Saturday, February 27, 2010

Reappropriating Parable: recovery to interrogate the ideology of slavery and absolute submission in the parables

Ancient Roman slavery ideology that required absolute submission and unyielding loyalty from slaves and freedpersons is reflected in the New Testament.  These reflections of the social reality of slavery and slave ideology are not limited to Pauline texts.  But the Pauline and deuteropauline texts that mandate the submission of slaves and women certainly have evoked creative responses from African Americans, forcing us either to reinterpret oppressive texts or to find refuge, affirmation, and hope in other, more liberating texts.
      Confronted with the potential obstacle of [slave and woman] oppressive Pauline texts, African American women appropriated other texts to support God's call on their lives....
      Certainly, many Pauline texts are ostensibly antithetical to the claims of Gal. 3:28 and have been used to oppress women and others.  But the Pauline texts are not the only texts that reinscribe and fail to challenge prevailing ancient slavery stereotypes and ideologies.  For example, several parables in the Synoptic Gospels reinscribe ancient slave ideology.  The parables about slave-master relationships promote proper servile behavior and condone severe punishment of noncompliant slaves.
      Why is there not as much indignation [of African Americans] expressed toward slave language in the Gospels as in the Pauline texts?  Jennifer Glancy makes a helpful point:  "Slavery in the parables typically functions metaphorically, representing the Christian's relationship to God.  Perhaps because of this theological displacement, New Testament scholars have been slow to interrogate the ideology of slavery in the parables." ....
      Slavery in first-century Roman society was no less cruel and inhumane than in any other slave society....  In general the oppressive ideals of ancient Roman slavery are reinscribed upon some biblical texts....  African Americans have reinterpreted, trumped, and rejected such oppressive texts and the oppressive hermeneutical maneuvers that have relied on such texts.  But African Americans must [also] treat with suspicion other biblical texts, such as parable narratives that also reinscribe ancient slave/ master [and male/ female and any oppressive one human / another, subjugating] ideology.  Therefore, African Americans ... should acknowledge the merit in Audre Lorde's admonition that "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."  But this affirmation should not presuppose that every tool the master uses belongs solely to or was conceived of or created by the master.  When white slave-masters claimed sole authority over the Bible and its interpretation, our ancestors creatively seized and reappropriated some of the very tools the master used against them.


above, an excerpt from the chapter "Slavery in the Early Church," by Dr. Mitzi J. Smith, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Origins, Detroit Center, Ashland Theological Seminary, in  True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary.  (HT Rod)

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