Monday, February 01, 2021

Key Questions Womanist Bible Scholars are asking when interpreting the Bible

“Womanists and feminists ask different questions of a text than do other readers and different questions from each other. And we also ask some of the same questions, and we arrive at similar and dissonant conclusions. Privileging the crossroads between our Afro-diasporic identity (embodiment and experience) and our gender (performance and identity), we ask questions about power, authority, voice, agency, hierarchy, inclusion, and exclusion. The readings enrich all readers from any perspective. The questions we ask enrich our own understanding and the understandings of those with whom we are in conversation.” - Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney, (Womanist Midrash, 7)

The first 12 questions I have compiled are straight from Gafney’s introduction to Womanist Midrash. Questions 13 and 14 I wrote down as I was reading about various consequences of interpretation. The remaining questions came up in various readings and I have cited those sources as well. These are helpful questions for all of us to consider when reading and interpreting the Bible. 

  1. "Who is speaking and/or active? 
  2. Where are the women and girls, what are they doing, and what are their names? 
  3. When women or other marginalized characters speak and act, whose interests are they serving? 
  4. Who (and where) are the characters without which the story could not have unfolded as articulated? 
  5. What are the power dynamics in the narrative? 
  6. What are the ethical implications of the text when read from the perspective of the dominant character(s)? 
  7. What are the ethical implications of previous (especially traditional) readings of the text for black women? 
  8. How have black women historically related to the text? 
  9. In what ways do the contemporary circumstances of black women readers shape new and renewed interpretations? 
  10. How do the values articulated in the text and its interpretation affect the well-being of the communities that black women inhabit? 
  11. How does (can) this text function as Scripture for black women? 
  12. Who is (what is the construction of) God in the text? Is s/he/it invested in the flourishing of black women, our families, and our worlds?" (Gafney 8)
  13. What is the history of consequences of interpretation for this text? 
  14. How has this text been used to harm, oppress, or marginalize people?
  15. What do the specific word choices and narrative choices in the text mean for the women on the margins of society? (Norton 278)
  16. Where is God in all of this? To whom does this God belong? (Norton 278)
  17. Weems asks "From whose point of view is the narrative being told?" (26)
  18. “Whose class, gender, and ethnic interests are being served in the preservation and commodification of this story?” (Weems 26) 
  19. “Can those involved in race, gender, and/or class struggles in modern society use this story as a positive example in their struggle for liberation? (Weems 33) 
  20. When she applies a Black Lives Matter hermeneutic to the biblical text, Gafney is asking: Whose lives are at risk in the text? (Gafney, Reflection on BLM, 206)
  21. Who is subject to oppression or pushed to the margins of the text and considered disposable, especially as a result of "an intersecting element of identity" such as gender and ethnic identity? (Gafney, Reflection on BLM, 206)

Works Cited

Gafney, Wilda C. "A Reflection on the Black Lives Matter Movement and Its Impact on My Scholarship". Journal of Biblical Literature, vol 136, no. 1, 2017. pp 204-207.

Gafney, Wilda C. Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017.

Norton, Yolanda. “Silenced Struggles for Survival: Finding Life in Death in the Book of Ruth,” in I Found God in Me: A Womanist Biblical Hermeneutics Reader, edited by Mitzi J. Smith, Eugene, OR: Cascade Books. 2015.

Weems, Renita J. "The Hebrew Women are not Like the Egyptian Women: The Ideology of Race, Gender and Sexual Reproduction in Exodus 1". Semeia (Volume: 59) 1992. pp. 25-34.


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

Key Terms in Womanist Bible Interpretation

Essay summaries:

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