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Jesus and the Politics of Interpretation. (Shorter Notices).

JESUS AND THE POLITICS OF INTERPRETATION. By Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. New York: Continuum, 2000. Pp. xi + 180. $22.95.

This volume, valuable as supplementary reading for graduate level courses in the New Testament and Christology, critiques the Jesus Seminar's critical methodology, turning on three advocacy positions: (1) the third stage of the quest for the historical Jesus is spinning its wheels, captivated by its own "objective" methodology that its practitioners should problematize rather than uncritically pursue; (2) male social science practitioners have failed to acknowledge the substantive contribution of feminist biblical criticism to their own interpretive project; (3) anti-Semitism, a reflex in Christian biblical interpretation, distorts feminist historical review as well as social science reconstruction of biblical texts.

(1) Schussler Fiorenza competently challenges the philosophical limitations of the "scientific historical liberal Jesus research" approach, outdated in its reliance on a 19th-century European ideal of maleness, which "understands Jesus as the exceptional individual, charismatic genius, and great hero" (61). She chides John Dominic Crossan for his failure to engage the argument of her seminal volume In Memory of Her (1983) in his work on the historical Jesus. The impatience of feminists at male scholars' failure to cite women's abundant scholarship of the last 20 years is surely justified.

(2) Social scientific biblicists need to problematize their questions about the historical data by which they reconstruct the life of Jesus and other persons in the first century. The positivistic method, which assumes objectivity of result, is a false presumption. Instead of a quest for proof, the focus should be on the operation of memory itself as a reconstructive paradigm. Male social science biblicists resist inclusion of data that feminists have retrieved, and avoid presentation of historical complexities and ambiguities that feminists acknowledge.

(3) As S. argued in chapter 3 of Jesus: Miriam's Child, Sophia's Prophet (1994), feminist approaches to the New Testament must resist an innate tendency to reinscribe anti-Semitic prejudice. Dismissal of Judaism happens when scholars oppose Jesus' liberating relationship with women against a false construction of "legalistic" ancient Israel. Feminists must carefully monitor their own interpretations for anti-Semitism. S. considers Kathleen Corley's "egalitarian Jesus" an example of feminist analysis that unwittingly encodes anti-Judaism in Protestant Evangelical scholarship. She corrects Corley's interpretation of her own "egalitarian ethos" of Jesus in In Memory of Her.

S.'s dialogue here models what is missing in the "proofs" of social scientific scholarship, notably, internal self-critique, and recognition of ambiguities that cannot be resolved merely by asserting conclusions.
Lincoln Law School of San Jose, Calif.
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Author:Rosenblatt, Eloise
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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