Christopher B. Zeichmann

University of Toronto

Gender in Biblical Studies after the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife

Posted by on Saturday, June 18th, 2016

A couple years ago Eva Mroczek wrote an excellent blog post on the open sexism surrounding academic discourse on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and it seems worth revisiting in light of the Atlantic article published yesterday. It’s difficult to know what to make of all of it, but a few things warrant further discussion.

1) In terms of the scholarly hype surrounding the article itself, in what ways is it being framed as a rehabilitation of “masculinized knowledge” against the ostensibly “hyperfeminist” theology advanced by King and GJW? That is, in what ways are scholars finding reassurance in the fact that “they were right all along” or that existing (often, but not always, patriarchal) knowledge regimes still hold a place of priority in the academy? It was clear from the beginning that certain sectors of the academy were doing their best to minimize or discredit GJW, even as King remained extremely measured in her claims about it.

2) In terms of the previous efforts to discredit GJW, how is it that the gospel was understood as representative of “hyperfeminist” concerns, when it is now clear that it was a product of a deep misogyny? How is it that the disciplinary knowledge of biblical studies is able to conflate the two? One notices that despite the complete dissolution of feminine agency in both GJW and Fritz’s thinking, this text has represented a threatening variety of feminism in certain sectors of the academy. What is that threat and how did it become proximate to discourse on feminism?

3) In terms of gendered knowledge, why do Nag Hammadi literature and other Christian apocrypha have much closer to gender parity among experts than male-dominated discourse on canonical literature? Why is “canon” so appealing to masculine scholars and why do non-canonical works seem to threaten that knowledge – we are always immediately reassured that the latest non-canonical work tells us nothing about the historical Jesus but is of interest only to historians of later periods? It’s difficult not to be reminded of the discussion of Secret Mark, which (regardless of authenticity) I think functioned to reassure us that there was nothing even vaguely queer going on in early Christianity. In what ways does “canon” itself represent an investment in existing sources of authority and knowledge regimes – or even things “worthy of study”?

Just to be clear, I’m not trying to “call out” anyone, but trying to think through the texture of scholarly discourse in a broader sense. I hope that the initial post was clear that not all who were gunning for it from the beginning are usefully labelled “sexist,” even if they (like all of us) are socialized in a patriarchal context. I’m mostly interested in how “legitimate” scholarly knowledge – knowledge inextricable from patriarchal norms and discourses – operates in this context. All of this to say, I’m not calling anyone in particular sexist on account of their early rejection of GJW; rather, I am trying to ask is “how do many dismissals function to reinforce the fundamental sexism of biblical studies regardless of the scholar’s intent?”

[This post is a modified form of a Facebook post I made to facilitate discussion on the matter – if you would like to participate, feel free to add me as a friend]