That We May Be Mutually Encouraged: Feminism and the New Perspective in Pauline Studies

By Omerzu, Heike | Journal of Biblical Literature, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

That We May Be Mutually Encouraged: Feminism and the New Perspective in Pauline Studies


Omerzu, Heike, Journal of Biblical Literature


That We May Be Mutually Encouraged: Feminism and the New Perspective in Pauline Studies, by Kathy Ehrensperger. New York/London: T & T Clark, 2004, Pp, 304, $39.95 (paper). ISBN: 056702640X.

Over the last three decades there has been a revolutionary shift of thinking in Pauline Studies, especially due to feminist criticism, post-Shoah theology, and the socalled New Perspective on Paul. Yet-and this is the starting point of Kathy Ehrensperger's work, which was originally submitted as Ph.D. thesis at the University of Wales, Lampeter, UK (2002)-interaction between these different strands of research in theology and biblical studies has been minimal. While traditional male scholarship appraises Paul as "the first Christian theological thinker of a law-free Gentile church" and is hardly aware of feminist interpretations, similarly, feminist research on Paul conceives of the apostle "as the father of misogyny and dominating power" (p. 1), thereby often uncritically reapplying "hermeneutical patterns of traditional mainstream/raa/esirc'ara interpretation" (p, 2). Ehrensperger holds the view that "relating insights of research . . . would lead to illuminating and fruitful interactions and new insights for each of these theologies and would prove especially relevant for understanding Paul from a radical new perspective" (p. 1). In particular, she asserts that Paul presents "a theology of mutuality in the context of relationships of people who are different" (p. 194), as is already indicated by the title of her study, a quotation of Rom 1:12.

The book is divided into two parts: Part 1 focuses on "Hermeneutics and Presuppositions," whereas in part 2 Ehrensperger examines "Paul in Contemporary Studies and Theologies," Part 1 is opened by a short "Introduction" (pp. 1-4) that summarizes the outline and main arguments of the study. It is followed by a survey of "Changing Perspectives" (ch. 2, pp. 5-42) in different areas of Pauline research. Ehrensperger illustrates the changes in philosophies and hermeneutics (Jacques Derrida, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Walter Benjamin), which paved the way for postmodern, postcritical, and post-Shoah approaches in biblical interpretation. The most important hermeneutical consequences include the shift from a dominating notion of hegemony to an emphasis on diversity and difference, Although feminist theologies were prominently involved in this hermeneutical paradigm shift, they often unconsciously transmitted patterns of anti-Judaism-a problem of which, however, feminist research has increasingly become aware. The following overview of the history of research in Pauline studies highlights, first, that only with the emergence of the so-called New Perspective on Paul (esp. the works of E. P. Sanders and James D, G. Dunn) did scholars seek to overcome the antiJewish tendencies in many analyses of Paul. second, Ehrensperger demonstrates that feminist research on Paul and his letters has been gradually increasing during the last years and thereby has been "sensitive to avoid the trap of anti-Judaism" (p. 39), but "feminist approaches to Paul have hardly yet taken into account the shift in Pauline studies" (p. 27).

Chapter 3 examines the origins of apparent contradictions in Paul and analyzes whether they can be resolved by relating them to "Different Perspectives" (pp. 43-120) on Paul. The Pauline letters are usually interpreted as expressions of Western rational logic, which is mainly based on Greek philosophy, which has had a predominant influence on our tradition of interpretation. Although Hellenism affected the cultural context of ancient Judaism in the Diaspora as well as in Palestine, Ehrensperger states that "its influence did not annul the basic Jewish shaping of, and commitment in, Jewish literature of that period and Jewish biblical interpretation" (p. 92). Central to Hebrew patterns of thinking is that the "Hebrew Bible is about the relationship between God and human beings, and of human beings with each other and with creation. …

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