Friday, January 29, 2021

Rev. Dr. Cheryl B. Anderson: “Reflections in an Interethnic/Racial Era on Interethnic/Racial Marriage in Ezra”

Rev. Dr. Cheryl B. Anderson is a Professor of Old Testament at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. She earned her Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University and also has a J.D. from Wayne State University and M.Div. from Wesley Theological Seminary. On her faculty page, she writes, "as a lawyer and an ordained minister, I am attracted to interdisciplinary approaches to biblical studies. Consequently, my specific areas of interest include biblical laws, gender theory, and postmodern methodologies." Here is a one minute clip of her talking about Biblical text with context.

I also found this video from 2020 where she speaks on "Why #MeToo​ Matters for LGBTQ Inclusion."

And in this video from 2016 she talks about "Exploring an Autobiographical Exegesis."


In her essay, “Reflections in an Interethnic/Racial Era on Interethnic/Racial Marriage in Ezra” Anderson states that her purpose is "to explore the interpretive challenge posed by such a text [Ezra 9-10] to Christian communities that happen to be African American" (47). Ezra 9-10 condemns and bans intermarriage between the Jews and "foreign women" and expels those women and their children from the community. Anderson says that reading this text as an African American woman reminds her of America's history of racial segregation and prohibitions against interracial marriage. "Normative" readings of this text see the banishment of the women and children as a way to maintain the unique identity of their community of faith. But Anderson points out that African Americans have more in common with the people who are sent away in the text than with the people who remain (47). Additionally, if we accept that assumed rationale, that would mean that excluding those who are different could be justified. Anderson suggests African Americans need a different reading that resists the normative one and argues that the intermarriage ban in Ezra should be seen as a "cautionary tale" (47). Anderson says we need a reading strategy that takes seriously the social and historical context of both the biblical text and the contemporary reading community, because if we don't, "the silencing of the marginalized groups in the text (women and children) continues to silence a marginalized group today (African Americans) (48).

Main points:

  1. The ban in Ezra draws a distinction between a privileged group, those who are included in the community, and a nonprivileged group, those who are excluded from the community, but that distinction is justified as a divine command. And those two things were prominent in the laws that forbid interracial marriage in the United States (50). The intermarriage ban in Ezra is a biblical precedent that was used against African Americans in our more recent history, with terrible consequences. Anderson argues that if we fail to recognize the underlying dynamics at work in both the text and in American history, the harmful consequences continue (50).
  2. Renouncing their foreign wives gave them an economic advantage as well. They regained the land through intermarriages and when they banished those wives, they would keep the land and pass it on as an inheritance to their children (54).
  3. Even though Nehemiah also condemns intermarriage, he does not require banishing the foreign wives and children (Neh 13:23-29). Nehemiah shows concern for the lower classes while Ezra does not. Anderson draws a parallel to the way "theological arguments masked the class issues involved in these marriages" (Yee 2003, 145) just as during segregation, "antimiscegenation laws were supported with theological arguments that masked the class issues involved with slavery and segregation (55). 
  4. Notice that only the foreign wives (and their children) banished and not the foreign husbands even though the Deuteronomic law referenced in Ezra 9:12 prohibits both foreign husbands and foreign wives (Deut 7:3). Anderson points to connections between descriptions in the text of guarding the community's holiness ("the holy seed" in Ezra 9:2), connected with a male symbol of purity, and the way foreign women are often hypersexualized in the text, making negative associations between foreign women and female sexuality (56). Associating a specific group with sexual waywardness was (and is) a way to "demean and dehumanize them so that actions taken against that group are justifiable" (56). Anderson again draws a parallel to the segregationist era and the way the dominant culture characterized black men and women as hypersexual, often calling black women "promiscuous Jezebels". They were labeled "'sexually deviant' in order to justify their exploitation and domination" (57).  
  5. To reckon with the history of segregation and its ongoing legacy when reading this kind of biblical text, Anderson says African American people of faith need a "hermeneutic of resistance" (60). She says resistance is appropriate because the dominant culture's interpretations so often erase that history and avoid dealing with the consequences of interpretation for people of color. She says you could also simply call this reading strategy "intersectionality" (60). 
Anderson concludes that the intermarriage ban in Ezra is a cautionary tale that should remind us of the damage that can and will be caused "if we ignore our past (and our present) when we open the Bible (61). In other words, we cannot ignore the history of consequences of interpretation. Therefore the ban is a "call to conscience as it shows how people with privilege "create systems that exclude others without considering fully the negative repercussions" (61). Finally, she writes, "From a liberationist perspective, the book of Ezra teaches us the importance of a critical and contextual reading strategy. After all, how we read affects how we live" (61).

Works Cited

Anderson, Cheryl B. “Reflections in an Interethnic/Racial Era on Interethnic/Racial Marriage in Ezra,” in They Were All Together in One Place: Toward Minority Biblical Criticism, edited by Randall Bailey, Tat-siong Benny Liew, and Fernando F. Segovia. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009), pp. 47-64.

Yee, Gale A. Poor Banished Children of Eve. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003.


This is part of my final project for "Womanist Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.":

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