Characterization of Women in Mark Based on an Anthropology of Gender from Bourdieu/First Century

The anthropology of gender from Mediterranean/first century social custom provides a basis for the actual/implied author and the implied audience of the Gospel of Mark to create the characterization of women.

French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, conducted socio-analytical studies in the 1960s in Algeria among the Berbers of Kabylia (the “Kabyle”) that provide anthropological suggestions for interpreting the social, interpersonal culture of the first century Mediterranean world. Bourdieu uses the term habitus to describe a structural system, or way of being, and its inclinations in the Kabyle society that would have been seen, for example, in the division of labor between men and women. Men partook in outdoor activities of taking goats and sheep to market, working in the fields plowing, sowing, harvesting, winnowing, and knocking down trees. Women worked primarily indoors by bringing supplies into the house, tying up cattle brought back to the house from the fields, cooking, weaving, milling, kneading clay, and caring for the garden. Bourdieu’s analysis will be followed by an historical overview of Greek, eastern Roman, and Israelite women in the first century, much of which aligns with Bourdieu’s observations about women and men among the Kabyle.

An implied author/audience of Mark brought anthropological preunderstandings about women as people who were often dominated by men, identified with the “house” and work associated with the house, and having a habitus correlated with coldness and wetness while men were associated with dryness and heat making women in their “instability” inferior, in essence, to impenetrable men.

This Mediterranean anthropology of gender will be followed by a brief examination of five Markan passages where women are presented outside the first-century setting of the “house.” For instance, in Mark 3:20–35 Jesus’ mother profoundly misunderstands Jesus, casting him as “out of control” (a first century female description) and needing to be “controlled” (a first century masculine activity). Ironically, Jesus’ mother is in the masculine setting outside of the house with his brothers, and Jesus is in the feminine setting inside the house with his true family. It is almost as if he replaces his mother in the house with his true family. The spatial displacement of Jesus’ mother outside of the house aligns with the awkward narrative placement of her alongside the male religious leaders in the inner story of the intercalation who accuse Jesus of being demonized. The link between the misunderstanding by Mary and the religious leaders invokes tragedy for the implied audience, who then come to understand that true discipleship cannot oppose the mission of Jesus even when the mission appears “crazy” from a human viewpoint.

Similar analysis will be given to the women with the hemorrhage of blood, located in a public crowd (Mark 5:21–43), Herodias, located at a public feast (Mark 6:7–32), the maidservant’s trial of Peter located in the courtyard of the High Priest (Mark 14:53–72), and the women who accompanied Jesus in his itinerate ministry from Galilee to Jerusalem (Mark 15:40–41).

4 thoughts on “Characterization of Women in Mark Based on an Anthropology of Gender from Bourdieu/First Century”

  1. David E. Malick proposal
    An interesting comparative study. I would have liked to hear more about the ethnographic and social-scientific tools to be employed and how they are pertinent to the study.

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  2. David E. Malick’s Proposal
    The final paragraphs of this proposal are promising. However, I’m not sure why the author would resort to anthropology from Algeria when several scholars such as Mallina have provided New Testament studies with copious socio-scientific research into the Mediterranean world of Jesus’ milieu with similar observations.

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  3. Malick’s Proposal
    It would be interesting to see social scientific criticism in our session, as in the application of a modern model to the first century. Not sure about the relevance of the exegetical payoff.

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