In the past two decades there has been a tremendous change in biblical studies. The scientistic philosophy that prevailed for more than a century has given way, in biblical studies as in other humanities, to a more sophisticated understanding of the interaction between the now and the then, the reader and the text. Old ideas of history as “what actually happened” and text as having one correct and original meaning have yielded to a current view of the continual interaction of the viewer and what is seen, of the text and its reader. No longer do we believe that there is a truly “value-neutral” way of reading literature or reconstructing history.
Women's studies did not cause this paradigm shift, but they are part of an enormous change in our perception of reality. When only European middle-class Protestant men were doing the reading, they were able to see their consensual understandings as objective. When new voices entered the cultural dialogue—the voices of Catholics, Jews, Asians, Afro-Americans, Africans, people speaking from the perspective of poverty, and women—then the presuppositions that underlay the old objective readings increasingly came to the surface, and the context was understood as part of the reading of the text. This new understanding has made it possible to see beyond the traditional readings of biblical texts to reach newer interpretations and insights.
The impact of this paradigm shift in biblical studies can be seen in several ways. There are increasing numbers of new readings of biblical stories from the perspectives of liberation, the third world, womanism, and feminism. In addition, literary criticism of the Bible has grappled with the ways that stories have multiple codes that signify meanings and the way that reader responses can be shaped by the text as well as by the culture of the reader. This turmoil in biblical studies has brought a general openness in the field studies to women's studies—an expectation that women's studies can provide fresh perspectives on the texts—and