Fortress Press

Rhetoric and Ethic: The Politics of Biblical Studies

Rhetoric and Ethic

The Politics of Biblical Studies

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza (Author)


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In this major study, leading feminist biblical critic Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza focuses on Paul and his interpreters. She questions the apolitical ethos of biblical scholarship and argues for an alternative rooted in a critical understanding of language as a form of power.

Modern biblical criticism, she reasons, derives much of its methodology and inspiration from an outdated notion of modern science. It professes value-neutrality and detachment from the world of politics and history. Yet, Schussler Fiorenza maintains, this posture belies an objectivity that fails to engage the sociopolitical context of both the text and today's reader. It also does not recognize the rhetorical character of biblical texts and readings. If language is understood in the sense of ancient rhetorics as a form of power that constitutes reality, then an ethics of interpretation is called for. The task of biblical studies is to identify and assess the ethical resources and moral visions of biblical religions. "Only then," Schussler Fiorenza contends, "will bibical studies be a significant partner in the global struggles seeking justice and well-being for all."

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800627959
  • Dimensions 5.5 x 8.5
  • Pages 232
  • Publication Date November 18, 1999


"Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, with characteristic passion and precision, challenges biblical scholars to turn from being 'antiquarian scientists' to being 'transformative intellectuals' engaged in a liberatory rhetoric for the wider public assembly. In my opinion, this book is a must-read for all scholars and students of the Bible who care about the ways its symbols and words are used to dominate and marginalize or to liberate and empower the human community."
— Mary Ann Tolbert, Pacific School of Religion

"This book is the mature and provocative work of a mature and provocative scholar. In the way that only she can, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza prods and goads biblical scholarship to think seriously about its predominant orientations and practices, their origins and perduring consequences. She also brilliantly models a different and compelling orientation and praactice for our times. Such orientation and practice, of course, are not likely to be taken up by all. The real power of the work lies, at any rate, not so much in the challenge it presents to the academic guild center, but to those in different positions on its periphery—those who desperately want and need to orient themselves differently from the center yet do not know either how to begin in a different place or whether there is safety in doing so. For many among such persons, this book will be most arresting and meaningful."
— Vincent L. Wimbush, Union Theological Seminary

Table of Contents


Introduction: For a Biblical (Wo/man) Scholar to Speak in the

  • Feminist Struggles against Silencing
  • The Politics of Biblical Studies

Part One: Theoretical Explorations

1. The Ethics of Biblical Interpreation:
Decentering Biblical Scholarship

  • Social Location and Biblical Criticism
  • The Rhetoric of Biblical Scholarship
  • The Ethos of Biblical Scholarship:
    Critical Rhetoric and Ethics

2. Changing the Paradigms:
The Ethos of Biblical Studies

  • The Intellectual-Cultural Contexts of Biblical Studies
  • Competing Paradigms in Biblical Studies
  • Emancipation and Interpretation

3. Shifting the Focus: The Politics of Biblical Studies

  • Critical Turns and Turnings in the Ethos of Biblical Scholarship
  • A (Feminist) Ethic of Inquiry
  • Conclusion

4. Challenging the Rhetorical Half-Turn:
Feminist and Rhetorical

  • Biblical Criticism
  • A Rhetoric of Inquiry
  • A Feminist Rhetoric
  • The Feminine Coding of Rhetoric and Religion
  • Critical Engagement

Part Two: Rhetorical Practices

5. Rhetorical Situation and Historical Reconstruction in 1 Corinthians

  • Contemporary Interpretations
  • The Rhetorical Arrangement of 1 Corinthians
  • Rhetorical Situation and Genre
  • Historical Reconstruction and Theological Assesment
  • A Critical Rhetorical Model of Analysis

6. The Rhetoricity of Historical Knowledge:
Pauline Discourse and Its

  • Contextualizations
  • Scientific Objectivist Frameworks
  • Kyriocentric Rhetoricity and Historical Reality
  • "Religious Propaganda" in a "Doubled" Process of Interpretation

7. Ideology, Power, and Interpretaion: Galatians 3:28

  • Ideology, Power, and Interpretation
  • Galatians 3:28 as a Focal Point of Feminist Debate

8. Pauline Theology and the Politics of Meaning

  • Biblical Theology as a Theological Rhetoric of Inquiry
  • Biblical Theology as a Politics of Meaning
  • The Hegemonic Politics of Meaning
  • Biblical Theology as the Rhetoric of Ekklesia
  • In place of a Conclusion


  1. The Ethics of Interpretation: Thirteen Theses
  2. The Rhetorics of Interpretation: Analytic Compass

Selected Bibliography