Professor Levine is a feminist theologian, but she’s a feminist theologian second, and a scripture scholar first. So she takes exception to feminist interpretations — or any ideological interpretations — of scripture which manipulate the text.
When second wave feminism swept the Church in the 1970s, the Gospels were co-opted into the cause. Prof Levine sets the record state: first century Jews did not resemble the Taliban, and Jesus did not invent feminism! So, for example, first century Jewish women owned property. They ran business. They studied the Torah and worked as scribes.
Similarly, Jesus was not the only man who spoke to women as intellectual equals. He was not the only man to encourage discipleship among women. And all his reputedly “feminist moments” require a tortured interpretation of the text.
Consider, for example, a feminist interpretation of the “Martha, Martha” episode in Bethany. While Mary sits at the Lord’s feet, Martha is overwhelmed with the duties of hospitality, until she reaches breaking point:
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10: 40-42)
Feminist commentators note how progressive Jesus is, permitting a woman to sit with his disciples. Martha might think like the majority, and think a woman’s place is in the kitchen, but Jesus know better.
Levine calls this “a malevolent reading” of the text, which elevates Jesus at the cost of those around him. It is not historically vindicated, and it can be repudiated by an equally arbitrary but opposite reading. Ergo: ‘This text tells us that Jesus likes women who are silent and sit submissively at his feet. As soon as any woman speaks up, he shuts her down.’
The moral of the story: always read benevolently. Never permit ideology to arbitrarily diminish anyone in the Gospel.