GENEVA (AFP) –
Tired of seeing their holy texts used to justify the subjugation of women, a group of feminist theologians from across the Protestant-Catholic divide have joined forces to draft “A Women’s Bible”.
As the #MeToo movement continues to expose sexual abuse across cultures and industries, some scholars of Christianity are clamouring for a reckoning with biblical interpretations they say have entrenched negative images of women.
The women we know from translations and interpretations of Bible texts are servants, prostitutes or saints, seen dancing for a king or kneeling to kiss Jesus’ feet.
But while many feminists have called for The Bible, Christianity and religion altogether to be cast aside, an eclectic group of theologians instead insists that if interpreted properly, the Good Book can be a tool for promoting women’s emancipation.
– ‘Feminist values’ –
“Feminist values and reading the Bible are not incompatible,” insisted Lauriane Savoy, one of two Geneva theology professors behind the push to draft “Une Bible des Femmes” (“A Women’s Bible”), which was published in October.
The professor at the Theology Faculty in Geneva, which was established by the father of Calvinism himself in 1559, said the idea for the work came after she and her colleague Elisabeth Parmentier noticed how little most people knew or understood of the biblical texts.
“A lot of people thought they were completely outdated with no relevance to today’s values of equality,” the 33-year-old told AFP, standing under the towering sculptures of Jean Calvin and other Protestant founders on the University of Geneva campus.
In a bid to counter such notions, Savoy and Parmentier, 57, joined forces with 18 other woman theologians from a range of countries and Christian denominations.
The scholars have created a collection of texts challenging traditional interpretations of Bible scriptures that cast women characters as weak and subordinate to the men around them.
Parmentier points to a passage in the Gospel of Luke, in which Jesus visits two sisters, Martha and Mary.
“It says that Martha ensures the “service”, which has been interpreted to mean that she served the food, but the Greek word diakonia can also have other meanings, for instance it could mean she was a deacon,” she pointed out.
– Overturning religious orthodoxy –
They are not the first to provide a more women-friendly reading of the scriptures.
Already back in 1898, American suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton and a committee of 26 other women drafted “The Woman’s Bible”, aimed at overturning religious orthodoxy that women should be subservient to men.
The two Geneva theology professors say they were inspired by that work, and had initially planned to simply translate it to French.
But after determining that the 120-year-old text was too outdated, they decided to create a new work that could resonate in the 21st century.
“We wanted to work in an ecumenical way,” Parmentier said, stressing that around half the women involved in the project are Catholic and the other half from a number of branches of Protestantism.
In the introduction to the “Women’s Bible”, the authors said that the chapters were meant to “scrutinise shifts in the Christian tradition, things that have remained concealed, tendentious translations, partial interpretations.”
– ‘Lingering patriarchal readings’ –
They take to task “the lingering patriarchal readings that have justified numerous restrictions and bans on women,” the authors wrote.
Savoy said that Mary Magdalene, “the female character who appears the most in the Gospels”, had been given a raw deal in many common interpretations of the texts.
“She stood by Jesus, including as he was dying on the cross, when all of the male disciples were afraid. She was the first one to go to his tomb and to discover his resurrection,” she pointed out.
“This is a fundamental character, but she is described as a prostitute, … and even as Jesus’s lover in recent fiction.”
The scholars also go to great lengths to place the texts in their historical context.
“We are fighting against a literal reading of the texts,” Parmentier said, pointing for instance to letters sent by Saint Paul to nascent Christian communities.
Reading passages from those letters, which could easily be construed as radically anti-feminist, as instructions for how women should be treated today is insane, she said.
“It’s like taking a letter someone sends to give advice as being valid for all eternity.”
The theologians’ texts also approach the Bible through different themes, like the body, seduction, motherhood and subordination.
The authors say they consider their work a useful tool in the age of #MeToo.
“Each chapter addresses existential questions for women, questions they are still asking themselves today,” Parmentier said.
“While some say that you have to throw out the Bible to be a feminist, we believe the opposite.”
Maybe they can start in Genesis 3:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field that the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat of any tree in the garden?’” 2 The woman answered the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden, 3 but of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You must not eat of it or touch it, or you will die.’”…
The bible warns us false teachers will arise. They may not claim to reveal new truth from God on the level of Scripture, but they will seek to distort the Scriptures, twisting them to teach something vastly different from the intended meaning of the Bible.
Adam and Eve did not understand why God forbade them to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They did not need to know this. In fact, eating of the tree is what would give them this knowledge. All they needed to know was that God had given this command and then to obey it. More faith is required to obey God when we don’t understand why than to obey when the reasons are glaring us in the face.
Notice it was EVE who added to God’s word by saying they couldn’t touch it, or eat it?
2 You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.
And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.