AUSTRALIAN BIBLICAL REVIEW
BOOK REVIEW Published in Volume 55, 2007
ANNE F. ELVEY, An Ecological Feminist Reading of the Gospel of Luke: A Gestational Paradigm (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2005). Pp. Xxiii + 388. $US129.95.
At the outset of her book, Anne F. Elvey presents the Judith Wright poem “Woman to Child” which evokes images of pregnant body and Earth as nurturing life. This proves to be a most appropriate introduction for two reasons. First, these images introduce the reader to the ecofeminist lens that Elvey will use to view the Gospel of Luke. The second reason becomes apparent as the reader gets drawn into Elvey’s style of writing. The imagery and metaphors which flow from the pages indicate that she, too, can be considered poetic.
Drawing on ecojustice principles, as outlined in the Earth Bible series, and feminist perspectives, Elvey develops a way of reading the text which is attentive to “the other.” She focuses on the Earth as other-than-human, while highlighting the interconnectedness of the Earth and the entire Earth community. The pregnant body becomes the key which Elvey uses to explore the Gospel of Luke. She explains that her work moves “from attention to the function of the pregnant body as symbol and metaphor in the text, to attention to the logic, time, and paradigm of gestation as these resonate in the text” (p. 27). Making use of contemporary theories, Elvey emphasises the pregnant body as necessary for sustaining human life and thus a material given.
Bringing her paradigm of pregnant body and gestation to the Lukan text, Elvey first explores Luke 2:1–20 in detail, arguing that the passage depicts the birth of the mother as “keeping woman,” one who keeps all these things. She then explores further the concepts of keeping and storing within the Gospel. Keeping is linked with hearing and doing, though she notes that the Martha and Mary story (10:38–42) represents a splitting of hearing and doing. With regard to the concept of storing, Elvey demonstrates from the Lukan text that storing does not always lead to life. The Parable of the Rich Fool (12:16–20) is an example of gestating death. Thus, she highlights the ambiguity of the paradigm of gestation within the Lukan Gospel.
Attention to “the other” brings Elvey to explore the way the Lukan text constructs characters (human and non-human) as other to the logic of the text. There are times when backgrounding the other can lead to a legacy of violence. Elvey, once again however, nuances the Lukan presentation. Using the Parable of the Good Samaritan (10:25–37), she explores the characterisation of the lawyer and the Samaritan, both of whom can be considered “other.” While the Samaritan is other to a Jewish audience, the lawyer is portrayed as other to the divine purpose. In a sense, then, she shows that the Lukan text portrays both hospitality and hostility in regard to the other. Elvey’s main emphasis, though, is on the compassion and turning towards the other, demonstrated by the Samaritan.
Elvey extends the logic of hospitality which she identifies in the Lukan text to propose a model for an appropriate relationship to Earth. While she is aware of the dangers of humans taking the gift of the Earth for granted, she also sees the potential of an openness to the material givenness of the Earth as other: “Such an openness to the givenness of the other, within which we are embedded already, can engage us in a (com)passion, as a turning toward the other that in turn engages us with Earth in the repair of the world” (296).
While Elvey focuses on particular passages, her exploration of the themes draws the reader into a much wider examination of the Lukan Gospel. Moreover, her reading of the Lukan text is in conversation with an extensive list of biblical scholars as well as scholars from a range of other fields. One of Elvey’s skills is to be able to converse with such a diverse range of voices without losing the thread or the richness of the conversation. Another of the strengths of this work is the way in which Elvey can nuance the Lukan presentation of several themes. She exposes the ambiguities of the presentation while opening up new possibilities in the reading.
Elvey is to be congratulated on her innovative approach to the Gospel of Luke. Her ecofeminst lens combined with her gestational paradigm provide a new mode of reading the Lukan text. This book makes an important contribution to Lukan scholarship but its insights also extend beyond the biblical sphere. Throughout, Elvey displays her own attentiveness to the other and invites the reader to also turn toward the other with a compassion that undermines all logic of domination and exploitation.
Australian Catholic University
Ballarat VIC 3350