Reviews of

Gender in the Rhetoric of Jesus

In Ashe Materou, Fortress Press, Gender Studies, Gospels, Lexington Books, Q, Sara Parks, Synoptic Gospels, Women on August 21, 2020 at 3:00 pm


2020.08.15 | Sara Parks. Gender in the Rhetoric of Jesus: Women in Q. Lanham/Boulder/New York/London: Lexington/Fortress, 2019. ISBN 978-1-9787-0198-4.

Review by Ashe Materou, KU Leuven.

In Gender in the Rhetoric of Jesus Sara Parks investigates the parallel parable pairs of Q. The book illustrates how Q gendered pairs pays equal attention to both male and female characters as agents for the basileia movement. Parks situates her work as a contribution to the reconstruction of the position of women in early Jewish and early Christian Antiquity. She argues that there has not been much research done so far on the earliest evidence of the historical Jesus’ attitude towards women. Accordingly, Parks aims to fill this gap with the analysis of “parallel gender pairs” (p. 2), where men and women characters are addressed explicitly or implicitly through a rhetorical literary device reflected in Jesus’ sayings material. Parks holds that this literary device has not yet caught the attention of many feminist scholars and advocates for a deeper study of Q gendered pairs.She divides Q gendered pairs into two poles: one position argues that they reveal equal discipleship/gender levelling, whilst the other argues that Q gendered pairs reinforce patriarchy. Parks sides with the first group of scholars and contends that Q gendered pairs treat women as equals to men who can also understand, internalize, and implement the message of the basileia.

The book is organised in seven chapters. Chapter 1 provides a summary of the following chapters providing an introduction to the coherent argument that Q gendered pairs are an innovative rhetorical strategy in the study of the Historical Jesus.

In chapter 2, Parks gives an overview of Q and Q people. Q contains 230 verses of material that is the basis of the Two-Source Hypothesis, thereby “solving” the literary relationship among the three Synoptic Gospels. Parks points out that the common elements in Q contain language of the basileia of God, which reflects sapiential and apocalyptic themes, itinerant prophets and countercultural tendencies, etc. All these elements point to a Jewishness of its people and audience and hence the likeness of a Galilean provenance.

In chapter 3, Parks divides and analyses the various positions of the scholars on Q gendered pairs into three perspectives, which she identifies via numbers. Under Perspective 1 are those scholars who contend for a gender-egalitarian tendency in Q gender pairs. She places those scholars who argue for the gender equality of Q pairs, but see them as dependent on the socio-historical context in Perspective 1.5. She places the third group of scholars, those who do not believe in the gender-equality of Q pairs, under Perspective 2. Parks admits that the presence of androcentric language in Q materials shows that Q was rooted in the literary patterns of the day.

In chapter 4, Parks analyses Q gendered parable pairs. Parks makes a taxonomy of the pairs based on the criteria whether gender is implied, overt, or both implied and overt. She finds eight full gender pairs and four shorter pairs. Out of the eight full pairs, two are gender implied, three are gender overt, and three are gender both overt and implied. The parable of Ravens/Lilies (Q 12:24) is a parable where gender is implied as there is a gender-based division of roles. Sowing is traditionally associated with men and spinning with women. The second type of parable pair is gender overt. An example is that of the Queen of the South and the Ninevite men (Q 11:31–32) where a female is juxtaposed with males, conveying the message that God does not discriminate. The third type is gender both overt and implied. In the parable of the Mustard Seed and Yeast (Q 13:18–21), the acts of a man sowing and a woman kneading are associated with God’s actions, and the man is juxtaposed with the woman. So it is both gender overt and implied. These parables present women as close agents of the basileia. Parks also analyses the four shorter pairs. Parks contends that Q’s women are not subordinated to men in the movement of the basileia, but she warns that does not mean that the basileia movement was a “feminist or gender-egalitarian revolution” (p. 100) to fight against patriarchy and androcentrism. It would simply imply rhetorical gender levelling.

In chapter 5, Parks explicates whether there are possible literary ancestors for the gender pairs of Jesus’ saying material. Parks argues that there is no direct evidence that this rhetoric tool is extant before Q after examining the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Hebrew Bible, Dead Sea Scrolls and non-Jewish pre-Christian Hellenistic literature. She points out that there are a few cases of “close calls.” Thus, Parks concludes that Q’s gendered parallels are innovations of Jesus and do not have literary ancestors in early Jewish and Hellenistic writings.

In chapter 6, Parks expounds gender pairs in contemporaneous and later texts finding that important texts a century or two after him have gendered pairs. Some contemporary texts where both genders are addressed imply some common literary source, but rules out the Q source as the sole credit. She notes that most early Christian literature—for instance, Mark, John, and the letters of Paul—have vestiges of gendered pairs. The presence of pairs in literature that had a non-Jesus following—the De Vita Contemplativa, Joseph and Aseneth, and the Women too Should Study Philosophy—enable Parks to argue that, though Q gendered pairs are an innovative rhetorical teaching method of Jesus, they are embedded in a first-century Jewish and Roman context.

In chapter 7, Parks makes her concluding remarks. Parks’ unique contributions are twofold. First, she explicates how “men and women were equal in the earliest period of Jesus movement” in terms of their “spiritual/religious inclusion and eschatological agency” and unequal in terms of “retaining socially gendered roles that are more or less status quo.” Second, she agrees with Fricker that the gendered pairs in Q are a “theological innovation of Jesus” (p. 154). She acknowledges that the equality of Q men and women is in continuity with the context of the day but points out that the rhetorical function of gender pairs as a method of teaching is a unique feature of the Jesus movement. She regrets that gender equality, as depicted in Q gendered pairs, did not survive long as the countertrends of female inferiority can be seen as early as the Deutero-Pauline epistles and the Gospel of Luke gaining their peak in the era of the Church Fathers. Parks gives two main reasons, namely, Augustus’ marital and moral reforms, and the shift away from Jewish Apocalypticism (p. 156), for the decline of gender equality as evidenced in Q gendered pairs. However, the author does not say how Hellenistic culture has influence Christianity and gender. This is crucial as early Christianity is influenced greatly by Hellenistic culture.

In short, Parks shows how gender pairs in Q imply both gender inclusivity and gender equality. Gender pairs as Jesus’ didactic technique convey the message that men and women are equal in their spiritual and cognitive levels in understanding, spreading the rhetorical teachings of Jesus and acting as itinerant prophets for the basileia. The Jesus of Q treats men and women as equals, but the status of women changed soon as reflected in the first- and second-century literature. There is no possible direct literary ancestor for Q gender pairs in early Jewish and Hellenistic writings. The multiple attestations of gender pairs as a rhetoric gender balance in Q, and other contemporaneous texts reflect the possibility that this literary device originated with Jesus of Nazareth and is embedded in the socio-historical contexts of the time.

Parks’ study of Q gender pairs provides a corrective to the earlier erroneous views that argues Luke is inclusive of women. It presents a case that gender equity weakened as Christianity moved away from Judaism to a more Romanized world. It acts as a corrective for scholarly views who interpret women’s inferior status in Judaism by referencing later Rabbinic writings. Consequently, this book raises many questions on both the Pastoral letters and the writings of many Church Fathers on the status and place of women. Therefore it makes a relevant contribution to the reconstruction of women’s status and position in the early Jesus’ movement.

As any research which is assumedly focused on Q, this book could probably attract the critique that it is based on a hypothetical document, and that the gendered pairs could have been existent in other sources that are no longer extant. However, Parks’ insight that the teachings of Jesus have been altered at a very early stage stands and correctly prompts the need for more research in this direction, and an important challenge for scholars to undertake further research on Jesus’ attitude towards women.

Ashe Materou
KU Leuven [at]

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