Thursday, 7 February 2008

Are you wise or are you foolish? Feminist Theology and Vicky Balabanski

And I won't even ask the question about are you a virgin.
I chose the parable of the wise and foolish virgins for my session leading the feminist theology group. It's quite interesting reading commentaries in English or in German and then speaking in French. There is relatively little indigenous European francophone feminist theology - there is a good francophone section of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians however. There's been relatively little feminist exegesis on the wise and foolish virgins. Interesting.
One thing that struck me following our group's discussion was how together we came up with many of the key critical remarks about the parable that erudite commentators have sweated over - why is the bridegroom so late; where do they wait out in the street late at night like that; what oil sellers would be open at midnight; the harshness or lack of solidarity of the "wise" virgins and the neither generous nor merciful "kyriarch" or bridegroom.
I shared both my own feelings about the text and then some insights gleaned from Vicky Balabanski's very interesting article on the parable, called Opening the Closed Door. It's in a book of articles by Mary Ann Beavis called The Lost Coin, Parables of Women Work and Wisdom.
I'll just mention two things from Balabanski's article that I really hadn't thought about before. the first is that the story can really be read as a story told by men to men. "Well there were these ten virgins and five were wise and five were foolish..." She points out though that despite promising beginnings as a rather good stag night story, the bridegroom locking the door to the foolish virgins does rather put paid to any fun. (To be fair she puts this rather more elegantly and subtly than I just have but then I can always be relied upon to lower the tone.)
The other thing I appreciated was her insistence that the word phronomos, which is the Greek word used to describe the wise virgins, does not have the same meaning as sophia the word used for the wider biblical form of wisdom. I found it quite liberating to think that clever and well-prepared as they may have been, the wise virgins were not acting particularly ethically. Anyway, if you get a chance to read Balabanski's paper then do, I'm not sure I agree with all of it but it certainly gives you something to think about.
At some point I shall post my notes in French from the evening to the documents section of the blog but knowing me that won't be for a while yet!