Sunday, 16 March 2008

Feminist theology: Luise Schottroff's take on the parable of the talents

Earlier in the week Katharina Vollmer-Mateus led the feminist theology group in a second evening on the parable of the talents. She offered us insights from Luise Schottroff's work The Parables of Jesus and showed how the hermeneutical choice you make can radically change the way you read the text.
As a result of being exposed to Schottroff's thinking and thorough scholarly research I shall certainly try to change the way I preach on the parable of the talents in the future.
She has been very involved in the project in Germany called the Bibel in gerechter Sprache. This translation project has involved German biblical scholars (including the wonderful Juergen Ebach about whom more some other time) in seeking to find "more just" or more inclusive translations. It has tried to deal with some of the inherent anti-semitism in Christian translations and also to tackle the way some translations make people (women, slaves, children) and their realities invisible. I'll do a longer post about it at a later date.
In her interpretation of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 Schottroff takes as her hermeneutical starting point the idea that there is good justification for taking the part of the oppressed, the marginalised or the outsider; of letting the text speak for those people and of using as much social-historical research as possible into their situation to do this. There is a strong Jewish tradition of prophetic stories against the strong and powerful who abuse power and a good basis for finding similar themes of liberation and resistance in this parable.
There are also language choices to be made - Schottroff translates the word doulos in Greek as slave and not as it has been over the centuries as servant. These are not servants free to leave a master asking them to do the impossible, but slaves with no choices.
To help us understand the context of slaves 2000 years ago, Katharina gave us a French translation of some of Philo of Alexandria's writings about how slaves were used by masters to collect unjust taxes and the horrific public torture and humiliation they were subjected to. It was disturbing reading.
As a result of translation choices and social historical research, Schottroff puts forward the idea that the bad and wicked slave who doesn't do the master's bidding is actually truly doing the kingdom's work, by trying to put a stop to an unjust and corrupt taxation system and also the appalling treatment of slaves. He buries the treasure, tells the master exactly how he sees him when he returns and is thrown out to rot by his unjust master for not having made money by whatever means possible.
Schottroff also suggests that it helps to read the parable of the talents in the light of the parable of the last judgement that directly follows it in Matthew 25 “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
You can read an atheist appreciation of Schottroff's work on The Parables Jesus by clicking the link.
Another book I'm going to have to buy and read. Many thanks to Katharina for opening up this new liberation reading of the parable to us.


Simon Barrow said...

I thought my 'book pile' was closed... yeah but no but yeah but no but...

OK, Schottroff breaks the embargo. :)

Carla adds: "And *which* pile are you referring to, then?"

Jane said...

You think you have problems
We live next door to a book shop! Mind you today I've managed to leave it having bought nothing!
And I also much prefer piling systems to filing systems.
What I don't understand is how I didn't know about this interpretation by Schottroff earlier - this is the problems with work it is the curse of the reading classes!
Happy Easter to both of you and enjoy the birthday break