Frauen Friday: Elsa Tamez

We’ve had a bit of a rocky start to our “weekly” Frauen Friday series, but I’ll get there. I’ve got the next couple of weeks planned out and I’m really looking forward to the weeks to come! I will be getting back to my language roots with next week’s featured scholar who works in Jewish Studies and has written two important books for understanding Biblical Hebrew.

If I might take a short excursion, I want to point out that though the past couple of weeks have featured scholars who have focused on feminist interpretation, the point of this series is not necessarily to focus on only feminist theologians. It just so happens that the first three women I featured were ones I’ve encountered recently while working on my own specific gender-related questions. Thus I highlighted Gaventa’s article from Galatians concerning its good news for women, though she has written on a wide variety of Pauline issues. All that to say, if you’re not particularly interested in feminist theology (though my hope is this blog might change that!) fear not, I will be casting a wider net in the future and intend to highlight scholars working in all areas of concentration.

But this Friday it’s all about Elsa: today’s featured scholar is Dr. Elsa Tamez, biblical scholar and theologian. Here’s a short bio from Wipf and Stock Publishers (it’s a little outdated, but it’s the only one I could find):

“Elsa Tamez is a Methodist and Liberation Theologian. She was born in Mexico in 1950. Prof. Tamez received her Doctor’s Degree in Theology from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. She received her Licentiate in Theology in 1979 from the Latin American Biblical Seminary, and a Licentiate in Literature and Linguistics at the National University of Costa Rica in 1986. She is a faculty member of the Latin American Biblical University in Costa Rica and a member of the team of researchers of the Ecumenical Department of Investigation (DEI) in Costa Rica. She is married with two children.

Among her most known publications in English are: The Bible of the Oppressed (1980), The Scandalous Message of James (1989), The Amnesty of Grace (1993), and When the Horizons Close: Rereading Ecclesiastes (2000). Her latest publication is Jesús and Courageous Women (2001). She has received several awards for her contribution to Contextual Biblical Hermeneutics.” (from WSP)

Tamez has written on both liberation theology and feminist theology, and she has done a number of re-readings from both the OT and NT. I first encountered her work last semester as I was working on my cruciform feminism paper for my Paul class; she contributed an article to Celebrating Romans: Template for Pauline Theology (a 2004 publication featuring articles on Romans from various interpretive approaches) on “Justification as Good News for Women: A Re-Reading of Romans 1-8.” Here she argues,

“[t]he actualization of God’s justice in a patriarchal society consists in the egalitarian proposal of justification by faith rather than by fulfilling the demands of traditional patriarchal culture.  It is a free gift, bestowed by grace, in a society which knows nothing of grace but rather uses merit alone to determine whether or not a person has value.  The logic of merit is the natural way our hierarchical, patriarchal society functions.  It is society’s way of judging, the ‘justice’ proper to it,” (181).

Tamez notes that God’s justice is not for women alone,

“[s]ince the justice of God is for all people… men also can acknowledge this justice and be guided by a logic contrary to the violence generated by patriarchal society.  Justification is a gift meant for all, not just for women.  The justice of God is a firm guarantee that the sinful logic of misogynist patriarchal structures is overthrown by divine grace,” (182).

She concludes,

“[t]he good news for justified men and women who embrace faith as new way of life, just like the faith of Jesus Christ, is a new awareness of being free women and men, and the realization that in faith it is possible to transform society where sin reigns in the structures opposed to woman.  By faith we affirm that, although we live in a world riddled with sinfulness and impregnated with sexism, this reality does not dominate those who are guided by the logic of grace…” (187)

Whether you agree or disagree with Tamez’s approach, I think her work is worth interacting with and I personally appreciate her perspective for what we have in common and how we differ. We are both women but we come from different parts of the world and have likely had very different experiences as women. I look forward to getting to know her work better as I continue studying how cruciformity and feminism might co-exist.

I would also recommend Struggles for Power in Early Christianity: A Study of the First Letter to Timothy.  I’ve only read the first chapter so far, but her section on chapter two of 1 Timothy offers an interesting perspective on the issue of the women teaching in Ephesus as a struggle between the wealthy and the powerful and draws a connection from her own life experience in Latin American culture. I plan to read the rest of the book once I can get a copy.

For further reading, see the lists below:



Frauen Fridays — Mercy Amba Oduyoye

Welcome to Cataclysmic’s first Frauen Friday!  Frauen Fridays will be sure to make you smile… ba dum bump!!  (I think I need to come up with a fun graphic for Frauen Fridays, no?) Each week, I will be doing a short(er… maybe?) post on a woman from the Christian academy and/or church who works in (or has been influential to) theology, biblical studies, or biblical languages.  The goal of this series is to become more aware of the amazing women that have and continue to shape the Christian faith.

A couple of semesters ago I took a hermeneutics class and chose to write my term paper on African Womanist Hermeneutics.  I chose this topic for several reasons, the obvious one being that it was about women reading the Bible. That’s kind of a no-brainer when it comes to things I’m interested in! 🙂  I had also recently returned from a two-week teaching trip to Limuru, Kenya, and was really interested in learning more about how African women were doing theology.  Most of all, I knew I would learn something new from women that live in a different part of the world and have different experiences than I have had in my own life.  I certainly only scratched the surface of the matter, but what I read and learned has had a lasting impact on the way I approach the Bible.

As I set out to find out more about this field of study, I was quickly introduced to the work of Mercy Amba Oduyoye.

Dr. Mercy Amba Oduyoye [born in 1934] is a Ghanaian Methodist. She has formal education in pedagogy and theology. She studied theology at the University of Ghana, Legon, and at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. She has served as visiting faculty in theological institutions in other African countries, Canada, Europe and the United States of America. She served as staff to the All Africa Conference of Churches and the World Council of Churches, culminating in seven years as the WCC Deputy General Secretary. She has also been president of the World Student Christian Federation and president of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians. It was her initiative that brought into being The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians in 1989. She established the Institute of African Women in Religion and Culture at Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon, Ghana, where she currently serves as as director. She is well known for her publications, especially on African women’s theology.(1)

Oduyoye is one of the primary voices in African Womanist Hermeneutics and Theology and is founder of The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians.  The group was started to encourage and promote the involvement of women in African theology and Biblical interpretation, with a focus on the issues of patriarchy, sexism, and gender, and is made up of women from various countries across the continent with groups present in more than thirteen countries.(2) For The Circle, the involvement of women in shaping theology and in shaping culture is critical.

“Since the Bible depicts other peoples’ cultures, and we know from African culture that not everything in culture is liberating, we come to the Bible with the same cautious approach we have to culture… Any interpretation of the Bible is unacceptable if it does harm to women, the vulnerable and the voiceless.

Oduyoye in Introducing African Women’s Theology (2001), p.12

African womanist hermeneutics is largely about African women finding their place in God’s story; it’s doing theology in their own words and from their own experiences.  Drawing from other hermeneutical traditions, African womanist hermeneutics is a response to external circumstances, a wrestling with the biblical texts, and an earnest attempt at walking hand-in-hand with God.

Without too much straining of the gospel, one discovers Jesus as a man who related to women as human beings, to be respected and to be trusted. He accepted their friendship and service and hospitality. He rendered them service, teaching them, healing them, waking up their dead, saving them from exploitation and victimization. He himself undertook much that was seen as women’s roles and attitudes. A compassionate and caring one who anticipated people’s needs. Jesus was a mother par excellence. Therefore, when we meet certain women as regularly among his followers from Galilee to Golgotha and the tomb, we see a real example of solidarity among caring people.

Oduyoye in “Women’s Presence in the Life and Teaching of Jesus with Particular Emphasis on His Passion,” (2008), p.83

Oduyoye captures the heart of African womanist hermeneutics as the desire for women to “want to join in the search for the truth about human life and how to live it; we [African women] want to decide for ourselves, for our day and situation, what constitutes a liberating and liberative life.”(3)

To get to know more about Oduyoye and African Womanist Hermeneutics and Theology, check out:

Hearing and Knowing: Theological Reflections on Christianity in Africa (1986)
Daughters of Anowa: African Women and Patriarchy (1995)
Introducing African Women’s Theology (2001)
Beads and Strands: Reflections of an African Woman on Christianity in Africa (2004)

Oduyoye has also written more than 80 articles so if you have access to a database be sure to check out:

“The Story of a Circle.” The Ecumenical Review, Vol. 53.1 (January 2001): 97-100.
“Women’s Presence in the Life and Teaching of Jesus with Particular Emphasis on His Passion.” The Ecumenical Review 60, no. 1-2 (2008): 82-89.

[Oduyoye discussing Princeton Theological Seminary’s digital library in 2013]


1. Bio is from Mercy Amba Oduyoye, “Women’s Presence in the Life and Teaching of Jesus with Particular Emphasis on His Passion,” The Ecumenical Review 60, no. 1-2 (2008): 82-89.

2. “History of the Circle,” The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, (accessed November 11, 2012).

3. Mercy Amaba Oduyoye, Beads and Strands: Reflections of an African Woman on Christianity in Africa, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2004), 100.