritualized violence achieve their apotheosis in a glorious paean of praise celebrating the existing order despite its habitual ine­qualities and injustices.”” Prayers of protest against authorities may, following Trotsky and Marxist theories, after the “early” Marx, often seem to serve pri­marily as a mode of ritualized catharsis and, in fact, to dissipate the will to take revolutionary action. However, Lewis acknowledges another, even if less com­mon, occurrence, namely, that “such ritualized rebellions were frustratingly titillating and led eventually to a greater and more fundamental cataclysmic explosion.”

As in the case of Job, prayers are not considered in general elsewhere in the Old Testament to be secretive, silent, or private exercises. The capacity of a prayer to be overheard is a characteristic rather than an incidental of it.

Finally, there is some protection in the hope that the prayer itself might lead the enemy to repent and stop the wrongdoing. Although the address of prayer to God explains why the enemies do not need to be named, it also provides an opportunity for the enemies to save face, to alter their actions, or perhaps even to seek face to face reconciliation and reparation.

Perhaps one underestimated implication of the overhearing of such prayers by the enemy is the degree to which the threat itself might be an effort indirectly to persuade the enemies to change their thoughts or course of action. So, in the prophets, Jonah hesitates to deliver a threat to the Ninevites because he suspects they might repent and begrudges any blessing God might grant them. This role of the prophetic threat is, of course, assumed in Jonah to be char­acteristic of prophecy in general. So, too, the consequences of the prophetic threat that Isaiah brings against Hezekiah in Isaiah 38 is, by God’s response to the king’s response in the form of a sincere prayer, delayed by fifteen years. Likewise, the indirect threat aimed at an enemy in prayer by its very public nature allows the possibility of the enemy’s repentance, reconciliation, repa­ration, or the abatement of offensive actions.

When the ancient prayers were collected, they often gained second an association with familiar biblical figures, and a few were given historic titles that play directly upon episodes in the life of David depicted in 1 and 2 Samuel.

In their own way, the psalmists assumed that “illness” is never just a “private” medical problem.’ Today, we are even more aware of how illness can be related to stress, mal­nutrition, inhumane conditions of labor, lack of uncontaminated water, and so forth. Additionally, how society responds to the one who prays about an illness is another test of those who overhear.

Each of these features points again to a larger socioeconomic setting, so that illness, rather than being a private matter, belongs to the entire social fabric, in both the ancient period and in the present. As a contemporary example, whether Jewish and Christian believers will touch someone with AIDS, will stand near or afar, and how they will address the enemies who contribute through carelessness or prejudice to that suffering, are all questions that pertain to the testimony of the psalms regarding the theology and the politics of prayer.

Alongside Gottwald’s proposal that the unnamed enemies were frequently members of the ruling elite, our study shows that the “enemies” could just as often be neighbors, friends, or members of the family. The prayers point, in my view, to a world of intimate enemies not so different from our own. Only in the recent period have churches begun to acknowledge the all too common occurrence of violence associated with addictions, incest, child abuse, date rape, sexism in the school and workplace, racism, and the abuse of wives by husbands.

Even in silent prayer, an assumption is usually present that something transformative is happening in the solitude of prayer. For all of these reasons, the between piety and politics, rights and ritual, is always a false one, from an economic as well as a theological perspective.

Whereas the Babylonians had deported the Judean ruling class, the Persians established a priestly government centered in the rebuilt Temple. The two Jewish leaders who played the major role in the reconstitution of Judean soci­ety, Ezra and Nehemiah, held their authority and power as officers of the Persian emperor.

Such political decay in a “colonized” society was simply the most visible aspect of the extreme crisis in which prolonged imperial domination placed a subject people. Effects of imperial exploitation also began to break down the traditional socioeconomic infrastructure on which the society was based. Most fundamental and significant for its impact in other ways was the economic pressure brought on the peasantry for taxes and tribute. Rising indebtedness al the peasants led to loss of their land that was the base of their economic subsistence and of their place in the traditional social structure. Thus the traditional village-based social structure as well as the traditional economic struc­ture began to break down.

The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: “The spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?” (Isaiah 3:14-15)

The king, however, always had a concrete economic interest in protecting the productive base of his country and had the monarchy to help reinforce his moral or ideological motivation as protector of the “fatherless” and the “widow.” Once the society was subject to a foreign empire, however, the Judean aristoc­racy, kept in power by, and responsible primarily to, their imperial overlords, had no corresponding interest and motive. Apparently they simply exploited the people for their own benefit, as well as for that of the empire — whether under the Persians, the Hellenistic regimes, or the Romans. Already by the time Nehemiah arrived to reorganize Judean affairs after 450 B.C.E., he found serious decay in basic socioeconomic relations: the wealthy and powerful were using indebtedness to weaken and subordinate the desperate peasants.

There arose a great outcry of the people .. . For there were those who said, “We have to pledge our sons and daughters to get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” There were also those who said, “We are mort­gaging our fields, our vineyards and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax upon our fields and our vineyards; . . . some of our daughters have already been enslaved; . . . (and) other men have our fields and our vineyards.” (Nehemiah 5:1-5, RSV adapted)

The Galilee portrayed in the Gospels is a society of the very rich and the very poor. Jesus’ parables in particular give us illuminating insights into the socioeconomic conditions resulting from generations of intense economic pressure: heavily indebted peasants who cannot possibly avoid loss of their land or their freedom, tenant farmers and innumerable day laborers who have already forfeited their land or who must supplement their living by hiring themselves out. Over against the declining peasantry stands a class of wealthy absentee landowners who employ stewards to run their estates. More­over, there is no love lost between the very wealthy and the desperately poor and threatened tenant farmers (see especially Matthew 18:23-33; 20:1-15; Luke 16:1-13; Mark 12:1-9). In fact, Luke’s version of the parable of the pounds (Luke 19:11-27) is a miniature word-picture of the very imperial situation that had brought about a severe decline of socioeconomic conditions for the Jewish people and an intensification of the divisions within the society: A “nobleman” goes into a far country to receive “kingly power”; his servants (officials) mean­while dramatically expand his capital, apparently by making usurious loans; but his people, having focused their resentment on him (not on the “far country”), are opposed to his ruling over them.

The Dead Sea Scrolls provide vivid witness that to those who had hoped for a more egalitarian and revitalized social out­come of the revolt, the Hasmonean “Wicked Priests” simply reverted to the same old “frozen” stratified social order, while legitimating themselves by a putative restoration of traditions.

The Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Qumran community were all responses to the crisis into which Jewish society had been drawn during its subjection to dominant empires. At some point in the postexilic period there emerged a type of “sage” or “scribe” not totally subordinate to, though still somewhat dependent on, the high priesthood, and highly dedicated to both individual and social practice of the Torah. In traditional societies the ruling as class generally extracts its surplus and governs through “retainers” of various sorts, such as the military, tax collectors, and “bureaucrats,” among whom skills of literacy and keeping of records, traditions, and laws are of special importance. Judea may have been somewhat unusual insofar as it was governed by the Temple, headed by the high priesthood, and the Torah. This made literacy and the role of scribes and interpreters-lawyers-teachers of the Torah especially important. Thus, while the scholars may have been supported by the high-priestly establishment, they would likely have developed some degree of independence and leverage over against the high priests. Moreover, as we might expect of professional scholars and teachers of the Torah, they would also have developed considerable personal loyalty or devotion to the traditions of which they were the guardians. Thus in an imperial situation in which the ruling class had become compromised by collaborating with the imperial regime, the scribes and scholar-teachers would not necessarily do likewise, but might be inclined to resist for personal as well as “professional” motives.

The most likely time when such scholar-teachers would have asserted greater independence from the high priesthood was during the Hellenizing reform, as the priestly aristocracy became more remote from the people who lived pre­dominantly in the villages of Judea, while the “retainers” still functioned locally as teachers or sages knowledgeable in the now-threatened sacred traditions.’ At the outbreak of the Maccabean revolt we find a group called the maskilim (Daniel 11:33). Perhaps the maskilim were simply one such association of “sages.” The pre-Maccabean apocalyptic visions in Daniel 7-12 and the revelations in early sections of 1 Enoch must have originated from such circles of intellectuals.

The “Sadducees” may have originated as the priestly aristocratic “party” of strict and conservative literal interpretation of the written Mosaic Law (written Law only) in opposition to the Pharisees. Against Alex­ander Jannai, the Pharisees led an open rebellion, and many Pharisees and others were killed or exiled as a result. Jannai’s wife and successor, however, placed the Pharisees in positions of political influence. The Pharisees appar­ently opposed Herod in some sense and refused to sign his loyalty oath. Although they lost some political influence under Herod, they continued their active political involvement during the first century C.E., while forming broth­erhoods devoted to rigorous study and practice of the Torah.

The kingdom of God in Jesus’ preaching is surely not to be understood as a “realm” existing in some place such as “heaven” (“kingdom of heaven” being Matthew’s typically Palestinian Jewish circumlocution for “kingdom of God”). Understanding the kingdom of God as God’s rule or ruling has been an impor­tant corrective to that misunderstanding. Yet “rule” may be far too vague, general, and neutral a concept to convey the active, partial, and engaged char­acter of the kingdom of God in biblical literature. Thus, more precisely, the kingdom of God means the use of power, in “mighty deeds,” to liberate, estab­lish, or protect the people in difficult historical circumstances such as the exodus from bondage in Egypt (as in the ancient “Song of the Sea” in Exodus 15:1 – 18). Remembering the great historical actions of liberation, the prophets and apocalyptic visionaries symbolized God’s imminent future liberating actions in terms analogous to those past events.

Mark 13:26; 14:62) stem from Jesus, then, like the image in Daniel 7:13 to which they refer, they are symbolizations of the vindication of the persecuted or suffering righteous.3 God’s action in the coming of the kingdom would be “final,” not in the sense of “last” or “the end,” but only in the sense of “finally!” or “at last!”.

Once we recognize that the kingdom of God in Jesus’ preaching does not refer to a particular action or event, much less to the final act or the End, the ,whole convoluted debate about whether the kingdom as preached by Jesus was already present and “realized,” or was still future but imminent, or somehow both present and future, appears to be a subordinate issue.5 No longer diverted to that debate, we are free to explore the special liberating or saving activities involved in the “kingdom of God.”

The divine activity of the kingdom of God is focused on the needs and desires of people. In fact Jesus’ preaching generally, and particularly his announce­ment of the kingdom of God, rarely calls attention explicitly to God, but con­centrates on the implication of the presence of the kingdom for people’s lives and on how people must respond.

The “kingdom” involves not a blissful rest in static beatitude, but social interaction such as feasting. Similarly, the saving activity of God does indeed bring wholeness to individual persons; but this does not stand in contrast to restoration of society? Personal wholeness is integrally involved with the renewal of social life, apparently even with certain transformations in the pat­terns of political religious life.

Jesus presupposed as his cultural context what is usually called Jewish “apocalyptic” lore and worldview. Like the Jerusalem scribes or sees who accused him of being “possessed by Beelzebub” and of casting demons “by the prince of demons” (Mark 3:22; Matthew 12:24; Luke 11:15), viewed individual and social life as caught up in the struggle for control between God and Satan. According to Matthew 26:53, at least, Jesus shared long-standing biblical and widespread contemporary belief in the heavenly by which God would defeat the oppressive historical and demonic enemies the people at the appropriate time. Similarly, as Perrin has shown to be likely, he knew and used the “son of man” (as in Daniel 7) as a symbol of the vindication or restoration of the people.

A possibly more original version than either Matthew’s 6:9-13 or Luke’s 11:2-4 has been reconstructed by Jeremias:

Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us today the bread of tomorrow. Forgive us our debts as we herewith forgive our debt­ors. And lead us not into temptation.

This is most likely a deliberate modification of the Kaddish, a prayer used regularly in Jewish synagogues in the time of Jesus.

Magnified and sanctified be his great name in the world that he has created according to his will. May he establish his kingdom in your lifetime and in your days and in the lifetime of all the house of Israel, even speedily and at a near time.”

Jesus had a reputation for “eating and drinking,” one which led opponents accuse him of associating with people who were indulgently enjoying life than observing the Torah.

For the mass of ordinary people whom the system must keep in order, such an understanding of suffering or sickness can become “domesticating.” In accordance with this understanding, they in effect blame themselves for their problems while they must simultaneously accept the necessity of an institution­alized system of atonement (sacrifices and offerings) in which God’s forgiveness is conditional and is channeled through official mediators and regulators. Now if Jesus, when healing people’s disorders, also dealt with the people’s sense of sin in which (they and their officials believed) their sickness was rooted, then he would have been challenging one of the religious means by which the people were thus domesticated. By pointing to the forgiveness of God as directly available, Jesus was exposing the religious means by which the social restrictions or the people were maintained.” Thus, instead of the people continuing to blame themselves for their suffering, they were freed for a resumption of a productive cooperative life in their communities.

Focusing on the struggle against the people to carry on a symbolic resistance, as was maintained collectively at Qumran (see the War Scroll) and individually by possessed persons, but meant that resistance occurred in a way that proved very “functional” for the system. That is, aggressiveness stimulated among those subjugated by the violence of conquest and injustice was worked out in a way that did not the repressive pax Romana.

 The saying in Luke 11:20 shifts the focus from the defeat of Satan to the victory of God, again starting from the concrete experience of people being freed from the hostile forces. “The finger of God” is an allusion to Exodus 8:19. in which God accomplishes a feat of magic (plague of lice) completely beyond the power of Pharaoh’s magicians in effecting the liberation of the people from bondage. A rabbinic midrash (Ex R 10.7) says that the magicians recognized that the plagues “were the work of God and not the work of demons ” In the world of apocalyptic dualism there are only two alternatives, and Satan has been excluded. Thus, in a saying suggesting a new exodus is underway, “if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom God has come upon you.” ….Thus, strange as it may seem, Jesus’ statements concerning the significance of his exorcisms have clear political implications. As was manifested precisely in the liberation of “possessed” individuals, Satan and the demonic force were being defeated. Insofar as all historical conflict would be comprehended in the perspective of the struggle against Satan, since Satan was now being defeated the days of Roman domination were numbered, and broader societal liberation and renewal were now possible.

A last noteworthy point regarding Jesus’ exorcisms — and one not made nec­essarily as evidence for the previous point, because Jewish scribes and rulers would not have known Jesus’ interpretation of the significance of the exor­cisms—pertains to the scribes’ and Pharisees’ and even Herod Antipas­ reported concern about Jesus’ healings and exorcisms. According to gospel traditions, it was the scribes and Pharisees who attempted to counter his activity with accusations of demon-possession and collusion with Satan. Then, in a most revealing bit of biographical tradition usually judged as early and “authentic.’ Antipas’ concern to suppress Jesus appears to focus precisely on this healing and exorcising activity: “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.- to which he replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course’ ” (Luke 13:3:- 32). Thus there are fairly solid traditions that the rulers and/or official repre­sentatives viewed Jesus’ healing and exorcising activity as a threat to the established order. The liberation of persons from demonic alien forces, God’s defeat of Satan, and the ending of the oppressive established social order were all happening simultaneously.

indeed, closer examination of these sayings indicates that Jesus had in mind fairly definite and distinctive patterns of social relationship for the kingdom-society that is to be entered or as the requirements for entry. The dispo­sition necessary for entry and continuing participation was childlike trust and humility: “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not it” (Mark 10:15 and parallels). Entry and enjoyment of the kingdom required rigorous observance of the will of God and/or of the teachings of Jesus: everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, he who does the will of my Father” (Matthew 7:21); and “enter by the gate, … for the gate is narrow and the way hard, that leads to life” Matthew 7:13-14; cf. further, Matthew 5:20; Mark 9:47 and parallels). The kingdom would also require egalitarian, nonexploitative, and nonauthoritarian social relations: “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God. … It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”

Mark believed that the kingdom would not dawn by divine cataclysm, but rather would grow slowly, a small seed in hostile soil. Advocating a “revolution from below,” the discourse of the Gospel includes both subversive and con­structive elements. Mark does not simply criticize the present order; he offers instructions for the building of a new order, which will center around the community of discipleship. The Gospel functions to legitimate this community as a political “confederacy” (3:13-19), which represents a concrete alternative to the politics of domination.

How was this community organized? How was power exercised? The nar­rative undermines any absolute ideology of leadership: the leaders of the com­munity are portrayed as failures. I would not characterize Mark’s treatment of the male disciples as a “political polemic” against a Jerusalem-based Christian leadership, as does W. Kelber.24 However, its sarcastic tone does suggest that pretensions to authoritarianism were not unknown in the experience of Mark’s people. Jesus’ taunt—”Oh, but this is not so among you!”— referring to the practices of domination so bitterly familiar from Roman colonialism, functions as a sharp warning against aspirations to power. And “discipleship” as a per­manent state of following Jesus the true leader, in contrast to rabbinic schools in which the student became himself a master, further guarded against the reproduction of hierarchy in the community.

Still, Mark’s alternative is not leaderlessness, but leadership accountable to the “least” in the community. What concretely did the “politics of servanthood­mean? Our reading has identified a radical break with the traditional Palesti­nian patriarchal structures of clan, kinship, and marriage. The new “family” is egalitarian, both in its marital and community forms, and the traditionally weak­est members of the system, women and children, are given central place. Mark does not have a lot to say about marriage except where he considers the problem of divorce. The profile of women characters in the Gospel indicates that women were considered full persons outside their traditional roles as helpmeets.

A Christian community which evokes a saying of Jesus to claim that doing the will of God is more important than loyalty to the natural family and which actually counsels leaving the family to form a new family with­out the governing power of the father and which rejects those structures of interrelationship which govern normal family life would naturally evoke suspicion and persecution….Against Theissen’s theory of “wandering charismatics,” I believe Mark reflects a settled community in which the extended household model is main­tained. The household, however, is now understood as the primary site not of reproducing dominant socio-cultural patterns, but resisting them; perhaps it is also the haven for underground activity.

The political strategy of the community, like so many modern revolutionary movements, begins with attempts to persuade the “base,” or popular sectors, of the double imperative: the old order must be overturned and the new order welcomed. The community’s proselytizing appears to consist of founding other cells of resistance, which become “safehouses” (6:7ff.). The mission is wholly contingent upon popular reception; thus the emphasis upon going without sus­tenance and the role of hospitality.

In both his first and second campaigns, Jesus employs the tactics of what we would today call “civil disobedience.” The very first public action of his disciples is to break the law (2:23ff.)! Jesus then debates the true intention of the law in the ensuing “trial” (3:4). The same pattern of legal violation and defense occurs again in 7:lff. The climax to Jesus’ practice of symbolic direct action, however, is the parade from the Mount of Olives and the ensuing temple action. The procession, curse, and “cleansing” are, to be sure, painstakingly choreo­graphed exercises in political theater; but we must not lose sight of the fact that they are also portrayed as specifically disruptive. Thus Mark legitimizes not only “classic” civil disobedience — in which the law is broken because it is unjust, as in the case of the Sabbath —but militant direct action as well.

The seed reminds us that a revolution from the bottom up is a slow process whereby the mot causes of domination are exposed and transformed. It demands both patience and faith, for historical change will not be as evident as if the new order were imposed from the top. To believe in the “true” court of justice of the Human One is to believe that the smallest of seeds can grow into the tree is which all “the birds of the air” can nest.

The disciples can imagine only market scarcity in the dominant economy. Against this, Jesus keeps referring them to their own resources, challenging them to forge an alternative economics. The “abundance” envisioned in Mark’s vision of the kingdom can be realized when the disciples learn to organize and share available resources. This is the “miracle” narrated in the wilderness feed­ings; by it no one need “faint on the way” (8:3).

The community model of economic sharing is articulated in 10:29-31, there standing in tension with the dominant order represented by the rich landowner whose wealth “defrauds” the poor (10:19-22). The community re-creates the redistributive system: private ownership of land and houses is abandoned in favor of cooperative economics. This model is not intended to engender cor­porate affluence, but to provide surplus on behalf of the poor. The narrative strongly suggests that Mark’s community is in fact practicing some kind of communal model (10:28), and experiencing social opposition because of it. It was one thing for Qumran monks to practice a style of communal economics in isolation in the wilderness; it was quite another to attempt it while residing in the midst of a hostile economic system.

In the Jesus movement the women were clearly and without question part­ners of the men. I see the causes for this on two levels. First, the economic, social, and political situation, which is well summed-up in the Greek word led to increasing breakdown of the family and of the organized roles omen among the Jewish population. The men leave to look for work. The women have to work with small children in the fields from sunrise until sunset, I go with them to swell the crowds of beggars and sick in the villages. What vas seen in the apocalyptic tradition as a terrible sign of the end of the world as now happening: “a man is set against his father and the daughter against tier mother and the bride against her mother-in-law” (Matt. 10:35).

The break-up of families, which is mentioned in the Gospels, was also related to the fact that the message of Jesus could lead to division among families. We should, however, not see this division in isolation from the family break-up caused by economic relations. A woman like Mary Magdalene, and her Jewish sisters who have to struggle to survive, is a partner in need for the men in the same situation. The socially defined role of women is superfluous for her as much as for the female and male slaves who work on the large Roman estates described by the Roman writer on agriculture, Columella.

In my opinion it is not historically accurate if, as constantly happens, we describe the freedom of Jesus in contact with women in sharp contrast to the dark picture of Jewish rabbis, who despise women and do not talk with them in public. The background in which the Jesus movement should be seen is not the patriarchal opinion of Jewish rabbis. It is much more the living-situation of the whole Jewish people at this time. The background is hunger, family break­down, exploitation of all, including women and children. In this background the Jesus movement shone out.

With that I come to the second reason for the equality between men and women in the Jesus movement: that is the hope for the impending kingdom of God and the collective life which resulted from that hope. They did not try to recreate the lost world of the patriarchal family, they founded a new family: the familia dei.

The active role of women in public within the Pauline congregations can be deduced from their relevance for all congregations, shown especially in the greetings-list in Rom. 16:3-16. In that list one-third of the persons mentioned by name are women (nine out of twenty-six), and women like men are distinguished by their work for the congregations, without any ranking between women and men being apparent.

This clear praxis of the Pauline congregations is already opposed in Paul by a contrary theory. In 1 Cor. 11:2-16 Paul shows, with a rather overdeveloped display of theological arguments, that the woman should publicly express her submission to the man by covering her head when praying and prophesying.

I do not want to go into detail about this text, but of fundamental impor­tance is the question how one could arrive at such a theory within the setting of a contrary praxis. The question is moreover of fundamental importance because from this opinion of Paul there is a direct line to those Christian texts which have had such a disastrous effect for women: texts which demand that the women should keep quiet in the congregation or declare that they become blessed through bearing children, etc.

Why did this development take place? I can only state my hypothesis here, without really being able to substantiate it. The Roman state had an obvious interest in fighting against freedoms which women claimed publicly. It had a tremendous interest in the constant repetition of the picture of the ideal woman: she is only the wife of the man (univira), she practices the lanificium ­spins wool, works at home, and obeys her husband. If a woman speaks in public. says Valerius Maximus, that shows that the state is shaken by anarchy. Paul and other Christians with him and after him, have clearly given in to this pressure from outside.

This demand of the Pastorals for the subordination of women is formulated in the context of a progressive patriarchalization of the church and its leadership functions. The Pastorals require that the structures and leadership of the Chris­tian community should be patterned after the patriarchal family structure. This is seen in the criteria for the election of male leaders: they should be married to one woman and have demonstrated their patriarchal leadership qualities in their own household; they should know how to rule their children and to admin­ister and order their household authoritatively. In such a patriarchal church order, by definition, there is no room for women’s leadership.

It is clear, however, that such a leadership structure developed in conflict with a more egalitarian church order which it worked to replace because it needed an ideological legitimization for the exclusion of women. Thus it becomes obvious that the misogynist expressions of patristic theology are not only rooted in a faulty anthropology of woman but are also provoked by eccle­siastical-patriarchal interests to theologically legitimate the exclusion of women from ecclesial leadership and office.

What black theologians, black people, women, and others have failed to realize, it seems, is that we are dealing with a Paul who has been misrepre­sented, corrupted, perverted, and misused by the white church of the pre-Civil War era in America and, to a large degree, by the white church of today. The white church took from the deutero-Pauline writings (i.e., those letters not in the corpus: Ephesians, Colossians, and the Pastoral Epistles) the quasi-pro­slavery statement “Slaves, be obedient to your masters” (or its variant) and gave religious sanction and political legitimation to the peculiar institution of slavery in the name of Paul, although he neither wrote nor spoke those words.

Hans Conzelmann sees the answer to the question as already given in verse 17. He thinks there is no need for one to change social status in order to obtain salvation. In the eschatological community, i.e., the church, social status and differences are obliterated. Thus, in the eschatological community, the slave is equal with constituents and free (i.e., the internal self, the soul is already in heaven) while his or her external social condition remains the same. “Remain­ing in one’s own particular status is, like remaining in the world, not a conces­sion to the facts, but a logical consequence of genuine theology.” C. K. Barrett takes a similar position: “A man is not called (so far as this passage is con­cerned) to a new occupation; his old occupation is given new significance.”

“The word klesis, call, vocation, . .. is applied here, as elsewhere, to the call to salvation.” Furthermore, “the idea of the call must be taken to embrace the external circumstances which furnish the occasion and determine the manner of it.” Thus, the primal theological factor in verse 20 that opens up Paul’s understanding of slavery is the “call.” The call bears with it the deter­mination of the slaves’ external (social) circumstance as well as their internal spiritual) circumstance. In virtually every case, Paul uses “call,” as a technical term in the theological sense, viz., the call from God. Hence it seems justifiable to conclude that in verse 20 of the text, slaves are enjoined by Paul to remain in the calling received from God to which or in which they have been called.

I conclude that it is erroneous to translate klesis as “state” (Revised Standard Version [RSV]), “station in life,” “position,” or “vocation” and permit that translation to stand.

This discussion does at least three things: (1) it negates the erroneous con­clusion by black theologians (because of the misrepresentation of Paul by white theologians) that the letter to Philemon represents Paul at his proslavery best; t 2) it points up Paul’s consistency in his concept of Christian freedom (e.g., the harmony between Philemon and Galatians 3:28); and (3) it negates the conclu­sion of conventional white New Testament scholarship that Paul’s understand­ing of freedom for the slave was spiritual and internal, a matter of freedom from sin. It confirms the fact that the slave who was called in the Lord is liberated from civil and social servitude and becomes the Lord’s freedman.

It is true that Mark wishes to assure Christians that a symbolic life can and must be reconstructed apart from the temple-based order. But it does not necessarily follow that he could only have advocated this after the temple 1m s already destroyed. In fact his narrative indicates the opposite. The disciples’ question in 13:1 suggests that the temple was very much a living and imposing edifice. This is further confirmed by Mark’s symbolic discourse of “destruction specifically the correlation between 11:23 and 5:13. The “legion” that “no or e had the strength to bind” (5:3f.) is symbolically driven out of Palestine “into the sea” (5:9-13); similarly, after “exorcising” the commercial interests in the temple, Jesus promises that only through the power of faith can the “mountain” be overcome and ordered “into the sea” (11:23). The historical power repre­sented by Roman legions and the temple mount was, in both cases, intact; that is precisely what makes the two “exorcisms” so remarkable as an anticipation of the “impossible,” provoking amazement (5:15-20; 11:24).

who sat at the Lord’s (tou kyriou) feet and listened (ëkousen) to his teaching (ton logon autou). But Martha was distracted with much serving (diakonian); and she went to him and said: “Lord (kyrie) do you not care that my sister has left me to serve (diakonein) alone? Tell her then to help me. But the Lord (ho kyrios) answered her: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious (merimnas) and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.
The great emotional attraction which this story has for many biblical readers is eloquently expressed in the following introductory statement to an essay on this text:
And there is something else about this story. It simply will not let us go. I mean at the personal level. It is many years now since the Martha and Mary story first took hold of my attention. Since then I have spent many hours of study on it and many more pondering and reflecting on what it might mean. Each time when I put it down or let it go, it clings to me and refuses to let me go. I know that I have not yet gotten to the heart of its mystery. . . . We may be able to say some things which point toward the story’s greatness, and we may enable others and ourselves to see various aspects of the story which we had not noticed before. But to define and possess it? Can we possess the greatness of the flowers of the field? Greatness is recognized, not defined.
How does a feminist critical interpretation approach this text, which is so highly valued by biblical scholars and theologians? Feminist biblical interpretation begins with experience. Many women greatly identify with Martha’s plight. Traditionally women have been told that their feminine vocation is to take care of men and their children. They do all the work in the house and in the kitchen, clean and shop, give dinner parties for the advancement of their husbands, and at the same time are supposed to be relaxed, entertaining, and well-groomed. In the church they wash the altar linen, run the bingo games, and hold bake sales. They do all of this, often without ever receiving a “thank you.” They secretly identify with Martha who openly complains, and they resent Jesus who seems ungrateful and unfair in taking Mary’s side. Yet because Jesus is not supposed to be faulted, women repress their resentment of Jesus’ action. Instead they vent their resentment against other women who, like Mary, have abandoned traditional feminine roles. The right-wing backlash in society and church feeds on this resentment of women who feel that their work and contributions are not valued but that it would be unfeminine to express their resentment.
Other women feel guilty because they are not able to fulfill Martha’s role of perfect housekeeper and entertaining hostess. Pondering this story one student writes of her mother:

I watched my own mother neglect the housekeeping in order to talk to someone or listen or read and I joined my father in feeling embarrassed about the untidy house. I was ashamed when my friends wanted to come home with me. Some have later explained that my mother made them feel welcome and important and they liked that housekeeping wasn’t the first priority…Yet within her own family and within herself my mother shared this conflict with Martha.
Such an exploration of women calls for a hermeneutics of suspicion as one of the most positive biblical texts about women.
A hermeneutics of suspicion seeks to explore the liberating or oppressive values and visions inscribed in the text by identifying the androcentric patrichal character and dynamics of the text and its interpretations. Since biblical texts are written in androcentric language within patriarchal cultures, a hermeneutics of suspicion does not start with the assumption that the Martha and Mary story is a feminist liberating text just because its central characters are women Rather it seeks to investigate how and why the text constructs the story of these two women as it does.
The meaning of this passage is most difficult to establish because of the textual critical problems in verses 41 and 42.13 Jesus’ pronouncement is the climax of the story and therefore key to the meaning of the story. The six textual variations indicate that the story was controverted very early on. The variations represent, basically, two different readings. The longer reading, on the one hand, assumes a meal setting: “Martha you are anxious and troubled about many things; few things are needful or one,” could mean, as one commentator puts it, that a couple of olives, or even one, will suffice at present. Mary has the main course already. The shorter reading, on the other hand, which is preferred by most contemporary interpreters, reads: “Martha you are anxious and troubled about many things, one thing is needful.” The “one thing” probably refers to the activities of the two protagonists. The climactic word of Jesus then asserts that Mary has chosen the one thing, the good part.
Since the text does not directly refer to a meal or explicitly to “serving at table” but uses the more general expressions diakonian, diakonein the longer reading’s assumption that a meal is being served cannot be justified. Moreover, the climactic word of Jesus does not mention diakonia or diakonein but reproaches Martha because she is anxious and troubled about many things. The Greek expression for being anxious—merimnan —reminds one of Luke 12:22, 26, where the disciples are told not to worry about eating, drinking, and clothing, and not to be anxious about their lives. Instead they should seek God’s basileia.
No consensus can be found among interpreters as to the story’s basic meaning. A critical review of divergent interpretations can distinguish two basic approaches, which highlight in different ways the text’s dualistic character.’
An abstractionist interpretation reduces the two sisters to theological principles and types. It is supported by the form-critical classification of the text as a biographical apophthegm, that is, an ideal scene or construct for the climactic saying of Jesus in which the many worries of Martha are contrasted with the one thing needful chosen by Mary. Such abstractionist interpretations, for example, have understood Martha and Mary as ciphers for the theological prin­ciples of justification by works and justification by faith, alms-giving and prayer, Judaism and Christianity, synagogue and church, people who are preoccupied with worldly cares and those who listen to God’s word and seek spiritual things. According to traditional interpretations of the story, Martha and Mary sym­bolize either the labors of this world and the bliss of the world to come (Augustine) or the active and the contemplative life in this world, or life according to the flesh and according to the Spirit (Origen). The contemporary version of this traditional interpretation emphasizes the importance of love of God over and against the social activism that stresses the importance of love of neighbor. Such interpretations not only dehistoricize the narrative, but they also make women historically invisible. They obscure the androcentric dynamics of the text which uses women to make its point.

Those interpretations which acknowledge that Martha and Mary are two female characters, that is, that actual women are the protagonists of the story, work with a “good woman/bad woman” polarization. The traditional Catholic interpretation gives women the choice of two lifestyles in the church: active (Martha) and contemplative (Mary). There are those women who serve God and those women who serve men. Active women do the housework, rear the children or take care of the sick, and concern themselves with mundane busi­ness. Contemplative women do not allow worldly things to interfere with their quiet study, prayer, contemplation, and service to the Lord. Women are either laywomen or nunwomen, secular or religious, serving their husbands or serving the Lord, their heavenly bridegroom.

Protestant interpreters have a more difficult time with this story since the Reformation replaced the role of nuns with that of the “pastor’s wife,” and the ascetic lifestyle with the cult of domesticity. Therefore they insist that women must fulfill their duties as housekeepers. Nevertheless, they must not overdo it. In other words, they should be accomplished hostesses of dinner parties and church suppers, but they should take some time out to “listen, to pray and to learn.” Martha is told that only “a few things” are needed. She must still be the hostess, yet she has to keep it simple so that she can also fulfill her religious obligations. To quote a widely read work, Women in the Ministry of Jesus, Jesus’ “remarks, however, are neither an attempt to devalue Martha’s efforts at hos­pitality, nor an attempt to attack a woman’s traditional role; rather Jesus defends Mary’s right to learn from Him [sic] and says this is the crucial thing for those who wish to serve Him [sic]. Jesus makes clear that for women as well as men one’s primary task is to be a disciple; only in that context can one be a proper hostess.”

Apologetic feminist interpretations in turn continue this dualistic interpre­tation. They focus on Mary’s rejection of the traditional housewife role and stress her option for theology. They celebrate her vindication by Jesus without carefully analyzing the androcentric implications of Luke’s story. Mary is compared to a student or disciple of a rabbi since she is seated at Jesus’ feet. Just  Paul was the Pharisaic student of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), so Mary is a disciple Jesus, dedicated to listening to his word. Mary’s role is characterized as very unusual in view of the place of women in Jewish culture whose work was to ero e but not to study with a rabbi. Unlike any Jewish rabbi, it is then asserted, Jesus accepts women as disciples studying the Torah, while he rejects the role of housewife as women’s proper role.
However, this interpretation highlights Christian women’s role as disciples at the expense of Jewish women and their tradition. It assumes that Jewish women were relegated to the kitchen and excluded from the study of the Torah. Apologetic feminist interpretations have not invented such an anti-Jewish explanation; rather, they have uncritically taken it over from malestream exegesis. They do so in order to show that Christianity, far from being anti-women, has actually liberated women. Nevertheless, a feminist critical hermeneutics of liberation must reject such an anti-Jewish interpretation, because it seeks to eliminate the oppression and marginality of Christian women by historically perpetuating that of Jewish women. It overlooks that both Mary and Martha are Jewish women.
Another way to “save the story” from its critics emerges in the interpretive attempt to psychologize and eroticize its protagonists. One psychological reading, for instance, stresses that Mary showed sympathetic understanding toward the anguish of Jesus, who was on his way to Jerusalem where he was to face death, whereas Martha could not meet his needs. Jesus expected such a sympathetic understanding, though it was almost unheard of that a woman would be sought out as a confidante or that a man would discuss matters of life and death with a woman.’ Other psychological readings understand the competition between Martha and Mary as either sibling rivalry or sexual jealousy. Martha, the older of the two sisters, expects Mary, the younger, to take over her share of work. Since John 11:5 states that Jesus “loved Mary and her sister,” it is asked what sort of love this was: “Could there indeed have been sexual jealousy between the sisters for the attention of Jesus? Or was it platonic, a friendly relationship’? As lively, physical human beings we cannot discount the possibility that there was more than friendly interaction between the three, a factor which could have entered into the resentment Martha expresses.”
Such psychologizing readings of the story overlook the insight of historical- critical exegesis that biblical texts are not interested in the psychological attitudes and emotions of their protagonists. They also perpetuate the patriarchal cultural stereotype of women as rivals, as merely the emotional support or love object of a man, or as both. Finally, such an interpretation also relies on the negative contrast of Jewish society.
In short, a hermeneutics of suspicion indicates that in one way or another most interpretations of Luke 10:38—42 underline the dualistic antagonism either between the two women or between the timeless principles or lifestyles which they symbolize. One must therefore ask whether such an androcentric dualism is a projection of traditional and contemporary interpretations, or whether it is generated by the text itself.

The same two women are also mentioned in John 11:1-44 and 12:1-11.18 In distinction to the Fourth Gospel, the writer of Luke-Acts mentions neither the name of the town, Bethany, nor the brother of the two sisters, Lazarus. We can no longer know with certainty whether this silence is due to redactional considerations, or whether Luke did not have the same information about the two sisters as the Fourth Evangelist had. Nevertheless, a comparison between the gospels of John and of Luke indicates that the dualistic opposition char­acterizing Luke’s text is absent from that of the Fourth Gospel.

A form-critical analysis shows that Luke’s story itself constructs this oppo­sition between Martha and Mary. Bultmann therefore classifies this story form critically as a biographical apophthegm, rather than as a controversy dialogue that was composed as an ideal scene to illustrate the final word of Jesus.19 Apophthegms or pronouncement stories generally utilize antagonistic charac­terization to make a point and to espouse behavioral norms. The narration tends to stylize and typify certain persons or situations so that readers can identify with them and imitate their behavior. What seems to be clear is that the Lukan account is not concerned with the two women as individuals; rather, it is interested in them as representatives of two competing types or roles of discipleship: diakonia-service and listening to the word.

A linguistic-structural analysis further underlines the text’s dualistic-oppo­sitional structure. In such an analysis, Mary functions as the positive figure to which the figure of Martha serves as a negative foil. The text itself inscribes the oppositions: rest/movement; lowliness/upright posture; listen/speak. Mar­tha’s intervention as a speaking subject reinforces this contrasting opposition:


student listening rest receptivenes openness passivity better choice


householder speaking movement argument purposefulness agency rejection

In addition, a narrative analysis that charts the interventions of the char­acters can highlight the dualistic dynamics of the text. The three characters of the story are Martha, her sister Mary, and the Kyrios, the Lord. The relationship of Martha and the Lord in the beginning of the story is that of “equals”: Martha welcomes Jesus into her house. Mary’s relationship to the Lord is that of a “subordinate”: she seats herself at his feet. Martha is absorbed in the preoc­cupations of diakonia; Mary gives her whole attention to the “word of the Lord.” This opposition already hints at a conflict in which Martha becomes the pro­tagonist. Martha’s speech has two parts, one referring to the present and one pointing to the future, insofar as she aims to change the situation. Whereas the first part consists of a question which contains two accusations, the second is an imperative sentence which contains two demands. Martha’s strong reference to her own person and needs contrasts with Mary’s silence and passivity as she is focused on the Kyrios (v. 39bc). Both parts of Martha’s speech are directed explicitly to the Kyrios and only indirectly to Mary.
Martha does not speak to Mary directly but she appeals to Jesus2’ as a little girl might run to her father to tell on a sibling who misbehaved. She complains to the Lord about her sister22 and asks him to use his authority to tell Mary to share in the work. In doing so she relinquishes the more egalitarian relationship between hostess and guest in favor of the dependency relationship between child and parent. The Lord rejects Martha’s appeal and sides with Mary. He approves of Mary’s choice to listen to him but discredits Martha’s choice of diakonia, which is not the “one thing necessary.”
In the beginning, the emotional dynamics of the scene lead us to expect an intervention of the Kyrios in favor of Martha. Readers understand her impatience with Mary’s self-absorption and sympathize with her. Yet, Martha’s active intervention shifts the reader’s sympathy against her. Whereas in the beginning the story opposes Martha’s welcoming of Jesus and attention to service to Mary’s position at his feet and attention to his word, the end of the narrative stresses Martha’s exaggerated service, anxiety, and worry in contrast with Mary’s choice of the better part which will not be taken away from her. Martha’s desire to change the situation is rejected as too much worrying and busybodiness. In the course of the narrative, Martha, the independent and outspoken woman, is rebuffed in favor of the dependent Mary, who chooses the posture of a subordinate student.
In short, the story places the Kyrios in the center of the action. Insofar as he is characterized in masculine terms, the story is clearly kyriocentric, i.e., master-centered. Moreover, Mary, who receives positive approval, is the silent woman, whereas Martha, who argues in her own interest, is silenced. Those who praise Mary’s extraordinary role as a disciple generally overlook the fact that Mary’s discipleship only includes listening but not proclamation. Finally, the text is not descriptive of an actual situation. Rather the narrative is prescriptive, pitting sister against sister in order to make a point. But what is the point that Luke wanted to make in his own social-ecclesial situation?
A hermeneutics of remembrance seeks to move against the grain of the androcentric text to the life and struggles of women in the early churches. It seeks to reconstruct early Christian history as the history of men and women, as memory and heritage for women-church. Rather than taking the androcentric text or historical model of Luke-Acts at face value, a hermeneutics of remembrance in the situation of the early Christian communities to whom Luke writes. Such an interpretive move allows them to psychologize and historicize the characters in the text and to stress, for example, Mary’s personal relationship to Jesus.
That Luke 10:38—42 was generated by and addressed to a situation in the life of the early church—rather than an episode in the life of Jesus—is linguistically signaled by the title Kyrios. The text appeals not to the authority of the historical Jesus but to that of the resurrected Lord. Thus it is important to explore the story’s inscribed historical situation and rhetorical function in order to identify the theological-pastoral interests of the author. Exegetes have pointed out that the inscribed historical situation is that of the early Christian missionary movement which gathered in house-churches. Therefore, the householder Martha welcomes the Lord into her house. One reading of the story contextualizes it in terms of Gerd Theissen’s claim that the Jesus movement consisted of itinerant (male) missionaries and local households who supported the apostolic mission with material means.
The text supports such an interpretation insofar as the diakonein of Martha refers back to that of the women in Jesus’ and the apostles’ company (Luke 8:1—3). As such a local householder, Martha makes too much fuss about hosting Christian itinerant preachers. Just as the twelve apostles (Luke 9:1—6) and the seventy (Luke 10:1—24) are admonished to stay as officially authorized delegates at the same house, to eat and drink whatever is put before them (10:7—8, cf. 9:4), and not to worry about their sustenance (12:22—26), so Martha’s worries about hosting such traveling missionaries are rejected in favor of listening to their words. Such a construction of the historical subtext not only presupposes Theissen’s historical reconstructive model of the Jesus movement, but in so doing it relegates women householders to providing hospitality for male preachers. Ultimately, such an interpretive model colludes with and reinscribes Luke’s editorial interests, which relegate the diakonein of the women disciples to wealthy women’s patronage and support for the apostolic male leaders.
Luke 8:1—3 is best understood as a Lukan editorial summary account (see 4:14f; 6:17; 9:51) which changes the Markan tradition by distinguishing clearly between the circle of the twelve and that of their female supporters. By adding Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, he underlines that they are wealthy women who support Jesus and his male followers. They are not characterized as disciples, akolouthein, as in Mark, but they are motivated by gratitude because Jesus heals them. That Luke intends to downplay women’s equal discipleship comes to the fore not only in his attempt to subordinate women to the circle of the male disciples, but also in his characterization of them as wealthy benefactors. Studies of the social world of Luke have pointed out that he uses the Greco-Roman patron-client relationship as a model for his construction of the social world of Jesus, but that he insists on its modification. Such patron-client relationships are characterized by inequality in status and power, as well as by exchange and reciprocity. “A patron has social and economic resources; in return a client can give expression of solidarity and loyalty. Generosity from the patron can be translated into honor and power.”
The Greco-Roman patron-client exchange system was a significant opportunity for marginalized wealthy but low-status people, such as freeborn women or freed persons, to achieve status and power. Are we then to understand that in exchange for their economic service the women who supported Jesus and the male apostles were to gain honor, status, and power equal to that of the male apostles? In fact, this is not the case, because the Lukan Jesus insists again and again that the expected behavior is the opposite of that produced by the patron-client relationship. The text insists that wealthy persons and leaders cannot expect to receive repayment in the form of honor and influence. Their only reward is from G-d, who is the only patron.

By undercutting the reciprocity of the patron-client system, the Lukan nar­rative produces the power-inequality between rich and poor men, male leaders and their subordinates. In doing so, it forecloses a significant social avenue to status and influence in the church for wealthy freeborn women and freedper­sons. Thus the Lukan rhetoric of 8:1-3 undercuts women’s equal discipleship on several levels: The women followers of Jesus are portrayed not only as serving Jesus and the male apostles with their possessions but also as owing gratitude to Jesus for having been healed. At the same time the text introduces “class” differences between women by turning the women disciples into elite married women and wealthy patrons. Ultimately, a historical reading that con­textualizes the Martha and Mary story in terms of Luke’s historical model as it has been theorized by G. Theissen is not able to break the hold of the andro­centric texts but reinscribes it. Consequently, one must ask whether another reading is plausible.

It is important to note that the text itself does not directly place Martha in the kitchen preparing and serving a meal. In fact, the text merely states that she is preoccupied with too much “serving.”Diakonia and diakonein had already become technical terms for ecclesial leadership in Luke’s time. Traveling mis­sionaries and house-churches were central to the early Christian mission, which depended on special mobility and hospitality. According to the Pauline litera­ture, women as well as men were traveling missionaries and leaders of house-churches. The house-church provided space both for the preaching of the word and for eucharistic meal celebrations. Scholars project patriarchal bias onto the early Christian missionary movement, however, when they conclude that the diakonia of women consisted either in serving traveling male missionaries and doing housework for communal gatherings or that it was restricted to the house.

In early Christian usage, diakonia refers to eucharistic table service in the house-church. It was not, however, restricted to such service, since it also included the proclamation of the word. That this was the case comes to the fore in Acts 6-8 despite Luke’s redactional interests to the contrary. Although the “seven” Hellenists are said to have been appointed to devote themselves to the diakonia of the tables so that the twelve could dedicate themselves to the preaching of the word, they nevertheless become the initiators of the Chris­tian missionary movement and are depicted as powerful preachers and founders of communities. They are characterized similarly to the rival missionaries, preachers, and apostles of Paul in Corinth.

The structural affinity of Acts 6:1-6 and Luke 10:38-42 has long been recognized. Just as Martha complains that Mary leaves (katalipein) the diakonein to her in order to listen to the word (ton logon) of the kyrios, so the twelve apostles maintain that they cannot leave (katalipein) the word (ton logon) of G-d in order to serve (diakonein) at tables. Luke’s text not only distinguishes the diakonia of the word from that at table and restricts both to different groups, but, in so doing, Acts 6:1-6 subordinates one to the other. Lukan redactional interests seem remarkably similar to those of the Pastoral Epistles, which also distinguish between ministers who labor “in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17) and those who “serve” (1 Tim. 3:8ff).
Luke 10:38-42 stresses that the diakonein of Martha is not the “one thing needful” and hence must be subordinated to “listening to the word.” However, it must not be overlooked that the “good portion” chosen by Mary is not the diakonia of the word: it is not the preaching but rather the listening to the word. The characterization of Mary as a listening disciple corresponds to the narrative’s interests in playing down the leadership role of women.
It has often been pointed out that it is a major Lukan literary strategy to parallel a story about a woman with one about a man and vice versa.1 One of the earliest feminist articles has therefore argued that this male-female dualism reflects the “important constituency of women and men who shaped the missionary and catechetical movement.” Such an observation is correct in that it describes the audience of Luke’s “catechetical” instruction as consisting of women and men. Yet the Lukan text represses the knowledge that women and men have shaped the missionary movement, insofar as the gospel does not parallel a single story about a leading male disciple, such as Peter, with that of a leading female disciple, such as Martha. By paralleling stories about male and female characters who are the objects of healing and instruction, the Lukan work genderizes membership in Jesus’ community of disciples while simultaneously subordinating the women disciples to the male leaders.
This portrayal of women as members but not leaders of the Jesus movement corresponds to Luke’s picture in Acts of the role of women. Acts tells us that women as well as men listen to the Christian message and become disciples. However, the public speeches in Acts use the address “men, brothers” (andres, adelphoi) eleven times? More importantly, Acts does not tell us a single story of a woman preaching the word, leading a congregation, or presiding over a house-church.
While the Pastoral Epistles explicitly prohibit women to teach men, the Lukan work fails to tell us stories about women preachers, missionaries, prophets, and founders of house-churches. Thus while the Pastorals silence our speech, Acts deforms our historical consciousness. In addition, Luke plays down the ministry of those women leaders of the early church whom he has to mention because they were known to his audience. Martha and Mary are a case in point.
Such a critical feminist interpretation of the Lukan text has met with strong disagreement. These objections assert that the above interpretation does not sufficiently take into account the story’s contextualization in the so-called travel- narrative and the overall tendencies of the Lukan redaction that are widely held to be positive with regard to women. Such objections insist that the story characterizes Mary as a disciple of Jesus contrary to contemporary religious- cultural expectations. My point, however, is not that Mary is not to be understood as a follower or disciple of Jesus, but rather that she is not seen as a “minister of the word.”
Even a cursory review of the placement of the story in the Lukan macrotext can substantiate my argument. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem (9:51) and the reader knows he will die there. Chapter 10 begins with the official commissioning of the seventy-two disciples. They are told to expect food and shelter and to eat and drink what is set before them when they are received into a house (10:7). The vignette of the Martha and Mary story explicitly directs readers back to the sending out of the seventy-two disciples in that it refers to the journey and to the reception of Jesus in Martha’s house. In doing so it clearly distinguishes between the disciples, who, like Jesus, are sent to proclaim the good news, and those in the community, who receive the disciples and listen to their preaching. The Lukan contextualization of the story thus marks Mary’s discipleship as being like that of the members of the Christian community.
In addition, the placement of the Martha and Mary story in the immediate context of instructions for Christian practice is telling. The story is sandwiched between the example story of the Good Samaritan (10:25-37) and Jesus’ teaching on how to pray (11:1-4).37 While the story of the Good Samaritan addresses the question, “Who is my neighbor?,” the section 11:1-4 answers the disciples’ request for Jesus to teach them how to pray. The Martha and Mary story in turn climaxes in the assertion that Mary has chosen “the good portion.”
Finally, the Lukan travel narrative in which the Martha and Mary story is situated has three journey sections. These are marked in 9:51, 13:22, and 17:11. The first narrative complex (9:52 to 10:42) in the first journey section (9:52 to 13:21) of the macrotext ends with the Mary/Martha story. Whether the exam- pie story of the Good Samaritan and the pronouncement story of Martha and Mary are interrelated is debated. Yet both can be read as answering the question of the lawyer, “What am I to do to inherit eternal life?” Both are thus explications of the great commandment. They teach members of the Christian community what true discipleship is all about. They express the same message in narrative form as the blessing of Jesus in Luke 11:28, which praises those “who listen to the word of God and observe or do it (see 8:21).” In short, the contextualization of the Martha/Mary story within Luke’s macrotext of the travel narrative supports my argument that, although Luke’s rhetorical strategy acknowledges women as members of the Christian movement, it downplays their apostolic leadership.
That Martha and Mary were well-known apostolic figures in the early churches can be seen from the Fourth Gospel. Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are characterized as Jesus’ friends whom he loved (11:5). They are his true disciples and he is their teacher. After expressing her faith in Jesus’ word, Martha goes and calls Mary (11:20), just as Andrew and Philip called Peter and Nathanael. According to the Fourth Evangelist, Jesus’ public ministry climaxes in the revelation that he is the resurrection and the life (11:1-54). While in the original miracle source the resurrection of Lazarus was the heart of the story, in the gospel the climax is the christological confession and dialogue of Martha and Jesus.
As a “beloved disciple,” Martha becomes the spokeswoman for the messianic faith of the community. Her confession parallels that of Peter (6:66-71), but hers is a christological confession in the fuller Johannine sense: Jesus is the revealer who has come down from heaven. Indeed, Martha’s confession has the full sense of the Petrine confession at Caesarea Philippi in the Synoptics, especially in Matthew 16:15-19. Thus Martha represents the full apostolic faith of the Johannine community, just as Peter does for the Matthean community.
While Martha of Bethany is responsible for articulating the community’s christological faith, Mary of Bethany exemplifies the right praxis of discipleship. She is explicitly characterized as the “beloved disciple” whom the teacher has specifically called. She has many followers among her people who came to believe in Jesus (11:45). Though m the narrative of John 11 Mary plays a subordinate role to Martha, in 12:1-8 she is the center of the action. That Martha “served at table” could be an allusion to Luke 10:40, but in John 11 and 12 she is characterized as fulfilling both the ministry of the word and of the table.
Moreover, in John the two sisters are not seen in competition with each other or played out against each other as they are in Luke. Mary is not portrayed as Martha’s opposite but as Judas’ counterpart. The centrality of Judas both in the anointing and in the footwashing scene emphasizes the evangelistic intention to portray the true female disciple, Mary of Bethany, as the alternative to the unfaithful male disciple, Judas, who was one of the twelve. This opposition lends itself to an anti-Jewish reading if it is overlooked that Mary is portrayed as a leading Jewish woman. Whereas according to Mark 14:4, “some,” and according to Matthew 26:8, “the disciples,” protest the waste of precious oil, in John it is Judas who objects.’ The male objection to Mary’s ministry is discredited and rejected by Jesus’ harsh rebuke: “Let her alone.” Mary not only prepares Jesus for his hour of “glory,” she also anticipates Jesus’ command for each to wash the feet of the other as a sign of the agape praxis of true discipleship.
To sum up: A hermeneutics of remembrance can show that both Luke and the Fourth Gospel repress but nevertheless inscribe the struggle of early Christian women against the patriarchal restrictions of their leadership and ministry at the turn of the first century. The Fourth Gospel indicates how women might have told stories which portrayed women as leaders in the Jesus movement to legitimate their own ministry and authority. By contrast, the rhetorical construction of Luke 10:38-40 pits the apostolic women of the Jesus movement against each other and appeals to a revelatory word of the resurrected Lord in order to restrict women’s ministry and authority. The rhetorical interests of the Lukan text are to silence women leaders of house-churches who, like Martha, might have protested, and to simultaneously extol Mary’s “silent” and subordinate behavior. Such a reconstruction of women’s struggles in the early church also indicates why women have always identified more with Martha than with Mary. That is, it confirms women’s “suspicion” that in the Lukan account Martha received a “raw deal.” Yet it is not the Kyrios but the writer of Luke 10:38-40 who promotes such patriarchal restrictions.
The preceding critical feminist theological exploration of this Lukan text has important implications for contemporary feminist readings, for preaching, counseling, and individual Bible study. Such a hermeneutics has two significant interfaces: first, a critical assessment of the text, and, second, a critical assessment of the reading situation or context.
First, instead of reinscribing the dualistic, oppositional, and kyriocentric dynamics of the biblical texts, a hermeneutics of proclamation must critically assess the values and visions the text promulgates in order to help women to name their alienation from and oppression within biblical religions. My critical exploration of the literary dynamics of Luke 10:38-42 has shown that the androcentric tendencies of traditional and contemporary interpretations are not completely read into the text; rather, they are generated by it. If this is the case, a feminist interpretation that defends the story as positive for women cannot but perpetuate the androcentric dualism and patriarchal prejudice inherent in the original story. This text is patriarchal because it reinforces the societal and ecclesiastical polarization of women. Its proclamation denigrates women’s work while insisting at the same time that housework and hospitality are women’s proper roles. It blames women for too much business and simultaneously advocates women’s “double role” as “super women.” Women ought to be not only good disciples but also good hostesses, not only good ministers but also good housewives, not only well-paid professionals but also glamorous lovers. A hermeneutics of proclamation therefore must insist that theologians not clothe such a patriarchal text with divine authority and proclaim it as the word of God. Instead it must be proclaimed as the word of Luke! We must evaluate all aspects of such a text to assess whether, how much, and in what kind of situations it continues to sustain patriarchal internalization in the name of G-d or Christ.
To say that we cannot simply proclaim Luke 10:38-42 as the liberating and salvific word of G-d does not, however, mean that we should not critically use this text in preaching and teaching. Since women and men have internalized its androcentric and patriarchal tendencies as the “word of G-d,” Bible studies and sermons must critically explore its oppressive functions and implications. Not only the hermeneutics of suspicion, but also a hermeneutics of remembrance enables us to do so, since the androcentric character and patriarchal interest of Luke 10:38—42 can be elaborated with the help of historical reconstruction. A comparison with the Fourth Gospel’s depiction of Martha and Mary, for example, helps one to understand that Luke’s story functioned as prescriptive rhetoric in women’s struggle against the gradual patriarchalization of the church at the turn of the first century. Such a comparison can also help readers to break the dualistic construction of the Lukan text and to celebrate the two female characters as historical and independent apostolic figures in their own right. In short, it allows us to reclaim the speech as well as the theological agency of these two women.
Second, a hermeneutics of proclamation must not only evaluate the androcentric dynamics inscribed in the structures of the text, it must also assess the sociopolitical contextualizations that determine how the Lukan text is read and heard today. Since such contextualizations are complex, I will outline four possibilities in order to emphasize the need for a critical evaluation for proclamation.
1. Ever since antiquity, Western culture has especially praised elite women’s silence as proper feminine behavior. Mary, sitting at or lovingly washing the feet of Jesus and silently listening to his word, becomes the example par excellence for the proper feminine behavior of elite educated women in such a cultural context. Yet, when coritextualized in the life of lower and working- class women, Mary’s audacity in taking time out from work to sit idle and to relax in good company can have a liberating effect. As Janice Radway has pointed out, while the content of romance novels insists on the desirability and benefits of heterosexual feminine behavior, the act of reading itself for many women readers is oppositional. It allows women readers of romance fiction to take time out from work and family obligations and to “refuse momentarily their self-abnegating role.” Such an act of reading is a “declaration of independence” and a way to say to others, “This is my time, my space. Now leave me alone.” A homily stressing Mary’s right to study and to read can therefore be liberating in a community where women’s activity is restricted to caring and working for others in the family, on the job, or in the church. However, the example of Mary should not be used just to encourage the practice of biblical or religious reading; such a practice can also stifle the desire to struggle for satisfaction in real life insofar as women’s emotional needs are successfully met in fantasy.
2. The dualistic character of Luke’s story is not discarded if the figure of Martha is held up to women as an exemplary figure fulfilling women’s role of service. By taking the author’s picture of Martha and the other women supporters of the Jesus movement at face value and interpreting such a picture in terms of sacrificing service, apologetic or literary feminist readings neither question nor subvert the androcentric tendencies of Luke’s redaction. Therefore, they cannot but reinforce cultural stereotypes of femininity internalized by women and men. Such interpretations reinscribe cultural-religious gender, class, and race stereotypes when they stress, for instance, that the women “have given all for Jesus,” or when they assert that the women “whom Luke so fondly speaks of” need not be remembered as “simply idle wealthy women.”
A feminist interpretation which understands the Lukan texts about women in a historicizing way and which uncritically follows the patriarchalizing tendencies of the Lukan rhetoric cannot but recuperate these tendencies in its own reading. The women disciples are then seen as female workers who sacrificed everything to follow the “man” Jesus. Like women today, these women disciples are pictured as carrying a double burden.
They too traveled with Jesus, along with the male disciples, but they were not only teaching; they also did the cooking and the mending. They were not ust donating their funds, but also their time. Just as faithful, sacrificing church s omen have always done! Ben Witherington III puts it succinctly: “Being Jesus’ disciples did not lead these women to abandon their traditional roles in regard to preparing food, serving, etc.. . . The transformation of these women involved not only assuming new discipleship roles, but also resuming their traditional roles for a new purpose.”
3. Whereas feminist theology has challenged the restriction of women’s roles to housework and service, it has not sufficiently questioned the notion of ministry as service. In spite of the feminist critique of the cultural and religious socialization of women and other subordinated peoples to self-sacrificing love and selfless service for others, the notion of ministry as service is still a powerful symbol for Christian feminists. They have argued that Christian theology cannot avoid the expression, despite its oppressive overtones, since diakonia is central to the understanding of the mission and ministry of Christ, as well as to that of the church. Such a feminist retrieval of servanthood-ecclesiology basically divides along two strategies of interpretation: The first elaborates the early Christian distinction between diakonein and douleuein to stress that freely chosen service means liberation. Diakonia-service is to be differentiated from servility. Servanthood without choice is not diakonia but slavery (douleia). However, “servanthood through choice” is said to be an act of the total self. The powerlessness of servanthood can be redemptive only when it results from “free and conscious choice.” Such “freely chosen” servanthood is not to be understood as self-denial, self-elimination, self-ignorance, or self-immolation. Rather it is said to be the “capacity to look beyond our selves to see the needs of others.” It is the “empathy” that wants to help and the skill that knows how to help.
Jesus models such “freely chosen” service, according to this interpretation, because he made the choices of self-giving and self-sacrifice rather than allowing society to dictate his behavior. Thus diakonia is realized in the life of Jesus, who came “not to be served but to serve and to give his life as ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). If “servanthood is being in love with the world as God is in love with it,” then servanthood in the final analysis means liberation. “We find ourselves liberated into servanthood.” However, this feminist proposal for the theological recuperation of servanthood does not take into account that people who are powerless in a patriarchal culture and church; those singled out and socialized into subservience and a life of servanthood are not able to “choose servanthood freely.”
By revalorizing service and servanthood theologically, this interpretive strategy extends the theological “double-speak” about service to the theological concept of liberation. For those who are destined by patriarchal culture and sociopolitical structures to become “servants” to those who have power over them, the theological or ecclesiological retrieval of “service/servant/slave! waiter” cannot have a liberating function as long as patriarchal structures continue to divide people into those who serve and those who are served. Rather than elaborate the theological symbols of service/servitude/self-sacrifice, a critical servant mentality.
4. Another feminist theological strategy for retrieving the theology of service for ministry concentrates on redefining ministry. By combining the theology of “freely chosen” service with an understanding of ministry not as “power over” but as “power for,” it seeks to recover the early Christian understanding of ministry as serving G-d and building up the community. It also takes Jesus Christ and his incarnation as “suffering servant” as the model of Christian ministry: Such dismantling of clericalism is implied in the Gospel concept of ministry as diakonia or service. Diakonia is kenotic or self-emptying of power as domination. Ministry transforms power from power over others to empowerment of others. The abdication of power as domination has nothing to do with servility. . .. Rather ministry means exercising power in a new way as a means of liberation of one another.

Although this reconceptualization of ministry seeks to retrieve the New Tes­tament model of diakonia — service for a feminist ecclesial self-understanding in and through a redefinition of power —it nevertheless valorizes the patriarchal concept and institution of service/servanthood theologically. The theological language of ministry as service, i.e., as power for” rather than “power over” the church and the world, obfuscates the fact that too patriarchal church continues to exercise its ministry as “power over” its people as long as it is structured into a hierarchy of power-dualisms: ordained/nonordained, clergy/laity, religious/secular, church/world. Continuing to use the theological notion of serv­ice as a central feminist category for ministry, this approach reduplicates the cultural pattern of self-sacrificing service for women and other subordinate peoples, while at the same time it continues to serve as a moralistic appeal to those who have positions of power and control in church leadership. Depend­ence, obedience, second-class citizenship, and powerlessness remain intrinsic to the notion of “service/servanthood” as long asp society and church structurally reproduce a “servant” class of people. Therefore, when seeking to define women’s ministry, a feminist ecclesiology of liberation must reject the categories of service and servanthood as disempowering to women.

Luke and later theologians did not understand the radical paradox of the discipleship of equals when they called those in positions of wealth and power to “charitable service,” which did not question but actually confirmed their patriarchal status and privileges. In the interest of “good citizenship,” the post-Pauline writers advocate adapting the Christian community as “the household of God” to its patriarchal societal structures. The restriction of women’s min­istry and the separation of the diakonia of the word and that of the table, of proclamation and service, go hand in hand. Religious authority and power is no longer used for the service and well-being of people; it is no longer under­stood as enabling power but as controlling power, as patriarchal superordination and subordination.

Since this patriarchal adaptation of some segments of the early church has defined mainline Christian self-understanding and community and has institu:ionalized structures of “domination and authority,” a feminist theology of mmistry must deconstruct such a patriarchal Christian self-understanding and structure, refusing to perpetuate it by valorizing the notion of service and servanthood. The ministry of women is no longer to be construed as “service” or as “waiting on someone.” Instead, ministry should be understood as “equality from below,” as a democratic practice of solidarity with all those who struggle for survival, self-love, and justice. Since the ekklesia of women as the discipleship of equals has been overshadowed by the reality of the patriarchal church, we need to re-envision women’s ministry as such a practice of solidarity and justice.
Finally, a hermeneutics of creative imagination and ritualizaton seeks to articulate alternative liberating interpretations that do not build on the androcentric dualisms and patriarchal functions of the text. It allows women to enter the biblical text with the help of historical imagination, narrative amplifications, artistic recreations, and liturgical celebrations. Such imaginative embellishments and retellings of the text, however, must also always be submitted to a hermeneutics of suspicion. For instance, a cursory survey of feminist retellings of the Martha and Mary story shows that many such feminist re-creations remain caught up in the cultural feminine role expectations when they place Martha “in the kitchen” preparing a meal for Jesus.
The following is an attempt at an imaginative feminist reinterpretation, made by a participant in one of my workshops:
That Mary is invited to sit at Jesus’ feet is only to coopt Mary, but not necessarily to set her free. Freedom would have come if Jesus and Mary would have shared the work so that everyone could have “the good portion.” Jesus does invite Martha to put down her burdens and partake. He does lift up and validate Mary’s choice to change roles. However, the pause still lingers on “one thing is needful.” If the one thing that will help Martha with her anxieties and troubles is a shift in her view of herself and her role, the repercussions will be told around the world. She will no longer speak through a male authority figure, she will no longer put up with a group who expect to be waited on, she will take the good portion as she wants it and demand it as it is forthcoming. She will find a relationship to God Herself that fits for her which may well include both preaching and serving at table. She will reclaim her friendship with Jesus. She will raise hell.
While this revisioning of the Mary and Martha story is articulated in terms of women’s contemporary experience, the following account attempts a feminist retelling of the Mary and Martha story that allows us to discard the message that divides, subordinates, and alienates one sister from another. It allows us to understand the struggles of women in Luke’s time and our own against patriarchal subordination, silencing, and oppression as one and the same struggle for liberation and wholeness. Out of the distorted web of history it lifts women of power and action and calls us to solidarity with them. One might want to quibble with its historicizing narrative, but I suggest that the following account is useful for illustrating a hermeneutics of creative imagination:
I am Martha the founder of the church in Bethany and the sister of Mary, the evangelist. All kinds of men are writing down the stories about Jesus but they don’t get it right. Some use even our very own name to argue against women’s leadership in the movement. Our great-great granddaughters need to know our true stories if the discipleship of equals is to continue.
They had been travelling for a long time when they finally came to our village. I invited them to join my sister Mary and me. Jesus and the disciples with him sat down and began talking. Mary sat at the teacher’s feet and I joined her in asking him about his latest journeys. He told us the story of the Syrophoenician who came to him asking that her daughter who was possessed be healed. Preoccupied with all the ministry to be done in Galilee Jesus refused: “I have come to serve only the lost and outcast of my own people.”
But to his great surprise—Jesus continued—the woman persisted and started to argue with him: God’s gracious goodness is so abundant that the crumbs falling from Israel’s table are sufficient for nourishing those who do not belong to God’s special people. Her argument and faith was like a flash of revelation in which Jesus realized that the good news of liberation and God’s power of wholeness was for all people, Gentile and Jew, male and female, slave and free, poor and rich. And her daughter was healed.
By the time the teacher finished this story, evening had approached and it was time for sharing the meal. I asked Jesus if he would stay to eat with us. He said yes, and added: “Martha don’t go to a lot of trouble. Whatever you were going to have will be fine. Let me help you.” We started toward the kitchen when one of the males hollered: “The women can go but you, Jesus, stay here. After all we have important things to talk about and they don’t really understand theology.”
But an Essene who had become one of the disciples travelling with Jesus said: “Isn’t God’s word for all people? Before I joined your movement I had always studied the Torah with other women. Are we women disciples to be excluded? After all, didn’t your story about the woman from Syrophoenicia show that your message isn’t just for some but for all, women and men, Gentile and Jew, slave and free, rich and poor?” And Jesus replied: “Susanna thank you for speaking out. You are much blessed by Holy Wisdom, for you are right.” And he asked me to preside at the breaking of the bread and invited Susanna to say the blessing and to teach the Torah lesson for the day. There was grumbling among the men, but we women were excited by the new possibilities God had opened up to us.
My sister Mary helped me to write this down. May God Herself speak to us now and forever.

In this chapter I have sought to exemplify the “dance of interpretation” a critical rhetorical process. Such a critical practice of interpretation for liberation is not restricted to biblical texts but can be applied successfully to other religious or cultural classics. I am told that it has been used for instance in graduate education, in parish discussions, in college classes, in interreligious dialogue, or in work with illiterate Andean women.
The ekklesia of women, I have argued in Bread Not Stone, constitutes the practical center and normative space for the hermeneutical circle-dance of a critical feminist rereading of the Bible for liberation. Since such a critical process of biblical interpretation seeks not just to understand biblical texts but also to change biblical religions and cultures in the interest of all women and other marginalized people, it requires a theological reconception of the Bible. Such a reconception construes the Bible as a formative root-model rather than as a foundational archetype. In this understanding the canon is neither the foundational constitution nor a set of norms defining Christian community and identity. Rather, as the formative prototype of biblical faith and community, the Scriptures offer paradigms of struggles and visions that are open to their own transformations through the power of the Spirit in ever new sociohistorical locations.

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