The shining garment of the text: Feminist criticism and interpretative strategies for readers of John 1:1-18

Jasper, Alison E. (1996) The shining garment of the text: Feminist criticism and interpretative strategies for readers of John 1:1-18. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The Shining Garment of the Text. Feminist Criticism and Interpretative Strategies for Readers of John 1; 1-18. This thesis is concerned with the issues facing me as a woman-centred reader of the Christian scriptures. I am concerned, for example, with the process whereby women's experience has been given or denied value within patriarchal culture. I believe that the patriarchal culture, determined by an approach to human experience which I have described as 'phallogocentric', has used gender difference in a signatory or symbolic sense and that it has employed the feminine gender to define an 'Otherness' against which it promotes or defends its own identity and value. In consequence, women, and by extension, whatever is associated with their differentiated experiences, have suffered a generalised devaluation, which, in the most extreme instances, amounts to an attempt to abolish or exclude them altogether. I am also concerned with the sense in which this phallogocentric approach has determined the process of biblical interpretation, demanding singular, exclusive readings of texts whose authority must be guaranteed by the assumption of a transcendent presence or truth. My aim is, first of all, to illustrate this analysis of reading practices within a patriarchal context, by examining in some detail the interpretative work of five historical readers. In order to contain the project within manageable limits, I have concentrated on a short scriptural text: the Prologue of John's Gospel (Jn 1:1-18). The chosen text is of particular interest because it is linked, thematically, to Christian teaching about Incarnation and yet avoids, in any explicit sense, references to the female character of Mary or to the role of a human woman in bringing the Incarnate Word to birth, leaving the passage open to docetic or Gnostic interpretations that orthodox Christian teaching always rejects, at least in theory. The five readers represent points of view that are widely separated in experience and historical context, from Augustine, a fifth-century African bishop, to Adrienne von Speyr, a professional woman, living in Europe, within the latter half of the twentieth century. Yet their interpretations exhibit a common tendency to employ the symbols of woman and the feminine as if they signified the absence or lack of value, defined against the absolute validity of masculine-identified divine presence. The second aim of this thesis, is to propose interpretation of the same passage that resists the interpretative tendencies I have noted in the five historical readings. In order to fulfil this aim, I have given three different readings of the text. These employ both deconstructive and constructive/structuralist forms of criticism. Deconstructive criticism, for example, reveals the ironic potential of this text for affirming the prior necessity of feminine-identified humanity. It uncovers the bloody and satisfying feminine-identified corporeality that lies beneath spiritualised and Eucharistic interpretations of the Word made 'flesh'. A constructive criticism presents the text in terms of the development - an Incarnation - of the human subject, or what Julia Kristeva calls the sujet en proces. Taken together, the three readings mime an interpretative multiplicity that, I believe, does justice both to possibilities within the text and also to the necessary multiplicity - in Kristeva's terms, the heterogeneity - of the reader. In this way, I am able to conclude that this particular textual garment may still be 'put on', that is, found significant by women readers.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Biblical studies.
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts
Supervisor's Name: Supervisor, not known
Date of Award: 1996
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1996-71632
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 May 2019 14:01
Last Modified: 05 Aug 2022 09:10
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.71632

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