Socio-cultural and gender perspectives in John 7:53-8:11 : exegetical reflections in the context of violence against women in Zambia

Lungu, James (2016-02-18)

Thesis (MTh)--Stellenbosch University, 2016.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Considering the numerous moral dilemmas facing the world of the twenty-first century, gender-based injustice is just one such example, and can be seen in the many occurrences of male violence against women. This has become a daily reality for women across the globe, and in Zambia in particular. This real life concern is on the increase and continues to affect various aspects of women’s lives, such as their social, economic, physical, and spiritual well-being – even to the point of death. I began this research project with a brief excerpt of my own personal story and exposure to such violence within my own family and community. The dilemma of male violence against women is not just a contemporary matter confined to our present age. It can be traced as far back as the first century Jewish context in which Jesus lived and ministered. The Bible – a Christian document written from a pre-dominantly male perspective – has passages that elevate the status of men over that of women, creating a platform conducive to female oppression. Although the focus here has been on gender inequality, there are, however, some Scriptures that appear to speak of gender equality. In spite of the latter, gender inequality in the Bible is often (over)emphasised and interpreted in a way that a number of scholars have identified as a literal approach to biblical interpretation. In this study, I ascribe this one-sided view as the main cause of gender-based violence against women in Zambia. This study adopted John 7:53-8:11 as the potential text to address the moral dilemma of gender-based violence against women. A multi-dimensional exegetical method of study with three dimensions, namely: literary (cf. chapter 2), socio-cultural and historical (cf. chapter 3), as well as the theological-rhetorical dimension (cf. 4) was adopted in the quest to find a well-balanced method for reading biblical texts that are life-giving in terms of addressing these ethical challenges of gender violence. Upon exegetical reflection, the outcomes of the above-mentioned dimensions were noted in their appropriation within the Zambian context of gender-based violence against women (cf. chapter 5). The relevance of the study in view of John 7:53-8:11 to both the Johannine and Zambian context is as follows: the scribes and the Pharisees’ appeal to the Law of Moses in condemning an adulterous woman in the absence of the man she is accused of committing the act with, opened up discussions on the probable socio-cultural and gender perspectives which facilitated and endorsed their actions. The first century context of the Mediterranean world in which I situate Johannine story viewed people in terms of gender. This often led to men being advantaged over women in terms of their prescribed roles, duties, as well socio-cultural and gender expectations. Although this seemed to have been the normal way of life, Jesus challenged it through what I regard as two rhetorical strategies, that of his posed silence and re-interpretation of the Law of Moses, which was life giving for the victim who was then set free. The story of the adulterous woman brings relevance to the Zambian context with regards to the abuse of women through gender-based violence, owing to socio-cultural and gender values that advantage men over women. The role Jesus plays in the story restores the human dignity of the victim, bringing hope to both victims and the church in Zambia in their fight against this vice. Most of all, the church is challenged to adopt a balanced method for interpreting the Bible, which – if interpreted incorrectly – remains a potential document for gender abuse.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Wanneer die tallose morele dilemmas van die een-en-twintigste eeu in ag geneem word, is geslagsgebaseerde onreg maar slegs een voorbeeld. Dit word waargeneem in vele voorbeelde van gewelddadige optrede deur mans teenoor vroue. Hierdie werklikheid het ‘n daaglikse ervaring vir vroue regoor die wêreld geword, en spesifiek ook in Zambië. Dié werklikheid is aan die toeneem en beïnvloed steeds verskillende aspekte van vroue se lewens soos hulle sosiale, ekonomiese, fisiese en spirituele welwees – selfs op die gevaar van hulle lewens af. Hierdie navorsingsprojek begin met ‘n kort oorsig uit my persoonlike verhaal en blootstelling aan sodanige geweld in my eie familie en gemeenskap. Die dilemma van geweld deur mans teenoor vroue is egter nie ‘n saak wat tot ons tyd en konteks beperk is nie. Dit kan so ver terug nagespeur word as die eerste-eeuse Joodse konteks waarin Jesus geleef en gewerk het. Die Bybel – as Christelike dokument wat hoofsaaklik vanuit ‘n manlike perspektief geskryf is – bevat gedeeltes wat die status van mans teenoor dié van vroue verhef, wat inderdaad ‘n platform skep wat die onderdrukking van vroue kan aanmoedig. Alhoewel die fokus van die studie op geslagsongelykheid is, is daar wel Skrifgedeeltes wat blyk van geslagsgelykheid te praat. Ten spyte van laasgenoemde, word geslagsongelykheid in die Bybel dikwels (oor)beklemtoon en op ‘n wyse vertolk wat verskeie kenners aandui as ‘n letterlike benadering tot Skrifuitleg. In die studie beskou ek hierdie eensydige benadering as die primêre oorsaak vir geslagsgebaseerde geweld teenoor vroue in Zambië. Na aanleiding hiervan is Johannes 7:53-8:11 gekies as teks waardeur die morele dilemma van geslagsgebaseerde geweld teenoor vroue potensieel aangespreek kan word. ‘n Multidimensionele eksegetiese metode word gevolg waarin drie dimensies van die teks, naamlik literêre, sosio-kulturele en teologies-retoriese aspekte onderskeidelik in hoofstukke 2, 3 en 4 van die tesis bespreek word. Hierdie benadering is gekies in die soeke na ‘n gebalanseerde metode om die Bybel só te lees dat dit in die proses om die etiese dilemma van geslagsgeweld aan te spreek, lewe-gewend sal wees. Die uitkoms van die eksegetiese studie word in hoofstuk 5 bespreek en op die konteks van geslagsgebaseerde geweld in Zambië toegepas. Die relevansie van die studie oor Johannes 7:53-8:11 vir beide Johannese navorsing en die Zambiese konteks kan soos volg beskryf word. Die skrifgeleerdes en Fariseërs se beroep op die Wet van Moses in die veroordeling van die owerspelige vrou (terwyl die man met wie die daad gepleeg is kennelik afwesig was), het ‘n gesprek oor die waarskynlike sosio-kulturele - en geslagsperspektiewe wat hulle dade gefasiliteer en onderskryf het, ontlok. Die eerste-eeuse Mediterreense konteks waarbinne die Johannese verhaal afspeel, het mense veral in terme van hulle geslag verstaan. Dit het dikwels daartoe gelei dat mans bo vroue bevoordeel is in terme van die rolle en take wat aan hulle toegeken is, sowel as die sosio-kulturele verwagtings wat aan hulle gestel is. Hoewel hierdie die normale manier van lewe blyk te gewees het, het Jesus dit uitgedaag deur middel van wat ek as twee retoriese strategieë beskou – naamlik sy reaksie van stilte, en sy herinterpretasie van die Wet van Moses wat vir die slagoffer wat daarna vrygelaat is, nuwe lewe gebring het. Die verhaal van die owerspelige vrou is toepaslik in die Zambiese konteks van misbruik (geslagsgebaseerde geweld) teenoor vroue, wat eweneens toegeskryf kan word aan sosio-kulturele waardes wat mans bo vroue bevoordeel. Die rol wat Jesus in die storie speel herstel die menswaardigheid van die slagoffer, en bring hoop aan beide slagoffers en die kerk in Zambië in hulle stryd teen hierdie euwel. Bowenal word die kerk uitgedaag om ‘n gebalanseerde metode van Skrifuitleg te aanvaar, wat – indien dit op onverantwoorde maniere verstaan word – ‘n dokument bly wat potensieel tot geslagsmisbruik kan lei.

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