EVALUATING AFRICAN FEMINIST BIBLICAL HERMENEUTICS

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CHAPTER  3 PROVERBS 31:10-31 IN THE BOOK OF PROVERBS

Before we grapple with the text of Proverbs 31:10-31, it would be proper at this stage to understand this text in its immediate canonical setting asking such questions, as for example: What is the date of the material contained in the book of Proverbs? Can we establish the date of Proverbs 31:10-31? Can we trace its author/redactor and its audience? Is it possible to determine the class of the author/redactor? Is the author male or female? How is Proverbs 31, for example, related to Proverbs 31:1-9? How is this text related to the rest of the book, thematically and structurally?
The present section will address some of these questions with a view to locating the text as far as possible within its socio-historical setting and its immediate canonical setting.

THE DATE OF THE BOOK OF PROVERBS

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

In order for us to locate the date of Proverbs 31:10-31 which forms an entity within the collection, Proverbs 30-31, it may be worthwhile to mention something about the date of the book as a whole. Indeed, most of the scholars dealing with the book, scarcely comment on the date of the specific text of Proverbs 31:10-31 per se, but basically focus on the date of the whole book. The probable reasons for this scarcity of information about our text in my view, are:
The text forms part of a smaller collection (Pr 30-31) whose two titles have the names of non-Israelite persons (Agur and Lemuel;1 cf also Whybray 1994:165).
There is a general agreement among commentators that these names do not belong to historic persons (cf Plaut 1961; Scott 1965; Toy 1977).
It becomes difficult to date Proverbs 31: 1-31 because it does not have a heading in the Hebrew text. Even though, as it now stands in the Hebrew canon, it forms part of Proverbs 31, it is an independent unit (cf Fontaine 1988:497; Whybray 1972:183; Cohen 1945:211). Perhaps this lack of title, and its position at the end of the book (an appendage to the book ?) is the reason why previous studies (of both male and female scholarship) have devoted little or no attention to the present paean. However, as some recent scholars have noted (cf Camp 1985; McCreesh 1985; Fontaine 1988), its position at the end of the book as we will later see, is by design, not by accident.
It is difficult to speak about the date of the whole book because it is a collection (Murphy 1960:8).2 Murphy argues that Proverbs is a collection of wisdom pieces that presumably date from various periods and have different origins (cf also Fontaine 1988:495). What complicates the picture is that some of the material in collections that are dated late in Israelite history may not necessarily belong to that late age. For example, Plaut (1961:12) argues that the age of Part Five (Chapters 30-31) is uncertain, it is possibly the very last addition to Proverbs. Proverbs 31:10-31, which focuses basically on the family and the ideal wife in the family, is included in this collection and there is a general agreement among scholars that family/folk wisdom is one of the oldest forms of wisdom in Israel. Camp (1985:187) also maintains that we are not compelled to date the Proverbs poems of 1-9 and 31 in the era after the exile. It is possible that older works were used anew in this context.
Despite all these facts, there is a general consensus among commentators that the date of the redaction of the book of Proverbs is the post-exilic period (so Camp 1985:233-254; Scott 1965:15; Ringren 1947:8; Murphy 1960:9ff; Fontaine 1988:495; Fontaine 1992:145; Toy 1977:19-31). We may therefore argue that the book of Proverbs came to have a significant cultural effect during the post exilic period.
Camp (1985:234) dates the context of the redaction of the book in early post-exilic Palestine on the following convincing grounds:
The book ofSirach (c 190 BCE) is construed as a result of the author’s study ‘on the law, the prophets, and the other writings of our ancestors’. In Sirach’s book there are reminiscences of the book of Proverbs in particular, the development of a personified wisdom figure; hence a probability that the book of Proverbs was included among the other books of the writings referred to above.
The failure of the book of Proverbs to reflect explicitly on the Torah may throw light on the date of the book. Seeing that the Torah played a significant role in Israelite history particularly during the post-exilic period, one would have expected the teaching of the Torah to come out clearly in this book. On the other hand, if the striking theological perspective of Proverbs 1-9 had been known and esteemed by the exilic editors of the Torah, one might have expected to see more traces of this perspective in the Torah than are apparent. ‘We might then conclude that this theology was either unknown or unacceptable to these editors, its creation or its rehabilitation awaiting a later day’ (Camp 1985:234).
Fontaine (1988:495) reinforces what Cariip says. She argues that the book probably received its final editing in early post-exilic times, the latter part of the sixth century BCE, and hence it reflects the needs of the later community as well as the practical needs of the earlier monarchic period.
In a later article however, Camp (1991) shifts the dating of Proverbs 1-9 forward to the Hellenistic era on the following grounds:
The biblical author’s familiarity with the deuteronomic and priestly legislation of the Pentateuch.
The presupposition in the poems of a walled Jerusalem, along with the urban setting of the prostitute.
The possibility that the author models the literary structure of Proverbs 1-9 after the dimensions of the Temple in I Kings 6.
However, in my recent communication with her (cf 1996), she confessed that she is still unresolved as to which part of the post-exilic period the book of Proverbs was compiled in.
As indicated previously, there is agreement among scholars that Proverbs 31:10-31 is independent from 31:1-9. Fontaine (1988:497) argues that the poem’s internal structure shows that it is originally an independent composition and not a continuation of the preceding Instruction (so Whybray 1972:183; Cohen 1945:211).
Having said all this, the pertinent question at this stage is : Is it possible to establish the date when Proverbs 31:10-31 was written? As I have already noted, few commentators focus on its dating. From the discussion which follows, we will hopefully have a glimpse of its date of origin.

THE DATE OF PROVERBS 31:10-31

Taking the text at face value, it might be argued that Proverbs 31:10-31 comes from a post-exilic date as it forms part of the book whose final redaction is put in the post-exilic period; indeed, commentators on the poem point to this. Fontaine (1988:184) says that the poem expresses the great value placed on the family as the significant social and religious unit within Israelite society, both in the pre-monarchical and in post-exilic Judaism from which this composition probably comes (cf also Lyons 1987:241; Camp 1985:250-254).
The acrostic nature of Proverbs 31:10-31 makes some scholars (cf Whybray 1994:153; Scott 1965:22) to date the text in a later period, a period in which Israel was settled with own schools and institutions. Kidner (1985:54) however, argues that the occurrence of the acrostic form is too widespread to shed any light on the date of the passage. Indeed, the very lack of a heading as previously argued, contributes to the difficulty in tracing the exact date of the poem. Coupled with this fact, is the one already noted that there is some material in the Proverb collection which antedates the collections. For example, in the present text, the poet focuses on the family or the ideal wife in the family, even though, as Camp (1985) would argue, the family regained power as the locus of authority in the post-exilic period. Folk/family wisdom however was already extant in pre-monarchic Israel. According to Lyons (1987:237) the image of the ‘:>’nn1Z.i~ of our text seems to refer to a pre-monarchic ideal of wife and family. 3 Camp (1985:187) herself, as was previously noted maintains that we are not compelled to date the Proverbs poems of 1-9 and 31 in the post-exilic era for there is a possibility that older works were included in the collection.
Elsewhere (1990:193) however, Camp suggests that there is a possibility that the Woman of Worth in Proverbs 31:10-31 reflects a transition period from a time in which the public role of women was acknowledged and affirmed (cf Pr 1-9) to one in which the roles of women were more severely restricted (cf the Book of Sirach).
There are, however, scholars who assign a very late date to this poem. Among these are Wolters (1985:585-586) who suggests a Greek period due to the following reasons amongst others:
The poem contains a bilingual wordplay between the Hebrew Sopiyya and the Greek Sophia and thus presupposes a certain knowledge of Greek (though limited) on the part of both the author and the intended audience. According to Wolters (1985), it appears reasonable to assume that the song was probably composed sometime after Alexander’s conquest (presumably in the third century BCE).
Given the play of Sophia, coupled with the artful literary composition of the song as a whole, both the author and the intended audience, must have belonged to a sophisticated and highly literate milieu. Murphy (1981:82) also suggests the poem had an instructional intent.

CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION: PROBLEM STATEMENT
A CONTEXTUALISATION AND PROBLEM STATEMENT
B. POSTULATION OF A HYPOTHESIS
C. MOTIVATION FOR VALIDITY OF THE PRESENT STUDY
D. METHODOLOGYUSEDFOR THIS STUDY
1. FINDING AN OWN APPROACH
2. RECEPTION CRITICISM
3. SOCIO-CRITICAL HERMENEUTICS
a. Feminism as a critical theory
b. The Habermassian theory of communicative action
4. HISTORICAL-CRITICAL METHOD
a. Weaknesses of the historical-critical method
b. Strengths of the historical-critical method
E. PRESUPPOSITIONS AND TEXT THEORY
1. PRESUPPOSITIONS UNDERLYING PRESENT RESEARCH
a. General observation
b. Presuppositions
2. THEORETICAL TEXTUAL FOUNDATION OF RESEARCH
F. CHAPTER DIVISION 
G ENDNOTESCHAPTER2
READING THE BIBLE FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF WOMEN
A. INTRODUCTION
B. A SURVEY OF MAINLINE (NORTH AMERICAN) FEMINIST BIBLICAL HERMENEUTICS
I. INTRODUCTORY REMARKS
2. SOME COMMON KEY ELEMENTS IN FEMINIST BIBLICAL HERMENEUTICS
a. The place of experience in coming to grips with Scripture
b. Feminists and the Bible
I. Different conceptions
ii. Different options
c. Special problems of methodology in feminist biblical scholarship
I. Language pertaining to God
II. Grappling with an androcentric text
d Review and evaluation
I. Feminist Biblical hermeneutics and theology
11. Definition or understanding of patriarchy
ill. Is the Bible as an androcentric document redeemable?
IV. The notion of interpretation as value-free
C. AFRICAN FEMINIST READINGS OF THE BIBLE
I. A CRITIQUE OF AFRICAN CULTURE AND RECEIVED CHRISTIANITY
2. CHRISTOLOGY FROM AN AFRICAN FEMINIST
THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE
3. HOW AFRICAN FEMINISTS USE THE BIBLE
a. The authority of the Bible vis-a-vis the experience of women
b. The Bible and African women
4. EVALUATING AFRICAN FEMINIST BIBLICAL HERMENEUTICS
D. SOUTH AFRICAN BLACK FEMINIST READINGS OF THE BIBLE
I. INTRODUCTION
2. FACTORS SHAPING BLACK WOMEN’S LIVES IN SOUTH AFRICA
a. Colonial Imperialism: Racism
b. Classism
c. Gender asymmetry
1. The African culture
11. The church in South Africa
3. READING THE BIBLE FROM A NORTHERN SOTHO CONTEXT
a. The social context of the readers
b. Approach( es) to the Bible
4. EVALUATING BLACK FEMINIST THEOLOGICAL DISCOURSES
IN SOUTH AFRICA
E. ENDNOTES
CHAPTER3 PROVERBS 31:10-31 WITHIN THE BOOK OF PROVERBS
A. THE DATE OF THE BOOK OF PROVERBS
I. INTRODUCTORY REMARKS
2. THE DATE OF PROVERBS 31:
B. THE AUTHOR(S)/REDACTOR(S) OF THE BOOK OF PROVERBS
I. INTRODUCTORY REMARKS
2. THE SEX OF THE AUTHOR(S)/REDACTOR(S)
3. THE CLASS OF THE AUTHOR(S)/REDACTOR(S}
C. THE AUDIENCE OF THE BOOK OF PROVERBS
D. THE AUTHORSHIP/REDACTION AND READERSHIP OF PROVERBS 31 :10-31
E. PROVERBS 31: 10-31 IN THE BOOK OF PROVERBS
I. PROVERBS 31 AND PROVERBS 1-9
2. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PROVERBS 1-9,
PROVERBS 31:10-31ANDPROVERBS10:1-31:9
3. PROVERBS 31:10-31 WITHIN PROVERBS 31
F. THE IMAGE OF WOMEN IN THE BOOK OF PROVERBS
1. THE IMAGE OF MOTHER IN PROVERBS
2. THE IMAGE OF WlFE IN PROVERBS
a. The wife: manager of household affairs
b. The counsellor wife
3. THE ‘OTHER/FOREIGN’ WOMAN
G. PROVERBS’ IMAGE OF WOMEN IN A POST-EXILIC CONTEXT
H. A FEMINIST READING OF PROVERBS 31:10-31
1. INTRODUCTION
2. EXEGESIS OF PROVERBS 31: 10-31 FROM A FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE
I. KEY ISSUES IN CIRCLES OF FEMINIST BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP
1. POWER AND AUTHORITY
2. THE DIVISION BETWEEN THE PRIVATE AND THE PUBLIC SPHERES
3. A CRITIQUE OF PATRIARCHY
J. A SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 3
K. ENDNOTES
CHAPTER4 AN AFRICAN WOMAN’S LIBERATION READING OF PROVERBS 31
A. FEMINISM, WOMANISM OR SOMETHING ELSE?
1. INTRODUCTION
2. AFRICAN-AMERICAN FEMINISM/WOMANISM
3. DIFFERENCES IN CONTEXTS
B. A BOSADI PERSPECTIVE OR APPROACH
1. EXPLANATORY REMARKS
2. BOSADI IS A COMPREHENSIVE PERSPECTIVE
a Bosadi and positive elements of African culture
1. Bosadi and ubun1u/botho
11. Bosadi and the significance of the family
b. Bosadi and oppressive elements of African culture
c. Bosadi and other oppressive force
C. PORTRAITS OF WOMEN IN SOME NORTHERN SOTHO AND OTHER AFRICAN PROVERBS
I. IMAGES OF WOMEN IN THE NORTHERN SOTHO PROVERBS
a. Women as mothers
b. Women as wives
c. The industry of a wife
d. Negative images about women in the Northern Sotho proverbs
1. Women are quarrelsome
11. Women are cowards
111. Women cannot lead
D. EVALUATING NORTHERN SOTHO PROVERBS FROM A BOSADI PERSPECTIVE
I. DEFINITION OF A WOMAN
2. RELATIONS BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
3. A WOMAN IN MARRIAGE
4. WOMEN AS MOTHERS
E. PROVERBS 31 : 10-31 FROM A BOSADI VIEWPOINT
I. INTRODUCTORY REMARKS
2. WOMEN: HOUSEHOLD MANAGERS
3. AN INDUSTRIOUS WOMAN
4. A WOMAN WHO FEARS THE LORD
5. THE WOMAN OF WORTH AND HER HUSBAND
6. THE ?’rt mzii-t, A CARING WOMAN
F. A SUMMARY OF CHAPTER4
G. ENDNOTES
CHAPTERS A LAST WORD ON THE BIBLE, WOMEN AND CONTEXT
A. INTRODUCTORY REMARKSXT
I. POSITIVE ASPECTS OF A PARTISAN READING OF THE BIBLICAL TEXT
2. NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF A PARTISAN READING OF THE TEXT
C. ENDNOTES
BIBLIOGRAPHY
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