The Expulsion of the Outcaste Women of the Land: Re-reading of Ezra 9-10 from a Dalit Perspective

Author: Gethzi Chella Kamala Devasagayam

Devasagayam, Gethzi Chella Kamala, 2015 The Expulsion of the Outcaste Women of the Land: Re-reading of Ezra 9-10 from a Dalit Perspective, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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In this thesis I read Ezra 9-10 from a Dalit perspective employing a Dalit hermeneutic. My aim is to retrieve new dimensions from the text: the voices of the women of the land identified in the text of Ezra 9-10 as ‘unclean’. To effect this retrieval, my first task was to develop a Dalit hermeneutic. My interpretative strategies are formulated, in part, by incorporating insights from feminist hermeneutics, especially the hermeneutic of suspicion, identification and retrieval. Dalit culture and Dalit experience of harsh realities are also taken into account in the formulation of the hermeneutic.

The methodology employed in this thesis employs three critical approaches: socio-historical, narrative and reader-response criticism. These approaches relate to the ‘world behind the text’, the ‘world within the text’, and the ‘world in front of the text’.

My exploration of the socio-historical world of Ezra 9-10, enables me to discern possible parallels and perspectives in the world behind the text as I read from in front of the text with Dalit eyes. By investigating the world within the text through a narrative analysis, I seek to determine those features and the rhetoric of the narrative that enables me, as a Dalit, to appreciate those domains in the world of the narrative with which I empathise. By analysing the Dalit world—the world in front of the text—I become conscious of my identity as a Dalit reader discerning the possible relationships between relevant features of my world, the world of the text, and the world behind the text.

My suspicion in this thesis is that the narrator in the text and the interpreters of the text have elite perspectives. By analyzing the world behind the text and the world within the text, I disclose the context—social, cultural and narrative—to establish the elite perspectives of the narrator and that of the interpreters. I argue that the elite perspective of the narrator and the interpreters reflects an ideology that leads to an unjust rejection of the women of the land as outcastes.

In the light of my experience of the Dalit world, I identify with the disenfranchised characters in the text. Taking into account the narrative framework and exploring the experiences suggested by the characters in the narrative, I disclose that the narrator and the interpreters, because of their experience and world view, have identified with the leading characters in the narrative of Ezra 9-10. Both as a woman and as a Dalit, I identify with the women of the land who are pronounced impure and who faced injustice in the context of the priestly world view of Ezra—a world view similar to that experienced by Dalits.

In my retrieval, I retrieve the experiences and the voices of the women of the land who are either silenced by the narrator or glossed over by the interpreters as insignificant. I retrieve dimensions of the experiences of the women of the land—experiences of anger, shame, humiliation, alienation and rejection—through the the voice of Sarah, an outcaste woman of the land, who tells her version of the narrative.

Keywords: Re-reading, Dalit hermeneutic, Dalit, Ezra 9-10, Dalit perspective

Subject: Theology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2015
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Professor Norman Habel