Postcolonial, Feminist, Queer, and Ethnic Hermeneutics Reveal Social Construction of Biblical Meaning

Postcolonial, feminist, queer, and ethnic hermeneutics helps readers of the bible to develop a feminist sociology of biblical hermeneutics that subverts the ideology of universal truth within the biblical narrative. In her chapter, Convert, Prostitute, or Traitor? Rahab as the Anti-Matriarch in Contemporary Biblical Interpretations, feminist biblical scholar, Susanne Scholz identifies four main sociological clusters that underlie the biblical hermeneutics of Joshua 2.[1] These clusters are source-critical, Christian conservative, gynocentric feminist, and postcolonial feminist queer and ethnic readings.[2]Although the first three approaches to biblical interpretation maintain a positive view of Rahab as a faithful convert, supporting hegemonic and colonial ideologies, the postcolonial feminist queer and ethnic interpretations present an alternative, subversive view of Rahab’s story. Postcolonial feminist queer and ethnic interpretations not only examine the story of Rehab within gender constructs, but also interweave the study of sexuality, ethnicity, and geopolitics of power within their hermeneutics.[3] Thus, these interpretations illuminate the reality that biblical hermeneutics are an ideological construction of the reader, shaped by social context and culture.[4] This blog outlines five authors within the sociological cluster of postcolonial, feminist, queer, and ethnic readings: Judith McKinlay, Marcella Althaus Reid, Musa Dube, Kah-Jin Jeffery Kuan and Mai-Anh Le Tran.

Judith McKinlay’s focus on the geopolitical setting within Joshua 2 questions the pervasive, positive interpretation of Rahab that supports hegemonic regimes and the ideology of universal truths within the biblical narrative. To McKinlay, the characterization of Rahab as a heroine takes for granted the pervasive role of conquest and colonization.[5] Viewed as a heroine, Rahab, becomes complicit in the marginalization of her people.[6] McKinlay fears that the typical praise of Rahab persuades the other Rahabs of the world to be co-opted into the dominant status quo.[7] She interpretes co-opting as dangerous, as opposed to source-critical, Christian conservative, or gynocentric feminist approaches.[8] McKinlay’s hermeneutic highlights the importance of examining geopolitical contexts in conjunction with gender to subvert interpretations that laud hegemonic ideologies. McKinlay’s alternative view of Rahab challenges the hegemonic support of co-opting and reveals the social construction of scripture.

Like McKinlay, Marcella Althaus-Reid reads of Joshua 2 with a postcolonial queer-gendered hermeneutic. It views Rahab’s story as a tragedy, but it also expands the story’s meaning to the “first Queer betrayal” that support the status quo of heteronormativity and stifles the freedom of queerness.[9] Althaus-Reid asserts that Rahab betrays her queerness in order to move from the margins to the center of society where she can gain acceptance.[10] Rahab must live the Canaanite world and submit to the “God of the Market”.[11] However, Althaus-Reid submits that Rahab‘s prior transgressiveness can be found where imperial forces seeks to eliminate the memory of “Queer transcendence”.[12] Thus, Althaus-Reid’s hermeneutic laments Rahab as a conquest of oppression in the context of hegemony and illuminates universal truths as a social construction created by imperial forces.

In contrast to McKinlay and Althaus-Reid, Musa Dube uses postcolonial feminist analysis to use Rahab’s story as a beacon of hope for dismantling dominant structures, also subverting the idea of one, universal truth within scripture that supports hegemony. Dube asserts that Rahab’s story highlights the potential for cooperation between those who are socially differentiated from one another when they share a common passion for seeking justice in the world.[13] Dube submits that both Rahab and the Israelite spies were complicit in betraying their own people.[14] By recognizing each other’s hybrid identities, Rahab and the Israelite spies have the potential to work together to break down the pervasive structures of domination.[15] Dube’s analysis is intriguing in that while she recognizes that the story of Rahab was written by an oppressor, she still interprets that the humanness and vulnerability of all people, even the powerful, can bring hope in dismantling dominant structures.[16] Thus, Dube’s alternative hermeneutic not only subverts the status quo but a universal truth that supports the exultation of dominant structures.

Finally, Kah-Jin Jeffery Kuan and Mai-Anh Le Tran’s ethnic interpretation provides evidence against the ideology of a universal truth within the biblical narrative by viewing Rahab as a hybridized character. Kuan and Tran identify with Rahab as a character that is hybridized as both Canaanite and Israelite, yet never belongs to one group or the other.[17] Rahab is an insider with the Israelites, yet her status is that of both a prostitute and a Canaanite that defected to Israel.[18] Hence, she is marginalized, yet a model-minority.[19] Similar to Alhaus-Reid, Rahab’s Canaanite ethnicity is revered by Kuan and Tran. However, Rahab’s Canaanite identity is not as separate from her converted identity in Kuan and Tran’s interpretation when compared to Althaus-Reid’s reading. The social context of ethnicity and the duality that it produces in Rahab’s character then provides yet another example of the absence of a singular, universal truth within a biblical text.

All four postcolonial feminist queer and ethnic authors help to illustrate the importance of using the study of gender constructs, sexuality, ethnicity and geopolitics to subvert the idea of an universal truth within scripture and reveal the social construction of a reader’s hermeneutic. Reading the bible within this feminist sociology illuminates how the dominant interpretations of Joshua 2 often support dominant regimes and advocate for co-opting of the other into normality. Feminist sociology brings to light the voices that challenge or reject the substantiation of empire. The reader’s interpretation of Rehab has implications in a world “filled with unjust power relations and practices.”[20]Since, social context has bearing on the reader’s hermeneutic, the notion of a universal truth within scripture, especially a truth that substantiates subordination, cannot be substantiated within the biblical narrative.

[1]Suzanne Scholz. “Convert, Prostitute, or Traitor? Rahab as the Anti-Matriarch in Contemporary Biblical Interpretations.” in In the Arms of Biblical Women (Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2013), 149.

[2]Scholz, 149

[3]Scholz, 169.

[4]Scholz, 147.

[5]Scholz, 170.

[6]Scholz, 170.

[7]Scholz, 170.

[8]Scholz, 170.

[9]Scholz, 172.

[10]Scholz, 172.

[11]Scholz, 173.

[12]Scholz, 173.

[13]Scholz, 171.

[14]Scholz, 171.

[15]Scholz, 171.

[16]Scholz, 171.

[17]Scholz, 175.

[18]Scholz, 175.

[19]Scholz, 175.

[20]Scholz, 176.