Daughter Zion Talks Back to the Prophets: A Dialogic Theology of the Book of Lamentations

Mandolfo uses a number of methodologies to construct her theory, dialogic form criticism, including: Mikhail Bakhtin’s dialogism, Martin Buber’s existentialism, Jacques Derrida’s deconstructive criticism, Hilde Lindemann Nelson’s master narrative theory, Max Black’s interaction view of metaphor, Marvin A. Sweeney and Ehud Ben Zvi’s new way of form criticism, postcolonial feminism, and midrashic gap-filling.

She borrows from Bakhtin’s polyphonic understanding about dialogue/communication, who, from studying of works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, understands that the meanings of the text are produced and reproduced throughout the authoring process. The act of authoring, therefore, is a mutual process that shapes both the self and the other. Texts, in this perspective, are always in a fluid  state of production. Therefore, according to Bakhtin’s view, the author is no longer the sole bearer of meaning, but rather one of the participants, building the meaning of text. Thus, in the Bakhtinian view, the role of reader is more important than that of the author.

In beginning of the chapter 3, Mandolfo attempts to bridge Hermann Gunkel and Mikhail Bakhtin, and form criticism and rhetorical criticism. While Gunkel stresses the fixity of genres, Bakhtin accentuates more its fluidity (55). Following Marvin A. Sweeney and Ehud Ben Zvi’s idea, to study the genre would be not only diachronic, static, and typical but also synchronic, fluid, and unique. This is the new way of doing form criticism.

Mandolfo demonstrates how dialogue between the didactic voice and the feminized petitioner (Daughter Zion) in Lam 1-2 works polyphonically without any interruption from powers, such as the dominant masculine voice. Her argument for this form of dialogue in Lam 1-2 is that it mirrors the traumatic event (the destruction of Jerusalem) in 586 B.C.E.

When scholars pay attention to how the vehicle of metaphor functions in a reader’s mind, they should focus on the cultural ‘setting’ between author and reader (such as the ancient reader, the contemporary reader). Mandolfo, as an actual reader who encounters and interprets the text, stands by the contemporary reader’s point of view (25). In other words, she attempts to reveal how feminization serves as a vehicle for the master narrative. Following Nelson, she understands the master narrative as a part of “authoritative cultural narratives” in that it constructs peoples’ identities (worldviews) and their patterns of behavior.

Mandolfo uses Nelson’s theory and identifies the biblical master narrative as being overtly patriarchal and monotheistic (15). This biblical framework/blueprints would be called theology in her view. She argues that understanding/describing God evolved/developed chronologically in history (30). She criticizes, in the master narrative, whenever God is described as monologic, logocentric, and authoritative. This “God” suppresses human subjectivity. The Prophets, as an agents/intermediaries of this “God,” delivered God’s voice within the framework of their cultural master narrative (patriarchy, covenantal exclusivity, and so on) (30).

Furthermore, she discovers and reconstructs the voice of Daughter Zion in Lam 1-2 as a “counterstory”, which stands authentically against the patriarchal and monotheistic master narrative. For reconstructing it, she draws upon her strength, that of creating “dialogic theology” against traditional theology. While traditional scholars understand God as static, she argues that God is relational, mutable, and in process (20). This flexible God is consistently evolved, and open to listen and to change. For this reason, it is possible to say this God is polyphonic. Therefore, her ultimate goal of dialogic theology is beyond monotheism. That is why she harshly criticizes liberal scholars who still consider the “religious episteme intact.” (70) For her, this seems like process theology/thought.

In order to deconstruct the normative worldview of the Prophets and reconstruct the voice of the Daughter Zion, Mandolfo brings several postcolonial feminist critiques regarding the Marriage metaphor. The Prophets, who had a subjective voice, interpreted their social and cultural situation according to patriarchal cultural norms. Those patriarchal norms are main targets of postcolonial feminist scholars. The Prophets did not only describe Jerusalem as women but also interpreted it negatively, highlighting that in its colonized state, it was God’s response to the Jews breaking their covenantal relationship with God; Daughter Zion humiliates God and makes ashamed because she followed the ways of other Gods.

Mandolfo’s dialogic form criticism has potentials to read the biblical text in the context of people who are in liminal space even though it does not cover racial and class issues. Mandolfo problematizes the tradition that we consider normative (Wan), interprets it in her own dialogical imagination (Kwok) and reconstructs a counterstory from a marginal voice (Liew) as frontiers of Asian American biblical/theological studies did.


Naeyoun Cho, PhD Candidate

Claremont School of Theology

Categories: (B) Book Review

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