Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Book Review: Struggles for Power in Early Christianity

Elsa Tamez
Struggles for Power in Early Christianity: A Study of the First Letter to Timothy
Trans. Gloria Kinsler
Maryknoll, New York: 2007.
Available from Alban Books in the UK
Available from Amazon.com in the USA

Tamez examines 1 Timothy in light of its clear "prejudice" against women and slaves (p. xvii), but she also notes that it has much that a feminist/liberation theologian can affirm about wealth and its misuse (e.g. 2.9, 6.9). She proposes not abandoning 1 Timothy, but a critical re-reading of the text. Tamez proceeds in four chapters looking at the historic context of the Greco-Roman empire and the Christian community behind this text. Attention is given to struggles in social position, power relations between the genders, the author's intolerance of other theological views, and she proposes a new criteria for election to positions of leadership. In the end, she confesses to studying 1 Timothy with "openness" but ultimately distances herself from the author. In the conclusion she writes: "The rereading of the text has been too revealing for us to continue blindly affirming in a fundamentalist manner all that the text says. We have understood the complexity o the historical moment and the diverse reasons for the affirmations of the text. Upon understanding the context behind teh text and teh text itself. we can dissent from all those affirmations that exclude women, the poor without a roof, and slaves. We can also dissent from teh hierarchial posture that is imposed and excludes, withotu entering into a debate with those who thik otherwise" (p. 111). This book is an interesting read and it gives a good example of reading against the grain of the text, but in the words of the great British philosopher and international man of mystery, Austin Powers, "it's not my bag baby"! What I found more valuable was the appendices that included a diagram on the socioeconomic structure of the Roman empire, an introduction and translation of The Acts of Paul and Thecla, a curious diagram on plurality on the primitive churches cited from Gerd Theissen's The Religion of the Earliest Churches (which I should blog on some time), and a translation of 1 Timothy.

1 comment:

Dunc and Als said...

were you tired, using a new computer, testing to see if you can still spell without the spell-check, or wanting to create some new words?

Perhaps that other great British philosopher, Winnie-the-Pooh, was in mind, "I have good spelling but my writing is wobbly and sometimes the letter wobble into the wrong places."

But thanks for giving us continued insight into areas of debate that many of us don't have time (or the obsessive-compulsive desire) to keep abreast with.