Male gender construction and representation in Paul : reading 1 Thessalonians through a gender critical, postcolonial optic

Stegmann, Robert Norman (2018-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Interpretational approaches to 1 Thessalonians tend either to (excessively) problematise and question the ‘authoritative voice of Paul,’ or to (naively) lionise that same voice, thereby creating a deep tension between what amounts to an academic and a faith based or ecclesial approach. The tension is made all the more palpable when the discursive-rhetorical role of the biblical text is considered in relation to the construction and representation of masculinity. Broadly speaking, then, critical approaches are the province of the academy, while approaches that affirm the normativising role and centrality of Paul, belong to the church. The latter approach, which I characterise as pre-critical and/or ideologically biased, narrowly construes the possibilities for masculine identity construction and representation by seeing masculinity as fixed and stable. Textual engagement conforms to the more traditional approaches of interpretation which, while elucidating likely historical and textual frameworks for meaning-making, tend to either be agnostic about the gendered nature and discursive quality of the text, or downplay the presence of gendered bodies altogether. Critical approaches, by contrast, bring the gendered nature of the text into sharper relief, but often in inaccessible ways. By critical, I mean, approaches specifically aimed at paying meticulous attention to aspects of 1 Thessalonians that are assumed, on ideological/theological grounds, to be precluded from an investigation of the meaning of the text. In other words, while some critical approaches to 1 Thessalonians problematise the text (and its interpretations), not all critical approaches are interested in the question of gender generally, and of masculinity, specifically. At the centre of this dissertation, then, is the question of how 1 Thessalonians reveals a discursively constructed and represented masculinity and draws on the critical optic of gender criticism and postcolonial biblical criticism to “offer more language and recognition to those who found [find] themselves ostracised because they did [do] not confirm (sic.) to restrictive ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman” (quotation from Judith Butler, in Jaschik, 2017). The objective, moreover, for developing and applying this optic to 1 Thessalonians, is to model ethically responsible hermeneutics and in the context of masculinity, break open the narrow ways in which the biblical text is often interpreted and used to shape the “biblical” notion of masculinity (and femininity). In this study, I maintain that the polysemy of the biblical text, especially when read through the lens of gender criticism and postcolonial biblical criticism, together with an understanding of the discursive-rhetorical dimensions of the text, invites wider possibilities for identity construction and representation. This is crystallised in the transgendering which Paul, Silvanus and Timothy seem to adopt in the letter to the Thessalonian assembly.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Interpretatiewe benaderings tot 1 Tessalonisense is geneig om die “gesaghebbende stem van Paulus” (op oordrewe wyse) te problematiseer of te bevraagteken, of om (op naiewe wyse) dieselfde stem te verheerlik, en sodoende diep spanning te skep tussen wat as 'n akademiese en geloofsgebaseerde of kerklike benadering beskryf kan word. Die spanning word des te meer waarneembaar wanneer die diskursiewe-retoriese rol van die Bybelse teks met betrekking tot die konstruksie en voorstelling van manlikheid in aanmerking geneem word. Oor die algemeen is kritiese benaderings die forte van die akademie, terwyl benaderings wat die normativiserende rol en sentraliteit van Paulus bevestig, aan die kerk behoort. Laasgenoemde benadering, wat ek as voorkritiese en/of ideologiese vooroordeel kenmerk, beperk die interpretasie van die moontlikhede vir manlike identiteitskonstruksie en uitbeelding, deur manlikheid as vas omskrewe en stabiel te beskou. Interaksie met die teks is in ooreenstemming met die meer tradisionele benaderings tot interpretasie, wat alhoewel hulle die waarskynlike historiese en tekstuele raamwerke vir betekenisvorming belig, geneig is om of agnosties te wees oor die gender aard en diskursiewe kwaliteit van die teks of die teenwoordigheid van gendered liggame buite spel plaas. Kritiese benaderings, daarenteen, bring die geslagtelike aard van die teks skerper in beeld, maar dikwels op ontoeganklike maniere. Met krities bedoel ek, benaderings wat spesifiek daarop gemik is om noukeurig aandag te skenk aan aspekte van 1 Tessalonisense wat dikwels en op ideologiese / teologiese gronde uitgesluit word van die soeke na die betekenis van die teks. Met ander woorde, terwyl sommige kritiese benaderings tot 1 Tessalonisense die teks (en interpretasies daarvan) problematiseer, is nie alle kritiese benaderings ingestel op die tema van gender in die algemeen nie, en ook nie van manlikheid in die besonder nie. Sentraal tot hierdie proefskrif is dan die vraag hoe 1 Tessalonisense 'n diskursief gekonstrueerde en uitgebeelde manlikheid aan die lig bring, en steun hiervoor op die kritiese optika van genderkritiek en postkoloniale Bybel kritiek “[to] offer more language and recognition to those who found [find] themselves ostracised because they did [do] not confirm (sic.) to restrictive ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman” (quotation from Judith Butler, in Jaschik, 2017). Die oogmerk om hierdie optika vir 1 Tessalonisense te ontwikkel en toe te pas, is om eties-verantwoordelike hermeneutiek te modelleer en die beperkende maniere waarop die Bybelse teks in die konteks van manlikheid dikwels geinterpreteer word en gebruik word om die "Bybelse" idee van manlikheid (en vroulikheid) te vorm, te bevraagteken en uit te brei. In hierdie studie huldig ek die opinie dat die polisemie van die Bybelse teks, veral wanneer dit deur die lens van genderkritiek en postkoloniale Bybelse kritiek gelees word, tesame met insig in die diskursiewe-retoriese dimensies van die teks, breer moontlikhede bied vir identiteitskonstruksie en verteenwoordiging. Hierdie werkswyse vind uiting in die transgendering wat Paulus, Silvanus en Timoteus in die brief aan die Tessalonisense-samestelling blyk om te aanvaar.

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