Shall We Look for Another? A Feminist Rereading of the Matthean Jesus

Shall We Look for Another? A Feminist Rereading of the Matthean Jesus

Deutsch, Celia M

ELAINE M. WAINWRIGHT, Shall We Look for Another? A Feminist Rereading of the Matthean Jesus (Bible and Liberation; Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998). Pp. xii + 178. Paper $18.

In Shall We Look for Another? Elaine Wainwright adds to a growing body of feminist NT criticism. In the present volume she develops themes present in her earlier work as she continues the task of “creating a map for a feminist reading of the Jesus of the gospels, as well as actually beginning such a reading” (p. ix). W. acknowledges that task to be the theological and hermeneutical task of seeking to understand the reader within the text, behind the text and in front of the text. She locates herself with those who take a political or liberationist position, or both, employing a variety of methodologies under the rubric of sociorhetorical method. This includes narrative criticism and reader-response criticism, with account taken of the cultural context, and with the text and its context analyzed from a feminist perspective.

Wainwright has already made a substantial contribution to the growing body of contemporary Matthean and feminist biblical criticism, particularly with her book Towards a Feminist Critical Reading of the Gospel according to Matthew (BZNW 60; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1991) and her essay “The Gospel of Matthew” in Searching the Scriptures 2: A Feminist Commentary (ed. Elisabeth SchUssler Fiorenza; New York: Crossroad, 1994) 635-77. In this new work she extends her analysis beyond gender to include class, ethnicity, and religious affiliation.

Wainwright spends the first two chapters and the opening pages of the third laying out her methodology. She proceeds slowly, constructing one layer at a time, guiding us through the various steps in the process which she articulates for reading the text. When Matthew’s Gospel is read with the aid of these “maps,” it yields suggestions for a variety of readings-alternative readings as well as those of the dominant group.

Wainwright turns in chap. 3 to the context of Matthew’s community. Then, using ethnicity, gender, and class as categories of analysis, she turns to specific texts for a series of rereadings, using these texts as foci for the next four chapters: Matthew 1-2 in chap. 4, 11:1-30 in chap. 5, 15:21-28 and 16:13-20 in chap. 6, and 27:32-28:20 in chap. 7. In a brief concluding chapter she recapitulates her findings and invites new questions and further exploration.

Wainwright calls these rereadings “soundings, because it is impossible within the confines of this study to read the entire story of Jesus in the Matthean narrative” (p. 4, emphasis hers). The term is an apt one, evoking as it does the tentative nature of the scholarly enterprise. With these “soundings,” indeed, she achieves her goal, because they exemplify the results of a feminist rereading of Matthew’s Gospel. Ws rereadings disclose the tensions embedded in that gospel. Thus, the traditions around the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman suggest “two very different readings of Jesus and of the reign of God movement within Matthean households” (p. 92). Her analysis of 27:32-28:20 suggests the ways in which the texts reflect the commissioning of women as well as men, with resultant tensions in at least some Matthean groups. W understands her task to be theological, hermeneutical, and political. Thus, she invites the meaning– makers of our age to “enter into conversation” with those of Matthew’s house-churches to disclose new meanings regarding Jesus and the message of God’s reign.

Wainwright commands an impressive range of literature in the areas of literary criticism, feminist theory, biblical criticism, and late antiquity. However, by her own admission, she is not well versed in Greco-Roman texts. While her use of examples from Jewish literature can be quite effective, as in her comparison of Sophia and the Son of Man in I Enoch (p. 75), she does not appear to be comfortable, on the whole, with Jewish primary texts. For example, she describes the magi as representatives of wisdom traditions. Magoi, however, were not “wise ones” (despite the translations in the RSV and the NRSV). They were “astrologers” (so the NAB), magicians, often associated with the Persians or Chaldeans in Greek and Roman sources, which suggest that magoi were often the object of suspicion, contempt, or outright hostility. Does this suggest an anomalous character for Matthew’s magi? Furthermore, Abraham and Moses are associated with astrology in some postbiblical Jewish sources, and Matthew may indeed be reinterpreting these sources, as well as wisdom and prophetic traditions. Certainly, many of us could benefit with greater study of GrecoRoman and Jewish sources. More extensive attention to them would have given W.s argument a greater sense of context and specificity.

Having stated these reservations, I must add that W describes her work as an ongoing process. At each stage new facets are disclosed in her rereading of NT texts, particularly the Gospel of Matthew. Shall We Look for Another? is an important book in the ongoing work of rereading the Gospels from feminist and liberationist perspectives. Anyone seriously engaged in the study of Matthew’s Gospel or early Christian sources should read this book.

Wainwright’s argument is closely reasoned, even elegant. That does not mean that it is easy to follow. Her style of writing is dense, but the reader’s effort is richly rewarded. As one follows her “maps” one learns more fully to reread Matthew’s Gospel in new ways, and in reading other texts one finds oneself listening for the voices of resistance which will suggest alternative readings.

Copyright Catholic Biblical Association of America Oct 1999

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