In Itumeleng Mosala’s Biblical Hermeneutics and Black Theology in South Africa, the author challenge the Christian appropriation of the Lukan narrative as being for the oppressed and outsiders. His critique is geared toward liberation theologians such as James Cone and Allan Boesak, but many others understand, particularly a few womanists and feminists, the Lukan birth narratives as emancipatory. First, in Luke 1:1-4, Mosala suggests that the intended audience is a dead giveaway at the outset. “Theophilus, his excellency” as the person whom the letter is intended means that Luke’s Gospel is for the elite, ruling class (174). Mosala also suggests that it is no coincidence that in Luke’s narrative, Roman and Gentile rulers are lifted up because, if historians are correct, and Luke was written between 80-85 Common Era, during a time of immense conflict between Christianity and the Roman empire, Luke’s gospel can be seen as an ideological tool to reach out, and make peace with the Romans (176).
Mosala’s second point is quite provocative as well. The Infancy Narratives at first glance seem to be liberating, with Mary’s nationalistic song praising God for putting to shame the oppressors in the tradition of Samuel’s mother Hannah. Luke was written in the context, like Genesis 4, of a tributary colonial system (Rome over Judah at that time) in the 1st century. Included in the ruling classes, according to Mosala, are “colonial royalty and nobility,” Judean royalty such as the Herodians, the Sadduccees, along with the scribes and priests. Within this context, one must understand Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (the wife of a priest), as an affirmation of social status. In other words, Luke is using this story to legitimate the life of an illegetimate Child/Messiah for the ruling classes, i.e., making Jesus more palatable to them (166). Mary has become a little more than the “priestly first lady of revolutions” in modern thought, but Mosala points to the brief mentioning of Joseph, who is key to affirm Jesus’ Davidic roots. Yeshua the Messiah is one of the rich, and so therefore, the Church is okay with Roman Empire as well. If biblical scholars would begin to uncover this truth, Mosala suggests that black people in the midst of struggle will liberate the gospel so it can liberate others.
I can see where Mosala is going here, but I do not quite buy it. First of all, he fails to make a distinction between the variety of classes of priests that there were in Israel and Judah, for example, the Zadokites were the royal priests for the Davidic monarchy while the Levites were the outsiders. Whose side will we choose, or maybe we should join the party of Melchizedek? I must apply my hermeneutic of suspicion in this case. What is Mosala’s beef with priests? Is it a Protestant bias? An anti-organized religion streak? I hope he knows that the prophetic tradition is not pure as well; there are such things as false prophets who work for the monarchs, telling them what they want. However, I do embrace Mosala, via Walter Brueggeman‘s distinction between the two covenants, the Mosaic (which is providential and liberating and prophetic and about ‘the struggle’) and the Davidic (which is accidental, universal, and elitist). As Mosala puts it, “The central themes of this monarchical ideology are stability, grace, restoration, creation, universal peace, compassion and salvation; they contrast radically with the ideology of pre-monarchical Israel, which would have themes such as justice, solidarity, struggle, and vigilance” (120).
Oh, Mosala forgot to add one thing to pre-monarchical Israel, it also had anarchy and idolatry as well which led to the temptation of the Israelites and Judeans in their desire for a
- Quip of the Day: On Being A Pharisee (politicaljesus.com)