part of

(Chapter 6 section C)

For the full contents of "Authority in Feminist Biblical Interpretation" by Beryl Donnan, and other online sections see here.

The critical and uncompromising nature of Fiorenza's rhetoric expresses passionate commitment to her cause, but also reveals how she has been shaped by relentless struggle with the academic community. 

In contrast Claudia Camp, although in "full accord" with Fiorenza's critical stance calls for "hermeneutical compromise" in the interests of "effective pedagogy".  Camp's experience, which echoes my own, is that, "For most Christians with whom I come in contact, the Bible simply is authoritative", so a compromise with critical hermeneutics is needed for "conversation to take place with women who still interpret their lives in traditional ways."[1]  Whatever her praxis, Fiorenza's writings do not give much indication of taking this into account.

Camp in turn offers a very persuasive interpretative model of "dialogical authority" which by distinguishing "a free surrendering to the jurisdiction of scripture" from both "conservative coercive authority" and "liberal, authority as influence" opens the way for diverse conversations with the text and with the contemporary community.[2]  In this reciprocal interaction the authority of the text is understood in relation to the authority of persons, and "persons must authorise the text even as it authorises them."  The text with dialogical authority will continually create new persons whose experience of its authority will engage them in the hermeneutical strategies Fiorenza envisages.  As with the prophet Huldah, "the woman whom scripture authorises will sometimes have occasion to de-authorise scripture itself."  Most importantly this means that "the authority of women over scripture becomes a primary credendum of scriptural authority."[3]

This willingness to compromise - "to withhold or at least delay - a thoroughgoing critique of the tradition" shares the wisdom of Mary Ann Tolbert's understanding that "to destroy the oppressive structure of society using the tools that structure itself supplies is a process of erosion" - which will be achieved not by "great acts of sacrifice, but by small unnoticed acts of subversion." "It will not happen hastily."[4]  This has an echo of Fiorenza's "revolutionary patience".  Audre Lorde's assertion, in contradiction, that "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house" seems unduly pessimistic.[5]  The master's tools have already been "borrowed" and "appropriated" to begin the task of renovation and repair.  Re-building may be a distant dream, but the implication of Lorde's position is the desire to leave the inheritance of the master's house, to build on a different foundation altogether.  If new and different tools for this have to be invented, that project may take even longer.

Fiorenza's contribution has been to set forth the necessary political goals and issue a challenge to received authority that does not allow women's experience to be simply enlisted in apologetic endeavours.  It will require of her disciples much wisdom in practical application and patient, pastoral and pedagogic compromise if her vision is to be realised.

[1]C. V. Camp, 'Feminist Theological Hermeneutics: Canon and Christian Identity', in E. Schüssler Fiorenza editor, Searching the Scriptures Vol 1, S.C.M. Press, London. 1994, pp160-161

[2]Camp, Feminist Theological Hermeneutics, p 162

[3]Camp, Feminist Theological Hermeneutics, p 163

[4]Tolbert, Defining the Problem, p 121

[5]A. Lorde,  Sister Outsider, The Crossing Press, Freedom CA., 1984, p 112