"Have mercy on me": The Canaanite Woman in Matthew 15:21-28

Glenna Sue Jackson, Marquette University


The focus of research on the story of the Canaanite Woman in Matthew 15:21-28 has traditionally been content rather than context. That is, the story in both Matthew's and Mark's gospels has received attention because it illustrates Jesus' growing popularity, inaugurates the mission to the gentiles, exemplifies the stamina that faith requires, and demonstrates the reward for such perseverance, i.e., a miraculous healing. This study shows that the preoccupation with these elements of the story in the history of interpretation is incomplete and not totally accurate. I argue that this story must be seen in its context and that it was not included in Matthew's gospel for the purpose of recording the evangelizing of gentiles. Rather, it is a story that reflects inner turmoil between Jews and proselytes in the early church. The text portrays the woman in a penitential role, but it also demonstrates a fight to become a member of the community. Matthew has a preoccupation with qualifications for inclusion in the community. If Jews were "in" and gentiles were "out," men were "in" and women were "out" in Matthew's church, then gentile women were probably the most marginalized. Already, feminist scholars such as Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and Alice Dermience have alluded to the possibility of a setting for this text that goes beyond the traditional interpretation of submissive faith. Some of the elements of this thesis have previously been seen, therefore, but the pieces have thus far not been put together. Chapter One includes an investigation of the gentile debate in Matthew's gospel, and centers on the geographical setting of the gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon. Chapter Two continues an investigation of Matthew's sources, focusing on the change from "Syrophoenician" in Mark's gospel to "Canaanite" in Matthew's gospel. These sources help define the extended form the pericope takes in Matthew, which is the focal point of Chapter Three. The Conclusion emphasizes the fact that any study that ignores the proselyte dimension of the story of the Canaanite Woman is truncated.

Recommended Citation

Jackson, Glenna Sue, ""Have mercy on me": The Canaanite Woman in Matthew 15:21-28" (1993). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9411501.