I am re-reading Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza's In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins. Schussler Fiorenza is a feminist theologian and New Testament scholar, on faculty as Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School. Her other notable works include Bread Not Stone; But She Said; and Revelation: Vision of a Just World.
Schussler Fiorenza's aim in In Memory of Her is "to reconstruct early Christian history as women's history in order not only to restore women's stories to early Christian history but also to reclaim this history as the history of women and men" (xiv). She does so by employing historical and theological critical analysis as well as a developed feminist biblical-historical hermeneutic. Indeed, it is largely her feminist hermeneutic, which employs a self-identified "hermeneutic of suspicion," that leads to her conclusions.
I will not detail my disagreements with Schussler Fiorenza, for they are many and varied. If you want proof of my critical perspective on feminist theology, see my post An Evangelical Consideration of Feminism and Feminist Theology. I am the first to admit that there is much to be wary of (and to reject) in feminist theology. Yet, serious disagreement does not, in my mind, preclude serious examination of the benefits one may reap from feminist scholarship.
As evidence of this, I offer the following quotes from In Memory of Her. Although I am not saying that I agree with everything she says, I find Schussler Fiorenza's observations insightful and challenging overall. I am encouraged by her to claim for myself the feminine figures of early Christianity and re-envision the early church as a church of men and women. Let's listen carefully. Feel free to offer your thoughts in response.
In the passion account of Mark's Gospel, three disciples figure prominently: on the one hand, two of the twelve--Judas who betrays Jesus and Peter who denies him--and on the other, the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus. But while the stories of Judas and Peter are engraved in the memory of Christians, the story of the woman is virtually forgotten. Although Jesus pronounces in Mark: 'And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she had done will be told in memory of her' (14:9), the woman's prophetic sign-action did not become a part of the gospel knowledge of Christians. Even her name is lost to us. Wherever the gospel is proclaimed and the eucharist celebrated another story is told: the story of the apostle who betrayed Jesus. The name of the betrayer is remembered, but the name of the faithful disciple is forgotten because she was a woman... (xiii).
...All four Gospels reflect the same basic story: a woman anoints Jesus. This incident causes objections which Jesus rejects by approving of the woman's actions. If the original story had been just a story about the anointing of a guest's feet, it is unlikely that such commonplace gesture would have been remembered and retold as the proclamation of the gospel...Since the prophet in the Old Testament anointed the head of the Jewish king, the anointing of Jesus...must have been understood immediately as the prophetic recognition of Jesus, the Anointed, the Messiah, the Christ. According to the tradition it was a woman who named Jesus by and through her prophetic sign-action...
Whereas according to Mark the leading male disciples do not understand this suffering messiahship of Jesus, reject it, and finally abandon him, the women disciples who have followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem suddenly emerge as the true disciples in the passion narrative. They are Jesus' true followers (akolouthein) who have understood that his ministry was not rule and kingly glory but diakonia, "service" (15:41). Thus the women emerge as the true Christian ministers and witnesses. The unnamed woman who names Jesus with a prophetic sign-action in Mark's Gospel is the paradigm for the true disciple. While Peter had confessed, without truly understanding it, 'You are the anointed one,' the woman anointing Jesus recognizes clearly that Jesus' messiahship means suffering and death.
Both Christian feminist theology and biblical interpretation are in the process of rediscovering that the Christian gospel cannot be proclaimed if women disciples and what they have done are not remembered. They are in the process of reclaiming the supper at Bethany as women's Christian heritage in order to correct symbols and ritualizations of an all-male Lord's Supper that is a betrayal of true Christian discipleship and ministry. Or, in the words of the artist Judy Chicago, 'All the institutions of our culture tell us through words, deeds, and even worse, silence, that we are insignificant. But our heritage is our power' (xiv).