When the lines are blurred : a gender-critical reading of the narratives of John 12:1-8 and John 13:1-17

Müller van Velden, Nina Elisabeth (2018-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The presentation, interpretation, and appropriation of biblical narratives continue to fulfil a central role in theological discourses on gender and sexuality - both past and present. Christian faith communities and the individuals who make up such communities represent varied settings, and as such, also a wide range of theological positions on contemporary issues related to gender and sexuality. Often these positions are validated by “proving” said positions by means of particular interpretations of a single, or multiple, biblical narratives. Irrespective of whether these positions can be categorized as being theologically “more conservative” or “more progressive,” the majority of such positions are based on interpretations that present biblical narratives as timeless, objective entities, with universal relevance for all persons throughout the ages. Often times little or no attention is paid to the socio-cultural contexts of the biblical narratives, and more specifically, to the manner in which gender and sexuality was perceived and expressed within ancient settings. Moreover, little or no attention is paid to the contemporary settings from which these biblical narratives are interpreted and the role of the interpreter in the interpretation process; and even less attention is paid to the manner in which understandings of gender and sexuality dynamically continue to move and be reshaped. Rather, the impression is created that gender and sexuality has always been understood in the same way as does contemporary interpreters; thereby, biblical narratives merely become the vehicle for validating that which is already believed to hold “true” for the interpreter. These positions seldom allow for complexity or ambiguity; rather, the impression is created that either one interpretation or another has to be correct (and by proxy the other interpretation is then incorrect). This research project seeks to move beyond hermeneutical frameworks that attempt to appropriate biblical narratives in such an either/or manner, particularly with regard to theological discourses on gender and sexuality. By reading the “feet and meal” narratives of John 12:1-8 and 13:1-17 through a gender-critical lens and against their ancient Mediterranean socio-cultural background, within the broader framework of cultural studies and its emphasis on the influence of social location on biblical interpretation, I suggest that the interpretation of biblical narratives are perhaps rather suited to engage and encourage theological frameworks that can hold complexity - both/and positions - for theological discourses on gender and sexuality. The expectation of clear-cut “answers” for complex questions is thereby challenged, and an alternative of (gendered) ambiguity - as seems to be presented in the characterization of these narratives - is suggested.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die voorstelling, interpretasie, en toepassing van bybelse narratiewe vervul ‘n voortgesette, sentrale rol in teologiese diskoerse rakende gender en seksualiteit in die verlede, sowel as in die hede. Die groot verskeidenheid kontekste waarbinne Christelike geloofsgemeenskappe uiting vind en die individue waaruit hierdie gemeenskappe bestaan, het ‘n wye reeks teologiese posisies rakende hedendaagse kwessies verwant aan gender en seksualiteit tot gevolg. Hierdie posisies word dikwels gestaaf deur “bewyse” vir die betrokke posisies, aan die hand van bepaalde interpretasies van ‘n enkele, of ‘n versameling, bybelse narratiewe. Ongeag die kategorisering van hierdie posisies as teologies “meer behoudend” of “meer progressief,” is die meerderheid van hierdie posisies gebaseer op interpretasies wat bybelse narratiewe as tydlose, objektiewe entiteite voorstel, met universele relevansie vir alle persone deur die eeue heen. Dikwels word baie min, indien enige aandag geskenk aan die sosio-kulturele kontekste van die bybelse narratiewe, en meer spesifiek nog, die wyse waarop gender en seksualiteit verstaan en uitgedruk is in antieke kontekste. Daar word tipies selde of geensins aandag geskenk aan die kontemporêre kontekste waarbinne hierdie bybelse narratiewe interpreteer word, of die rol van die interpreteerder in die interpretasie-proses nie; selfs nog minder aandag word geskenk aan die wyse waarop denke oor gender en seksualiteit op ‘n dinamiese wyse voortdurend skuif en hervorm word. Die indruk word veel eerder geskep dat gender en seksualiteit nog altyd verstaan is op die wyse waarop kontemporêre interpreteerders dit verstaan. Gevolglik word bybelse narratiewe eenvoudig as medium ingespan vir die (her)bevestiging van dit wat alreeds as “waar” voorgestel word deur die interpreteerder. Hierdie posisies laat selde kompleksiteit of dubbelsinnigheid toe; die indruk word eerder geskep dat hetsy die een, of die ander interpretasie korrek moet wees (en gevolglik dan, dat die ander interpretasie inkorrek is). Met hierdie navorsingsprojek word gepoog om verder te beweeg as hermeneutiese raamwerke wat bybelse narratiewe op hierdie “een of die ander” wyse inspan, in die besonder rakende teologiese diskoerse oor gender en seksualiteit. Die “voete en maaltye” verhale van Johannes 12:1-8 en 13:1-17 word deur ‘n gender-kritiese lens gelees, teen die agtergrond van hul antieke Mediterreense sosio-kulterele konteks, binne die breër kontoere van kulturele studies en die gepaardgaande klem op die rol van sosiale ligging in bybelinterpretasie. Hiermee stel ek voor dat die interpretasie van bybelse narratiewe moontlik meer geskik is om teologiese raamwerke van kompleksiteit en “beide-en” posisies aan te moedig en te onderhou. Gevolglik word die verwagting van klinkklare “antwoorde” vir vrae oor komplekse sake uitgedaag, en as alternatief word (gender) dubbelsinnigheid voorgestel - ‘n dubbelsinnigheid wat blyk om deur die karakterisering van hierdie verhale uitgebeeld te word.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/103630
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